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Maori Religion and Mythology Part 1

[argument and introduction]

page 55


Primitive cosmogonic and anthropogenic myths preserved in advanced culture stages. Cosmogonic genealogy equals evolution. Variations of cosmogonic scheme. Creation and evolution. Sky and Earth were the primal parents. Personified forms of mental qualities, &c., precede Sky and Earth. The Po, or the Unknown. The void. The Cosmogonal tree. Bisexual beings. A pre-existent Supreme Being creates the universe. Water the first thing to appear. Watea (Space) separates Sky and Earth. Inferior cosmogonic concepts. The twelve heavens. Celestial beings. The offspring of Sky and Earth. The Earth Mother and her Children. Separation of Sky and Earth. Tane ascends the great mountain. The overturning of the Earth Mother. The origin of light. The heavenly bodies placed in the firmament. Tane represents the sun. The waiora a Tane. Whare-kura. Tane ascends to the uppermost heaven. Tane and Io. The three "baskets" of knowledge. The Whatukura. The Poutiriao, or Guardians. Tane versus Whiro. Contest between Light and Darkness. The House of Death. Origin of evil. Names of Tane. The quest of the female element. Origin of man. Tane the demiurge creates woman. The Earth-formed Maid. The ira tangata. Birth of the Dawn Maid. The Dawn Maid descends to the underworld. She becomes the champion of souls of the dead. The Tiki myth and its symbol.

The cosmogony and anthropogeny of a race ever contain an element of interest to the anthropologist, although, speaking generally, it is not always safe to assume that such conceptions are a reliable illustration of the mentality and intellectuality of the people of that race. For instance, a people may mentally outgrow their national cosmogony, and yet continue to teach it, having nothing wherewith to replace it, or finding it difficult to do away with old beliefs. Thus the account given in Genesis of the origin of the world, and of man, though now disbelieved by a vast and ever-increasing number of persons, still holds its place in our sacred books, and, to a certain extent, in our teachings.

All races of man have conceived some form of myth in order to account for the existence of our species and the earth we dwell on. Hence the Maori has his allegorical myths pertaining to these weighty matters. These may be deemed puerile, but then most cosmogonic systems may be termed so, and even that of page 56the Scriptures seems to have been but poorly arranged, inasmuch as it appears to bring light and vegetation into the world before the sun. This latter system, it seems probable, may have been evolved by the Turanian Accadians; it was certainly borrowed by the Semites, and by them passed on to Europe in Christianity.

The late Winwood Reade made a statement to the effect that savages have no idea of creation, or formation of the earth, but believe that it has always existed. This is not the case with the Maori. He has no detailed myth describing the actual creation of the earth, but, as a rule, taught his ideas of cosmogony by means of a singular allegorical myth showing the origin or growth of matter from chaos, or nothingness, and the gradual evolution of light from darkness. The superior version is to the effect that the Supreme Being brought the universe into being.

There is a considerable amount of variation in the different versions of Maori cosmogony, as preserved by different tribes, and this is no doubt owing to the long isolation of such tribes, for there was not much intercourse between them in pre-European days. There is also another factor that makes for contradictory statements—namely, the fact that two different aspects of all the superior class of myths were taught. One of these was that taught in the tapu school of learning, a version never disclosed to the bulk of the people, but retained by the higher grade of tohunga (experts or priests) and by a few others. The other version was that imparted to the people at large, and this, as a rule, was of an inferior nature, more puerile and grotesque than the esoteric version. The former of these versions was that the universe was created by the Supreme Being, nothing being said about evolution. This, apparently, was known to but few. The other version is marked by what may be termed cosmogonic genealogies, in which everything is the result of a kind of evolutionary process. This teaching was widely known. In his work on the mythology of the Oceanic races, R. B. Dixon notes the occurrence of these two teachings in Polynesia.

A still more popular version, a fireside story, is connected with the origin of land, which, in New Zealand and many isles of Polynesia, is said to have been hauled up by a god or demi-god from ocean depths. The Samoan story of creation given in vol. 1 of the Journal of the Polynesian Society is a good specimen of the higher type of Polynesian creation myths. Other such pertain to the Society, Hawaiian, and Marquesas groups.

