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Maori Religion and Mythology Part 2

Origin of Fish and Some Other Sea Denizens

Origin of Fish and Some Other Sea Denizens

The various kinds of octopus (wheke) are said to have sprung from Kaiwahawera and Hine-korapa; their names are as follows:

Wheke-muturangi Wheke-koropuku
Wheke-uruhau Wheke-parawai
Wheke-autaha Wheke-kawekawe

These are names handed down in recitals of olden lore; the names collected here of species known to the Maori are wheke-ngu, wheke-korako, and wheke-rauaruhe.

Our experts in these mythical origins also tell us that from Kiripaka-paka and Putere sprang the snapper, gurnard and trevally. From Te Kopuwai and Ihutaua came the pehipehi, herring, and garfish; the pehipehi, whatever it may be, is said to act as a guide in conducting whales to places where terehua (a form of whale feed) abounds. (Ko pehipehi ke te moana takawaipu e haere ana; ko tenei ika hei taki i te pakake ki nga wahi terehua, ko tenei he kai na te pakake.) One Kirimaihi was the origin of the rock-cod and the tangahangaha; Whatumaomao and Kohurau were the origin of the kingfish, groper and kohikohi, while Tauwhaiti and Parapara were responsible for the existence of the upokohue (1, blackfish, 2, porpoise) and its younger relative the rehu, whatever that may be. The offspring of Kirimaihi are descendants of Kewa, while those of the Tauwhaiti went to abide at the bounds of Hine-moana, after the strife of Puku-ahurangi that resulted from the ill treatment of Manu-hauturuki by Tangaroa-whakamau-tai. The maomao fish was utilised by Kiwa and Tangaroa as a propitiatory offering at tapu ceremonial fires, and it was so employed at a ceremony connected with the children of Hine-titama.

We have seen in Dominion Museum Bulletin 10 that Tangaroa is closely connected with the ocean and with fish, indeed his name is often employed by the Maori to denote all or any fish, as a personificatory term in fact. Two of his offspring were Tinirau and Tu-te-wehiwehi (or Tu-te-wanawana); the latter is viewed as page 259the origin of reptiles, notably of the lizard, while Tinirau occupies second place to Tangaroa as a tutelary being of fish, though the name does not appear to be used in a personificatory manner. The name Tinirau seems to show that he represents or individualises the vast numbers of fish in the ocean (tini = host, myriad, rau = multitude). Puna-a-Tinirau and Puna-i-Rangiriri (Spring or source of Tinirau, and spring or source of Rangariri) are names applied to a mythical place in the ocean whereat fish originate, a breeding place apparently. Puna is a word often employed in the sense of "fountain head" or "primary source". Tinirau is said to have had extensive fish preserves at his home, and it was he who took Hina-uri, the darkened Moon Maid, to wife; he also appears in the story of Kae and Tutunui. Tinirau is known in widely separated isles of Polynesia.

Punga is said to have been another of the sons of Tangaroa, and repulsive reptiles, etc., seem to be connected with him; ugly persons are called the aitanga a Punga or progeny of Punga. One version makes him the parent of Ikatere and Tu-te-wehiwehi, the former being connected with fish. Another version makes Tangaroa the parent of the famous Rua brethren, the personified forms of knowledge.

Rehua of realms celestial is credited in one story as having been the origin of the maomao, moki, and kohikohi sea fish, though a statement given above clashes with this claim, such clashes are, however, somewhat common in Maori mythology. As a rule Rehua is referred to as the origin of certain birds, and the small freshwater fish inanga. This Rehua is said to be represented by the star Antares, and his two wives are Ruhi (or Pekehawani) and Whakaonge-kai, who are visible in the form of two stars, one on either side of Antares. (A number of these myths concerning the heavenly bodies are given in No. 3 of the Dominion Museum Monograph series.) According to the Awa folk of Whakatane the offspring of Rehua are the inanga, the kaiherehere species of eel, and the bird called tui and koko. In times long past these offspring of Rehua enquired of him: "What is our task?" and Rehua said to them: "When you descry a certain red gleam in the heavens, know that it is a sign calling you to go to your ancestress Wainui [the ocean] and give birth to your young. When grown they will return to the rivers." Even so, down the changing centuries, the inanga and tuna (eel) folk have migrated to the ocean when the star Takero is seen in the heavens, on the Turu and Rakaunui (16th and 17th nights) nights of the moon they move seaward obedient to the behest of Rehua. There are three different page 260migrations of the inanga folk to the sea; in the fourth months (of the Maori year, September-October) the young fish come up the rivers. The abode of Rehua was at Tupua-a-te-rangi and Tawhito-o-te-rangi, which are like unto the mountain of Hikurangi.

From Te Arawaru and Raupara sprang the garfish, sting-ray and rerehau and kaikapo.

The origin of whales is given as follows in a Takitimu recital:

family tree

Another authority gives the following:

family tree

Here we are supposed to have the origin of whales, porpoises, and all similar creatures. Here Tinirau is not shown in connection with Tangaroa.

