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The Astronomical Knowledge of the Maori, Genuine and Empirical



The ordinary term for lightning is uira, a word far-spread throughout Polynsia; while other names are hiko, kanapu, and kapo. In addition to these we have the names of personified forms of lightning, as Hine-te-uira, Tama-te-uira, Tupai, and Mataaho. Hine-te-uira, the Lightning Maid, is said to have been one of the offspring of Tane, as also was Hine-kapua, the Cloud Maid. Tama-te-uira is included among the children of Rangi and Papa (Sky and Earth), and therefore precedes Hine. This Tama the Lightning is one of the guradians of the Lightning Family, Te Hiko-ahoaho, Te Hiko-puaho, and others, who represent different kinds of lightning. Tupai is the dread being who slays man during a thunderstorm. Mataaho personifies distant lightning, while Tama-te-uira is said to represent forked lightning; the latter is said to foretell fine weather.

The expression Te ahi tipua a Hine-te-uira is a saying denoting the fire she carries, and is made manifest in two ways.

Tawhaki seems to personify lightning, and in Maori myth he is connected, as we have seen, with personifications of other natural phenomena. In White's Moriori notes (collected by Deighton) occurs the remark: “Tawhaki is the atua of thunder and of lightning. When a thunderstorm occurs the Moriori folk invoke Tawhaki.”

The expressions rua koha and rua kanapu are applied to distant lightning as seen playing on mountais and ranges, gleaming on the horizon. Portents were drawn from such phenomena according to the direction of the flashes. Such a display might portend some affliction or disaster to the people of the land, or possibly to some distant tribe. I have on several occasions heard natives ask who was dead, or about to die, when a landslip occurred, so that our friend the Maori is ever ready to read omens in almost any occurrence. Te Peke and Maungapohatu, on the Huiarau Range, are two famous ruha koha.