In some of these myths we shall see that natural phenomena are treated as entities; that such conditions as chaos and gloom page 57reproduce themselves; and that a form of evolution from empty space down to the appearance of earth and sky is given in the form of a genealogical table. Another account reminds us of the cosmogonic tree of Asia and northern Europe; while the origin of man is almost invariably traced to the supernatural offspring of the Sky Parent and the Earth Mother. It would be unsafe to state that the Maori really believed that Darkness as an entity begat Light, or that nothing begat something. The Maori of yore appears to have thought out what he deemed a feasible line of evolution, and decided to explain it in manner genealogical; instead of saying that darkness was followed by light, he stated that darkness produced light. The earth and sky appeared from chaos or nothingness—that is, from the condition known to the Maori as the Po, usually rendered by us as "night" or "darkness", but which really implies the unknown. The origin of man is closely connected with cosmogony in Maori myth, for Earth and Sky were the progenitors of the race.

The curious phallic myth that makes Tiki the originator of man is explained elsewhere. In a number of these old myths the numerous names of Tane, Tiki, and other mythical beings are treated as separate and distinct personages, and so inserted in genealogical lines showing the descent of man from the gods. Other such lines of descent are brought down from the night of time, the ages prior to the existence of Rangi and Papa. Some include words denoting mental attributes or faculties, and certain physical functions, treated as though they were entities, or personified forms. One such, given by one Kohuora, of Rongoroa, in 1854, states that from Te Kune (signifying pregnancy) sprang Te Pupuke (signifying increase in size, swelling), from whom came Te Hihiri (denotes desire), who begat Te Mahara (signifies thought, memory), who begat Te Hinengaro (signifies the mind, desire), who had Te Manako (denotes longing, yearning), who had Te Po (signifying the unknown, unknown time or periods prior to birth and after death, hence applied to the spirit-world), who had Te Po-uriuri, who had Te Po-tango-tango (phases of darkness). Several similar names follow, and then the statement "All was dark in those times, there were no eyes" (? heavenly bodies). Then come a series of names beginning with Te Kore (signifying non-existence, non-possession, non-occurrence). Some following names are not decipherable, but the last one mates with Atea (space) and produced the heavens, Rangi who mated with the Earth, as represented by Hawaiki, the old homeland of the race, from which union sprang Taporapora, page 58Tauwhare-nikau, Kukuparu, Wawau-atea, and Whiwhi-te-rangiora, which are names of islands of Polynesia, apparently. Then comes the name of Ru, a word that, in the vernacular, is employed to denote an earthquake; followed by many others, down to that of Toi, a Polynesian voyager who settled in New Zealand about thirty generations ago,

In any endeavour to obtain information concerning such matters as we are now discussing it is highly important that the inquirer should have access to the learned men of the community, the few who have been carefully trained in the tribal lore. This calls not only for knowledge of the native tongue, but also for a long residence among them, ere the men of knowledge acquire sufficient confidence in an alien to induce them to impart such knowledge to him. The ordinary folk of any Maori community know but little of these "higher matters", and give most absurd accounts of the descent of man from the primal parents Earth and Sky. A perusal of some of these accounts shows us that man first appeared on the earth about a hundred years before the time of Columbus—that is to say, at a time when the ancestors of the Maori had been long settled in New Zealand.

One can scarcely peruse any Maori myth or tradition without encountering references to the Po, and students of Maori lore have been much perplexed as to the meaning of this expression. It is, in many cases, employed as name for the spirit-world, but this is probably a secondary meaning. Inquiries and observation exercised by the present writer, including analyses of many ancient cosmogonic myths, tend to show that the general or wider meaning of the term is "the unknown." References to the Po, as noted in Maori Myth, tradition, song, and vernacular narratives, show us that all examples fall under four headings, and that these may be arranged in two groups, each composed of two interrelated definitions, as follows:—

1.The period of time prior to the existence of the universe.
2.The period of labour of the Earth Mother.
3.The period of time after death.
4.The spirit-world; underworld.

1. Through all these runs the idea of the unknown, more or less prominently. The unknown aeons of time before the heavens, earth, and heavenly bodies came into being was the Po—intangible, unknown, unseen, unknowable. It is expressed in, and described by, a series of negations, and even, apparently, by negatory personifications. Such expressions and explanatory names are Te Kore, Te page 59Kore-te-whiwhia, Te Kore-te-rawea, Te Po-te-kitea, &c., which imply nothingness, non-existence, non-possession, the unseen, the unattainable.

2. The following six Po represent the six nights, or aeons of time, during which the Earth Mother was in labour with her offspring:—

Te Po. Te Po-uriuri.
Te Po-nui. Te Po-kerekere.
Te Po-roa. Te Po-tiwha.

