Legends of the Maori
“There was Night at the first—the Great Darkness. Then Papa, the Earth, ever genial, general Mother, and our Father, fair Rangi—the Sky—in commixture unbounded confusedly clave to each other;
And between them close cramped lay their children gigantic….”
There was more than a Miltonic sublimity in the Maori conception of the beginnings of Creation. Night piled upon Night there was, the vast illimitable Po. “From the first night of Black Darkness onward to the tenth Night, the hundredth, the thousandth Night,” runs the tremendous story of the Polynesian cosmogony. Ages of Po, the profound timeless Night before Creation was. The Night that could be felt, the heavily-pressing Night, the various qualifications and attributes of the all-enveloping Po. In the course of æons of Po, the Earth, or Papa, came into vague being, Earth the nebulous, and upon it lay in vast oppressive heaviness and apparently eternal gloom the all-dominating Rangi—the Sky-Father. In some Maori tribes’ expositions of creation Light was opposed to Darkness, Ao representing the male element in nature, Po the female principle; the sun was the symbol of the male and the moon that of the female. But between the Sky-Father and the Earth-Mother there was at first no light of sun or moon; there was but blank darkness.
There in that utter profundity of gloom, oppressed by the close embrace of Rangi and Papa, lay confused and cramped the children of the primal parents, the children who were gods; their names represent the personification of nature’s various manifestations and powers. There were the winds and storms, the ocean and all that dwell in it, the fruits of the Earth, the volcanic powers that trouble Mother-Earth, the forests and all that live therein, and lastly Man. These were the children of Heaven and Earth. And these children, rebelling against their æons of imprisonment between the huge, shapeless forms of Heaven and Earth, made vast writhing efforts to part their parents. Their efforts at first were without success until Tane-Mahuta, the child whose personification was the Forest, essayed the mighty task. “Do not slay our parents,” said Tane to his brethren, “rather lift our Father Rangi far on high, set him there to be for ever above us.” And it was with the great trees of his domain, the forest primeval, page 4 that Tane wrenched his parents apart from each other and hove Rangi aloft in space to arch for ever this far-extending world.
This—said one of my tohunga friends—is the lifting song as the Maori has it, which Tane-Mahuta chanted while he and his brethren hauled away on the forest-vine ropes with which they set upright the props—that is, the great tree trunks—that forced Rangi away from Papa for ever.
“E iki, e iki e!
Te turou o Whiti!
Hiki nuku e!
Hiki rangi e!
Hiki nuku e!
Hiki rangi e!
Ka hikitia tona uril
Ka hapainga tona uri!
This lifting chant, which is called “Te Hiki a Tane,” is used to-day as a heave-away song, when great exertions are needed. Hiki means to lift; the burden of the incantation is the parting of sky from earth. When Tane-Mahuta forced Rangi and Papa apart with his great lofty trees of the forest, those trees were not growing as we see them now. They grew with their branches down and their roots in the air. But Tane reversed them and set their roots in the earth and thus have they grown since that age when Rangi was set on high. He covered with them the far-extending form of his Mother Earth as her clothing and adornment.
Now I shall give a South Sea Island version of that Creation myth lifting incantation, an action-song I have heard chanted by a party of natives of Aitutaki, one of the Cook Islands. This Polynesian chant was mightily chorused by the Island men while they imitated, with their long barbed spears of ironwood, the forcing away of Rangi the Sky from Enua (Maori, Whenua), the Earth, and the propping aloft so that man might have freedom and light. They sang it to the heaving action and the tiki-rangi-ti rattle of the wooden drums, the Aitutaki song for the herculean Ru-te-Toko-rangi (Ru the Sky-Lifter), who was the offspring of Rangi and Tea (Light):—
“Kii ana mai koia ko Ru-taki-nuku!
Koia tokotoko o te rangi-i-i!
Rarakina te Rangi-e!
E tau rarakina te Rangi-e!
Koia tokotoko a ia i te Rangi!
Kua peke te Rangi
E te tini atua o Iti-e!”
“Sing we of Ru-taki-nuku,
By whose strength the heavens were raised
And ever fixed on high.
Hence is he called
The heavens are heaved afar aloft
By Iti’s myriad deities.”
The “many gods of Iti” were called upon by Ru to aid him in his titanic task. Iti—or Whiti in the Maori chant—means literally “great distance.” In other songs it refers to Tahiti, or to Fiji, remote fatherland of the Polynesian race.
When the parents of the gods were parted thus, there came the Light, Awatea, Ao-Marama, brilliant, suffusing all things, dazzling, bringing wonderful life to all the Earth, filling the vasts of space. The Sun, the Moon, the Stars, the bright children of Io the supreme One, gave light to the world. Io—Jove, Jehovah, Deus—was the primal energising force, the power above and beyond all nature. And above the world arched Rangi-nui-e-tu-nei, great Sky-Father standing on high. And Tane saw that his far-severed parent was bare and naked, and he spread a garment of red (kura) over him. But this did not satisfy Tane; so he sought for stars and he swept away the kura and set the myriad stars there on high to twinkle for ever on the breast of Rangi. The kura he kept in the form of clouds and used it to clothe the heavens at times and to serve as aerial messengers. Very grand indeed to the eyes of the children who were gods was the starry adornment of Rangi-nui-e-tu-nei. Tama-nui te Ra, the Sun, climbed the face of heaven to make gloriously bright the day. By night shone the innumerable company of stars, tini whetu o te rangi, and names came to be given to the chief stars and constellations (kahui-whetu) by the men of this earth. Marama, the Moon, which vanishes each month to bathe in the reviving Wai-ora-a-Tane, gives radiant light by night; the living water in which she bathes is the light of the sun.
These were the nature-children of Great-Heaven and Far-stretching Earth: Tawhiri-matea, the god of Winds and Storms (the Aeolus of the Maori cosmogony); Tangaroa, the god of the ocean and of all the creatures therein; Tane-Mahuta, the god of the forests and of birds; Rongo, the god of cultivated foods and of peace; Haumia, the god of the wild fruits of the earth, such as fernroot; Ruwaimoko (or Ruaumoko), the god of volcanoes and earthquakes, and Tu-mata-uenga (“angry-faced Tu”), the god of man and of war and all warlike arts.
Such were the children of Rangi and Papa. There were others, according to various cosmological recitals, but these are the principal gods on whom most traditions agree. They were the personified forces of nature, the elements; and Tu stood for man, the youngest of them all, the last-born of creation.*page 8
Not for long was there peace among all these children of the Sky and Earth. There were hosts of evil spirits, released by the parting of the parents, and when these had been driven from the face of Rangi evil fell upon the Earth. One nature-brother warred with the other; all the elements were at strife, Tawhiri-matea released his violent storms, his torrents of hail and rain, his furious hurricanes amongst earth and ocean. He attacked Tangaroa, the lord of the vast waters; he lashed the surface of the ocean, he raised the sea in mighty billows and sent them charging about the watery earth. He lashed the forests, too, with mighty winds that brought crashing down many a giant tree. Ruwaimoko troubled the earth with internal heavings and fiery volcanoes and boiling pits. Tu, the god of man and war, alone stood unterrified, triumphant, amidst all the turmoil of wild nature.
And Tu came to make war on the creatures of the ocean and to take for his own the foods of the earth. He made nets and hooks, captured the fish of the sea; he dug the children of Haumia and Rongo from the ground; he snared and speared the birds of the forest. Tawhiri-matea, the god of the winds and storms, alone he could not conquer.