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The Astronomical Knowledge of the Maori, Genuine and Empirical

The Moon

The Moon.

As in the case of the sun, so in that of the moon, we find that the Maori has indulged his genius for personification. That of the moon, however, does not occupy the important position that Tane does. The personified form of the moon is Hina, and this name does not appear in Maori ritual as does that of Tane, nor does there appear to be any cult of Hina. But there is another name to consider, that of Hine-te-iwaiwa—one that appears frequently in Maori myth. She is said to have flourished in the days of the gods, and to have been a kind of patroness of the female sex and of all labours peculiar to women, such as weaving. Female children were dedicated to her, and, most significant of all, she presided over childbirth. As to whether the latter part of her name has any bearing on this latter fact I cannot say, but it is extremely suggestive, the word iwa meaning “nine.” Another peculiar and suggestive item is that in Maori myth the first tiki (heitiki) ever made was made for Hine-te-iwaiwa by her father. When we remember that that grotesque image was worn because of its supposed fructifying influence, and the curious connection between the moon and women in native belief, then we begin to suspect that Hine-te-iwaiwa is but another name for Hina—that she personifies the moon. Mr. Tregear seems to identify Hine-te-iwaiwa with Hinenui-te-po in his Maori Dictionary (page 72); but at page 71 he gives Hine-te-iwaiwa, obviously the same name, as another name for Hina, the personified form of the moon. He also gives hina-iwaiwa as meaning “a glimmering moon”; and, under “Hina,” he says that Hina was also known as Hina-te-iwaiwa, Hine-te-iwaiwa, and Hina-te-otaota. The evidence of White and Wohlers also goes to show that Hina, Hina-uri, and Hine-te-iwaiwa are one and the same being, and that she undoubtedly personifies the moon. The Maori called her Hina-keha (Pale Hina) and Hina-uri (Dark Hina), the latter name apparently applying to her page 18 during the hina-pouri, or dark nights of the moon. Hina is said to have been the sister of Maui, who also personifies light—apparently day or possibly the sun. Tregear refers to a South Island version that makes Hina the mother of Maui, which he says is evidently a mistake; but many different versions occur throughout Polynesia. Hina is known far and wide over Polynesia as the moon, the woman in the moon, &c.

Fornander remarks that “I have found no trace in Polynesian folk-lore that the moon was ever regarded as an object of adoration, nor, though the planetary stars were well known and named, that these latter ever received religious consideration.” These remarks cannot be applied to our Maori folk of New Zealand, for here the cult of Hine-te-iwaiwa, who was closely connected with women and invoked on their behalf, was essentially a lunar one. It will also be shown that similar beliefs and ritual pertained to the stars and planets, though Fornander's use of the word “adoration” is scarcely correct in regard to the attitude of barbaric peoples towards their atua, or any invoked being. Many writers do not recognize natural phenomena in the guise of their personified forms, as in the case of Tane, and hence such erroneous remarks as the above are recorded.

The ordinary name of the moon in vernacular speech is marama, but it is also called ahoroa, mahina, and atarau, though the last three are little used. Marama hua denotes the full moon, while marama-i-whanake is a kind of honorific name for the moon, evidently for the waxing moon. The terms marama rou, marama titaha, and marama whiro are also applied to the moon, the last two evidently applying to certain phases. The term atarau denotes that though the moon is invisible, yet a faint light, its ata, is visible. The word tohi is applied to the waning of the moon—Kua tohi te marama; and riwha and toriwha to its crescent form—Kua toriwha te marama. Roku and roroku also mean “to wane,” and rotu seems to be used sometimes in the same sense. Marama taiahoaho denotes the full moon.

Those who look for comparisons can trace the name of Hina and Sina, as a moon-name, far across the Pacific; and even in far-off Babylonia Sin was the moon. Fenton states that the moon was called Rono in Assyria, and that Tu represented the setting sun and death in the same region; both these names being well known in Maori myth.

There is much to be said concerning Hina. She is mentioned as the sister of Maui [? day, or daylight]. At Hawaii she is the mother of Maui; at Ngapuka, Paumotu Group, she is the wife of Maui.

The South Island (N.Z.) traditions collected by Wohlers show Hina as the daughter of Mahuika, who is the personified form of fire, and as mother of Maui:—

These personified forms of light have a habit of sticking together.

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A line of descent to Tawhaki, given in Mr. Smith's Peopling of the North, commences as follows:—

The first three of these names seem to denote phases of the moon, and all names given are those of mythical beings or personifications.