These terms denote phases of darkness, and during these periods the Earth Mother caused her progeny to acquire form, the breath of life, and growth. We are assured in Maori myth that all things—man, fish, beasts, insects, plants, and trees—passed through this embryonic stage of development, though some of the offspring of Papa were located in various divisions of Rangi (the heavens), and these were nurtured by Hine-te-ahuru (mother of the heavenly bodies), by Hine-ruru-mai, and by Hine-makohu-rangi (personified form of mist).

Here follow six more Po, which must be added to the former, thus making twelve in all, which are the kaupeka (branches or divisions) of the Po, even as we have twelve divisions of the year, and twelve of the heavens:—

Te Po-te-kitea. Te Po-namunamu-ki-taiao.
Te Po-tangotango. Te Po-tahuri-atu.
Te Po-whawha. Te Po-tahuri-mai-ki-taiao.

These are the six Po during which the young of the Earth Mother moved within her as they sought the ara namunamu ki taiao, the narrow passage leading to the outer world, to this world (taiao). The above names carry an explanation—as, the unseen Po; the intensely dark Po; the Po of feeling; while the last two denote the restless turning of the progeny of the Earth Mother within her as they sought to escape to the outer world.

The Maori says: The counterpart of these Po during which the young of the Earth Mother moved within her, as known in this world, is seen with our women. When the child moves within the womb of the mother, and such movement is prolonged past the fourth night (i.e., four days), then that child will die; if prolonged beyond the fifth or sixth po (night), then both mother and child will succumb. Hence the expressions applied to such periods of prolonged and difficult labour—namely, hokai rauru nui, rauru whiwhia, and hokai rauru maruaitu.

3, 4. There is a closer interrelationship in the case of 3 and 4 than in that of 1 and 2. The term "Po" is applied in a definite manner page 60to the spirit-world below the earth, and this is usually explained by our writers as a realm of darkness, owing to the fact that the word po in the vernacular means "night." But in regard to both the spirit-world and also to the future generally after death, the primary meaning seems to be "the unknown." We ourselves use the expression "the night of time," and the Maori employs the term "Po" in the same manner; the darkness implied is that caused by lack of knowledge, not by lack of sunlight. Similar expressions used by us are "the mists of antiquity," "the dim past," and "the veiled future." We ever observe that light, life, and knowledge are grouped together in the Maori mind, as also are darkness, death, and ignorance. A Maori, in answer to a question as to certain occurrences in his district, replied "I do not know anything of those matters, for at that time I was still in the Po"—meaning that he was not born at the time.

The origin of the primal parents Earth and Sky is often given, as we have noted, in the form of a genealogical table of descent from original chaos. As given by different tribes these differ considerably. Many of these lists of names commence with that of Te Kore. This word kore in the vernacular speech is a common negative form, the gerundial form korenga denoting non-existence. In Tregear's Maori Comparative Dictionary we find: "Kore: the primal power of the Cosmos, the void or negation, yet containing the potentiality of all things afterwards to come." These terms, then, the Po and the Kore, are the ones most often met with in descriptions of the conditions that existed prior to the appearance of the Earth Mother and the Sky Parent.

In many versions each of the conditions, or phases, or aeons of time alluded to as entities, or personifications in these cosmogonies, are given as a series of first to tenth, as in the following:—

Te Kore tuatahi—the first Kore. Te Kore tuaiwa—the ninth Kore.
Te Kore tuarua—the second Kore. Te Kore tuangahuru—the tenth Kore.
Te Kore tuatoru—the third Kore. Then—
Te Kore tuawha—the fourth Kore. Te Pu First to tenth.
Te Kore tuarima—the fifth Kore. Te More First to tenth.
Te Kore tuaono—the sixth Kore. Te Aka First to tenth.
Te Kore tuawhitu—the seventh Kore. Taketake First to tenth.
Te Kore tuawaru—the eighth Kore. Te Kune First to tenth.

In some versions the Po precedes the Kore, and other names are inserted, as in Tregear's Maori Dictionary, at p. 168, and in Short-land's Maori Religion and Mythology, p. 12. In Taylor's Te Ika a Maui we have a different form, which reads thus: "From conception came fullness; from fullness came energy; from energy came thought; page 61from thought came mentality; from the mind came desire." Then, "Inner knowledge bore fruit, and dwelt with twilight, and produces the Po—the enduring, intangible, unseen, unfelt Po." Then the Kore leads on and, in conjunction with Atea (space), produces Rangi (the heavens). Rangi hovered over earth and, in conjunction with the glowing dawn, produced light; also, in conjunction with light rays, produced the sun. The sun was fixed on high as an eye for the heavens, and light became permanent.

