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The Astronomical Knowledge of the Maori, Genuine and Empirical

The Sun

The Sun.

We have already mentioned several names for the sun, and there are here a few more to record. It was sometimes alluded to as the ra tuoi, the meaning of which is obscure, the ordinary meaning of tuoi being “thin” or “lean.” Ra kura (the red sun) is a descriptive name. It has also been shown, in another paper, that Tane is a personified form of the sun, the evidence of which has been gathered from Polynesia, as well as from local sources. The sky was called “the house of Tane.” The personal name of the sun, Tama-nui-te-ra, was a common usage in former days, and is still in use, but the Maori has forgotten the signification of Tane. Kau was a name for the sun in Egypt; among the Maori the word was used in a curious way connected with the movements of the heavenly bodies. Ra, the old Egyptian name for the sun, was also page 13 its ordinary appellation in Maoriland. In that old land the sun was the principal deity, and had many manifestations. Thus the setting sun was known as Ra-tum, and by a singular coincidence the expression ra tumu means “the setting sun” in eastern Polynesia.

Tama-nui-te-ra is, as shown, the personified form of the sun. When the vessel “Takitumu” made her voyage from Tahiti to New Zealand the sailing-instructions were as follows: “Keep the bow of the vessel carefully on Venus during the night, and during daylight follow behind Tama-nui-te-ra” (“Kia pai te takoto o te ihu o te waka i runga i a Kopu i te po; i te awatea ka whai i muri i a Tama-nui-te-ra”).

The following is another old usage, as employed to denote the time of day: “Kaore ano i poutu a Tama-nui-te-ra” (“The sun had not yet reached the meridian”). Poutumaro is another term applied to the sun when on the meridian. Another form is, “Kia moiri a Tama-nui-te-ra ka whakatika ai” (“When the sun is well up we will start”).

This name of Tama-nui-te-ra was also known at the Chatham Isles. See Journal of the polynesian Society, vol. 6, page 166, where he is mentioned in a charm empolyed to restore animation to persons afflicted by faintness, &c.

Another name for the sun is Tama-uawhiti. In one old myth the name of Hiringa is applied to the sun in connection with the singular belief that the sun represents knowledge—the higher kinds of knowledge. This name is evidently an abbreviated from of that of Tane-i-te-hiringa, who is the personified form of such knowledge. This is a very curious connection, but we must bear in mind that it was Tane, the personified form of the sun, who ascended to the uppermost of the twelve heavens in order to obtain from the Supreme Being the three tapu baskets of occult knowledge. With these may be compared the three sacred books of the Hindus, which are called the “three baskets of knowledge.”

We now come to another singular name connected with the sun—that of Te-Manu-i-te-ra. This may be rendered as “The Bird from [or at] the sun.” Stowell identifies this as a name for a comet. White gives the following as an old saying: Hoatu; tenei ano to taua tipuna, a Te Manu-i-te-ra, e tu iho nei” (“Proceed; here indeed is our ancestor, the Manu-i-te-ra, standing above”). The application is not explained. The Rev. R. Taylor states that this Manu-i-te-ra lived on the mountain of Hikurangi, which death could not reach. This was probably a Mount Hikurangi of the original home-land of the race, or possibly a mythical place A curious myth concerning this being and Tawhaki, who is connected with lightning, is recorded at page 22 of Mr. Percy Smith's Peopling of the North.*

A curious form of utterance is “Korikori taua; ka taka tauira” —a remark that would be uttered by the leading man of a travelling party as a signal to the party to be moving on, as after a rest by the way. It may be rendered as “Let us be moving; the sun is declining.” This use of the word tauira is interesting.

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Another old saying is, “Ka to he ra, ka rere he ra” (“As one sun sets another sun rises”). This refers to the sun and moon, both light-givers; when one sets the other rises.

The winter solstice, termed the takanga o te ra, or changing of the sun, occurs in the maruaroa season of winter, the midsummer season being known as the maruaroa of the orongonui, the latter being a general term for summer. The term hikumutu seems to be a specific term for the winter solstice; the foregoing term is a general one, applicable also to the summer solstice.

