Maori Religion and Mythology Part 2
The Spirit World
The Spirit World
The most remarkable feature of the maori concept of the spirit world is that he had evolved a belief in two distinct realms in which spirits of the dead took up their final abode. Apparently the belief in the underworld of spirits was much the older one of the two, and knowledge of this realm was universal. As to the other home of departed spirits, the supernal realm known as the Toi o nga rangi (summit of the heavens), which is the uppermost of the twelve heavens, knowledge of this haven seems to have been less widely distributed. Our own knowledge of this upper spirit world of the Maori was long confined to a few vague statements in early works, and these were not generally accepted by collectors of ethnographical data. During the past twenty years, however, we have collected a large amount of Maori Ms. matter written by natives from the dictation of old men forty-eight to sixty years' ago, and here we find many references to the belief in the upper spirit world. There is some evidence to show that this spirit world in the sky was the aristocratic realm of the two, for apparently it was not so widely known among the people as the underworld. This, however, is not borne out by a number of statements to the effect that the ultimate destination of spirits of the dead is an optional matter, any spirit can make its home in either the underworld or sky world.
There is one marked difference between the accounts of these two spirit worlds, as given by natives. We have collected a number of myths and folk tales that illustrate very material views of spiritual life in the underworld, where spirits apparently regain material bodies, cultivate food products, manufacture garments, and even tattoo themselves. Now in no case have we gained any information as to life in the sky world; the only item of information gained is to the effect that each spirit reaching that realm gradually loses all memory of this world, its former home. We ourselves laugh at the Maori for his belief in potato-growing spirits in the underworld, and yet we believe, or rather teach, that our own spirit forms play on harps in the sky world; this condition may be owing to the retrograde teaching of the resurrection of the body. However, whatever may be the conditions of life in the two spirit worlds, it is well assured that the Maori took but little interest in either of them so long as he was a resident of the ao mamma, or world of life, whatever he may have done when he reached them.
With regard to life in the spirit world and the movements of the spirit after the death of its physical basis, there was much page 58vagueness and no little confusion of beliefs. Evidently the Maori did not expend much thought on the conditions of existence in the spirit world. He was, however, most assiduous in placating divers gods and demons in order to enjoy life and welfare in this world. He himself tells us in no uncertain manner that, after the death of its physical basis, the human soul fares on to the spirit world, also that, in many cases, a formula was recited in order to expedite its passing to that realm. Now the same informant may explain his reluctance to travel or pass a burial place at night by saying that he fears to encounter kehua or whakahaehae, which, he will tell you, are ghosts, spirits of the dead. As noted among ourselves, the feeling seems to be that such fearsome apparitions are not abroad during the hours of daylight. How many times have I heard natives, when moving abroad at night, singing in the most lusty manner in order to scare the prowling kehua; such nocturnal travellers appear to derive much comfort from these vocal efforts. The carrying of a torch also seems to give them confidence, and, in former times, the carrying of a piece of cooked food, ensured at least partial freedom from the terrors of the night.
When questioned as to the contradictory nature of his evidence on this subject the Maori will explain matters by giving his own opinion thereof. If he has no opinion ready then he will probably formulate one with despatch. Now here we have, I believe, the origin of many irresponsible statements that have found a place in published accounts of Maori life, beliefs, etc. The opinion of an individual has been recorded and accepted as a general or widespread belief, a sporadic belief, custom, or isolated usage has been looked upon as evidence of widespread belief or practice. There are numerous instances of such errors, and all of us who have written extensively on Maori topics have committed such errors.
In dealing with the somewhat confused ideas of the spirit world held by the Maori, and his belief in two such realms, it is well to bear in mind the fact that similar confusion existed in certain communities occupying a higher plane of culture. In examining the religion of ancient Egypt we note a most extraordinary jumble of religious conceptions, many of which are of a contradictory nature, and no attempt was apparently made to reconcile them. Those old-time folk believed in the existence of a spirit world in the heavens, of another in the underworld, another on the earth, and also that the spirits of the dead went to the west where lay the land of the dead. Earlier beliefs seem to have contained no form of reward or punishment in the spirit world, page 59but this gave place in later times to the belief in the judgment of the soul by Osiris, and to the punishment of the souls of the wicked, those who had wronged or offended the sun god. Here we encounter the first crude ideas of a hell, adopted in later times by Christianity, and by Christian priests cherished and evolved into the most diabolical form of terrorism ever conceived even by a priesthood.
In one version of these Egyptian beliefs the denizens of the spirit world passed their time much as they did in this world. They cultivated the soil and produced grain foodstuffs, fought, hunted, and played games, including a form of draughts. Another view was that all spirits of the dead were malevolent and ever inclined to molest the living.
In the remote period prior to the construction of the pyramids, the common form of burial in Egypt was that followed by the Maori, the burial of the trussed body. The knees were drawn up to the breast, the arms rested on them, the hands were placed over the face. As observed by Wiedemann in The Realms of the Egyptian Dead, "The dead must rest in the grave in the position in which the child awaits its entrance into the world, which by further analogy was ascribed also to the soul awaiting the resurrection." (p. 41). One belief was that, assisted by magic, spirits of the dead might pass with the sun, through the underworld and rise again with it in the east. At an early period exhumation of the bones seems to have been practised to some extent.
The underworld of old-time Jewish faith seems to have been a shadowy realm wherein souls of the dead continued to exist, but neither rewards nor punishment awaited them therein. Such a shadowy, poorly defined religion seems to have been an early concept among all peoples, in some cases to develop into a belief in two different spirit worlds, a place of rewards and a place of punishments, such as we are blessed with. The spirit world of Babylonian belief was a gloomy subterranean region. Through-out the Polynesian area the concept of the underworld shows a general sameness, but with differences that were probably of local origin. We are told that at Niue Island "the good went to a separate place from the bad" (Journal of the Polynesian Society, vol. 11, p. 197) in which one suspects missionary influence, though we do not know the local definition of the two terms. As in many early and primitive systems a "good" person may simply have meant one who showed respect for the gods and was subservient to the priesthood.page 60
As further proof of the presence of spirits of the dead in this world the common belief in such manifestations of spirit forms as tira maka and parangeki may be cited. The former term denotes companies of wairua, spirits of the dead, that are said to be occasionally seen roaming about in space. These are evidently purely spiritual forms, lacking all material qualities, inasmuch as I was always told that they can be seen only by matatuhi (syn. matakite), seers, persons possessing the power of second sight. The presence of these ghostly beings was not considered desirable, any misfortune might follow such a visitation, hence whenever seers observed them hovering about they would at once proceed to banish them by means of certain rites. By these means the aitua or evil omen would be averted. Some natives state that these kahui atua, as the tira maka are sometimes termed, come hither from the underworld in order to warn living relatives of some impending misfortune. Ever the Maori believed that the wairua of man is always striving to succour its physical basis during its life in this world; when that basis perishes, and the wairua takes up its abode in the underworld, its activities in that direction do not end, but it will continue to warn, assist, succour its living relatives in the world of life.
The parangeki are also spirits of human beings (wairua tangata), who seem to come from the underworld. These beings are heard in forests, usually at night apparently, and any unusual sound was attributed to parangeki.
The Maori had no great fear of death, indeed very much less than the average person among us has. His outlook is much the same as is that of the Oriental, and this is probably owing to the fact that his mind has never been terrorised by truculent teachings of post-mortem tortures. Wiedemann, in his Realms of the Egyptian Dead remarks: "The thoughts of the Egyptians dwelt much and gladly on death, which had no particular terror for them any more than for modern Orientals." (p. 14). They may have had no fear of death but it is very improbable that they welcomed it, unless they had a very unpleasant time of it in this world. Max Muller has even more assurance, and so tells us that "To rejoice in death is a purely Christian idea." If this is so then it is an idea that does not get far. How many of us, apart from a small proportion who suffer in an abnormal manner, can be said to rejoice in death?
Assuredly the desire for continued life in some form after the death of the body is a universal attribute of the human mind. Hence we find that most, if not all, peoples have produced some page 61form of concept of the spirit world and the conditions pertaining thereto. In most cases such a realm is pictured as being but a drear abode, in no case is it shown to be very attractive. Like the human soul the spirit world is not a demonstrable fact. Theodore Parker, in A Discourse on Matters pertaining to Religion, maintained that there must be an after life because: (1) It is a general belief. (2) It is a general desire. (3) Because we suffer in this world there must be recompense hereafter. These reasons for a belief in such an afterlife furnish no proof that such a place exists. Certainly many hapless ones among us do seem to deserve some recompense after a life of suffering, but the spirit world of which we have been furnished with the most particular description by our priesthood can scarcely be described as a haven of rest.
The belief in a spirit world in which forbears of the living live much as they did in the upper world of life, is closely connected with ancestor worship. So far as the Maori is concerned I would prefer to call this ancestor placation; there was no worship connected with it. We shall see that the Maori had very material views of life in the underworld, but no such accounts have been collected concerning those spirits that ascend to the uppermost of the twelve heavens. No Maori has ever shown me in verbal explanation that he knew of any belief in the resurrection of the body, but all say that the spirit alone goes to the spirit world, and their accounts of life in the underworld alludes to the denizens thereof as corporeal beings that require food and so cultivate food products. But when the spirits of dead forbears come to visit their living descendants in this world they invariably appear in spiritual form. Such discrepancies are constantly appearing in native accounts of the spirit world of Maori belief.
Winwood Reade, in his Martyrdom of Man, treats of the material aspect of life in the spirit world according to savage belief, and remarks: "The two worlds adjoin each other and the frontier is very faintly marked" (p. 169). This thin, frail barrier between life and death has been recognised by the Maori who alludes to it as the wharangi rau angiangi, frail as the thin leaf of the wharangi (Brachygloths repanda) but, like that leaf, opaque, a barrier that cannot be seen through though it is easily penetrated.
The question has frequently been asked—Did the Maori of pre-European times believe in transmigration? He did, but only to a limited extent. The faith in metempsychosis as held by certain Oriental peoples the Maori knew not, and certain aspects page 62of it he would have rejected with contempt, owing to his inheritance of a modicum of the ira atua already described. Still the Maori relates stories of ancestors having reappeared as taniwha or water monsters, as in the story of Te Tahi given elsewhere in this chronicle. In the tale of Hineruarangi we see that a woman reappeared as a cormorant that acted for centuries as a tribal banshee in the vale of Te Whaiti. Then in the case of tipua we find that certain trees, rocks, etc., are, or were, animated by the spirits of defunct forebears, though this again clashes with the belief that souls of the dead hied them to the underworld. A form of temporary transmigration also appears in Maori myth, as when some hero assumes the form of a bird or some other creature for a time. Such episodes will be described in the story of Maui. One of the most famous of human petrifactions is Haumapuhia at Waikare Moana. This person formed the lake bed in long past times, when mighty deeds were performed by the sons, and daughters of man. This particular person seems to have been first transformed into a taniwha, a monster of subterranean habits, and, later, into a mass of rock of imposing dimensions.
The Maori concept of the spirit world was assuredly in an interesting stage of development, though perchance all development had ceased long before Europeans broke into the Pacific; quite possibly the Maori would never have carried the concept any further. He had formulated his concept of two distinct spirit worlds; in the sky world to which spirits of the dead went, the Toi o nga rangi or uppermost of the twelve heavens, all came under the sway of a beneficent deity, Io the Parent, and no antagonistic or evil being pertained to that realm. In the underworld we find a different state of things, for here abide two antagonistic powers that are ever striving against each other. We have already seen that, when Hine-titama, the Dawn Maid, descended to the underworld she discarded that name and became known as Hine-nui-te-Po. Her task in the underworld is to rescue the souls of her descendants, mankind, from the fell designs of Whiro, who ever attempts to destroy them. Whiro is the personified form of evil, darkness and death; he and his myrmidons dwell within Taiwhetuki, the abode of death, and among them are the dread Maiki brethren who represent sickness and disease. Ever these baleful beings attack man, the offspring of Tane and Hinetitarua, in the upper world, taiao, the world of light and life; ever man succumbs and flows like water down to the underworld; ever the brood of Whiro assails the souls of men in the lower world, striving to destroy them. But Hine of the red page 63dawn ever stands between the souls of her children and the hordes of Whiro. In the days when man was young upon the earth, when she fled from Tane the sun god to Rarohenga, the underworld, her abiding word was—"Maku e kapu i te toiora o a taua tamariki" (I will secure the spiritual welfare of our children).
