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Anthropology and Religion

The Growth of Theology

The Growth of Theology

As the temple of Taputapu-atea rose to fame, so did the prestige of the priests associated with it. The priests formed a religious seminary which combined the fragments of myths that had filtered through with the early voyagers and worked them into a pattern to form a theology that was influenced by their oceanic background. "The priests gathered together the warp of myth and the weft of history and wove them into the textile of theology."* The various major gods who had different family origins had their advocates among the priests. Claims to precedence were settled by bringing the major gods together in one family by making them the children of the same father and mother.

The priests, influenced by the social custom of sharing food and material goods, proceeded to share or divide supernatural influence and power among the family of gods. The original sharing of power is revealed to us by the patterns that persisted in the marginal groups of islands that are separated from the center by long expanses of ocean. They ad-page 38hered to an early pattern and did not participate in the further development that occurred in the center after dispersal had taken place.

In this early form of supernatural government by the gods, special departments were created for the major gods. The major gods became departmental gods and were appealed to according to the particular desires of the people. Tane was given Forestry and hence controlled trees, birds, and insect life. He naturally became the tutelary deity of wood craftsmen. Before a tree could be felled in the forest for a voyaging ship or an important house, Tane had to be placated with a ritual chant or invocation; and before commencing an important task, an offering was made to Tane by the craftsmen. Tu was given the department of War, and warriors were dedicated to his service. Rongo presided over Horticulture and Food and, as a plentiful supply can be produced by cultivation only in a time of peace, Rongo also became God of Peace. Tangaroa ruled over the Marine Department and hence was appealed to by deep-sea voyagers and fishermen. This simple, straightforward pattern occurs in New Zealand, but, while the main principles also exist in other marginal groups, certain changes occur. Thus some gods are given greater influence and others are demoted.

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* P. H. Buck (Te Rangi Hiroa), Vikings of the Sunrise (New York, 1938).