The singular myth concerning Hina and her adventure with Tuna (the eel) is, in its inner meaning, a version of the Eve and serpent myth; hence the peculiar terms employed to denote an eel's tail—hiku rekareka and tara puremu.

At Mangaia Ina (Hina) is the wife of Marama (the moon). Here there were four sisters named Ina, and Tane (the personified form of the sun) married the one named “Ina who rivals the Dawn.” a being of surpassing beauty. Another of these Ina was taken to wife by Tangaroa. Possibly these four sisters personify different phases of the moon. Ina crosses the ocean to the setting sun.

At Samoa Sina is the mother of Rongo, who, in Hawaiian myth, dwells upon the waters. There are several things that connect Rongo with the moon in Polynesian myths.

At Tahiti Hina is the wife of Tiki. She it was who saved the life of the moon. She entered the moon, and watches over the earth. She is Great Hina the Watcher.

A Hawaiian myth makes Hina the wife of Matariki (the Pleiades). She afterwards dwelt in the moon, where her name was Lono-moku (Maori, Rongo-motu; cf. Rongo = ante; also Rono of Babylonia).

In the Paumotu Group Hina is the daughter of Rona, who is a noted cannibal.

Hina is said to go on a long sea voyage, because she disappears into the sea and is lost to view for several nights, and it is during this darkened stage that her name is Hina-uri.

We now see that Hina was called Rono (Lono) at Hawaii. At the same place Rongo is a dweller on the waters. At Samoa Rongo is the son of Hina and Tangaroa. Thus Rono, or Rongo, is coming very close to the moon.

In Maori mythology our “man in the moon” is resolved into the woman in the moon, her name being Rona. The common view of an eclipse of the moon is that Rona, a malignant being, is attacking and destroying it. When the moon does not appear the twain are battling with each other, and so cannot be seen. After the combat the moon bathes in the waiora a Tane, and so returns to us again young and beautiful. Another version credits Maui with the part of moon-darkener.

Rona is said to attack the moon because she destroys the food products of the earth. But this popular tale was not admitted page 20 as genuine by men well versed in ancient lore; it was but a popular fireside story, or korero purakau. One version makes Rona a sister of the sun and moon, the youngest of the trio. She dwelt with them in Mairehau, on Maunga-nui.

Rona, in the popular tale, was originally a woman of this world, but for having insulted the moon she was punished by being snatched up by it. She was going to a spring for water one night with her gourd water-vessels when the moon became obscured, which caused her to apply a most offensive epithet to it. She was at once taken away by the moon, and she is still seen in it with her rururu taha, or bundle of gourd-vessels.

One version makes Rona a daughter of Tangaroa, the mythical origin or parent of all fish. The superior, or sacerdotal, version, as it may be termed, is that Rona is the guide and controller of the moon. Her full name is Rona-whakamau-tai, or Rona the Tide-controller: thus we see that the Maori recognized the connection between the moon and tides. Tangaroa is one of the guardians and directors of the ocean, and his full name is Tangaroa the Tide-controller. The popular story of the cause of tides is the puerile fable concerning the sea-monster called Te Parata, whose breathing through his open mouth causes ebb and flood tides. It was Tane-matua (Tane the Parent, the Begetter) who said, “Let the waxing moon control the ebb and flow of the Ocean Maid.” Then stars were arranged so as to serve as companions for the waxing moon and to control the expanse of Hine-moana.

In vol. 27 of the Journal of the Polynesian Society Mr. Beattie gives a South Island version of the popular account of Rona, in which she is transformed into a man. Being pursued by his wrathful wife, he deserted the earth and sought refuge in the moon, and has been afraid to come down again. Truly he claims our sympathy!

“The moon,” quoth Hamiora Pio, of Te Teko, “never dies as man dies. The men of yore said that it passes below the earth, hence it was said that the moon died. It was Hau-ki-waho who declared that at certain times the moon approaches its elder brother, the sun, and the two move together for a period. The moon belittles itself in the presence of its more important elder; its importance (brightness) is lost in the superior magnificence of the sun. After a time the moon leaves the sun behind; then it is said by men, ‘The moon is again seen.’ There is much of affection between the twain as they traverse the course together. The sun embraces its younger relative, and so they tangi together as they move. This is ever seen; in all years their actions never vary. After a space the sun says to the moon, ‘Now return to your own place and that of our younger relatives. Let us ever cherish them. Pursue your course, as arranged by our elders. Go forth in the time of Whitiwhiti-ora, as I will in that of Kutao. In days that lie before you will return to me.’ Now, such was the origin of family love as seen in this world. The sun, moon, and stars—all the Whanau Marama, even to Hinatore (phosphorescent light), these folk ever agree. They never quarrel; there is no evil among them; their great aim is mutual affection.