The popular conception of Hine-nui-te-Po is that she is the destroyer who ensnares mankind in the snare of death; the higher teachings are that she is the defender of the endangered soul of man, the saviour of the multitude of spirits in the underworld. Here, then, in this underworld we have antagonistic forces, for Hine the empress of the lower world is aided by many beings known as the Tini o Puhiata and the Parangeki, while the followers of Whiro are known as the Tini o Rohena and Tini o Potahi. A short account of this version of the Hine-nui-te-Po myth tells us that it is Whiro who breeds all forms of disease and sickness that ever assail men and sweep them away to the Po, the underworld of spirits. Also that had not Hinetitama the Dawn Maid hied her to that realm in order to guard and succour the souls of men, then assuredly they would have perished at the hands of Whiro and his dread hordes. These spirits from the upper world are congregated in that region of the underworld wherein abides the erst Dawn Maid, now known as Hine-nui-te-Po. That, we are told, is the division of Rarohenga in which the spirits find safety, where Hine has secured their welfare, where all spirits retain life. Had it not been for Hine then all spirits would have come under the sway of Whiro and Uru-te-ngangana, in which case they would have been haled within Taiwhetuki, Taitewaro and Horonuku-atea, the homes of all calamities and death, and so destroyed, for therein lurk the dread multitudes of Rorinuku, of Rorikauhika and of the Parawhaka-wairuru.
The Dawn Maid had but a short reign, like all dawns, and she passed to the realm of darkness as all dawns must pass. In that realm of Po, or Rarohenga, the shadowy underworld, she awaits the souls of her descendants of the upper world. Those souls are conducted to her by Ruatoia and Ruakumea, whose names betoken their duties.
Now the fire that burns in the underworld at Taiwhetuki appears in this upper world in the form of volcanic fire. From the time that Whiro and his companions descended to the underworld there has been a ceaseless contest in the realm of Rarohenga, the underworld. Whiro and others who held his views are ever assailing Hine-titama, her offspring and descendants. The Moriori folk of the Chatham Isles replace page 64Hine-titama by Rohe, who was the wife of Maui, and who, on being ill-treated by him, retired to the underworld which she controls, and where she captures all souls of the dead as they reach that region.
In one version of the Dawn Maid myth, as preserved by the Maori, Hine turns to Tane the sun lord, who is pursuing her, and sends him back to the upper world, saying: "Return, O Tane! to our offspring; cherish the welfare of our children in the upper world; when death comes to them I will see to their spiritual welfare."Even so does she preserve the life of the soul of man, hence are human spirits seen and heard giving warning of dangers and coming misfortune. Against this superior teaching we have plentiful evidence of the popular belief, as contained in the well-known saying: "He ai atu ta te tangata, he huna mai ta Hine-nui-te-Po" (Man begets, Hine-nui-te-Po destroys). Another such saying is "Mate tangata e ngaki, ma Hine-nui-te-Po e kukute", which bears a similar meaning. Hine is said to have been taken to wife by Ruaumoko, another denizen of the underworld, by whom she had many children, and who was an ally of Whiro in his ceaseless attacks on the denizens of the upper world. Hineoi was a daughter of the above twin, and she represents the activities of her sire, and so is connected with all volcanic activity in the upper world. Another saying pertaining to the underworld of spirits is the following: "He nui tangata e haere ana ki te Po, he iti tangata e haere ana ki te ao" (Many persons fare on to the spirit world, but few to the upper world of life.) An allied saying is: "Ko te Po te Hokia a taiao." (The spirit world from which none return to the upper world, or, as the Maori has it—the spirit world from which the upper world is not returned to.)
The foregoing data serves to show that the Maori concept of the continued life of spirit of man after the death of the body had reached a most interesting phase, and yet one can but wonder if it could have been retained indefinitely under that aspect. The belief in two spirit worlds, upper and lower, celestial and subterranean, and in controlling beings beneficent and baleful, seems to demand a belief in the reward or punishment of the human soul after the death of the body, in a supernal heaven and subterranean hell. Yet the Maori had evolved no belief in any punishment of the soul after death. Punishment for offences against the gods certainly lay in the hands of those gods, but such punishment was inflicted in this world, and, moreover, it followed quickly upon the hara or wrong committed. It was his firm belief in this swift retribution in this world that caused the page 65Maori to respect the laws of tapu, and so to induce a form of the discipline that he needed. Now it is clear that Io would have filled the place of a beneficent deity passing well, and Whiro would have been equally at home in the place of our old friend Satan. But the Maori never advanced so far in his conception of spirit life, he was still in the intermediary stage when we broke in upon his solitude and gladly offered him a readymade devil of a highly truculent disposition.
In several systems of mythology two spirit worlds pertaining to earth seem to be alluded to, one situated in the interior of the earth and the other in the far west. Quite possibly such beliefs resembled that of the Maori folk of these isles, where we are told that the underworld of spirits lies far within the body of the Earth Mother, also that spirits of the dead proceed to the far west under the setting sun. But we find that all spirits were believed so to pass to the far west in order to reach the old homeland of the race, from which place they proceeded to one of the two spirit worlds.
In Mr John White's lectures we are told that the Maori believes that there are three heavens; in the Life and Times ofPatuone, by Mr C. O. Davis, the number increases to twenty (see White, Ancient History of the Maori, vol. 1, p. 20, and Davis, op. cit. pp. 12-13). In the Bay of Plenty and some other districts natives have given the number as ten. In all the superior versions of native lore collected among the Kahungunu folk the number is given as twelve, the names of which have been preserved, as also those of the beings who inhabit them (see Dominion Museum Bulletin 10, 1976 reprint, pp. 72-74). Fornander noted how the number twelve was favoured by Polynesian myth makers of yore, and here among our Maori folk we find that the number frequently occurs as already shown.
The statement made by Davis concerning the number of heavens appears at p. 12 of his Life and Times of Patuone, and runs as follows: "Direct communication with the inhabitants of the first and up to the twentieth heaven was also an article of faith." At p. 13 he remarks that, on the death of the body, the manawa ora, or living principle, mounted to Heaven or descended to Hades. But the manawa or a of Maori belief is the breath of life, not the life principle, and it is the wairua that passes to one of the two spirit worlds. Again, on p. 12 he states that the ancient Maoris "apprehended a Supreme Being known under various designations, as Ranginui, i.e. The Heavenly Great etc." Not only is the rendering of the name Rangi-nui incorrect, page 66but Rangi was never viewed as a Supreme Being by the Maori. On the very next page of his work Mr Davis gives us the true name of the Supreme Being, saying that a Maori Chieftain "inadvertantly revealed the fact that the Maoris in the olden times, worshipped a Supreme Being whose name was held to be so sacred that none but the priest might utter it at certain times and places. The name was Io…".
Ellis, in his Polynesian Researches, states that a series of ten heavens was believed in by the natives of the Society Group. In the Paumoto Group the number is nine.
Thomson makes the following remarks on the Maori belief in the world of spirits, or rather of two such realms: "There were two distinct abodes for departed spirits: one was in the sky, and called Rangi; the other, denominated the Reinga, was in the midst of the sea, and its entrance was through a cavern in a precipitous rock near Cape Maria van Diemen…. They believed that their spirits after death fled to join their ancestors in one or other of these two abodes. In the future world under the sea there was only one division, but in the sky there were ten separate dwellings. The lowest was separated from the earth by a clear substance, and here the god of winds and storms resided; in the next divisions the spirits of men lived; and in the highest of all the other gods…. In the next world all spirits do not live on an equality. Slaves on earth are slaves in the future state. In the Rangi and in the Reinga spirits occupied themselves as men do on earth. For this reason, on the death of chiefs, slaves were slain to do them menial service in the next world. Neither of the abodes of the departed was a place of punishment. There is no trace among the people of any idea of the resurrection of the body." (Thomson, The Story of New Zealand, vol. 1, pp. 112—113).
The worthy medico gave us in the above work one of the very best publications on the subject of our Maori folk that has appeared. Any errors that we are now enabled to correct are but minor ones. Thus the Reinga or underworld was believed to be within or rather below the body of the Earth Mother, but spirits passed through or over the ocean in order to reach the underworld. There were certainly two divisions in the underworld, one occupied by Hine-nui-te-Po with her countless charges, the other by Whiro with his numerous followers. There is some slight evidence that further divisions were believed in by at least some persons. The ten dwellings in the heavens referred to are the ten separate heavens of widespread belief. As we have seen the superior teachings of the east coast of the North Island page 67were to the effect that the spirits that ascend to the heavens proceeded to the uppermost of twelve heavens. There seems to be evidence that this belief and these teachings extended as far as Whanganui. I doubt if there was any widely held belief as to the condition of slaves in the spirit world. Scarcely any two natives agree on this subject. We have a considerable amount of evidence to illustrate the common belief in the material aspect of life in the underworld, but no such evidence pertaining to the upper spirit world.
The Rev. R. Taylor in Te Ika a Maui, 2nd ed, p. 114, speaks of ten heavens, and states that the tenth heaven was the chief residence of the gods. Again, he writes: "The New Zealander also has some idea of high chiefs, or ariki, going to heaven after death, whilst those of inferior note went to Po or Hades."
The Rev. J. Buller in his Forty Years in New Zealand also mentions the ten heavens, and tells us that the third heaven was the abiding place of spirits, while Rehua abides in the tenth heaven although the gods dwell in the sixth. Further on he writes: "The heavens, to which the deified chiefs go brighten in beauty as they ascend." (p. 202). All these works on the Maori written by missionaries show us that the writers were never allowed to acquire any of the esoteric knowledge of the Maori.
The Rev. Mr Gill has shown that the natives of Mangaia have also a belief in two spirit worlds, and also believe that many spirits of the dead are transformed into clouds; which cloud-spirits are sometimes so numerous in space as to obscure the heavens and conceal the sun. This latter quaint fancy has not been heard of in connection with the Maori of New Zealand (Gill, Myths and Songs from the South Pacific, pp. 172-175).
The natives of the island of Niue also believed in the two spirit worlds, but we are told that the "good" went to a separate place from the "bad". One may be fairly confident that the Niue natives did not assign our meanings to those two words, or the belief is modern and the result of missionary teaching.
The poutiriao or guardians, appointed in the beginning of things, when order was established throughout the universe, to preserve order in the underworld were Kekerewai, Takaurunga and Takatua. That underworld is known by several names, as Rarohenga, the Po, the Reinga, and is occasionally alluded to by the use of a term that bears no such specific application; for instance, the word raro is sometimes used in referring to the underworld. The name of Paerau is also used in some cases as page 68though it were a name for the underworld, though it is apparently but a division thereof. Tahekeroa denotes the long descent to the underworld, and the muriwai hou ki Rarohenga is apparently the entrance to the underworld. Muriwai bears some such meaning as "entrance", one of its meanings being the mouth of a river.
