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Maori Religion and Mythology Part 1

The Quest of the Female Element

The Quest of the Female Element

The offspring of the primal parents had long pondered over the subject of man—that is, the producing of a non-supernatural race of descendants to inhabit the world. Inasmuch as they were all male beings themselves, it was necessary that a female being be found to take the place of the mother of the new race. Also, the fact that all the primal offspring were of a supernatural nature demanded that a non-supernatural female be found, otherwise her offspring also would be supernatural, which was not deemed desirable, the aim being to produce a normal, non-supernatural, mortal race.

It was at first proposed that the female denizens of the heavens be utilized for the purpose, but the fact of their being supernatural creatures was remembered, and so some other had to be sought. It was also recognized that the desired female must pertain to the earth, and not to the heavens; she must be earth-born.

The offspring now separated and scattered over the face of the earth in search of the female element, or, as it is termed in native recitals, the uha. This word is now applied only to the female sex of the lower animals, and to trees that the Maori believes to be female. In the old anthropogenic myths it denotes the non-supernatural female element as represented by woman born of the earth. This search was a long-continued one. It was carried into all realms, all regions, but met with no success: earth-born mortal woman was non-existent. So the long quest of the female element came to nought. It was then that originated the old and oft-quoted triptych, Te kitea; te rawea; te whiwhia (Unseen; unsuitable; unacquired).

The next act was to examine the offspring of all things; hence the females of all things were caused to conceive and bring forth their young, that these might be examined as to their suitability. It was seen that lizards produced eggs, which eggs did not seem to be quite normal, hence it was resolved that birds alone should produce eggs in future, and that lizards should bring forth their young in the same form as themselves (should be viviparous). In the case of the tuatara (Sphenodon punctatum), this creature seems to have been produced by the first egg ever made, hence it still produces eggs, and so it is said to be allied to birds. It was now seen, however, that no suitable female existed among all these many creatures.

In the ordinary fireside version of this myth Tane is said to have mated with many different kinds of female beings, but the offspring of such beings were all unsuitable, as indeed a perusal of the list clearly shows. For instance, Tane mated with Hine-tu-maunga, the Mountain Maid, and she produced Para-whenuamea (personi-page 120fied form of water). He then mated with Hine-waoriki, who produced the kahika and matai (two trees, Podocarpus dacrydiodes and P. spicatus); and with Mumuhanga, or Mumuwhango, who produced the totara (Podocarpus totara); and with Tukapua, who produced the tawai (Fagus fusca); and with Mangonui, who produced the tawa and hinau (eilschmiedia tawa and Elaeocarpus dentatus); and with Te Pu-whakahara, who produced the maire (olea spp.); and with Rerenoa, who produced the rata (Metrosideros robusta); and with Ruru-tangi-akau, who produced the aka (Dodonea viscosa); and with Punga, who produced all insects and vermin; and with Tu-toro-whenua, who produced aruhe (edible rhizome of Pteris aquilina); and with Parauri, who produced the tui (bird); and with Haere-awaawa, who produced the weka (bird). So were trees, plants, birds, and insects generated, but the female element to produce the ira tangata, or human life, was not found.

In the matter collected by Mr. John White is a short account of Tane and Tiki. This version states that Tane begat or formed Tikitohua, who produced birds; then Tiki-kapakapa, who produced fish and the tui (bird); then Tiki-auaha, who produced man; then Tikiwhakaeaea, who produced Hurunga, who mated with Pani, who produced the kumara (Ipomoea batatas). This version looks somewhat puzzling, but we shall see anon that Tane and Tiki were not two distinct individuals.

Another version, given by the Tuhoe folk, states that Tiki belonged to the Po, the dim period prior to the existence of man, and that he mated with Ea, who was of this world, their daughter being Kurawaka, with whom Tane mated, and begat Hine-titama.

Yet another version is that Tiki created the first woman, apparently by vivifying an earthen image. He formed two mounds of earth, and in one of these, called Tuahu-a-te-rangi, he placed a wand called the tira o te ora, or tira ora (wand of life or welfare). In the other mound, known as Pukenui-a-Papa, he placed a wand termed the tira mate (wand of death and misfortune). Then, by means of his great powers, he produced woman from the latter mound, which represents the Po, and overthrew the tira mate wand; whereupon Roiho, one of the whatukura of the uppermost heaven, remarked: "See O Tiki! You have overthrown woman." Now, this singular allegory has never been explained; it is one of the symbolical abstractions beloved by the Maori folk. Evidently the first mound was connected with Rangi, the heavens, with the male element, life and welfare; and the second with earth, the female element, misfortune and death. The inferiority of the female sex is emphasized, even as Hine-ahu-one was inferior to Tane.

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Again, a Ngati-Awa version states that when Tane was in search of the uha (female element, woman) he made inquiries of Rangi, the Sky Parent, who replied, "The whare o aitua is below, while the whare o te ora is above" (i.e., the abode or realm of misfortune is below, that of life is above). This "house" of misfortune, of ominous inferiority, is represented by this world, by the earth, by the female sex, and by the female organ of generation, which holds dread powers of destruction and pollution. Here on earth alone is death known, for the denizens of the heavens are all supernormal beings endowed with eternal life.

One version of this myth has it that the quest of the female element fit to produce woman was a vain one; the uha was not found. But when Tane ascended to the uppermost heaven in quest of the wananga, he was told by the celestial females of Rangikapiti, in the eleventh heaven, that in order to possess woman he must form one at Kurawaka—or, as some term it, the One-i-Kurawaka (the strand at Kurawaka). The way was now clear to Tane.