Some quaint remarks are made by natives concerning the sun. Hamiora Pio once spoke as follows to the writer: “Friend! let me tell of the offspring of Tangaroa-akiukiu, whose two daughters were Hine-raumati (the Summer Maid—personified form of summer) and Hine-takurua (the Winter Maid—personification of winter), both of whom were taken to wife by the sun:—

“Now, these women had different homes. Hine-takurua lived with her elder Tangaroa (a sea being—origin and personified form of fish). Her labours were connected with Tangaroa—that is, with fish. Hine-raumati dwelt on land, where she cultivated food products, and attended to the taking of game and forest product, all such things connected with Tane. The Sun spends part of the year with the Winter Maid in the south, afar out on the ocean. In the month of June occurs the ‘changing of the Sun,’ and he slowly returns to his other wife, to the Summer Maid—she who dwells on land, and whose other name is Aroaro-a-manu. This period we call summer. And so acts the Sun in all years. The child of the Summer Maid was Hikohiko” (cf. hiko = to shine).

These old folk have told me that at the time of the winter solstice the wise men of yore would say, “The Sun is returning to land to dwell with the Summer Maid.”

Among the Moriori folk of the Chatham Isles the daughters of the Sun are said to be Hine-ata (Dawn Maid), Hine-aotea (Day Maid), and Hine-ahiahi (Evening Maid).

These Chatham Islands natives also state that one Rohe, sister of the Sun, married Maui, and he changed faces with her, as she was the more beautiful. Rohe descended to the underworld and became its queen, as did the Dawn Maid of Maori myth. The name is a curious one, and is known at the Cook Group.

The following fable was a well-known one among the natives in former days: The offspring of Tongatonga were the Sun and Moon, the Sun being the elder. The twain were constantly bickering. Said the Sun to the Moon, “Let us pursue our courses in daylight,” but the Moon persisted that they should move by night. So they could not agree on this subject; one declined to move by night, the other would not move by day. So they became angry over this contention, and the Moon said to the Sun, “Go on your way by day, that you may be assigned the servile task of drying garments.” And the Sun retorted by saying, “Go you by night, that you may be terrified by food-ovens.”

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And so it came about that each went his own way, and so darkness was conquered. The Sun is the chief of these persons, though darkness is still known in all parts of the world.

The curious myth attached to the solar phenomenon termed kura hau awatea is one of some interest. This name is applied to a form of solar halo, or perhaps a sun-dog of several colours, and that was believed to betoken approaching bad weather. If the different colours were bright and distinct, then the storm was near at hand; if these appeared dim. then the storm was still distant. When a bright kura hau awatea was seen by seafarers, then was heard the cry of the expert kaumoana. “Runaia te waka.” This was a command to make all snug, to prepare for a storm. If the planet Parearau was seen to have a misty appearance, then the strom would pass by or be dissipated.

But we now come to the curious myth connected with this halo. The Maori believed that certain men, those versed in sacerdotal matters and possessed of sufficient mana, could cause this phenomenon to appear at will, and that it was so employed for the purpose of signalling to distant places. Thus in the tradition of Whatonga's voyage we are told that on his return to Tahiti Island he caused both this halo and the kura hau po, or lunar halo, to appear round sun and moon. This was to serve as a signal to his friends at the island of Rangiatea, to show them that he had safely reached his home island.

But a much more marvellous exhibition of such power was given by Tama-ahua when he sailed from Oakura, in Taranaki, and returned to eastern Polynesia. On arriving at Tahiti he caused the solar halo to appear in the heavens that his sisters in Taranaki might know that he had safely reached his destination. With this marvellous feat on record let wireless hold its peace.

The peculiar quivering appearance of heated air seen during hot weather is known as the haka a Raumali (dancing of Summer), and also as the haka a Tane-rore (dancing of Tane-rore). This Tane was the child of Ra (the sun) and the Summer Maid. The following words are connected with the haka of Raumati:—

Te atua kohikohiko ana mai
Te tupua i te taha o te rangi i au e
E rere mai, e te ra i te rangi rekorcko
Kau ana mai i te taupac
Ki te rangi e tu iho nei

(The dread being flashing yonder, the demon at the side of the heavens. Move hither, O sun in the gleaming heavens; fare on from horizon to the heavens above. Aue!)