The common name of the underworld is the Reinga, while the more correct and special name for it is Rarohenga. A famous expert used the former term in an explanatory manner in the following sentence: "Ka oti atu a Whiro ki te Muriwai hou ki Rarohenga, or a ki te Reinga e kiia or a" Tahekeroa is alluded to as the path of death down to the Po, to Rarohenga. The word reinga denotes the time, place of circumstance of leaping, jumping or descending; properly speaking Te Reinga is the name of a place at the North Cape of New Zealand wherefrom spirits of the dead were believed to descend into the ocean on their way to the spirit world. It is therefore merely the starting place for the spirit world, but it has been accepted as the popular name for the underworld. One never hears among the Maori folk any reference to the current of death (au o te mate) in connection with the upper spirit world; it flows downward to the Po only. In the days of Maui and the gods that ceaseless current was established, when the Dawn Maid descended into Rarohenga and so passed into Night, when Whiro retired before Tane the sun god to continue his ceaseless assaults on mankind. Then it was that the current of death by way of Tahekeroa was established for all time, ever it flows downward from the ao marama, the realm of light, to the region of intense darkness, of palpable darkness. As the men of yore put it: "Ka maro nei te ara i Tahekeroa e kume nei i te au o te mate ki te Po tangotango, ki te Po whawha." One explanation that occurs in an old recital includes another name for the long descent to the underworld—There is a path that descends to Rarohenga, to the muriwai hou; the name of this path is Tahekeroa, another of its names is the Broad Path of Tane, offspring of Rangi. (Kotahi te ara e heke ana ki Rarohenga, ki te Muriwai hou, ko te ingoa o tenei ara ko Tahekeroa, tetahi a ora ingoa ko te Ara Whanui a Tane nui a Rangi.) This broad path will be described anon. The expression Muriwai hou ki Rarohenga is occasionally changed in form, as seen in the following: "Haere ra, e tama ma el I te ara ka takoto i Tuhekeroa; kia karangatia mai koutou ki te muri ki te wai hou." This looks as though muriwai should be written as two words, and this would make one doubtful of the meaning of the phrase. See Williams's Maori Dictionary (p. 250 of the 5th edition), where it is shown that muri page 69is sometimes used without the following wai hou. The word hou denotes a downward movement.
The underworld is often alluded to as the Po, a peculiar term that means "night" but also carries the meaning of "the unknown", as explained elsewhere (Dominion Museum Bulletin 10, 1976 reprint, p. 59). From this point of view darkness is inseparably connected with the underworld; also Whiro is connected with darkness, and Hinetitama the Dawn Maid passed downward to Night. At the same time many myths and other recitals describe the underworld as being a place of light. We must abide by the sacerdotal use of the term po and look upon the underworld as denoting the unknown, the invisible.
The descriptions of the underworld of Maori belief given in vol. 16 of the Journal of the Polynesian Society, p. 47, is entirely imaginary, it is not a translation of the origin that precedes it, and it is utterly misleading.
It is often necessary to be careful in assigning a meaning to the word po, for a native may use it in the sense of night, the spirit world, darkness, the unknown, ignorance, etc. In the following saying po is used to denote darkness, but it is the darkness of trouble, while welfare is represented by light. "Anei tatou na ko te po, ana tatou na he ra ki tua."Here we are in darkness, there we shall be in sunlight—but this is just such a saying as the Maori delighted in, and therefore we must not render it in too literal a manner. A free translation would run:—Here affliction grips us, yonder is relief.
The expression Tatau o te Po is generally taken to denote the entrance to the underworld, the Gates of Night, but some tribes seem to have applied it to the underworld itself, the Ngai-Tahu folk are said to have done so. It is also said to have been the abode of Tumatauenga and Miru—"The abode of Tumatauenga in which was conserved all knowledge of evil was Tatau o te Po; his companion was Miru" (Ko te whare o Tumatauenga i takoto ai te wananga o te kino ko Tatau o te Po; ko Miru tona hod). The evil knowledge referred to consisted principally of the arts of black magic (see Journal of the Polynesian Society, vol. 7, p. 59, and vol. 30, p. 179).
The name of Hawaiki is sometimes confused with the underworld, but in New Zealand it was not a name for that realm. It might be said of a defunct person that he had returned to Hawaiki, or gone to Hawaiki, which simply meant that his spirit had gone to the unknown, the real locality of the homeland being unknown. I once received a print of a photograph of a native page 70which I handed to a Maori camp mate. He retained it for some time, leaving it carefully exposed to light, and, later, came to me in dismay with an unsightly blank paper, and the remark—"Where is my friend? Kua hoki pea ki Hawaiki" (Maybe he has returned to Hawaiki). In parts of Polynesia the name of Hawaiki is applied to the underworld, but, as Mr S. Percy Smith has pointed out, that is probably the result of confusion, inasmuch as the word raro means both "below" and "west"; all Polynesians maintain that the homeland of Hawaiki is in the far west. The belief held by Polynesians that spirits of the dead fared westward was an additional reason for the above belief, they went raro-wards, and that was enough. The Rev. W. W. Gill tells us that in some isles of eastern Polynesia the far west where the sun sets is called the Po, the darkling region, and so they say that their ancestors came from the Po to the isles of Polynesia. The natives of Mangaia applied the name of Auaiki (Hawaiki) to the underworld (Myths and Songs from the South Pacific, p. 168).
In many isles of Polynesia the natives have their local Reinga or starting places of spirits when commencing their long journey. Such places are situated on the western or north-western coasts of the different isles. Fornander speaks of several such "casting-off places" in the Hawaiian Isles. Gill tells us that there are three reinga raerua on Mangaia isle, all facing the setting sun. Turner describes the Samoan place of departure of spirits as being at the western end of the island of Savaii. These spirits lived much the same life in the underworld as they had known in this upper world, the belief of our Maori folk. Further notes on this Samoan spirit path are given at p. 39 of vol. 5 of the Journal of the Polynesian Society.
Wohlers, in his paper in Transactions of New Zealand Institute, vol. 8, pp. 108-123, on South Island Maori myths, etc., explains a native account of the Reinga. This realm of spirits, we are fold, is surrounded by hills and in the middle of it is a lake. On the shores of that lake dwell the spirits of men that come from the upper world, and there they regain in some unexplained manner their bodily forms and occupy themselves much as they did in the upper world. After a certain and unstated lapse of time these body-possessing spirits again die or pass into another stage of existence, and, apparently during this transaction, the spirits have to pass through a narrow space on either side of which passage stands a being that tries to catch them. These two beings are named Tuapiko and Tawhaitiri. Light, agile spirits are said to pass safely through, but heavy, slow-moving ones are caught, page 71though we are not told what happens to them. These spirits pass through ten stages of existence in the underworld, and some at least then reappear on earth as moths, flies, etc., and this is why moths are often called wairua tangata (human souls). This was the final stage. We are not told that the end was extinction, but presumably the death of a soul-moth would end the soul's existence. Wohlers also speaks of evil spirits that lurk about deserted homesteads, burial places, etc., in this world and destroy persons by entering their bodies and consuming their vitals. These demons are called ngingongino and rikoriko.
The division of the underworld into ten different regions seems to be confused with a belief in ten different stages of existence for the soul. Another version, however, states that the soul passes downward from one plane to another until the tenth and final one is reached. The process seems to have been a much prolonged one, the soul sojourning for some time in each division.
The old men of Ngati-Awa of the Bay of Plenty district told me that the Reinga is divided into ten different regions. John White collected the same version, Ancient History of the Maori, vol. 1. Taylor (Te Ika a Maui, 1st ed., p. 104) states that "there were several compartments in Hades, the lowest being the worst, had no light or food, and there the spirits were thought gradually to pine away, and to be finally annihilated." In an old song we note the line—Ite Reinga tuarua te whare i a Mini; ko te otinga atu o te wairua, kei wheau ake ki te ao." (In the second Reinga the abode of Mini, the final abode of the soul, that it may not linger in this world). In Buller (op. cit., p. 201) we read of the Reinga—"In that domain there were many rooms, each having its own name. The lowest of them was the worst, having neither light nor food. In that one the spirits pined and became extinct." Compare these remarks with those of Taylor above; is it a case of plagiarism or one of "two souls with but a single thought?" Both of these writers then inform us that in the uppermost region of the underworld spirits regale themselves upon sweet potatoes and taro, and that to reach that underworld spirits had to cross a river named Waiora-a-Tane by means of a plank, the manipulator of which sometimes sent a spirit back to the world of life. Taylor (op cit., p. 104, 2nd ed., p. 233) introduces one statement not included by Buller, that spirits (of the lower regions apparently) fed upon flies and filth. Elsewhere Taylor states that "The New Zealand natives think that the inhabitants of the Reinga or Hades feed on human excrement and drink wine." Wohlers refers to something similar. At p. 233 of the second edition of Te Ika a page 72Maui Taylor tells us of a woman who returned hither from the underworld where she had been offered filth as food. Such tales are numerous among our Maori folk. I have never heard a native relate this filth eating aet but evidently others have, and parallels are found in other lands. The belief in the final extinction of the soul was also widespread. In New Zealand it was apparently a common or popular belief, but does not appear in what may be termed superior teachings.
White (in his Lectures on Maori Superstitions p. 117) states that—"The Reinga is like a house partitioned off into apartments; the first one is the entrance, the second one is called Aotea … Aotea is the west of the entrance. The next division of the Reinga is Te Uranga o te Ra, to the east of the entrance. Here man becomes possessed of another but degenerate spirit. The next compartment is Hikutoia, north of the entrance, where man is put through another process which gives him a still more degenerate spirit. These three are, as it were, the first set of rooms in the Reinga. Man then descends to Pouturi, the next lower apartment, where he becomes still weaker, and lastly he descends to the final apartment called Toke (which name means worm) where he becomes a worm that returns to earth, and when a worm dies a man's being is ended."
In White's description of the region of the underworld (see Ancient History of the Maori, vol. 1) we find that he marks ten such divisions, No. 1-2 and 8 of which have no names attached. The third division is called the Reinga, the fourth is Autoia, the fifth is Uranga o te ra, the sixth is Hikutoia, the seventh is Pouturi, the ninth is Toke and the tenth Meto. The first four of these divisions, the four uppermost ones, are said to be under the control of Hine-nui-te-Po; the next three are under the sway of Rohe, and the lowermost three under Meru (Mini). Herein the order of names of planes or divisions differs somewhat from the first given, and the lowermost region is styled Meto, a word meaning "extinct, extinction". Whiro, we are told, belongs to Autoia, the fourth region; Rohe to the fifth where she endeavours to destroy the souls of mankind; Meru abides in the eighth region and also attacks the spirits as they arrive.
This name of Meto is sometimes given as Ameto by White, and it occasionally appears as though Meto were a personification of extinction, as in the phrase ki Ameto, which some of us have viewed as a misrendered form of ki a Meto. As a personal name it has been queried. In White's Ancient History of the Maori, p. 95 Maori part, appears: "Kua heke atu ra hoki tara wairua i te ara e page 73heke ai ki A-meto". Herein the hyphen in A-meto seems to be unwarranted. This is a clear statement that the wairua (spirit, soul) had descended the path that leads to Ameto or Meto. In vol. 2 of the same work, p. 84 Maori part, we find the phrase "Ki te tiro meto rawa atu" (to absolute extinction). Here we have the ordinary vernacular usage concerning the word meto. However, Christian, in Eastern Pacific Lands, p. 92, states that Ameta was the name of the wife of Tangaroa, and at the Marquesas Tangaroa is said to be a denizen of the underworld, while the west is the "much travelled highway of Tangaroa", or path of death.
In a paper published in a publication of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science in 1891, Mr White speaks of twenty different divisions of the underworld. He had evidently had the same experience that has puzzled so many collectors, that is in collecting different and contradictory versions of usages, myths, beliefs, etc.
Of the beliefs of the Moriori folk of the Chathams in connection with the destination of the soul we know almost nothing. A few of their archaic formulae that have been preserved seem to point to a custom of f are welling spirits of the dead to the heavens. Some of the old men questioned by Shand appeared to have a vague notion of the spirits of evil doers going to the underworld to eat worms and excrement. We may fairly safely credit the evil doer part of the statement to missionary influence.
In Moriori myth Rohe, the wife of Maui, appears as a sister of the sun. Maui caused her to change faces with him because she was the better looking of the two, and then killed her by magic arts; later on her spirit was the cause of the death of Maui. Rohe became controller of the underworld and she it is who catches all spirits, souls of the dead, as they descend to the underworld; she occupies the place of Hine-nui-te-Po of Maori myth. Tane, Hinetitama, Maui, Rohe, all these are connected with the sun.