In The History of the Taranaki Coast, at p. 25, occurs an uncommon version of these recitals, as given by Taranaki natives. It commences with a series of ten Po, after which it differs widely from other versions, and, although it gives the descent of man, the names of the primal parents, Rangi and Papa (sky and earth), do not appear. At No. 25 of the list of names, however, appears the remark "here the ira tangata appears in the World of Life." This expression denotes "human life", life as known to human beings, in contradistinction to ira atua, or life as known to supernatural beings.

Some interesting remarks on this subject may be found at p. 111 of vol. 14 of the Journal of the Polynesian Society. Canon Stack, in his South Island Maoris, makes the usual remark about these natives being "sunk in barbarism," and their philosophical theories evidently belonging to a period of higher mental culture, which need not be taken seriously. But he makes some interesting remarks at p. 91 of his little work concerning Maori cosmogony. Like other writers on the Maori, he was attracted by the native conception of evolution extending over vast periods of time, to culminate at last in Earth and Sky, from whom man is descended. In the version referred to by him eighteen names are given, commencing with Te Kore, and advancing from nothingness through thought and spirit to matter.

Among the Matatua tribes of the Bay of Plenty district a very singular version of these cosmogonic recitals occurs, inasmuch as it is based on the same ideas that, in the Old World, produced the curious myths concerning the cosmogonal tree, world tree, or universe tree. The Maori concept is, apparently, a more primitive form of the myth than those of India, China, Japan, Persia Chaldea, Egypt, and northern Europe. The study of the cosmic tree is one of considerable interest. The "world pillar" conception is perhaps allied to the foregoing, and is also a Maori belief. The earth is supported in the midst of waters by means of a pillar, which pillar is supported by a basket named Whakatauroa (see page 62Journal of the Polynesian Society, vol. 3, p. 156). The following is the Matatua recital referred to:—

family tree

Here we have a peculiar concept concerning cosmic origins, though possibly Kore (or nothingness) should have been placed at the head of the list, as in other versions. It is, however, here given as recited by old natives to the writer. It will be seen that the first six names are applicable to tree-growth; that the Maori of yore, in striving to picture the origin of earth and sky, has likened it to the growth of a tree, an illustration ever before his eyes. His method then changes, and, form being acquired, sound is introduced. Yet matter does not appear to have evolved until, from chaos and the unknown, sky and earth appear. The primal parents, from whom all things originated, are now in being. Rangi represents the male element, and Papa the female element. Some authorities explained that each of these phases or personifications are numbered as one to ten, the first Pu to the tenth Pu, and so on as far as Te Po (Te = the; definite article, singular). It is not clear as to whether or not these ten conditions were contemporary, but natives write them as though one begot the other, as a genealogy is written. Some allude to them as "persons"; and one remarked, "Thus there were one hundred persons from the Pu down to the time when Rangi and Papa appeared." It must not, however, be supposed that any Maori believed that the names represented human beings, but he persists in personifying everything, as is the manner of barbaric man. In the version here given, as recited by old Hamiora Pio, of the Ngati-Awa Tribe, the primal parents, Sky and Earth, had offspring three. Tane is not only the progenitor of man in this version, but also of divers supernatural beings, as shown in the Journal of the Polynesian Society, page 63vol. 8, p. 119. Tangotango is the origin of night and day, and produced the heavenly bodies, while Wainui is the personified form of all waters.

The conception of the cosmogonic tree is met with in northern Europe, among the ancient Chaldeans, the Egyptians, Persians, Hindus, Chinese, and Japanese. An Indian myth describes Brahma as the vast overspreading tree of the universe. In Mrs. J. H. Philpot's work, The Sacred Tree, occurs the following sentence: "The idea of referring to the form of a tree the apparent conformation of the universe is one of the most natural methods of reasoning which can occur to the savage mind."

Another version of the myth is that each of the names in the foregoing list represents a bisexual being that contained the power of reproduction. These versions are such as are given by what may be termed second-class authorities, men who were acquainted with a considerable amount of tribal lore, as also of the racial myths and beliefs, but who had not been taught the higher-class teachings imparted only to scholars in the whare wananga, or tapu school of learning.

