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Maori Religion and Mythology Part 1

Tane and Whiro Strive for Mastery: The Great Contest Between Light and Darkness

Tane and Whiro Strive for Mastery: The Great Contest Between Light and Darkness

We have seen that Tane and Whiro represented light and darkness, life and death, even as, among the ancient Persians, Ormuzd was the King of Light, &c., and Ahriman the Prince of Darkness and the evil being or principle. Hear what Carpenter says in his Com-page 112parative Religion: "The oppositions of light and darkness belong to every zone all round the world, and perhaps were most strongly felt among the Indo-Iranian branches of the great Aryan family."

The causes of the separation of the offspring of Rangi and Papa, as among themselves, are these:—

(1.)Their sufferings in (or at) the ahuru tahataha nui at Te Manga-nui-o-tawa, where Whitiwhiti-karaua and Kewa suffered.
(2.)The slaying of their brother Kaupeka, killed by Tu-matauenga and Te Akaaka-matua.
(3.)The severing of the limbs of their mother, as also those of their father.
(4.)The turning of the forefront of their mother (the earth) downward, and her back uppermost, and the trampling of her down to the Muriwai-hou.
(5.)The persistent use of the names of Tane-nui-a-Rangi by Tupai and others in ritual chants pertaining to all matters conducted by them at all times.
(6.)The performance by Rehua and Ruatau of the pure rite over Tane and Tupai on Maunganui.
(7.)The detaching by Tane of their offspring, Te Ra-kura (sun), Te Marama-i-whanake (moon), Kopu (Venus), Autahi (Canopus), Tawera (morning star), Parearau, Matariki (Pleiades), Ikaroa (Milky Way), Whakaahu, Whanui (Vega), and a multitude more, and putting them to roam round the breast of their ancestor.
(8.)The acquirement by Tane of the wananga (occult knowledge) and the whatu (sacred talismanic stones).
(9.)The performance of the pure rite over Tane in the uppermost of the twelve heavens.
(10.)The refusal to consent to the giving of the kete uruuru tau—that is, the knowledge of the art of black magic—to Whiro.
(11.)The assumption of superiority by Tane in separating them to such places as he deemed fit.
(12.)The misfortune suffered by their younger brother Whakarua-moko when the face of the Earth Mother was turned downward, thus separating their younger brother from them in this world.

Such were the causes of war occurring among the family, when they suffered at Te Paerangi, and the path by way of Tahekeroa became a regular thing that draws the current of death to the Po. These were the origins of the enmity between Tane and Whiro (personified forms of light and darkness) which led to a long and page 113bitter contest between them. With the Maori this conception was not so far advanced as it was with the Persians and some other races. It was not a clearly defined struggle between good and evil. Clearly enough Whiro represents evil, but in Tane we have not a pronounced good principle, though the tenor of old myths, and the mental attitude of the Maori, show us that he was considered to be in the right. This was clearly a case of myth in the making; another step in development would have placed it on a level with the Persian concept. Of this old concept pertaining to light and darkness Tylor wrote: "The conception of the light-god as the good deity, in contrast to a rival god of evil, is one plainly suggested by nature, and naturally recurring in the religions of the world. The Khonds of Orissa may be counted its most perfect modern exponents in barbaric culture." Among these Khonds the qualities of good and evil seem to have extended through all nature, all matter, animate and inanimate, as our Maori folk taught.

In Conder's work entitled The Rise of Man appears a reference to the effect of darkness on early man: "The terror of darkness caused him to regard all evil beings as belonging to the dark, and all good beings as belonging to light, and to life-giving warmth, as contrasted with the cold of death." This was assuredly the origin of the Maori myths concerning Tane and Whiro, and the old-time Maori has elaborated these peculiar mythopoetic ideas into a connected theogonic recital. Here we actually see gods in the making, and, had the Maori become possessed of a script, these myths would have passed into his sacred books, and been preserved in that form. For such was the genesis of our Bible, and the sacred books of other faiths.