The slaying of Rohe by Maui is said to have been the origin of death and black magic. Moriori myth refers to another female being resident in the underworld, one Hineiti, but we have no particulars concerning her functions. In an interesting recital repeated over a dying person by Moriori folk that person is urged to proceed to the rays of the sun and the heavens. The reciter held the head of the dying person on his arm during the recital, and, at the same time pointed to the sun. But we are also told that Rohe in the underworld captures the souls of the dead. It would page 74appear that the Moriori had the Maori belief in two different spirit worlds, one within the earth and one in the heavens, or were the dying urged to accompany the sun to the underworld?
It is an interesting fact that we have no mention of all these different regions of the underworld noted by White and of the gradual descent and final annihilation of the soul in that realm, in the large amount of the superior teachings of the schools of learning of the North Island. Much of this latter data has been placed on record. There may have been a sporadic form of belief in eventual annihilation, but I much doubt if it was ever an actual teaching of experts, those who retained racial and tribal lore. Assuredly the Maori is given to individual statements concerning ghosts and spirits, that is he expresses his own opinions. Neither is it by any means clear that he dwelt much upon eternal life in the upper world or anywhere else, or promulgated any such teaching. We are merely told that among the spirits of men that went to the supernal spirit world remembrance of this world of life gradually faded away.
Rohe seems to have been known to the natives of the island of Mangaia in connection with the spirit world as shown on p. 1 of the Rev. W. W. Gill's Myths and Songs from the South Pacific. The diagram on p. 2 of that work shows a series of the ten heavens of Mangaian belief; also nine names of the different planes of the underworld. I feel certain that many of the characters in Maori mythology could be traced in Polynesia had we fuller records of the myths, beliefs and legends of that region. Mini is another important denizen of the underworld known alike to natives of New Zealand and Polynesia, but among our local Maori folk Hine-nui-te-Po is by far the most prominent of these controllers of the lower world. The sex of Miru differs in Maori versions of the myth; she, or he, is sometimes referred to as a controller or guardian of the lower world, and she dwells in Tatau o te Po. She is associated with lizard demons or atua known as Mokohikuwaru and Tutangata-kino, also with other dread beings, such as kiko-kiko: Miru appears in the mythic recitals of Mangaia, Aitutaki and the Hawaiian Isles, and doubtless elsewhere.
At p. 117 of vol. 6 of the Journal of the Polynesian Society is a story telling how the sister of Miru died and he (Miru) went to the spirit world in order to recover her soul. He took with him a net in which to capture her wairua, but her spirit was within the house of Kewa and Miru could not lure it forth until he erected a swing which caused it to come forth and join in the pastime. Miru page 75captured the spirit in his net, and, by means of his swing, returned to the upper world, where he laid the soul of his sister on her body, and, by means of reciting a certain formula, caused it to re-enter and vivify that body. This story seems to pertain to a period prior to the time when Miru became a controller of the underworld, where Kewa was then in power, apparently, for we know next to nothing concerning this being.
A better known story locates Miru in the underworld where she was visited by Ihenga and Rongomai who went from this world in order to acquire a knowledge of occult lore, magic, etc., as possessed by Miru; the abode of Miru was at Tatau o te Po (door or entrance to the Po), which is spoken of as a house. The above twain, with a following of seventy persons, descended to the underworld by means of a rope. When the knowledge seekers had satisfied their desires they started to return to the upper world, but Miru caught and retained two of the party, Kewa and Ngo, as recompense for the prized knowledge disseminated. The remainder of the folk from the world of life sought to escape, but found that the followers of Miru had cut the rope by which they had descended. Believing themselves lost they returned to the Tatau o te Po and burned it, so destroying Miru and others; thus were the deaths of Kewa and Ngo avenged. The party wandered long and suffered from hunger and hardships, many died, but some found their way back to Hawaiki, their homeland, by sailing across the ocean. In after times this story was brought to Hukurangi (New Zealand) by those who came hither from Hawaiki.
It was from the Tatau o te Po in the underworld that all evil emanated, magic and all distressful things. This Tatau is apparently equivalent to Taiwhetuki, the abode of evil, in the myths of the Takitimu folk of the east coast of the North Island. It would seem that Miru dwells at the entrance to the underworld, but that Whiro is controller of a division thereof, the area of which the denizens are powers for evil. Apatari and Te Kuwatawata are alluded to as guardians of the entrance to the underworld in a number of recitals, the latter name being always employed by Takitimu informants. It is of some interest to note that Fornander, in his great collection of Hawaiian lore, states that Milu was the chief of a band of demons or mischievous beings banished by Kane (Tane) to the underworld, and that another name for Milu (Miru) was Kanaloa (Tangaroa). This is somewhat startling, as we have nothing in recorded Maori myths to show any connection between Miru and Tangaroa, for the page 76latter is not connected with the underworld in local stories. Tangaroa as leader of the opponents of Tane in Hawaiian myth occupies the place that Whiro does in New Zealand, and becomes controller of the Po or underworld. At the Marquesas Tangaroa seems to represent darkness, as does Whiro in Maori myth. Such beings as Whiro, Miru, Tangaroa, etc., are usually described as evil spirits, malicious demons, etc., but the original offences or evil acts of such "devils" seem to have consisted of opposing some other prominent being, Tane for example; the true meaning seems to be that of Light versus Darkness.
At Mangaia Miru becomes a ravenous cannibal female who controls the underworld and devours the spirits of mankind as they arrive from the upper world. Prior to being cooked these spirits are fed on worms and beetles. This Avaiki or underworld of Mangaian belief is a much more unpleasant sojourning place than the Reinga of the Maori, and approaches nearer to the hell of Christian teachings. The only way, apparently, to escape this fate was to be slain in battle, which ensured the passage of the spirit to the sky world.
In some cases the name of Miru appears as Meru, and possibly the Maori did use the two forms. One version of the myth makes Ruakipouri the abode of Meru, and therein abide Meru, Ruatoia and Ruakumea, ever awaiting the arrival of wairua tangata or human spirits from the upper world.
In an old Maori recital occurs the following remark—"The abode of Tumatauenga wherein was deposited the knowledge of evil was Tatau-o-te-Po; his companion was Miru." Herein Tu, who represents war, strife and death, appears as a denizen of the underworld. In Mangaian myth Ra the sun descends each evening to the underworld, so lighting up the nether world. In that realm he is said to visit his wife Tu, who dwells in the lower region of Avaiki, the underworld. There may be no connection between these two mythical Tu, but it is not improbable that Tumatauenga of Maori myth (usually termed simply Tu) is the personified form of the setting sun, a surmise brought forward in the first place by Fenton.
The brothers of Miru are said to have been Ihu-atamai and Ihu-wareware, the persons who found Hinauri, sister of Maui, after her long swim across the ocean, that is if this be the same Miru.
Before proceeding to discuss further the subject of Maori belief in the conditions of life in the underworld, and certain statements made by writers anent such life, we will introduce an extract from a recital of the myth of Mataora and his visit to the underworld of page 77Rarohenga, of which a full version will be given in a later chapter. Mataora had taken to wife a woman from the underworld, but, having been chastised by him, she returned to Rarohenga. Mataora went to reclaim her, and, on his arrival in the underworld, he found the people of the same material form as are denizens of the upper world. They cultivated food, played games, wore clothing and lived in houses. Also they practised tattooing and Mataora was there tattooed by Uetonga, the father of his fugitive wife Niwareka. When Mataora proposed to return to the upper world, taking Niwareka back with him, her brother Tauwehe spoke as follows: "Mataora! Abandon the ways of the upper world, the home of evil, inasmuch as all denizens of that realm eventually pass to this lower world owing to strife and affliction. Let us abide here; let the upper world and all its evil be kept separate from the lower world with its pleasing conditions. Do not let us hear of a second grievous happening above. Look you, the upper world and its doings is set apart as a region of darkness and evil, while the underworld and its conditions are set apart as a realm of light and life."
Here the narrator, Te Matorohanga, a famed authority, remarked: "Observe these remarks; it is only in the upper world here that evil acts prevail, while as to the Po, Rarohenga, there are no evil doings in that place, indeed there is no night, it is a realm of light and life wherein desirable conditions alone exist. That is the reason why, of all the wairua or spirits of the dead from the time of Hineahuone and all her offspring even to our own time, never yet has a single one returned hither to dwell in this world."
As early as 1827 Earle (in A Narrative of a Nine Months9 Residence in New Zealand, p. 125) noted the attitude of the Maori toward the spirit world. He writes: "They refuse to believe that the Good Spirit intends to make them miserable after their decease. They imagine all the actions of this life are punished here." The last sentence is, of course, not strictly correct, but one can see that he intended to convey the existence of a belief that all hara, offences against the gods are punished in this life. This does not necessarily include such minor matters as moral delinque-cies, murder, cannibalism, ferocious brutality in war, etc.
Earle (ibid., p. 125) makes the mistake of locating the Reinga on an island near the North Cape, "where both the necessaries and comforts of life will be found in the greatest abundance, and all will enjoy a state of uninterrupted happiness", but this writer did well for a collector of the "twenties". Savage, who visited page 78New Zealand in 1805, erred grievously when he wrote: "They have an idea of a variety of rewards and punishments in a future state."(Some Account of New Zealand, 1st ed., p. 24.)
The following remarks on Maori beliefs are taken from Yate's An Account of New Zealand, p. 140: "It were impossible to describe the belief of the New Zealanders respecting the state of the dead; for they know not what they themselves believe. They do, however, all hold that when the body dies, the spirit does not cease to exist, but goes away to some distant regions, either for happiness or woe. Some think that all spirits go to the Reinga, a place of torment; the entrance to which, they suppose, is at the North Cape, a steep cliff with a large cave, into which the tide rushes with great impetuosity, causing a deafening noise to proceed, apparently, from the bowels of the mount. Here it is supposed that Whiro, the evil spirit and the destroyer of man, dwells, and feasts himself upon those spirits whose bodies he has brought into the dust of death." The "place of torment" here referred to did not exist in Maori belief, and we have no further information anent the cannibalistic activities of Whiro, but Yate is near the mark in his statement concerning the vagueness of Maori beliefs concerning the spirit world. Yate also tells us an amusing story of a native who looked upon the Pakeha heaven as being quite unattainable. "Taki, an old man at Ohaeawai, is still hard and stubborn. He said he was quite satisfied to go to hell, so long as he could get what he wanted in this world before he went there, as he was quite sure that he should never reach heaven." (ibid., p. 225). One can but sympathise with the heroic Taki.
Some of these missionary gentry weary one beyond expression. Here is another extract from the gospel according to St. Yate. He asked a sick Maori where he expected his spirit would go after death: "I shall go to hell, " said he, with terrible emphasis, "I shall go to hell. Whiro is there, and I shall be his companion for ever … I shall go to hell, where else, where else should I go?" Evidently the hapless invalid was aweary, for he died ere the missionary had left the village, and the genial Yate remarks—"I dare not pronounce what his state is now: man is not the judge." Well, well, and this gentle apostle came hither to "civilise" the Maori who had no hell to go to! Earle (op. cit., p. 126) gives an amusing account of the Maori reception of this dreadful teaching: "The missionary then began to expatiate on the torments of hell, at which some of them seemed horrified, but others said 'they were quite sure such a place could only be made for the white faces, for they had no men half wicked enough in New Zealand to page 79be sent there': but when the reverend gentleman added with vehemence that 'all men' would be condemned, the savages all burst into a loud laugh, declaring 'they would have nothing to do with a God who delighted in such cruelties.' "
In his Maori and Polynesian Prof. J. M. Brown tells us that the offspring of the primal parents who rebelled against and separated them were "cast into hell", but they were not "cast" anywhere, and assuredly there was no hell to cast them into, for we must abide by the modern definition of this term, lest readers be confused. Tane and his followers defeated Whiro, hence the latter retired to the underworld, and a few who sympathised with him accompanied him. Tane, who was the leader of the "rebels", certainly was not so banished. The author's use of the terms "good" and "evil" are misleading and do not represent the Maori view. Rongo is classed as an evil being, whereas he represents peace and the arts of peace. On reading p. 145 it is clear that the author had not grasped the Maori concept of the spirit world, and the remarks on Maori "gods" on p. 146 are remarkably incorrect.