At p. 109 of vol. 16 of the Journal of the Polynesian Society appears a superior cosmogonic chant obtained by Colonel Gudgeon from Tiwai Paraone, of the Hauraki district. In this high-class production of the neolithic Maori, the barbaric cannibal, we see a fine mythopoetic concept rendered in appropriate language, that may be compared with anything produced by Asiatic mystics, albeit no translation can equal the original. Here we see clearly the inner teachings of the old-time lore of the Maori, for here it is shown that the great Io, the Supreme Being, existed prior to matter of any kind, that he dwelt in space ere the earth was formed, and that it was he who caused the earth to come into being. The composition commences as follows:—

I noho a Io i roto i te aha o te ao
He pouri te ao, he wai katoa
Kaore he ao, he marama, he maramatanga
He pouri kau, he wai katoa.

(Io dwelt in universal space; the universe was in darkness; all was water. Day was not, nor moon, nor light; darkness alone was; all was water.)

Then the mighty Io called upon light to appear, and light dawned across space. Again he became active and called upon darkness to return: "Let light become darkness possessing"—and again darkness was. A third time he spoke, saying, "Let there be one night above and one below… one day above and one day below … clear page 64day." And then a great light came. He then looked upon the waters around him, and for the fourth time spoke: "Let the restless waters be separated, and the sky be formed"—and the heavens were raised … and behold the earth lay below.

After the foregoing comes some explanation, in which the following occurs: "The mandate by which Io formed the world, by means of which the earth was conceived and caused to exist in the universe, thoses words are met with in the words of the charm employed to cause a child to be conceived, &c." After some interpolations the recital proceeds: "The waters were separated to their proper places, where they still are. The heavens were suspended, possibly but a little distance above the earth, while below lay Papa-tuanuku (the earth)." Then Io caused other beings to come into existence:—

Te Aio-nuku. Te Po-nui. Tahuhu-nui-a-rangi.
Te Aio-rangi. Te Po-roa. Te Po.
Te Aio-papa. Te Po-whawha. Te Ao.
Te Aio-matua. Hine-ruaki-moe.

Rangi and Papa had issue (1) Tama-a-rangi-tau-ke, who represents the spirits of the dead; (2) Aitua, who represents all misfortune and afflictions; (3) Rongo-ma-tane, who represents the kumara (sweet potato) and other food products; (4) Tane, who represents trees and birds; (5) Tawhiri-matea, who represents wind and rain; (6) Rua-imoko, who represents earthquakes; (7) Ngana, the origin of the heavenly bodies; (8) Haumia, who represents aruhe (edible rhizomes of Pteris aquilina var. esculenta); (9) Tu-matauenga, progenitor of man; (10) Tangaroa, origin of fish and reptiles; (11) Pu-whakarere-i-waho, who represents evil and death.

The above is but a partial account of the particular version, but it is a fragment of much interest, giving as it does the origin of light from darkness, of day, night, and the earth from primal chaos and darkness. Above all it shows clearly how the Maori credited Io, the Supreme Being, with the origin of earth and sky, and natural phenomena, as also the supernatural and human descendants of the Sky Father and Earth Mother. This view of Tu, or Tu-matauenga, as the progenitor of man is not the general one; in most cases Tane is said to have been the origin of man. In an account of Maori religion by Colonel Gudgeon published in vol. 14 of the Journal of the Polynesian Society we are told that Tu did not beget man, but that he made a clay image in human form and endowed it with the breath of life, by grace of his own magic powers. The more commonly accepted version will be given anon.

page 65

In his Maori Religion and Mythology Shortland writes as follows: "The Maori had no tradition of the Creation. The great mysterious cause of all things existing in the Cosmos was, as he conceived it, the generative Power. Commencing with a primitive state of Darkness, he conceived Po (Night) as a person capable of begetting a race of beings resembling itself. After a succession of several generations of the race of Po, Te Ata (Morn) was given birth to. Then followed certain beings existing when Cosmos was without form, and void. Afterwards came Rangi (Heaven), Papa (Earth), the Winds, and other sky powers, as are recorded in the genealogical traditions preserved to the present time."

