The Pania reef, or Napier Breakwater, is a reef in Hawkes Bay New Zealand – and the subject of a statue on Napier’s Marine Parade.
The story goes that Pania was a mermaid who lived with her people in Hawkes Bay – but who each night would emerge onto land at a stream which flows through what is now Napier.
She fell in love with the handsome son of a local Maori chief, and they married and had a child – but would return to her sea-people each morning.
Her husband decided to try to stop her going home each day – and placed some cooked meat in her mouth (because if she ate cooked food, she would no longer be a sea-creature)
She woke, panicked, and fled back into the bay – where she turned into a reef, with arms outstretched toward her former husband.
Maori tradition has it that she became a sacred fishing rock – from her left armpit, blue cod can be caught, from her right armpit snapper, and from her thighs hapuku .. but that since Pahekas (white people) started fishing there, it is no longer sacred – and fish are no longer plentiful.
Talking of Pahekas, there’s an inscription on the statue of Pania in Napier which says “Pania, lured by the siren voice of the sea people, swam out to meet them. When she endeavoured to return to her lover she was transformed into the reef which now lies beyond the Napier Breakwater.”
Notice that the Maori version says that it was her husband, in an effort to effectively imprison her, that triggered the tragedy – whereas the Paheka version is that a young woman was lured away by strangers, and disaster befell her.
One last thing .. the model for the statue was a local schoolgirl, Mei Robin. She was a prefect at the local Girls College, and was honoured at the unveiling. And yet when highschool girls today are seen in topless photos (as were used for the casting of the statue) all hell breaks loose. It’s a strange world, sometimes!