The adoption of a belief in two distinct spirit worlds, upper and lower, has been shown by Max Muller to have been the origin of the concept of hell and its priest-invented horrors "which are supposed to have influenced the lives of men more powerfully than any other article of religious faith." At first the underworld of spirits has no terrors, it is but a shadow-laden region wherein exist no fiends, and to which go the spirits of all persons. The Maori, as shown in these pages, had gone a little further than this; he had evolved, borrowed, or inherited a belief in two spirit realms, albeit this teaching had not become stabilised. He had the material for an excellent devil in the underworld but had located the saviour of souls in the same realm. Also some at least taught that the conditions of life in the underworld are quite desirable. It was necessary to provide a saviour of souls below because Whiro strives to destroy all such, while proceeding to the underworld was a matter of choice, of sentiment, and no belief existed of any punishment of the soul after the death of the body. Had the Maori proceeded further in his concept of two spirit worlds then presumably the Reinga, Po or Rarohenga would have become a place of punishment for the wicked, and it would have become necessary to abolish the protecting ex-Dawn Maid. But the Maori had to advance much further in his code and study of ethics ere he could formulate a belief in a system of rewards and punishments based on morality. With the Maori there was no division of page 80people into good and bad from such a viewpoint, and religion was only just commencing to concern itself with morality. No Maori really thought of another person as being wicked, as we understand the term. If a person offended the gods then he did wrong and those gods would assu redly punish him, here, in the world of life. If a person was too free in the use of black magic he would probably be termed tangata kino or evil person because he was a danger to the community. Tribal enemies might safely be described as evil persons.
Although we are told by the Maori that the spirits of men that descend to the underworld assume material forms and partake of such foods as they did in this world, yet when offerings of food were made to ancestral spirits and the gods, those beings, we are informed, did not consume the substance of such foods but merely the ahua or semblance thereof.
The conception of the punishment of the soul after death would presumably, when once acquired, become more and more developed as time advanced, and as the supporting priesthood increased its influence over the people. This teaching has assuredly placed great power in the hands of tohunga, barbaric and civilised, and has caused an appalling amount of suffering and misery in this world of life. Referring to the four stages of development of the belief in spiritual life after death as tabulated by Max Müller at p. 342 of his Anthropological Religion, then it may be said that the Maori belief was just entering on the second of such stages, so far as the majority of the people was concerned. Yet we can see that some of the more advanced thinkers of Maoridom were treading the path of a more philosophical theory; they had evolved the idea of the purification of the soul after death, and of the Universal Soul in Nature, also that of the ascension of at least some of such spirits to the uppermost of the twelve heavens, there to abide in the realm of the Supreme Being. This concept occupies the same plane as Muller's fourth stage referred to.
We have been told by sundry writers that all the Maori gods, so called, were evil, all malignant beings, but they cannot be entirely evil when they are ready to assist and succour mankind, so long as they are placated and the rules of tapu are adhered to. Whiro is spoken of as being the most consistently "evil" being, but even he could be placated, apparently, otherwise why were offerings so frequently made to him, as they were, with the remark "Ki a koe, e Whiro" (To thee, O Whiro). We have not made any real attempt to understand Maori thought and beliefs in this direction, page 81but have adopted far too much of the missionary attitude of a century ago.
The Maori despatched the souls of his dead to the underworld, there to live as men live in the upper world, or to fade away into nothingness. Some are said to have ascended to the sky world, there to abide with the supernatural denizens of those regions. In neither case was there any terrorising of the human mind. Such were the beliefs and teachings of the primitive Maori.
The following extract from an old chant illustrates the popular belief in the function of Hine-nui-te-Po, the erst Dawn Maid:
- Kai hea, kai hea te pu o te mate?
Kai ninga, kai raro, kai te hikahika nui no Hine-nui-te-Po.
(Where, where is the source of death? It is above and below, it is connected with Hine-nui-te-Po.)
With regard to the Maori concept of a spirit world in the heavens, it seems probable that this is a much later belief than that concerning an underworld. Doubtless our Maori folk once held such a belief concerning the underworld as did the early Jews, but they had evidently endeavoured to brighten its gloom, as witness such stories as that of Mataora. Also they had certainly commenced to "invent" a heaven, and it seems probable that this supernal realm was the aristocratic one of the two, or at least was so viewed by the chieftain class. There was, apparently, some higher plane of thought reached in this concept than the desire merely to obtain segregation of the souls of members of the chieftain class, and of the belief in the souls of mankind dwelling in the realm of Io, together with the realisation of a single origin of all things, we have already submitted evidence. The Maori tells us, anent the sojourn of the purified soul in the upper spirit world—Ka whakaoti te mahara ki taiao—all remembrance of this world fades away. The following extract from Draper's History of the Conflict Between Science and Religion closely approaches what was working in the minds of the ancestors of the Maori, that is to say of a small minority endowed with superior mentality. Assuredly the bulk of the people did not hold these superior beliefs, and they were not even divulged to them: "The return of the soul to the universal intellect is designated by Erigena as Theosis, or Deification. In that final absorption all remembrance of its past experiences is lost."
Among the ordinary folk, they who knew nought of what we may term the higher teachings, there was, however, some dim idea of superiority as pertaining to the heavenly regions. In the page 82first place it was viewed as the home of supernatural and eternal life, while death is unknown there. All beings who dwell in the heavens are atua, they know not death; in like manner the Whanau marama, the Light Giving Ones, the sun and moon, with their younger relatives the stars, live for ever. Again, the superiority of the male sex was ever recognised by the Maori. Rangi the Sky Parent represents the male sex and the heavens were termed the whare o te ora, the abode of welfare. The earth is represented by Papa, who is the Earth Mother, and our mortal nature is derived from her through Hine-Ahuone, who was fashioned from a portion of the body of the Earth Mother. Ever the female sex is inferior, hence the earth was termed the whare o aitua, the abode of misfortune, afflictions, death, as we have already seen.
Having described the location and conditions of the two spirit worlds, so far as they are known, it now behoves us to explain how the spirit reaches the realm to which it is bound.
An old recital states that Tamarangi-tauke, Whatu-taka-taka, Pu-whakarere, Haere-tu-te-rangi, Marere-i-waho and Taka-rawaho are names pertaining to the soul that leaves the body at death; the body is abandoned and the disengaged spirits proceed to the underworld, to Hine-nui-te-Po. No other hint is given as to the signification or purport of these names.
As death drew near the Maori partook of his final meal, the o matenga or food for the journey of death, the last drink of water taken by him being known as the Wai o TanepL In his last moments the breath is said to cause a slight movement of the nostrils as it passes from his body, as the Tahitians say that the wairua keeps fluttering about the lips during the pangs of death. White has left us a note to the effect that, among the Ngapuhi folk, a charm termed a whakaheke was repeated over the dead in order to facilitate the descent of the soul to the spirit world. Taylor stated that a charm called a whakaeke was employed in order to enable the spirit to ascend to the heavens. Shortland, in his Maori Religion and Mythology, pp. 44-45, gives a charm to enable the wairua to reach the heavens. The object of this ceremony was to despatch the soul to the spirit world, to dispose of it, lest it remain about its former abode and so distress the living. In some districts the act is called tuku wairua or soul despatching, and in others wehe (to separate). Some natives state that spirits of the dead remain about their old homes until the karakia wehe has been recited over the dead. A charm styled tuku was repeated by the Moriori folk over their dead.page 83
When the wehe charm was recited over the dead the parents or other near relatives might chant a brief farewell to the dead. The following is a specimen of such farewells: "Haere ra, e taku tamal Kei mihi mai koe, kei tangi mai hoe, kei aroha mai koe, kei konau mai koe ki to matua i waiho e koe i te ao nei. E oti atu koe. Haere ra, oti atu koe!" (Farewell, O my son! Greet not, weep not; give not way to affection and yearning for your parent whom you left in this world. Go for ever. Fare you well, depart for ever).
After this the kirimate, the near relatives of the dead, would cut their hair short, using sharp flakes of obsidian or shells for this purpose. In some cases a long lock of hair would be left on the crown of the head, to which some attached the skin of a dog's tail with its long hair, and this swayed to and fro as the wearer moved. In some parts a long lock was left on the side of the head. Laceration of the skin was also practised, and much blood was so shed.
"When a Maori died then a formula was carefully recited so that the wairua might proceed direct to the Reinga." Such were the words of an old native in long past days. A brief northern note is to the effect that, when a person died, a lock of his hair was cut off as the tuku wairua charm was being recited, but there is no explanation of why the hair was cut or as to what became of it. In some cases when a person knew that his end was close at hand he would say to his relatives—"Tukua au", that is "Despatch me", meaning that someone should recite over him the tuku wairua or "soul despatching" formula. Hammond related to me an interesting story concerning an old age-worn couple of the west coast. These old folks were trudging along a path leading to a distant village when the old man was called. He said "It is well." But his wife was seriously disturbed, for there was no person nearby to recite the tuku. Said she: "O sir! Who will despatch you?" Then, seeing but one way out of the difficulty, she cried—"Ah well, I will despatch you." Even so the old woman lifted her voice and chanted the magic words that cause the soul of man to pass from the world of life to the spirit world.
Taylor remarks in his Te Ika a Maui, 1st ed., p. 100, that a raw taro (Colocasia) was placed in the hand of the dead ere the tuku formula was recited. This shows that the ceremony was sometimes performed after death.
In cases of severe illness among the Moriori folk it was believed that the wairua left the body of the sufferer, and so a charm was page 84recited in order to bring about the return of the spirit; after which should the soul-bereft one sneeze, it was known that his wairua had re-entered his body.
A brief recital contributed by a Ngato-Kahungunu elder is of interest in this connection; it runs as follows: "A usage pertaining to Rarohenga. When a person of the upper world is lying near unto death and, through mystic influences, this becomes known to the spirits of his dead relatives in Rarohenga, then those spirits come hither to fetch the spirit of the one near to death, or perchance to cause the spirit of the invalid to return within its abode, that is the body of the invalid. Now if such was the decision of the spirits of Rarohenga, then that sick person would not die. But should they take the spirit of the invalid then he would not survive. Yet the spirit of that invalid will tarry to greet its relatives of this world for such period of time as elapsed between the birth of the person and the dropping of his umbilical cord. Then the spirit of the dead person of this world turns its face towards Wharekura, that is to Hawaiki-nui. The company of spirits that came hither to fetch it will accompany and guide it to Wharekura. On arriving at that place the spirit is subjected to the pure rite by the guardians of Wharekura and then either despatched by way of the broad path of Tane to Rarohenga, or by the way of the whirlwind path to the bespaced heavens of which I have already told you. If the spirit proceeds to Rarohenga then the spirits of Rarohenga conduct it to that place; should it finally pass to the bespaced heavens then the spirits of those heavens conduct it thither by way of the whirlwind path."
This brief account is an illuminating one and was given by an expert record-keeper. This belief was probably not generally taught, and perhaps not widely held, but another peculiar belief concerning death certainly was commonly held, namely that the spirits of the dead relatives of a dying person call to him to join them in spirit land. How often have we heard of a person in extremis saying—"Ko Afea ma kei te karenga mai or some such remark. He hears, as his faculties are failing and strange fancies flit through his disordered mind, the voices of lost friends and forebears calling him to join them. The brief sojourn of the spirit in this world in order to greet friends is a quaint fancy, and I myself have had several such experiences as caused the Maori to accept this belief. The sojourn referred to would be one of about a week, according to native evidence.