If by "Creation" Shortland meant the manufacture of a sort of hand-made world, doubtless the Maori knew nothing about such a performance. He had, however, as we have shown, evolved certain myths which purport to explain the evolution of matter, the development of the earth from the negation of chaos. Again, it is clear that Shortland never grasped the Maori genuis for personification. He never realized that, although the Maori deliberately speaks of natural forces as persons, he by no means believed that they were such. He personified such phenomena to simplify his teachings, and in obedience to a very deeply rooted instinct in human nature. To the writer's mind it seems assured that the ancient folk who were responsible for the Book of Genesis followed the same lines of thought as did the Maori. Though Shortland states that the Maori regarded the personifications of conditions that existed prior to the formation of the earth as his ancestors, yet I cannot accept the statement. Such names certainly appear at the head of many genealogies, but the intelligent tohunga, or priestly adept, of yore assuredly knew better; it represented his system of teaching, for he knew that the ordinary man must not be expected to readily grasp abstract concepts; he needs something more tangible. One cosmogonic condition or phase resulted in another, until they culminated in Earth and Sky, and one of the supernatural offspring of these primal parents became the progenitor of man. Inasmuch as all the foregoing offspring were of the male sex, woman had to be created from the body of the Earth Mother ere man could be begotten. It is from that first woman that man inherited his mortality, through her that he lost his supernatural status. The earlier names in so-called genealogies, the names of conditions prior to the existence of Earth and Sky, and of the supernatural descendants of that twain, were included in certain Maori ritual because their repetition was held to impart great force and mana to any invocation or charm.

page 66

The Vedic poets speak of the Power that produced all from chaos by the power of heat. The Maori insisted on the fact that warmth is absolutely necessary to life and growth; two other essentials being air and moisture. He makes the personified form of the sun the progenitor of all animal and vegetable life, and even of stones, &c.

The first volume of White's Ancient History of the Maori contains the following cosmogonic myth collected from the Ngai-Tahu folk of the South Island:—

family tree

Papa-tuanuku is often alluded to simply as Papa, sometimes as Tuanuku, occasionally as Papa-tahuaroa or Tahuaroa.

In this recital the first name denotes "night" or the "unknown"—that is, the night of time. The second may be rendered as "the world," or "day." The third denotes the "world of light," or clear world. The fourth is the "enduring world," an expression applied to this world. We have then four phases of Kore, already noted, and then Maku. If in this latter name the vowels are long, then the name would appear to imply "moisture." This personification mates with Mahora-nui-atea, a peculiar expression denoting a great open expanse, and synomymous with Tahora-nui-atea, both being applied to the vast expanse of the open ocean. These two forms produced Rangi (the sky) who mated with Papa-tuanuku, and their progeny was a numerous one. This version states that Papa was originally the wife of Tangaroa (the origin of fish, pertaining to the deep waters), and that she was taken from him by Rangi. In more generally accepted versions Tangaroa appears as one of the offsprings of Rangi and Papa.

The foregoing account, taken from White, is preceded by a singular remark: "The singing of the God began with the Po"—as though, as Tregear says, God had sung the universe into being.

The name of Atea (space personified) appears in some of these narrations. In Colenso's list Atea produces the Po; but it is in Polynesia that Atea occupies an important place, as shown in Tregear's Maori Dictionary. At Mangaia Vatea appears as the author of gods and men. His eyes are the sun and moon, and his body is page 67half-human, half-fish. Vatea (or Atea) mated with Papa. (See Myths and Songs from the South Pacific, by the Rev. W. W. Gill; also Journal of the Polynesian Society, vol. 12, p. 144.)

The higher class of priest taught that Io, the Supreme Being, had no progeny, that he begat no form of being, but that he caused the earth and heavenly bodies, and supernatural beings, to come into being by means of his will-power. The inferior orders of tohunga, or priestly experts, were not acquainted with the higher teachings, hence they could impart to others merely the common or more popular versions of cosmogonic and other myths. These recitals are of less interest to us on account of their representing a much lower plane of thought, many of them being but puerile conceptions. On the other hand, the higher concept of Io, the High God, and his cult, with the development of the universe at his desire, is of deep interest, and illustrates a high order of mentality attained by the ancestors of the Maori. The ever-present desire of the human mind to ascertain causes has probably occupied an important position in the evolution of the power of thought, the development of human mentality.

An old sage of the Wairarapa district, Nepia Pohuhu by name, recited a mass of ancient lore some fifty years ago, and this recital was preserved in written language. Permission to copy this record was obtained by the present writer, and it provided some highly interesting data, among which occurs the following account of the order in which things were created, or originated: The first things to appear were the ocean waters; then the land appeared, grew and matured, and was mated with by Rangi-nui (personified form of the heavens). Also appeared the heavenly bodies, plant-life of all kinds, and trees, to cover the body of the Earth Mother, and insects, reptiles, animals, birds, as also Hine-ahu-one and Hine-titama. By means of Hine-ahu-one man came into being.