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Evil exists among the people of this world, but never with the Children of Light. Death and decay assail man; even trees perish in time. The Whanau Marama alone are the deathless ones; they live for ever.”

The recovery of the moon from its periodical weakness is a subject for myth-making among all native races. The popular Maori myth concerning this phenomenon is that the stricken moon hies to the waiora a Tane, or life-giving waters of Tane, as the expression is usually rendered. She bathes in that fountain of youth, and returns to earth again young and beautiful. This quaint fancy is known as far away as the Hawaiian Isles, where the clearest proof exists that Tane is the personified form of the sun. Examination shows that this allegorical concept is based on scientific fact in this wise: Tane, under his name of Tane-te-waiora, is the personified form of sunlight, and the waiora a Tane is merely an esoteric and emblematical term for sunlight. The moon bathes in that sunlight and so renews her life, or is again seen by man. The Ngati-Hau folk, of Whanganui, say that Tane is called Tane-te-waiora because he is the cause of the life of the moon being preserved. The word waiora carries the sense of health, welfare, soundness. In eastern Polynesia the words vai and vaiora mean “to be, to exist.” Warmth, sayeth the Maori, is necessary to all forms of life, and the warmth emitted by Tane the Fertilizer is the waiora or welfare of all things.

Said an old Tuhoe native to the writer, “The moon is the real (or permanent) husband of all women. According to the wisdom of our ancestors, the mating of man with woman is a matter of secondary importance; the moon is the true husband.” This confusion of sex in regard to the moon is peculiar. Hina and Hine-te-iwaiwa are female personifications of the moon, yet the moon under its common name and that of Rongo is spoken of as a male. Can there by a mixture of myths to account for this confusion? Again, Polack mentions the case of a childless woman who desired to become fruitful, hence a priestly adept invoked the assistance of the moon on her behalf. He told her that the moon would assuredly relieve her desire if she would only give him (the aforesaid priest) a basket of food each day—such food, of course, being used as an offering to the moon! In days of old, when the moon appeared, women would cry, “The husband of all women in the worrld has appeared.” Again, it was believed that the moon had considerable influence on the birth of a child. The influence and effect differed according to the stage of the moon's development.

It was an old custom for women to greet the new moon when first seen with singing and weeping, lamenting those who had died since the previous new moon. Agriculturists planted their products at the full of the moon, which was supposed to have an excellent effect on the crop.

Taylor tells us in Te Ika a Maui that when the new moon appeared women assembled and bewailed those who had died since the last one, uttering the following lament: “Alas! O moon! Thou has returned to life, but our departed beloved ones have not. Thou hast bathed in the waiora a Tane, and had thy page 22 life renewed, but there is no such fount to restore life to our departed ones. Alas!”

A curious Fijian mode of greeting the new moon is explained at page 284 of St. Johnston's Camping Among Cannibals. At Samoa people assembled and cried to the new moon, “O child of the moon, keep away disease and death!” Also they made offerings of food to it, and held a feast. At the Kingsmill Group festivities take place at the full moon.

Taylor tells us of the Maori reciting charms or invocations to the moon, and also at the commencement of the year. The new moon is sometimes called kohiti; but kohiti and kowhiti primarily mean the appearing of the new moon. A passage in Fenton reads, “Fifteen days after the appearance of the moon it reaches the turu stage. Fifteen days after the turu stage it becomes mutuwhenua—that is, the moon is overcome by the sun, which carries it off into darkness. When abandoned by the sun it appears again.”

If the hollow side of the crescent moon is uppermost bad weather is at hand. If the crescent shows a more upright position it is a sign of good weather. If a star be seen near the moon on the riwha (concave) side it is a sign of fighting in the near future.

One Hine-korako is the personified form of some lunar phenomenon, apparently a bow or halo. She was one of the guides by which the vessel “Takitumu” was steered during her voyage from Tahiti to New Zealand. She is said to have been a kind of tutelary being in connection with childbirth.

And so, having seen the origin of the moon, its functions and personified forms, we will leave her at peace in the hanging sky. When, as Hina-keha (Pale Hina), she calls the husbandman and banishes the fisherman, watches over the mother and warns the warrior, she is closely concerned with human affairs. And then, as Hina-uri, she passes out upon the great ocean and swims to a far land, where Darkened Hina bathes in the life-giving waters that some say are represented by the Milky Way, and so returns to us as Pale Hina, the Moon Maiden. We leave her to the guidance of Rona, and the care of Te Ahurangi and Te Rangitaupiri, guardians appointed to care for her in the days when the world was young.