Te Houtaewa and the Stolen Sack of Kumara

Marathons are amazing feats of endurance. The first ever ‘marathon’ – the one that began it all – was probably the most amazing. Legend has it that Pheidippides, a Greek messenger, ran from the Battle of Marathon to Athens to declare the Persian defeat. He ran so fast and so far that, when he finally got there, he gave his triumphant news and then keeled over, dead.

Bear this in mind, and I will move on to an iconic New Zealand Marathon.

The race down Ninety Mile Beach is named after Te Houtaewa, a Maori chief. Te Houtaewa is famous for stealing potatoes. Yes… Stealing Potatoes.

His mother sent the cheeky rascal off to find kumara (sweet potato), and rather than go to the nearby gardens at Te Kao, he decided to run all the way down Ninety Mile Beach to Ahipara – a journey of ‘a few hours’ – and steal them out of the storehouse. He was discovered and chased by the tribe, but even carrying two ‘kete’ full of kumara, he outran them all and made it back home.

To make amends to the angry tribe at Ahipara, the Te Houtaewa Challenge sees the return of the stolen kumara, carried in a sack or in the hands of competitors (watch here) I have no idea how many potatoes have been returned to Ahipara, but there have been 21 years of the challenge. That’s a lot of potatoes.

(I love New Zealand. I do. I really do)



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