Had the Maori carried the development of this myth further he would undoubtedly have evolved a belief in good and evil principles, in a moral God and an antagonistic Devil. He already had in Whiro the Destroyer the personification of evil, the making of a very excellent devil, but in the case of his adversary Tane development had not extended so far, for the latter cannot be said to be the emblem of goodness. And yet, in the Maori mind, we can apparently detect the feeling that Tane represents what is right, that he was the proper being to receive the various privileges and honours awarded to him. It seems as though, subconsciously, the Maori was beginning to realize that the opponent of a being personifying evil must be identified with qualities that oppose evil. A further development could only have ended as in the case of the Persian myth. Again, as Whiro the evil one is a denizen of the underworld, that place would unquestionably have been resolved into a hell, page 114and eventually into an abiding-place for the spirits of persons whose life was evil in this world. In such development two awkward questions would have arisen to be solved by the myth-makers, as represented by the disposal of Io and the Dawn Maid. Inasmuch as Io, the Supreme Being, is a moral god who cannot be associated with evil, and ranks far above Tane, he could scarcely have been set aside in favour of the latter. And, in the case of Hine-titama, or Hine-nui-te-po, the former Dawn Maid, she who guards the spirits in the underworld from dread Whiro, how would she have been disposed of? But these idle questions are vain, for what man can probe the mind of neolithic myth-makers?

After his failure to secure the wananga from Tane, Whiro became much embittered, and determined to wage ceaseless war against him, though Uru and others endeavoured to show him that Tane was entitled to the prize he had secured. Tane now sent a messenger to Uru-te-ngangana to ask him to abandon Whiro; that messenger was Kiwa. Whiro replied with threats against Tane and his companions, and after this Whiro caused more trouble by taking away the wife of Uru, and retaining her. Uru now left Whiro and joined Tane and Tupai at Huaki-pouri. For by his act Whiro had taken his own granddaughter to wife:—

family tree

Peace was now made between Uru and Tane.

All these evil acts emanated from Whiro; he was the instigator, the cause of all bad feeling and quarrels among the primal offspring. In the struggle between Tane and Whiro the latter and Tu-matauenga were the most able and courageous beings of their side, the most remarkable being Tu; hence the saying, He uri toa na Tu-matauenga (a brave descendant of Tu-matauenga); as also the following: Ko nga rakau o Tu-matauenga o rakau (your weapons are the weapons of Tu-matauenga). Tumata-kaka was another famed warrior of that party, a co-worker with Tu in controlling operations. On the side of Tane, the famous experts were Tupai, Tumata-huki, and Tukapua; these controlled the tapu fires and ritual directed against Whiro.

Tane now decided to strive against Whiro, and the struggle was a long and severe one. The following are the names of the battles fought by the two forces: Te Paerangi, Waitaha-a-rangi, Waiharo-rangi, Whitiwhiti-rere-pari, Puoro-rangi, Tangi-apakura, Te Ara-page 115huapae. The end of the contest was that Whiro was defeated, and he then descended by way of Tahekeroa (long descent) to Rarohenga, the underworld.

The principal beings on the side of Tane during this struggle were:
Roiho.Tiwhanui.Te Mamaru.Kewa.
Haepuru.Te Kuwarawata.Tama-te-uira.Taiepa.
Te Ihorangi.Uepoto.Te Pu-whakahara.Hurumanu.
Te Ikaroa.

When Whiro descended to the underworld he went to the abode of Ruaumoko and Hine-nui-te-po, and proposed that they two should continue the war in order to avenge the separation of their parents, and Ruaumoko consented. Whiro then proposed that they should return to the ao-turoa, this upper world, to fight; but Ru said, "You all belong to the upper world; go you thither and fight. But I belong to the underworld, and will conduct my own warfare from here." Whiro inquired, "But what weapons will serve you?" Replied Ruaumoko, "I will procure one from Puna-te-waro, wherein is conserved the ahi komau."

Now, this ahi komau (subterranean fire) is also known as the ahi tipua (supernatural fire) and as ahi tahito. This is the weapon of Ruaumoko, the youngest of the offspring of Papa, he who was yet a suckling babe when the Earth Mother was turned over. This is the weapon which he turned against man, by means of which he makes land and sea tremble, which engulfs land, destroys trees, rocks, man, and all other things. And Whiro located Maiki-nui, Maiki-roa, Maiki-whekaro (personified forms of sickness and disease), and all their dread brethren in the underworld. Ever they dwell within Tai-whetuki, the House of Death; ever they assail man and destroy him. As old as the days of human sorrow is the ceaseless procession from Tai-ao to Tai-whetuki.