Some say that this appearance betokens the dancing of supernatural beings called Mangamangai-atua, who dwell in space. And ever as they dance they sing—

Tirohia atu te rangi ka kapo mai
Ka kohikohiko, e ka kapokapo
Ka kapo, ka kapo
Ka hiko mai i te pae ki te rangi

(Observe the flashing in the heavens—the flashing, the gleaming—flashing, ever flashing, gleaming from horizon to the heavens. Aue!)

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Another personified form of heat-shimmer is one Parearohi. The word arohirohi signifies “shimmering heat,” and Pare is a common name for women, used as a form of prefix, as in Parekawa, Paretipua, &c. A native account says: In the fourth month (of the Maori year) this woman, Parearohi, who is a supernatural being, appears dancing about the margins of forests. Such is the first sign of summer, and when you see that strange sight you know that it is Parearohi dancing as summer approaches. Her husband is Rehua (the star Antares), he whose enervating influence is felt by man and plants. This personification is sometimes called Arohirohi.

An eclipse of the sun was caused by its being attacked and devoured by demons, from which attacks, however, it invariably recovers. A solar eclipse is termed ra kutia.

The following charm was repeated in order to cause the sun to shine:-

Upoko, upoko, whiti te ra
Tenei to wahine te aitia nei
E te ngarara nui, e te ngarara roa,
Upoko, upoko, whiti te ra.

And here is another, to cause the sun to move slowly across the heavens—a charm much used by travellers:—

Hai kona ra koe, e te ra, tu mai ai
Tukua atu au kia rere haere
Tu ki Tupua, tu ki Tawhito.

(Stand there, O sun, and allow me to swiftly travel. Stand at Tupua, stand at Tawhito.)

These names probably represent Tupua-o-te-rangi and Tawhito-o-te-rangi, two mountains of the original home-land.

A considerable amount of respect was paid to the sun in Maori ritual performances, during which officiating priests always faced the east. Again, on the opening of the exceedingly tapu school of learning, the ceremonial opening of the house was commenced as the first rays of the rising sun reached the house. All higher classes of knowledge are connected with the sun; they emanated from Tane. The cultus of Tane represents the Maori form of sun-worship. It is marked by deference to Tane as representing the fertilizing-qualities of the sun, and by placatory gifts made to him. Thus all ritual formulæ and offerings are made to the personified form of the sun. The remarks of early writers, such as Savage and Cruise, as to direct public worship of sun and moon by the Maori at ordinary times may be dismissed as fables.

Any falsification of important traditional lore was looked upon as an insult to Tane, the origin of all knowledge and its tutelary being.

In his reminiscences George Clarke tells us that in one of his school-books occurred the statement—“It is wicked to look at the sun, and to point at it with the finger.” So that we ourselves are not far removed from the age of puerile superstitions.

In vol. 6 of the Polynesian Journal Shand gives a form of Moriori ritual recited over a dying person, and called hiri. The person reciting it pointed to the sun as he did so, and page 17 directed the spirit of the dying person to go to it. At page 165 of the work mentioned are some interesting remarks concerning an apparently decadent belief in a celestial spirit-world.

In his Myths and Songs the Rev. W. W. Gill tells us that Ra was the tutelary god of Porapora Island, but there is little on record to show that any reverence was paid directly to the sun in Polynesia. The same writer gives us the Cook Islands version of the ara whanui a Tane myth. This is the golden path of the setting sun, by which the spirits of the dead pass over the ocean to the far-off home-land of the race, thence to the spiritworld. He describes the assembling of the spirit band on the shore of their island home, and then—“ The sun now sinks in the ocean, leaving a golden track; the entire band of ghosts takes a last farewell, and, following their earthly leader, flit over the ocean in the train of the sun-god Ra, but not, like him, destined to reappear on the morrow.”

Lubbock tells us that sun-worship is almost unknown in Polynesia. Like other anthropological writers, and even collectors, he did not recognize the personified forms of that orb.

* See further notes under “Comets.”