In a cosmogonic recital given by Wi Pere, of Poverty Bay, we have a list of thirteen names down to Rangi:—

Te Pu. Te Aponga. Te Popoko-nao (?).
Te Weu Te Kune-iti. Hine-awaawa.
Te More. Te Kune-roa. Tamaku.
Te Aka. Te Popoko-nui. Rangi-nui-a-Tamaku.
Te Apunga.

Herein a few new names intrude; of these apunga may imply gathering or covering, and aponga the heaping or collecting; but it is by no means safe to assign a dictionary meaning to any unusual term employed in these sacerdotal effusions. In this version Rangi is said to have mated with Papa in the first place, and subsequently page 68with Wai-nui-atea, a personified form of the ocean, whose name denotes the vast open expanse of the great ocean. Thus the Sky Parent mated with both Earth and Ocean, and had descendants by both. The line of descent from Wai-nui commences as follows:—

family tree

The first four names may be rendered as "great ocean," "extensive ocean," "dark ocean," and "gloomy ocean"; while the next two apparently refer to swamps and forests. A number of other names of mythical beings, personifications, or conditions occur in these two lines until they merge into genuine human ancestors, who intermarry, and so the line is brought down to persons of the present day. It was such lines of descent as this that were recited in certain ritual in former times, such a recital having, in native belief, a very important effect—that is to say, it possessed great mana.

It is probable that the word atea in Wai-nui-atea denotes the vast free area of ocean, and is not the Atea, Vatea, and Wakea of Polynesian myth. The latter seem to be connected with light, and probably represent the Maori term awatea, meaning "daylight." Atea denotes space, open space; and Tregear's idea of "light space" may possibly connect the Maori and Polynesian definitions. In New Zealand Atea, as a personification, has little recognition; but in a cosmogony in genealogical form recorded by the late Mr. John White Atea is No. 18 on the list. In Marquesan myth Atea is a brother of Tane; in Hawaiian myth Wakea (=Atea) and Papa, his wife, created the Hawaiian Isles. At Mangaia Vatea (=Atea) marries Papa and lives in "the bright land of Vatea." The sun and moon are his eyes. In Tahitian mythology Atea is taken to wife by one Rua-tupua-nui, and produces the sun, moon, stars, and comets. The Rev. W. W. Gill collected a Cook Islands version in which Atea, the parent one, took Papa (the earth) to wife, and she produced Te Atu (Te Whatu). This being took many creatures to wife, each of whom is credited with producing a particular species of tree. This word whatu denotes the stone or kernel of fruits in Maori. In our local myth it is Tane who begat all trees, and he also was a child of the primal parents, and the universal fertilizer.

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The following cosmogonic genealogy is the one recorded by Mr. White:—

Te Kore (signifies nothingness, chaos).
Te Po (signifies night, darkness of unknown).v
Te Rapunga (signifies seeking).
Whaia (signifies followed or sought).
Te Kukune (signifies growth).
Te Pupuke (signifies increase, swelling, &c.).
Te Hihiri (signifies desire, energy).
Te Mahara (signifies thought).
Te Hinengaro (signifies mind).
Te Manako (signifies longing, desire).
Te Wananga (signifies occult knowledge).
Te Ahua (signifies form).
Te Atamai (signifies knowing, readiness).
Te Whiwhia (signifies possession, acquisition).
Te Rawea (signifies satisfaction at possession).
Hauora (signifies welfare).
Atea (signifies space).

This list does not explain anything about Atea, or the connection between Atea and Rangi or Papa. We find, however, among Mr. White's unpublished manuscripts the following note: "Rangi and Papa adhered closely to each other. When Watea appeared Rangi was detached and placed on high and Papa was left below. It was Watea who separated the waters that land might appear." Here Watea evidently personifies space; it was Space who separated or came between Sky and Earth.

The following is another such table, connecting in this case with Rangi-nui, the personified form of the heavens:—

Te Pu (signifies origin, cause, root).
Te Weu (signifies rootlets).
Te More (signifies tap-root, cause).
Te Aka (signifies small roots, vines).
Te Tipuranga (signifies growth).
Taketake (signifies base; also firm, lasting).
Te Kune-iti (signifies lesser growth).
Te Kune-rahi (signifies greater growth).
Te Ahunga (signifies forming).
Te Apohanga (signifies collecting).
Te Ngarue (signifies movement).
Te Ngaoko (signifies movement).
Te Piere (signifies fissure).
Te Ngatata (signifies opened or split).
Te Ngawha (signifies burst open).
Te Kiita (signifies firm or fast).
Tamaku-rangi (signifies the second of the twelve heavens).
Rangi-nui (signifies the first of the twelve heavens).