The place known as Wharekura or Hawaikinui, the broad path of Tane and the whirlwind path will be described anon.page 85
Shortland gives the following account of the spirit's journey by way of Te Reinga or the Rerenga wairua at the North Cape of New Zealand: "When the spirit leaves the body it goes on its way northward, till it arrives at two hills. The first of these hills is a place on which to lament with wailings and cuttings. There also the spirit strips off its clothes. The name of this hill is Waihokimai. The name of the other hill is Waiotioti: there the spirit turns its back on the land of life, and goes on to the Rerenga-Wairua [Spirit's Leap]. There are two long straight roots, the lower extremities of which are concealed in the sea, while the upper ends cling to a pohutukawa tree. The spirit stands by the upper ends of these roots, awaiting an opening in the sea weed floating on the water. The moment an opening is seen it flies down to the Reinga. Reaching the Reinga, there is a 0river and a sandy beach. The spirit crosses the river. The name of the newcomer is shouted out. He is welcomed and food is set before him. If he eats the food he can never return to life." (Maori Religion and Mythology, p. 45.)
The above writer gives no explanation of the names of the two hills mentioned. Waihokimai is, as the name denotes, the last place from which a spirit can return to this world of life, as persons recovering from a trance or state of coma are said to do. Passing Waiotioti means that there can be no return, no regained life. Other versions of the myth have it that Waihokimai, or some equivalent, is situated within the underworld. Shortland's account seems to be a combination of two differing versions. Scarcely any two natives give the same account of the soul journey.
Now the above extract from Shortland is the account usually given by the Ngati-Awa folk of the Bay of Plenty district, and I feel sure that it was there collected. Here follows a brief account given to me by Hamiora Pio of Te Toko. The spirit proceeds to the spirits' leaping place, and, on arriving at the ridge, there halts to lament the world of life left behind, also to lacerate its body with sharp stone flakes of which there is a heap at that place. When the mourning concludes the spirit descends by a hanging root or vine and stands below. It then proceeds onward to stand upon a certain rock where yawns the opening that leads to the Reinga. The waters well forth, seaweed swirls about, then the waters subside and the way is open down which the spirit leaps, and so reaches the other world. There the sun is shining, there is no gloom, it is like this world. The spirit comes to a wall; if it leaps over that wall then it returns hither to this world; if it passes page 86under the wall then that spirit remains there forever. The spirit finds its own people and parents and they greet each other with tears; if the spirit be given food, and eats it, then it will never return hither.
In the above account the spirit lacerates its body, and, later on weeps and is offered food. Apparently the Maori sees no absurdity in these statements any more than we do in some of our statements. The remark about light in the underworld is quite a common one and may be the result of dreams, and that concerning the effect of partaking of food is even more common. I have never heard from a native how the underworld is kept dry when such material spirits pass down through the ocean in order to reach it!
Ngati-Porou folk tell me that Te One i Rehia is the name of a sandy beach near Te Reinga, and that Te Wai o Raropo is a stream there. If a spirit drinks of the waters of that stream then it will never regain this world. A similar story pertains to the stream Waiora-a-Tane, a goodly distance south of the Reinga.
The place whereat spirits are said to tarry awhile in order to bewail themselves and farewell this world, is known to many as the Taumata i Haumu, i.e., the taumata at Haumu, which leaves Haumu as the true name of the place. The word taumata denotes the brow of a hill, also a resting place at such a spot used by travellers. Such a resting place situated on a plain would not be termed a taumata. This place was described by one as "Te taumata i mahue ai nga kakahu, katahi ka rere ko te kiri tangata anake ki te Reinga, ka ruku ki te moana, a ka ora wairua atu." (The tarrying place whereat garments are discarded, whereupon the spirit descends naked to the Reinga, hurls itself into the ocean and survives as a spirit). One would suppose from these utterances that the dead proceed to the Reinga in the body, wearing garments.
Allusions to these names are often noted in songs, as"Rukuhia, e tamal Nga rimu e mawe i raro oHaumu", wherein one calls upon the spirit of her son to descend to the spirit world through "the sea week that swirls below Haumu!" Another name that occurs in the same connection is that of Morianuku, and this appears to be applied to the ridge of Haumu. In a Whanganui legend concerning one Hurutara the following occurs: "Now when Hurutara died his spirit departed and went to the Rerenga wairua. The people of those parts saw his spirit passing, saw him ascend the hill at Morianuku, where he sat down to sing his farewell to relatives and home, which song was heard by the page 87people of that place, who retained it in their memories." In an old song we note: "Me ruku ware au te reinga tupapaku, he i whakamau kau ki Morianukuku." Herein the singer decides to throw himself into the depths and reck not of the result, lest he be marooned in solitude at Morianuku.
The swirling rimu or seaweed at the Rerenga wairua is often alluded to in song as the rimu ki Motau, the seaweed at Motau. Occasionally the name appears as Motatau. "Ite rimu e mawe ra ki Motau" (By way of the seaweed that swirls at Motau) is a common form of expression. "Ka rere whaka aitu ki te Reinga, te rimu ki Motau" occurs in another song.
My worthy old friend Hamiora Pio of Ngati-Awa (Bay of Plenty) knew nought of a celestial spirit world, yet I was told in the same district that wairua are denizens of the tenth or uppermost heaven. In no case did I ever hear a native of the Bay of Plenty district allude to twelve heavens; they all put the number at ten. The Takitumu folk maintain that there are twelve. Pio remarked: "Rangi never said 'Let my descendants ascend to me, ' for Papa had said—'Our children, let them return to me and abide within me. Although they have striven against us and parted us yet are they still my children. Mine shall be the care of the dead.' Now there were two men of these parts named Toihau and Kukia. These men died and their spirits descended to the Reinga, but their relatives warned them and sent them back to this world. They stated that the underworld is not a realm of darkness, but is light even as this world is. I am telling you this to show you that spirits do not ascend to the heavens." Another member of the tribe explained that, when the spirit of Toihau entered the underworld, it was met by the spirit of one Nahu, an ancestor of Toihau, who warned it not to pass under a certain obstruction and to refuse all proffered food. Through following this advice Toihau was enabled to return to the upper world, guided by the spirit of his ancestor. His own spirit re-entered its body, and so, after lying in death for three days, Toihau lived again. A Tuhoe native told me that the wife of Pukenui was carried off by spirits on one occasion, conveyed to some place where she saw all her old friends who had gone before. Apparently trance and dream were so explained by Maori folk.
In Taylor's Te Ika a Maui, p. 104, we are told the soul, ere it can enter the Reinga, has to cross a river named the Waiora-a-Tane, the guardian of which might assist the spirit to cross by means of a plank, or send it back home to live again the life that men live. Buller, in his Forty Years in New Zealand, p. 201, says page 88that spirits, on reaching the Reinga, "leaped on a flat stone … slinging themselves into the water from the branch of a tree, they entered Po, into which the Reinga was the passage." Further remarks seem to have been copied from Taylor. This passing into the lower world by leaping from the branches of a tree is a Rarotongan belief but not a Maori one. The Maori has, however, preserved in his songs the name of the tree as employed by the natives of Rarotonga, and that name is pua. At the western end of the isle of Rarotonga is the place wherefrom spirits leave on their journey to the underworld. At that place, we are told, stands a pua tree, a species of Gardenia, and into its branches ascend spirits on their way to Miru. Such spirits as climb on to the rara mata or live branches will return to life, but those that ascend by the dead branches (rara mate) fall into the clutches of Miru, and so perish. Gill calls this place Tuoro. He also states that, on the island of Mangaia, are three such departing places of spirits, all of which face the setting sun. He also mentions the pua tree in connection with these Reinga vaerua, as he calls them. It was taught that, when souls reached the cliff edge, a big wave swept in to the base of the cliff "and at the same moment a gigantic bua tree (Beslaria laurifolia), covered with fragrant blossoms, springs up from Avaiki to receive on its far-reaching branches unhappy human spirits." The pua tree of Samoa is said to be Hernandia peltata.
The following references to the pua tree and departing souls are culled from Maori songs. The name has been preserved by the Maori in this manner but he has long forgotten the meaning of it, and the explanation came to us from Rarotonga. The same may be said of the expression tawa mutu referred to below.
"Ka rumaki au ki te pua ki te reinga." In this line the reference is to disappearing in the entrance to the underworld. "Kia tuku pototia te tinana te pua reinga ki taku matua." Here the composer betrays a desire to hasten his passage to the Reinga. At p. 187 of vol. 27 of the Journal of the Polynesian Society we find a reference to the pua tree and the passing of a spirit in the Rarotongan dialect: "Kua mate iora a Kui-ono, kua aere atura tona vaerua, ka kake i te Pua, ko te rere ra i Taua." (Kuiono died and his spirit went and ascended the pua and leaped into Tava). This Tava is the chasm or abyss into which the departing spirit descends on its way to the underworld. It is alluded to in Maori songs as the tawa mutu or final abyss as in the following two verses:
Homai kia reia te rerenga ki te tawa mutu.
Here the singer says—Let me descend into the final abyss.page 89
Ka tuku tenei au ki te Reinga ki te tawa mutu.
The underworld was held by the natives of the Cook Group to be a much more gloomy and dangerous place than that of Maori belief, for the only souls that escaped being devoured seem to have been those of persons who had died in battle, and they went to a different region, and so did not fall under the power of dread Miru.
The people of ancient Egypt held the belief that the spirit of man was exposed to many dangers after the death of the body. It became subject to the attacks of hostile spirits. In both this world and the spirit world the one safeguard was the knowledge of the appropriate spell to ward off the danger, and these spells or charms were exceedingly numerous. This universal and far-reaching faith in charms bears a close resemblance to Maori beliefs, and a further parallel is noted in the fact that, though it is possible to translate the Egyptian formulae, it is often impossible to understand them. Those who have attempted the translation of Karakia Maori will sympathise with this statement of the difficulties of Egyptologists.
The Maori believed in certain signs that were supposed to emanate from the spirits of relatives abiding in Rarohenga who thus manifested their desire that a certain person should join them in the spirit world, or at least it was an intimation that the end of such person was near. I remember a native being seized with a serious illness in the Bay of Plenty district some thirty years ago. On enquiring as to the nature of his illness a native remarked: "I doubt if he will recover, because, one morning last week when he rose he saw indications that a lizard had visited his bedside during the night. "Na, e aro ara i a koe he tohu tena" (Now you are aware that that is a sign.)
Puckey has left us a record of his visit to the Reinga in the far north in December, 1834 (see Missionary Register, 1835). A number of natives objected to his going to the place, fearing that he would interfere with the facilities that enabled spirits to proceed to the underworld. Their expostulations ran as follows: "You must return, for if you cut away the aka by means of which wairua descend to the Reinga then the whole island will be in distress. It may be all very well for you to go to the heavens, but leave us our old path to the Reinga, and let us have something to hold on by as we descend, or we will fall and break our necks." Ever this materialistic view was taken of the passing spirit.
Mr Puckey was informed that spirits coming from the interior carried with them small bunches of palm leaves, probably the page 90cabbage-tree or Cordyline was meant, as a token of the place whereat they had lived when in the flesh, whereas those from coastal districts carried bunches of a seaside grass. These tokens, we are told, or parts of them, were left at different resting places on the way to the Reinga; such tokens are termed whakaau. Our writer proceeds: "We came to another and the last resting place of the spirits, which is on a hill called Haumu, from whence they can look back on the country where their friends are still living, and the thought of this causes them to cry and cut themselves. Here we saw many dry whakaau, which, as a native … said were the tokens of the spirits who had rested at this place. I asked him if it were not possible for strangers who passed this way to do as my natives were then doing, namely twisting green branches and depositing them there as a sign that they had stopped at that notable place, a general custom of the natives when they pass any remarkable place."
After a rough walk our questing traveller was conducted down to the beach. "Here there is a hole through a rock into which the spirits are said to go; after this they ascend again and then descend by the aka which is a branch of a tree (projecting out of the rock) inclining downwards, with part of it broken off by the violence of the wind, but said to have been broken off by a number of spirits which went down by the aka to the Reinga some years ago, when great numbers were killed in a fight. After we had looked a while at the aka of the Reinga our guide took us about 100 yards further along, when he directed our attention to a large lump of seaweed, washed to and fro by the waves of the sea, which he said was the door which closed in the spirits of the Reinga. This latter place is called Motatau, where, our guide remarked, they caught fish which always are quite red from the kokowai or red ochre with which the natives bedaub their bodies and heads; the natives believe that painted garments go with the departed spirits.
