Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Mangaian Society

Creation Myth

Creation Myth

The creation myth of Mangaia has been well described by Gill (6, pp. 1-22). Mamae's manuscript gives, in addition, the names of the lands occupied by the spirits and also the marriages and offspring of the brothers of Vatea. These extra details provide material for making comparisons with other Polynesian areas.

Mamae states that there were four spiritual beings who, in the order of their distance away from this world, were Te-Aka-ia-Roe, Te Tangaengae, Te Manavaroa, and Vari. The four were of one kind, all spirits (Ka toko'a ratou, e apinga 'okota'i ratou, e au vaerua anake). Gill gives the alternative name Te Vaerua (The Spirit) to Te Tangaengae, but in doing so he has evidently misunderstood his informants and restricted to one a descriptive term applied to all four.

Gill (6, p. 2) says the universe of the Mangaians is to be conceived of as the hollow of a vast coconut shell. He places the first three spirits below the coconut shell and pictures them as occupying space represented by "a thick stem, gradually tapering to a point, which represents the very beginning of things. This point is a spirit or demon, without human form, and is named Te-aka-ia-Roe, or The-root-of-all existence." In a note (6, p. 1) he says, "Roê = thread-worm. The idea is of a quivering, slender, wormlike point at which existence begins, i.e., the extremity of the threadworm." Though the thin line may represent the beginning of existence, it does not represent the universe, for, according to Mamae, the four spirits occupied definite lands ('enua), of which he gives the names.

Te Aka-ia-roe was the spirit farthest away.

Koia 'oki te 'aka'ui'anga, aore o raro atu. He was the last, there was no one below.
Tera tona 'enua o 'Avaiki-te-'akaoti. His land was Hawaiki-the-last.,

Te Tangaengae was the second spirit. Gill translates this as "Breathing." The word also carries the meaning of the movement of the ribs during breathing.

Tona 'enua o 'Avaiki-te-araro. His land was Hawaiki-the-lower.

Te Manava-roa came next. See the following chant. Gill (6, p. 3) translates Te Manava-roa as "The-long-lived." The word conveys the idea of a continuation of breathing. The term manavaroa is applied to persons of sound wind whose breath will hold a long time.

Tera teta'i o Te Manava-roa, e vaerua ra i, no roto mai ia Te Tangaengae. Tera te 'enua o 'Avaiki-te-a-nua. Another was Te Manava-roa, a spirit, closer in than Te Tangaengae. The land was Hawaiki-the-upper.

Vari, a female, the fourth spiritual being, is admitted by Gill (6, p. 3) to page 10the interior of the coconut shell. Her name in full is Vari-ma-te-takere, which he translates as "The-very-beginning." The word vari, however, also means "mud," and, taken in conjunction with takere (canoe bottom or keel), the name literally means "The-mud-and-the-bottom"; it suggests the mud on the bottom of the figurative coconut shell. Vari is the mud of taro swamps and connotes potential plant growth. As applied to a female, it means the menses and conveys a connection with the female womb and the origin of human growth.

The association of plant and human growth in the Mangaian mind is evident in the phraseology describing the process by which children of Vari were produced. Mamae states:

Tera tei rauka mai no roto ia ratou, 0 Vari, e vaerua ra i. I a ia i pua'ia mai te tangata i teia 'enua nei. There came from among them Vari, a spirit. Through her were derived the human beings of this land.
O te korero ia a te 'ui tupuna, tera te ravenga i rauka mai ai te tangata no roto i a ia ia Vari, i 'aki'akia mai no runga i a Vari, e toru i teta'i kaokao, e toru i teta'i kaokao. Ka tokoono ratou. This is the story of the ancestors that the method by which beings with human qualities were obtained from Vari was by plucking off Vari, three from one side, three from the other side. They were six.

Beings with human characteristics (tangata) grew within Vari (no roto i a ia i a Vari). The six evidently sprouted up successively from either side of her body from the region of the thorax below the armpits (kaokao). That they became external growths is indicated by the fact that they were picked off from Vari (no runga i a Vari). The term for picking ('aki'akia) is used with reference to mature or ripe fruit. The six were not torn or pulled up ('u'uti). According to Mangaian concept, growths within the fertile mud (vari) sprouted up like plants and were picked off when they reached maturity. The fruit picked off had human characteristics, indicated, perhaps, by the double meaning of vari, but the plant idea predominates. Vari had no husband and her children no father.

The land of Vari received a special name:

Tera te ingoa o to Vari 'enua o Te Aiti-i-te-apiapi. The name of Vari's land was Te Aiti-i-te-apiapi.

It was a narrow, confined land (aiti), with a low ceiling, in which Vari sat kneeling (tuturi) or crouched up (memenge)." The name Te-Aiti-i-te-apiapi probably means the "Narrow-land-where-little-could-be-done." The land of Vari is alluded to in dance song (pe'e kapa) composed by the ancestor Potiki.

No'o mai Vari i Te Aiti Vari dwelt in the Narrow-land,
I te tuturi, i te memenge Kneeling and crouched up.
E Rongo e, a kake! O Rongo, ascend!

Gill (6, p. 8), in quoting this song, spells Te Aiti with small initial letters and translates the first line, "The house of Vari is the narrowest of all." page 11Treating Te Aiti as descriptive instead of as a proper noun, the name of Vari's land, led him into the error of describing Vari as living with her daughter in the land of Enua-te-ki.

Another verse of the same song quoted by Gill (6, p. 9) contains additional detail:

No'o mai Vari i Te Aiti; Vari dwelt in the Narrow-land;
E tuarangi kai taro mata A distant region where taro was eaten raw
I na turanga pure e ! At the appointed times of worship.
O Vatea matua e pua 'ua ake. (Our) parent Vatea simply grew.

Gill translates the second line as "A goddess eating raw taro," but tuarangi means a "region beyond the horizon" or "distant region" rather than "goddess."