In the myths and legends of the Ngai Tahu people who live on Te Waipounamu also known as the South Island of New Zealand, Poutini was a water spirit they called a Taniwha. Poutini was the protector of the people and was also the guardian of several types of mineral including nephrite jade, serpentine, and bowenite and often known collectively as greenstone today. The Ngai Tahu people called the greenstone, Pounamu and it was a highly prized mineral in their culture used for carving jewelry and ornaments in particular. They believed that all things had a life force or essence they called mauri and Poutini was the guardian of the life force of this special mineral.
Poutini was believed to have his home in the wild seas off the West Coast of the South Island, or “Te Tai o Poutini”. There was once a time when he would roam far from home. One day while he was basking in the warm waters off Tuhua, which is now known as Mayor Island which lies off the Bay of Plenty of the North Island, he saw the most beautiful woman he had ever seen in his life and he wanted her for himself. Without further thought, he lunged forward and grabbed her and carried her off to the mainland. The woman’s name was Waitaiki and she was married to a mighty chief named Tama-ahua who was skilled in the magical arts and the ways of the world of the spirits. As soon as he realized his wife had been kidnapped he threw a magical dart high into the air. The dart pointed the way and Tama-ahua paddled his canoe across the sea following the dart.