"The scenery around the place where I stood was most uninviting, and not only so but calculated to inspire the soul with horror. The place has a most dismal appearance … it must have been the dreary aspect of the place that led the New Zealanders to choose such a situation as this for their Hell."
Like most others of his time and training our worthy writer could not break away from his beloved Hell.
A quaint form of popular belief among some Maori folk was that waterfalls became silent when spirits of the dead were passing them.page 91
Since the days of Mataora no living person of the upper world has been allowed to enter the underworld, only spirit forms can do so; these can pass from one realm to another, as we have seen. The Polynesian myth concerning the kainga huna a Tane or hidden home of Tane to which spirits of the dead are said to go, is a far-spread one, as well it might be, for the hidden or unseen home is the underworld to which Tane (the personified form of the sun) retires each night. This passing of the sun has furnished Polynesians with one of their most picturesque flights of fancy, a myth that seems to clash with others.
A curious passage in a Maori recital at p. 46 of vol. 22 of the Journal of the Polynesian Society refers to spirits of the dead being seen as they passed over the ocean singing, lamenting and sounding flutes, farewelling the isles of Maui-iti and Maui-nui as they returned to the Honoiwairua in the distant homeland of Irihia. Here appears a different version of the passing of the soul to the spirit world; in this version the spirit does not descend to the underworld here where its abode was in life, nor does it make any submarine passage, but passes over the surface of the ocean in its journey to the homeland of the race. This belief was a prominent one among the natives of Mangaia, and also is noted in the Maori concept of the ara whanui a Tane or broad path of Tane. It is, perhaps, one of the oldest of human concepts, for it connects the flitting soul of man with the sinking sun.
The ara whanui is the path of the setting sun as seen extending far across the poho o Hinemoana, the breast of the Ocean Maid, when Tane the sun lord is descending to his hidden home; it is the gleaming sun glade that lies like a path across the ocean. In common with other peoples the Polynesians f arewelled the spirits of the dead to the far west, the region of the setting sun, and, in the glittering sun glade, they saw a convenient path for those spirits to traverse. Moreover, that path is seen only when the sun is setting, and so it was an especially appropriate pathway for such a use, inasmuch as the setting sun is connected with death, and so many a Maori singer has sung—"Tarry yet awhile, O sun! That we may descend together into the abyss." At Mangaia island the spirits of the dead cross the ocean in like manner at eve and sink with the sun into the underworld. The Rev. Mr Gill told us that, in his time—"To this day it is said of the dying at Rarotonga—'So-and-so is passing over the sea'!"
E. B. Tylor, who made a special study of these matters, wrote as follows in his Primitive Culture: "The scene of the descent into Hades is in very deed enacted before our eyes, as it was before page 92the eyes of the ancient myth-maker who watched the sun descend to the dark underworld, and return at dawn to the land of living men." (Primitive Culture, vol. 2, p. 44.)
The natives of Hawaii called the west ke ala ula a Kane, the red road of Tane, the gleaming path of the sun. The Maori of New Zealand employs the same expression te ara kura a Tane to denote the east, the red sunrise.
The following saying is a very old one: "He mata mahora no te ara whanui a Tane." It might be rendered literally as "An open face of the broad path of Tane, " which same is far from being its meaning. The "open face" means a fine frank countenance, or rather the fine qualities and character that lie behind it, while the ara whanui is the path of the dead, and the whole is equivalent to saying that another good man has gone. This saying was quoted when an admired person passed away.
Not only is the name of ara whanui applied to the sun glade traversed by spirits across the ocean to the old homeland of the race, but it is also used in relation to the last stage of the spirit's journey, the actual descent to the underworld, the ara or path that runs by Tahekeroa and the Muriwai hou ki Rarohenga. The passing of the soul of man to the spirit world is a direct movement in ordinary or popular belief, but in the superior version of the story or teaching, the one we are now dealing with, the flitting spirit traverses the surface of the ocean back to the old homeland of the Polynesian race, there to tarry a brief space ere it proceeds to its final destination. That brief sojourn in the homeland of Irihia or Hawaiki represents one of the most interesting of the spiritual concepts of the Polynesian race. We cannot say that this belief was confined to our local Maori folk, inasmuch as we have very little information on these subjects from the isles of Polynesia. The belief referred to is that, in the homeland is situated an edifice, known by several names, wherein a ceremony of purification is performed over each spirit ere it passes to its last home; moreover each such spirit selects its own destination, it is escorted to the underworld or the heavens according to its own desire.
Both the Maori of New Zealand and the Rarotongans have preserved traditions of an important edifice that existed in the old homeland in the far west, a place of exceeding tapu connected with the gods and with spirits of the dead. The Maori calls this edifice or temple by several names, as Wharekura, Hawaiki-nui, Hawaiki-rangi, Hawaiki-whakaeroero and Poutere-rangi. It was situated at a place called Te Honoiwairua, or the Rake-page 93pohutukawa or Tapu-te-ranga, or Tahuaroa, the old name of which was Rangitatau, and that place is on the summit of a mountain named Maungaharo, and Tihi-o-manono, and Irihia, and Irirangi.
Now it is not easy for us to believe that the ancestors of the Maori ever achieved such a cultural condition as would enable them to erect anything more than wooden buildings of modest dimensions, yet the Maori tells us of the tapu edifice of Hawaiki-nui, with its four entrance ways, and Rarotongans of that of Korotuatini that was twelve fathoms in height. Apparently the two traditions refer to the same place, but if the Maori ever did know such a large edifice the tradition thereof is now so encrusted with myth that it can scarcely be viewed seriously. Below are given a few brief traditions of the famed "spirits' house" or spirits' meeting place of the many names, as preserved in Takitumu tradition. The translation of one runs as follows:
"In the time of Ngana-te-ariki, and before his generation, a certain lofty mountain called Irihia, the ascent to the summit of which occupied two full days, was made tapu as to its upper part, which was set aside as a place whereat to recite the most tapu ritual to Io the Parentless, and the whatu-kura, and marei-kura, and uruao, and rahui-kura of the bespaced heavens, as also other supernatural denizens of those heavens.
"Now it is said that ceremonial feasts and offerings to the gods were conducted on that mountain; also that on that mountain are lying the bodies of the offspring of the children of Rangi-nui and Papa [Sky Father and Earth Mother] on account of their being tapu, for they were supernatural beings. Standing there also is a large house named Hawaiki-rangi; it has four entrances, one at the south side, one at the west, one at the north, and one at the east, and within it are deposited the whatu kuraof Tane and of Tangaroa. Supernatural beings coming from the south enter by the door of the south. In like manner those from the west, from the north, and from the east, enter in a similar way, as also do all such priests as are entitled to enter that house, each priest enters from the direction of his own home. Likewise spirits of the dead from the south, west, north and east never enter at random, but each by its proper entrance, but the supernatural beings of the bespaced heavens all enter by one way, the way of the eastern entrance only. Also those about to migrate to other regions must convey the talismanic symbol of the migration, and the semblance of the vessel, and the gods they are to take with them, to that place [Hawaiki-rangi], so that the pure rite may be performed page 94over them—ere they can safely and properly commence their voyage."
In another account we are given a brief description of the homeland of Irihia, and of the arrival of a band of immigrants from the land of Uru, lying to the westward. These immigrants were under the leadership of a chief named Kopuratahi, who acquired much influence over a certain people of Irihia—just here we pick up the translation of the original:
"Now when the powers of leadership had been acquired by Kopuratahi and his subordinate chieftain companions, and all those people acknowledged their sway, also their control of people, of lands, and of priestcraft in connection with all the gods of those people of Irihia, then the priestly experts of Irihia said to Kopuratahi and his five hundred chieftain companions:—'Inasmuch as you have all settled here as chiefs for us, then do you come and be conducted to the summit of the mountain of rites of our ancestors, the offspring of Ranginui who stands above us.' At that place stands their edifice Hawaiki-rangi, also at that place are their dead buried. There are four doors that face the four winds—Paraweranui, Tahu-makakanui, Tahu-mawakenui and Hurunukuatea [honorific terms for south, west, east and north]. Those are the ways by which diverged the offspring of Tane-nui-a-Rangi, and by which the souls of his descendants return to the source of supernatural powers, to fare on to Hine-nui-te-Po at Tahekeroa, others to ascend the toi huarewa to Ranginui and the bespaced heavens above.
"Then Kopuratahi and his companions agreed to go and see that sacred place. This was the first they had heard of it; it was a tapu place whereat were arranged all matters connected with godship in the upper world. So the journey was agreed to, and it is said that two days' climbing were necessary in order to attain the summit of that mountain. At that place Kopuratahi and his companions were subjected to the pure rite, sacred formulae were recited, invocations to Io the Parentless, to his attendants the whatu kura and marei kura, to the male and female denizens of the bespaced heavens, also all other companies of supernatural beings of those heavens.
"Now it is said that ceremonial feasts and placatory offerings to the gods were conducted at that place, all important and sacred rites; there are many more reports of this nature. Well, such is the trend of these explanations; the greater part of these recitals had been formulated when the offspring of Ranginui and Papa-tuanuku assumed their various tasks, including matters pertaining page 95to the bespaced heavens, to Io of the Hidden Face, the assignment of the regional guardians, and the edifice constructed by them, which was in this style—In it were four passage ways and four doors, one on the south side, one at the west, one at the north, and one at the eastern side. Within it lay the sacred stones of Tane and Tangaroa.
"Now some of the descendants of the offspring of the Earth Mother fared to the south and there died; in like manner those who went to the west there died; those who went to the north died in those parts, and those who went eastward died there. Their spirits then returned by the same route as that traversed by their bodies. On entering the edifice of Hawaiki-rangi the spirits of those who sympathised with their father ascended by the whirlwind path to the bespaced heavens, to Io of the Hidden Face and the various companies of denizens of those heavens. Those spirits that sympathised with the Earth Mother proceeded to pass down the long descend of Tahekeroa to the underworld of Rarohenga."
As we have seen Irihia is but one of at least four names applied to the tapu mountain mentioned above; it is also the name of the homeland wherein that mountain is situated. (Some information concerning the sacred 'house' Hawaiki-nui or Hawaiki-rangi will be found in Smith's The Lore of the Whare-Wananga, Part 1, pp. 112 et seq., 149, 153, 189, etc.). The pure rite referred to is one of a purificatory nature, but several rites differing somewhat in nature and effect come under the heading of pure. Anyone visiting a very tapu place had to be prepared in this manner, as Tane was when he visited the realm of the Supreme Being, and this rite is also performed over spirits of the dead when they enter the tapu edifice of Hawaiki-rangi that stands on the summit of the mountain of Maungaharo or Tihi-o-manono. Evidently the belief was that some gross qualities still clung to the spirit after it had left its earthly tenement.
Each of the four entrances to Hawaiki-rangi is said to have had its proper name, and there were four takuahi or fire pits, one opposite each entrance; these were probably used for sacred or ceremonial fires, which entered largely into Maori ritual performances. The two passages (kauwhanga) that passed through the edifice were in the form of a cross, their exits being the entrance alluded to. These four roads from north, south, east and west were termed ara matua (main roads), and they met in the middle of the thrice tapu edifice of Hawaiki-nui or Hawaiki-rangi. It is worthy of note that the term ara matua is also page 96employed to denote the apparent path of the sun across the heavens.