The origin of sharks is traced to Takaaho, an elder brother of Tane, but other beings named Rongohuakai and Punga are also mentioned as being the progenitors of sharks. In a list of tutelary beings, personified forms etc., we note the statement: "Ko Takaaho, te potake tenei o te mango" (Takaaho was the origin of the shark). Another recital includes Te Puwhakahara as co-progenitor with Takaaho, and these fare out on the vast expanse of Hinemoana in order to seek a roaming place for their offspring, also for whales and porpoises. These last two species were to have occupied the fresh water seas of the earth, but they were not agreeable to that arrangement and persisted in roaming the bounds of Hinemoana. (Ka haere atu a Takaaho, a Te Puwhakahara kia what takanga mo a raua na whanau, koia tenei, ko te mango-pare, te mango-urerua, te mango-ururoa, te mango-takapane, te mango-makomako, te mango-tahapounamu, te mango-nihotara, me era atu mango, me to kauika pakake o te whenga kauki o tutara kauika, o upokohue. Koe enei i tataitia hei page 261noho i nga moana o uta nei, kaore i pai, tohe ana kia waiho ratau i whao i tupaki nui o Hinemoana, ka mutu nei.)

In the story of Rata we see that his mother gave him many instructions as to how to proceed ere setting forth on his voyage. He was to learn the charms by means of which the whales of the deep could be induced to protect his vessel and bear it swiftly over far seas: "That you may also be taught the charm to attract the offspring of Rongohuakai, the sharks known as the aupounamu, huritani-wha, makomako and wahatara, all of which are man-eating sharks."

In Punga we find yet another parent of sharks:

family tree

Here we have the Punga who was a brother of Karihi and Tawhaki, presented as the origin of four kinds of shark, while Karihi appears as a forbear of the frost-fish, barracoota, conger eel and freshwater eel. Punga is elsewhere given as the offspring of Tangaroa. Eels are also spoken of as being the offspring of Te Ihorangi or Hine-te-ihorangi, she who personifies rain, and eels were originally denizens of the heavens, but came down to earth when a drought occurred in those regions. In the myth of Maui and Tuna, as given by South Island natives, we have the fireside origin myth pertaining to eels. Tuna, the parent, or originating being, or progenitor of eels, was slain by Maui, who cut his victim into sundry pieces. The tail of Tuna escaped to the ocean, where it produced the conger eel; the head fled to the fresh waters and was the origin of the tuna or freshwater eels, while the hairs of the head developed into aka (climbing plants). How Tuna came to have the growth of hair we are not told.

In connection with Wainui, personified form of the ocean, we find the origin of the custom of placing sick persons in water, and there performing over them a divinatory rite in order to ascertain the cause of illness. (Ka pa te mate ki te tangata ka kawea ki te page 262wai; ko te take o te kawe ki te wai he tupuna no te tangata a Wainui, no reira ka kawea ki te wai te tupapaku kia kitea nga mate, koia nei te kaiwhaka-marama o nga mate o te iwi Maori. Ka kitea i reira te mea e patu ana i te tupapaku, ahakoa whare, he moenga ranei, he whai tapu ranei, he kahu ranei, he rua koiwi ranei, he raweke i te whaiwhaia ranei.) They were so taken to the water because Wainui is a ancestor of man, and by taking them to her the cause of illness may be made known. No matter what the cause might be, whether a tapu house or bed, a sacred place, a garment, a burial place, or black magic, yet would it be explained.

As the origin of fish has been made more or less clear we may look into the matter of the origin of fishing nets. All such nets used by the Maori folk for very many generations back have been modelled on one that was obtained from the Turehu (a mythical forest dwelling people) by a man named Kahukura. This man noticed the footprints of a strange folk on the sandy beach at Rangiawhia, and one night he saw a number of the Turehu come down to the coast, where they proceed to drag a net, an artifact that was unknown to the Maori at that time. Kahukura joined the party and assisted in the hauling in of the net without being detected as a stranger. When the net was hauled in the Turehu folk hastened to string the fish so as to retire to the forest ere dawn of day. Kahukura endeavoured to delay proceedings so that he might gain an opportunity of securing the fishing net, the advantages of possessing such a thing being quite understood by him. So now Kahukura took part in the task of stringing the fish, but he cunningly neglected to secure the first fish to the cord, hence the fish slipped off as quickly as he strung them. Dawn was now at hand, and a Turehu ran to assist Kahukura, but he managed to delay the work until the brightening day sent the Turehu folk flying to their forest retreats leaving the coveted net on the strand. The deceitful action of Kahukura is recorded in the the old saying: "Te tui whakapahuhu a Kahukura", (Kahukura's slipping-off threading).

Timi Waata gives another version of the above story that has been localised in the Bay of Plenty district, and in which one Titipa takes the place of Kahukura. He delays the net hauling of the Turehu instead of the stringing of the fish, so as to gain his end. It seems probable that this story has been introduced from northern isles; it is known at the island of Niue (see Journal of the Polynesian Society, vol. 12, p. 178). An interesting version of the tale of Kahukura and the fair-skinned Turehu folk is given in Sir page 263George Grey's Polynesian Mythology (pp. 178-180); the place where the scene is laid is usually called Rangiaowhia or Rangiaohia, situated in the far north of the North Island, but that tale never originated in New Zealand.