Media type
Moving image
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Media type
Moving image
Place of production
United States of America
Production company
Universal Studios
Taonga Māori Collection
Cast: Witarina Mitchell
Cast: Patiti Warbrick
Cast: Hoana Keeha
Cast: Ani Warbrick
Director: Lew Collins
Titles: Hugh Hoffman
Editor: Ray Curtiss
Camera: Wilfrid M Cline
Camera: Harold I Smith
Supervising Film Editor: Maurice Pivar
Distributor: Palace Films

The Maori tribe, Ariki, separated from its enemy, the Watee, by the volcano "Dragon Pit" wages war with its neighbours for centuries until Chief Pakura (Ariki) asks that his daughter, Miro, be offered in marriage to Prince Patiti (Watee) as a peace gesture. On the condition that he win the 'Contest of Spears’ competition against Rangi (Ariki) - the victor will win Miro's hand. The sullen and vain Rangi discards his mistress, Anu, through an unfair trick he wins the contest. Miro secretly continues to see Patiti and is caught by Rangi. The two fight and Patiti throws Rangi into the volcano. War is declared, the volcano erupts. Peace is made. Miro and Patiti marry.

In February 1928, Universal sent a film crew to New Zealand to film a “Maori folk drama” the working title was Taranga. Filming began (with the title Taranga) in February 1928 around Rotorua, Waitomo and White Island, under the direction of adventurer Alexander Markey. By July, with 28,000ft shot for a 6,600ft feature, but only half the story completed, Markey was replaced by his assistant Lew Collins.

Previewed in April 1929, the film was now called UNDER THE SOUTHERN CROSS. The Australasian premiere was held at the De Luxe Theatre in Wellington, on 28 April 1929.

Renamed THE DEVIL’S PIT, it was released in a synch-sound version and Movietone prologue featuring Bathie Stuart in US, Britain & Europe. The film was later lost until in 1980, British film historian Kevin Brownlow located a silent print (now known as Dragon’s Pit)

Witarina Te Miriarangi Parewahaika Mitchell [Harris] (1906-2007) of Ngati Whakaue was born in the village of Ohinemutu on the shores of Lake Rotorua. She was chosen in 1928 to star in Under the Southern Cross/ The Devil’s Pit. Much of her life, in addition to raising five children, has been dedicated to Maori and community activities – in particular the teaching of the Maori language at pre-school levels. She has travelled extensively as kaumatua for the New Zealand Film Archive, bringing aroha and immense dignity to the showing of Maori images. - Aotearoa and The Sentimental Strine: Making films in Australia & New Zealand in the silent period.’