It is explained that all spirits of the dead must return to the old homeland of the race and enter Hawaiki-rangi, the "clearing house" of all wairua. After undergoing the pure rite the spirit then chooses its final destination, and the decision is based on the feeling entertained toward the primal parents, the Sky Father and the Earth Mother. As excess of affection for, or sympathy with, the latter is followed by the descent to the underworld of Hinetitama by way of Tahekeroa, the long descent. Those spirits that feel more drawn to the Sky Parent ascend to the heavens, but pass far beyond the lowermost heaven that is viewed as the parent of mankind; they pass to the uppermost heaven, the Toi o nga rangi, the realm of Io-matua, where they are welcomed by the attendants of Io, the denizens of that region. Spirits that leave Hawaiki-rangi to descend to Rarohenga pass out through the western entrance by the sunset route; those that ascend to the heavens leave by the eastern doorway. The path or means by which spirits ascend to the heavens has two names applied to it, viz., ara tiatia and toi huarewa. Explanations of these terms do not agree. Some assert that both are honorific or sacerdotal terms for whirlwinds, but others seem to believe that the ara tiatia is but the first part of the ascent and that beyond it is the toi huarewa. The ordinary explanation of the toi huarewa is to the effect that it is a sort of spiderweb-like cord hanging from the heavens. We are told that Tawhaki ascended to the heavens by that means. It is probably the same as the ara taepa or pendant way mentioned in some myths. The experts of the Whare Wananga or school of learning, however, taught that toi huarewa is a special term used to denote the whirlwind path to the heavens, the ordinary names for a whilwind being awhiowhio, awhiorangi, urupuhau and rorohau. The special terms often appear in chants and laments for the dead, as:
Kia tomo atu koe ki roto o Hawaiki-rangi, i takoto ai te toi huarewa
Kia eke ai koe ki te tihi o nga rangi, kia uru koe ki te Rauroha
Kia tuatia koe ki te moana o rongo i purea ai Tane-matua.
In these tones the spirit is called upon to enter the "spirit house" where the toi huarewa is, that it may ascend to the summit of the heavens, there to enter the Rauroha, the domain of Io, whereat Tanematua underwent the pure rite.
The bulk of evidence goes to show that ara tiatia is but another name of the toi huarewa, though the first name denotes a means of ascent consisting of a series of pegs used as steps, a form of page 97ladder differing from the ara tuateka and arawhata. The ara tiatia o Tane is the way by which Tane and the Wind Children ascended to the heavens, and this, the way we are discussing, the whirlwind path. This ara (path or way) leads from the eastern doorway of Hawaiki-rangi to the heavens.
In an old song occurs the following:
Piki ake, kake ake ki te toi huarewa
Te ara o Tawhaki i piki ai ki ninga ra.
So that the use of this means of ascent was not confined to spirits of the dead, as such supernatural beings as Tane and Tawhaki also ascended by it. Farewelling spirits of the dead in laments was much favoured in days of yore, and the various stages of the journey are sometimes alluded to in such effusions. Here is a lament composed by one Wharepatari for his child:
Ane! Tama ariki, kei whea koe a ngaro whaka aitu nei
Kia whakaputa mai to wairua me he mea ko Puaroa
Nga tokowhitu tatai arorangi o te o rongonui
Ka maha noa atu e rotu i au
Kia haere koe te kauwhanga ariki i o tuakara
E tatai ra i roto i te Mangoroiata
Kia puta atu koatou ki te Rauroha i te toi huarewa
Kia tomo koe Rangiatea, kia uru koe te kauhou whatukura
Ka maha roa atu i au … e … i.
Herein the singer asks his child as to whither it has gone, and that the child's spirit may appear to him like unto Puaroa in the heavens (Puaroa seems to be a term applied to comets). The child is farewelled to celestial regions by way of its "ancestors" who gleam in the Milky Way, to pass upward by the toi huarewa to the uppermost heaven, there to enter the realm of Io the Supreme Being and join the company of Whatukura, the male denizens of that heaven, leaving the parent sad and lonely in this world.
The four-way path that meets in the tapu edifice of Hawaiki-nui is termed the ara matua. By those four roads leading to north, east, south and west the descendants of the primal parents, Sky and Earth, wandered forth to all parts of the world, by the same path their spirits return to the old homeland of the race. Hawaiki nui o Maruaroa is the tuahu or place of rites at Hawaiki-nui, and Maruaroa is the season of the winter solstice, the takanga o te ra or changing of the sun, while the term ara matua is also used to denote the ecliptic as well as the famed four-way path of Hawaiki-nui. Could we but ascertain the origin of these superior myths of Polynesian folk I am convinced that they would prove to be primarily astronomical. The Hawaiki-nui to which the souls of the dead journey is, we are told, the true and original Hawaiki after page 98which so many places have been named, and from which all wairua are "i kia ki tev Po" or swept away to the spirit world. Various meanings have been assigned by different writers to this name of Hawaiki, but little satisfaction is so gained, and the same may be said of the Rarotongan name of Koro-tuatini given to a great edifice in the old homeland, a place twelve fathoms in height and enclosed within a stone wall, wherein spirits of the dead foregathered with the gods.
Another short discourse on the spirit house known as Hawaiki-nui, Hawaiki-rangi and Wharekura has been recorded. Herein we are told that the form, semblance or design of the edifice was brought from Rangi-temaku, the second of the twelve heavens, counting upward, by Tane and others. It was the first house constructed in this world, and it was situated at the Hono-i-wairua according to some authorities, while others say that it was at Tapu-te-ranga in the vicinity or district of Takewhenua. The original at Rangi-tamaku belonged to Nuku-te-aio, and it was erected at Parauri by Rua-te-pupuke. The one on earth, Wharekura, was constructed by Rua from the same design, and it was reserved as a sacred place, and as a repository for all lore pertaining to Io and the twelve heavens, also all the denizens of all the different heavens, hence the intense sacredness of that edifice which was named Wharekura. Tupai, Tane and their companions acted as guardians of that edifice. "However, enough of this, " the text says; "your elders Te Matoro-hanga, Pohutu, Ngatoro-i-rangi and others will adjust these statements if necessary."
Now the next house after Wharekura was Taiwhetuki, which belonged to Tangaroa; this was an evil place that blighted or destroyed fish, crops, spiritual beings, birds, persons and all other things. This "house" belonged to Tangaroa and Whiro-te-tipua, and it stood at the Pakaroa, Kaupekanui; to it pertained all evil, pernicious activities and influences; it was the origin of the whare maire, so well known as the source of the arts of black magic.
This recital gives a repetition of some descriptions, how the descendants of the Earth Mother went forth by the four winds and settled on all parts of the body of Papa the Parentless, and how, after death, each one returns by its own "wind" to Hawaiki-nui, to enter therein by its own proper entrance. Be it observed that the Maori employs the word hau to denote both "wind" and compass point, more especially the cardinal points. We are also told that the name of Hawaiki-nui was applied to the place when spirits of the dead proceeded from it to traverse the long descent page 99of Tahekaroa to the underworld. Two companies of spirits so pass through it, to leave each by its own way, for its destination. Should a spirit say: "E aroha ana ahau ki toki whaea" (I sympathise with my mother) then it proceeds to Rarohenga, so to dwell with the Earth Mother. After our missionaries had introduced their dreadful teachings concerning hell fire then the old belief of the barbaric Maori became tainted, and so we have such misleading remarks as occur at pp. 46, 113, 153 of the Kauwae-runga (Smith, The Lore of the Whare-Wananga, Part I).
At p. 401 of Dominion Museum Bulletin 10, 1976 reprint, I have stated that Te Kuwatawata, Kurumanu and Taururangi were appointed as permanent guardians of Hawaiki-nui. Of these we have seen that the first named performs the duties of janitor where the path to the underworld leaves Hawaiki-nui. As to Hurumanu, it is not clear as to why a being that represents sea birds should be appointed as a guardian for the spirit house.
The following song, the concluding lines of which alone are given, is a lament for the dead, for a daughter of the composer; it illustrates the Maori belief in a celestial spirit world.
Taku kotuku rerenga tahi e hara i te tangata, he kuru tongarerewa
Kia tika to tapuwae ki te ara tiatia, ki te toi huarewa i kake ai Tane ki Tikitiki o Rangi
Kia urutomo atu koe te Ruaroha, Rangiatea
Kia tu mai koe tini o te mareikura, o te whatukura hei hoa takaaho mou na
Kia tu mai koe ki roto o Matangireia te mata i a To mata ngaro
Ka oti atu ne koe, e hine ahu … e … i.
In this interesting song the parent addresses her dead daughter as follows: "My rare white heron, you are no ordinary being but a prized jewel. Let your footsteps turn direct to the ara tiatia and the toi huarewa by which Tane ascended to the uppermost heaven; that you may enter the Rauroha and Rangiatea; that you may mingle with the mareikura and whatukura who will be companions for you in your ramblings; that you may abide within Matangireia…; gone forever, O maid of mine."
The words te mata i a Io mata ngaro, represented by a blank in the translation, form the most interesting part of this lament, but I am not clear as to its meaning as here employed. In addition to its many recorded meanings mata has at least one unrecorded sacerdotal meaning. It is, however, most interesting to note that the composer of the song believed that the soul of her lost daughter would enter the realm of Io the Supreme Being in the uppermost heaven and there abide with his attendants, and near him. One of the meanings of mata is "face", and Io mata ngaro or Io of the hidden face, is one of the names of Io. The composer page 100may have meant that, being a spirit, and a purified one, she would then be able to look upon the face of Io.
A lament composed by one Hineraumoa for her grand-daughter Hinekakerangi contains a similar farewell to the above. The little girl, in the absence of her elders, endeavoured to secure a heavy stone adze that was suspended on the hut wall; it chanced to fall upon the child's head, killing her. The mother sings "Farewell O maid! By the broad path of your ancestor Tane that leads to Tahekeroa. Be eager to enter Hawaiki-rangi; ascend by the ara tiatia and toi huarewa that you may surmount the twelve heavens and enter Rangiatea." In another interesting farewell song to the dead the spirit is farewelled by the path of Maikiroa, he who destroys mankind.
We have seen that, when spirits of the dead entered the edifice of Hawaiki-nui, they were subjected to ceremonial lustration ere they fared on to one of the two spirit worlds. We have also learned a Maori belief that, some time after the death of the body, the wairua sloughs off its grosser parts, leaving a purer, more ethereal spirit termed the awe, a spirit that, unlike the wairua, cannot be seen by mortal eyes. Now these two beliefs have never been brought together; there is no evidence to show that the wairua was refined to the awe condition by the ceremonial purification of Hawaiki-nui. It is possible that the two beliefs were not connected.
A northern pundit explained that the wairua goes through such a metamorphosic process as do butterflies, from which the haumano or awe, the purified spirit, emerges, which proceeds to the heavens. He rather spoiled his recital by saying that only the spirits of well-born persons were so honoured. The word haumano describes the precise centre or core of a thing, as of a tree, while awe is a word carrying the sense of extreme lightness, hence it is applied to feathers, down, soot, etc. A peculiar use of this term awe is noted in a recital of the well-known story of Tama-i-waho and the wife of Toi, given at p. 120 of vol. 14 of the Journal of the Polynesian Society. It is there employed as a native would use the word wairua, and it is quite possible that the majority of the people were not acquainted with such subtle concepts as that of the refined essence of a spirit. At p. 127 of the above mentioned volume the awe is mentioned as returning to this world when the wairua had no power to do so, but according to experts of the east coast tribes the exact opposite was the belief in former times. At p. 25 of vol. 29 of the above Journal the term mauri appears to be applied to the refined wairua, the true page 101ethereal soul. This is utterly opposed to all evidence obtained from natives of diverse different tribes over the space of many years. No Maori informant has ever stated or hinted that the mauri of man survives the death of the body. The mauri is the physical life principle.
We have now to leave the Maori concept of the spiritual nature of man and of the spirit world in a remarkably interesting stage of development, knowing not as to whether it would have developed any further had not Europeans broken into these silent seas. Possibly isolation would have prevented any such change, but if any occurred it would probably have first affected the conditions of spiritual life in the afterworld and the selection by each spirit of its future home. Even so we leave the Maori of stone age culture faring out upon the red west road, the broad path of Tane that crosses the heaving breast of Hinemoana, the Ocean Maid, even to the old, old homeland that lies far away beneath the setting sun. And, as the beckoning hand of Whire touches him, he chants the line that occurs in so many songs of the Maori: "Descend, O sun, to the horizon, but tarry yet a while that we may go together."