The following cosmogonic genealogy from the Waikato district gives two mythical lines of descent from Whetu (stars), a male and female line, the names in the former denoting different phases, degrees, and dispositions of light, those of the latter similar phases, page 70&c., of darkness. The name of Io seems to appear as that of creator or originator of the stars.

family tree

There are several peculiarities about this version. In the first place it shows the stars as preceding the sun and moon. The arrangement of personified forms of light opposed to others of darkness is also interesting. From the male line, representing light and commencing with the sun, sprang Rangi-nui (the sky). From the female line, commencing with the moon, are derived many forms or phases of the Po, to end in Papa-tuanuku (the earth). These two personifications produced the seven supernatural offspring given in the table. This version is a peculiar one, and may represent a primal struggle between Light and Darkness.

White quotes an old song in which the Wananga (? occult knowledge) mates with Atea to produce the Po.

A line of descent from Rangi and Papa given in vol. 16 of the Polynesian Journal, at p. 140, is of an unusual aspect, and the first five names of the mythical portion thereof are such as are found in cosmogonic lines previously given.

Another recital of these names of Te Pu, &c., includes those of Kotipu, Taketake, Te Ngaoko, Te Piere, Te Ngatata, Te Ngawha and Te Kiita, ere arriving at Tamaku, but we know not what these page 71terms may stand for in this connection. Taking the ordinary dictionary meaning kotipu means "intercepted," perhaps also "destroyed," as a crop by frost; taketake means "permanent, firm, long-established," also "the base of anything"; while ngaoko means "to stir or move." In piere and ngatata we have words meaning "a fissure," or "to gape," and "split or open." Ngawha means "to burst open," or "to bloom as a flower"; and kita means "firmly," as in mau kita (firmly bound or fixed). It is by no means safe, however, to rely on these ordinary definitions, for the priestly experts of yore seem to have assigned peculiar sacerdotal meanings to many words. An interesting feature, however, of the list under discussion is that it commences with the name of Uenuku which precedes that of Te Pu. Uenuku is the personified form of the rainbow, and presumably this version shows that the rainbow was the beginning of all things, or was the original manifestation of Io.

The Rev. J. W. Stack makes the following remarks in a paper on "Maori Literature," published in the Report of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science, 1891: "It is surprising to find a people sunk in such barbarism as the Maoris at the time they first came into contact with Europeans, possessing such elaborate theories about the origin of all things, theories which contain traces of a philosophy which evidently belonged to a period of higher mental culture. They conceived of the lapse of countless ages before the dawn of light upon the earth. Commencing with Te Kore, or Nothingness, to which they assign an unlimited period, they approach the dawn of life and consciousness on earth through eighteen stages, each stage being a period of myriads of years…. In the order of existence the Maoris believed that thought came first, then spirit, and last of all matter." The present writer has but little faith in the theory of decadence referred to, though it seems alluring to many people.

The condition of comparative isolation in which the various tribes of New Zealand have long lived has probably been the cause of the different versions of such myths as the foregoing.

As an illustration of the powers of imagination we may refer to one of these cosmogonic recitals given by Te Meihana, of the Ngati-Whare Tribe. It includes the list of names commencing with Te Pu, and many others, eighty-three in all and even then had not come down to Rangi and Papa. It would serve no useful purpose to publish this long list of names, most of which are unknown to us; only the men of old who compiled or preserved it could explain what its meaning was.

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Some second- and third-class native authorities have given us lines of descent from others of the offspring of the primal parents than Tane. Thus we have such a line from Tangaroa down to natives now living; another from Rongo, and yet others from Tawhiri-matea, &c. Some of these compositions are startling in their disclosures, inasmuch as they assign the period of the primary departmental gods, and the origin of man, to the time of the Saxon occupation of England. One gives a line from Rangi, the Sky Parent, who begets Tangotango, who begets Ra (the sun), who begets Raumati (summer), after whom comes a long list of names implying different phases of heat, of lightning, of seasons, &c., ere coming to human ancestors. These names doubtless denote personifications. Such recitals as these, however, were not included in the higher teachings.