Now, the origin of the ahi komau, or subterranean fire, was as follows: When the Earth Mother was turned over, face down to Rarohenga, Paia said to Tane, "I am consumed by sorrow, and sympathize deeply with our younger brother Ruaumoko. Let us take him from the breast of our mother to dwell with us." But Tane said, "That we cannot do; rather let us leave him to warm the breast of our mother." When the offspring were about to turn the Earth Mother over, Paia said, "Let us give our younger brother fire." This was agreed to, and so fire was given to Ruaumoko. This fire was obtained from Rakahore (the personified form of rock). That fire was placed in houama (a tree—Entelea arborescens).

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This term ahi komau calls for some explanation. It may be rendered as "covered fire." As a verb komau means "to cover fire, as with ashes," often done in order to keep embers alive. This term has been applied to subterranean fire because it is covered by the earth—only seen as in volcanic outbursts.

Now, that contest between Tane and Whiro was not conducted in one place; struggles between the two forces took place in all realms, on earth, in the heavens, in space, and in the waters. The general name for the long-drawn struggle is Te Paerangi.

The places at which Ruaumako and his family lived were—
Wai-kapuka.Te Oiroa.Te Pupuha-o-te-rangi.
Te Ngaere-i-waho.Te Puha-o-Rarohenga.Te Mominuku.

These are the places whereat was conserved the ahi komau or ahi tahito (primeval fire) given by Tupai to Ruaumoko.

When Hine-titama, overcome by apprehension and vague dread, was forced by a feeling of shame to flee by way of Whiti-anaunau to Poutere-rangi, and descend to Rarohenga (the underworld), she found Ruaumoko alone at his home. These two mated, and their offspring were—
Takataka-huri-atea.Maru-hauata.Te Oi-nuku.
Rua-eneene.Horonga-i-whaoa.Te Oi-rangi.

These were the beings appointed to inspect the forefront of their grandmother Papa-tuanuku, or, as she is also called, Papa-matua-te-kore (Papa the Parentless). And when we feel the dread shock of Hine-tuoi, the Earthquake Maid, we may know that Ruaumoko is active and is assailing the offspring of Tane of the upper world.

The name Tai-whetuki is another singular abstraction. It is an expression used to denote an imaginary house in which are retained all evils such as sickness, disease, misfortune, and death. This house belongs to Whiro, and with him dwell the Maiki brethren (personified forms of disease) and other dread beings, the agents of Whiro. That so-called house is situated in the underworld, but is sometimes said to be situated at Te Pakaroa, at Kaupekanui, in the original homeland of the race. This is one of a number of cases in which the old homeland is confused with the underworld, which often creates a very puzzling situation for the student. It is probably owing to the fact that spirits of the dead are supposed to go back page 117to the old motherland ere passing to the spirit-world. At Tai-whetuki were cultivated all arts pertaining to the destruction of life in man, the lower animals, and in the vegetable world.

Our readers will probably place an accusing finger upon a weak spot in Maori ethology—namely, the origin of evil. In one version we have seen that Tane obtained from Io the Supreme Being the three "baskets" of esoteric knowledge, one of which contained the knowledge of evil. We are also told that Io caused all supernatural beings to exist, hence he is responsible for the existence of Whiro, and Whiro personifies evil; he is the worker of evil in the world. Possibly the Maori, knowing that evil exists in the world, and is apparently permanent and ineradicable, traces it to the origin of all things and so disposes of the question. Evil is here, and we must make the best we can of it. Each man must choose for himself.

In a paper entitled "Ormuzd and Ahriman: the Eternal Pre-existence of Good and Evil," by F. W. Frankland, published in the Monthly Review of 1889, the writer remarks on "the theoretical ascription of Satan's own existence to the fiat of Jehovah Himself." He adds: "Nothing but a theory of the independence of Satan's origin, or of his eternal pre-existence, can relieve the cause of all good from the charge, which otherwise must be brought against it, of being the cause of evil also." The author sees in a belief in this eternal pre-existence of evil, as taught in Zoroastrianism, a way out of all perplexities and wrong deductions such as harass us. He places the origin of Satan and evil, as inferred in the Scriptures, on a level with Maori teachings.

The Maori concept of evil differed from our own, inasmuch as it extended not only to the lower animals, but also to what we term inanimate things; each thing is both good and evil after the manner of its kind. It is quite possible that he also held the primitive belief in the eternal pre-existence of evil, not that it emanated from Io, or was permitted by him to appear and exist.