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Maori Religion and Mythology Part 1

The Tiki Myth and its Symbol

The Tiki Myth and its Symbol

In old Maori myths frequent mention is made of one Tiki, who is said in some cases to have been the maker of the first man, in others to have been himself the first man. In one version collected by White, Tiki is said to have been the first man in this world, his wife being one Marikoriko, a word denoting something unreal or phantomlike, fashioned by Tiki from the steaming or warm reek of the sun, and from echo. Another says it was Tiki-ahua who made the first man. Another is that Tane formed the first woman as a wife for Tiki, and the name of that first woman was Io-wahine. In vol. 3 of the Polynesian Journal, at p. 14, occurs a short paragraph from a South Island source showing that Tane fashioned Tiki from the earth. He then, in like manner, fashioned Io, and gave Tiki as a wife for Io. Here the sexes have been transposed, possibly in transcription, and the translation does not follow the original, but makes Io the wife of Tiki.

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Another version is that Tane made the first man, who was named Tiki-auaha (Tiki the creator). Shortland says that Tiki married Hine-titama-uri; and no doubt he did, but his informant was wrong in inserting the name of Tiki in a genealogy, though he might, from one point of view, be termed a progenitor of man.

At the Marquesas Tiki and Hina-mata-one are the King and Queen of the underworld. At Tahiti, Ti'i (the dropped k of the Tahitian dialect) was the first man, and his wife was Hina the benevolent. Tiki strove to destroy man, while Hina ever saved him. His offspring was Ta'ata (man).

At Mangaia the place of descent to the underworld was called "Tiki's hole," but this Tiki was a female who prevented the return of spirits to this world to annoy the living. Tiki seems to be the custodian of the spirit-world, or the entrance thereto, elsewhere in the Cook Group. At Mangareva Tiki is said to have been the first man; his wife was Ina. The word also denotes an image. In White's Ancient History of the Maori, vol. 2, p. 4 (Maori part), we are told that Io formed Tiki. In vol. 1, at pp. 126-27, are further notes concerning Tiki, as also in Tregear's Maori Comparative Dictionary.

A short paper on the tiki pendant, by Hare Hongi (see Journal of the Polynesian Society, 1918, vol. 27, p. 162), does not render the meaning of the Tiki myth quite clear. It speaks of Tiki and Hine-ahu-one as the first human pair, which is incorrect, and of Tane-tiki as the first man. This writer had not quite correctly placed Tiki, and there is scarcely any connection between this name and the verb tiki, to fetch. A second paper on this subject by the same writer appears at p. 199 of the same volume, in which he gets nearer the mark, though we have no clear, definite statement as to what the tiki is. There is clear evidence on record to which no allusion is made, but which will be found in a paper in vol. 32 of the Journal of the Polynesian Society, p. 54.

The first writer to draw attention to the peculiar mystery surrounding Tiki was Colonel Gudgeon (see the Journal of the Polynesian Society, vol. 14 (1905), p. 126). Apparently his informants did not know what Tiki personified, but his concluding remark is very close to the truth. Speaking of the fact that, on the handles of certain carved paddles from the Austral Group, Tiki is represented as a female, he remarks: "This is interesting, and confirms my suspicion that Tiki was the principle of life in human form, complete in him or her self, and might therefore be properly represented as of either sex."

In vol. 3 of the Memoirs of the Polynesian Society, published in 1913, appeared some very clear evidence as the to meaning of tiki, page 132although, curiously enough, it is not enlarged upon, for the evidence is highly interesting.

We may state briefly that Tane represents the male principle generally, and that Tiki personifies the male organ, which name is also employed as the ordinary term for the organ in sacerdotal recitals, as when the tiki of Tane is referred to. Its name in the vernacular of the present time is ure. As to evidence supporting this identification readers are referred to the ritual recited by Tane over Tiki when about to mate with Hine-ahu-one. Also, in an account of the search for the female element, we note the following: "Ka tu te tiki o Tane ki a Hine-tu-pari-maunga." In the volume of Memoirs alluded to in the foregoing paragraph, at p. 35, we find, "Ka tukua ki a Tane-matua kia hikaia a Tiki-ahua ki roto i te puta o Hine-hau-one"—the latter name being a variant form of Hine-ahu-one. Also at p. 36 we get "Ko tenei karakia he mea i te aroaro o Hine kia kaha te hiahia mai ki tona hoariri, ki a Tiki-ahua." Further evidence appears in the ritual given at pp. 36-37, and in the so-called death of Tiki given at p. 37. Much more evidence is given in the paper alluded to.

Tiki has many secondary names assigned to him in Maori myth, names descriptive of his qualities, functions, &c., of which the following have been collected:—
Tiki-nui (Signifies size, great Tiki.)Tiki-whakawaewae. (Signifies leg-former.)
Tiki-roa (Signifies length.)
Tiki-auaha. (Signifies creation, the creator.)Tiki-tohua. (Signifies conception.)
Tiki-torokaha. (Signifies virility, the virile one.)
Tiki-auwaha. (Signifies meddling and fornication.)
Tiki-haohao. (Signifies eagerness.)
Tiki-ahua. (Signifies formation, the former.)Tiki-ahupapa.
Tiki-matua. (Signifies parentage, the parent.)Tiki-te-pouroto.
Tiki-waiora. (Signifies health, welfare.)Tiki-kapakapa.
Tiki-hahana. (Signifies glowing.)Tiki-makiki. (Signifies stiffness.)
Tiki-mumura. (Signifies reddened.)
Tiki-whakaringaringa. (Signifies arm-former.)

In an old song occur the following lines:—

E wehi ana te tara o te wahine i te waimua ra
Kei tu ana te tiki, kei tora ana te ure.

The phallus was used in Egypt and elsewhere as the emblem of life, and was connected with the eel in India, as we shall see anon. The old Indian teaching that the only realities are the male and female principles in nature finds a curious echo in Maori beliefs and teachings of former times.

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Another application of the word tiki in Polynesia and in New Zealand is noted in its being employed to denote an image. In New Zealand it is applied primarily to a cenotaph, but also to grotesquely human figures elsewhere. An uncarved cenotaph was called a tiki mamore. In matter collected by Mr John White the word tiki is employed to denote the small figures carved in human form and used as temporary abiding-places for spirit-gods when invoked by the human medium. Similar wooden images used for a like purpose were employed at Tahiti, and were called by the same name (ti'i tiki).

The Maori neck-pendant called a tiki, usually fashioned from a piece of greenstone (nephrite), occasionally from bone and ivory, is unquestionably connected with Tiki. It is a phallic symbol; it symbolizes the fertilizing-power of the original tiki, and hence was worn by women as a fertilizing agent or symbol. The first of such tiki is said in Maori myth to have been made for Hine-te-iwaiwa, who is the female being looked upon as the tutelary goddess of childbirth. Its form is very singular, with bowed legs and head awry, which fact is explained by its being fashioned so as to represent the human embryo. These neck-pendants were very highly prized in former times, and were carefully treasured, being handed down from one generation to another.