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Maori Religion and Mythology Part 1

The Twelve Heavens

The Twelve Heavens

In vol. 1 of White's Ancient History of the Maori are given some particulars of a series of ten heavens, as believed in by the Maori of former times. Elsewhere Mr. White has a note on a series of twenty heavens. The Bay of Plenty natives also speak of ten heavens. Probably all the native authorities responsible for these data were but second-class men. A persusal of Mr. White's works shows that he never acquired any knowledge of the true esoteric lore of the Maori, that pertaining to the cult of Io and the superior whare wananga, or school of learning. The best matter in the above volumes is that obtained from the Takitumu tribes, occupying the east coast of the North Island from East Cape southward to Cook Strait, detachments of which tribes settled in the South Island. It is a noteworthy fact that these Takitumu tribes have provided the very finest matter concerning the esoteric lore of the Maori that has been recorded. In this respect the Taranaki and northern fields have proved very disappointing. The superior teachings of those areas are lost to us.

In Mangaian myth we also meet with the belief in a series of ten heavens. Some further notes on these ten heavens are given at p. 392 of Tregear's Maori Dictionary. The cosmogonic myths of Samoa speak of nine heavens only. The Takitumu tribes, however, have ever taught in their tapu school of learning that there are twelve heavens; indeed, the number twelve enters largely into their sacerdotal myths and ritual, as it also did in the Hawaiian Isles. These twelve heavens are referred to as nga rangi tuhaha (the bespaced heavens); they are supposed to be arranged in an orderly manner one above the other. Each of these heavens, it was taught, has its own series of heavenly bodies, or luminaries, its sun, moon, and stars, also its clouds and page 73waters. Our luminaries, as seen from our position on the body of the Earth Mother, are those of the first of the twelve heavens (counting upward), the name of which is Rangi-nui-a-Tamaku, but which is often referred to as Rangi-nui-e-tu-nei (the great sky standing above), as Rangi-nui, and often as simply Rangi. This is the Rangi that mated with Papa (the earth), also termed Papa-tuanuku, and sometimes simply Tuanuku.

In some cases different names of Rangi, or names of the different heavens, are inserted in genealogies, preceding the names of human beings, as in the following case:—
Rangi-nuiRangi-whatuma.Te Uira-i-waho.

Other names of mythical beings carry the line down to known human ancestors who flourished about five hundred years ago. The inclusion of these different Rangi names in genealogies, as also the various names of Tane and Tiki, was distinctly condemned by Maori pundits of the higher class.

The names of the twelve heavens as preserved by the Takitumu folk are as follows, commencing with the uppermost, which is the most important in Maori estimation, it being the residence of Io, the Supreme Being:—
Secondary Name
1. Te Toi-o-nga-rangiTikitiki-o-rangi.
2. Tiritiri-o-MatangiTiritiri-o-rangi.
3. Rangi-naonao-arikiRangi-puhi.
4. Rangi-te-wawanaRangi-te-wiwini.
5. Rangi-nui-ka-tikaRangi-nui-taupuru
6. Rangi-matauraRangi-mataaho.
7. Rangi-tauru-nuiRangi-tauru-rangi.
8. Rangi-matawai.
9. Rangi-mairekura.
10. Rangi-parauri.
11. Rangi-tamaku.
12. Rangi-nui-a-Tamaku.

These are the twelve bespaced heavens, sometimes alluded to as nga rangi i roherohea e Tane (the heavens separated by Tane), nga rangi tuitui a Tane (the inaccessible heavens of Tane), nga rangi tokorau a Tane (the distant heavens of Tane).

We have received no explanation as to the names of the twelve heavens. The names of the uppermost one clearly mean "the summit of the heavens," but as to the other names we have no knowledge as to what they may imply.

page 74

We have seen that Io dwells in the uppermost heaven, the most intensely tapu of all. In the same region dwell two companies of supernatural beings who act as attendants on the Supreme Being, and carry out his behests. They act as messengers to the eleven lower heavens, and to all other realms of the universe. The names of these various companies, the denizens of the twelve heavens, commencing with the uppermost of the heavens, are as follows: The Apa-watukura (the whatukura company); Te Apa-mareikura (the mareikura company). The first of these is composed of male beings, the second of female beings. The term apa is replaced by that of ropu when they are spoken of as moving abroad. These beings are extremely tapu, and are the only ones who dwell with Io in the Toi-o-nga-rangi, or uppermost heaven. No one of all the denizens of the other eleven heavens can enter this supernal region unless it is so desired by Io so tapu is this realm. But the beings of the uppermost heaven may enter all the eleven other heavens, and also visit Papa (the earth) and Rarohenga (the underworld) whenever they wish to. Also, the denizens of the eleven lower heavens may visit the earth and the underworld.

The denizens of the other heavens are as follows:—

denizens of the other heavens

The first of each two companies enumerated is composed of male beings, the second of females. The names of two other companies given, but not located, are—Te Apa-patu-paiarehe; Te Apa-turehu. These names, patu-paiarehe and turehu, are applied to certain beings supposed to dwell in the forest, and on the summits of high ranges. As to the names of the twenty-four companies of male and female denizens of the twelve heavens, but little can be said as to their meaning. The name whatukura has several applications that we shall meet with in this chronicle. Mareikura is a term used to denote girls or women of high rank. Tahurangi is another name for fairies or forest elves. Kahurangi is a term applied to the daughter of an important chief, perhaps only to his eldest daughter, the eldest son being the ariki, while whatukura is applied collectively to males of page 75high rank; mareikura appears to be used collectively also. It is unsafe to remark on the signification of the other names.

We thus see that the Takitumu folk believed in the existence of twelve heavens, in the uppermost of which dwelt Io, the Supreme Being—Io the Parent and Io the Parentless—he who begat no being, but who caused all things to come into being. The lowermost of these twelve heavens is Rangi, the Sky Parent. Far below him lies Papa, the Earth Mother, and below her lies Rorohenga, the underworld. This is the realm of spirits, to which go the spirits of the dead, and where dwells dread Whiro, the personification of darkness, evil, and death.

Now, Rangi looked down upon Papa as she lay facing him far below, and desired her, hence he descended to her and the two mated. And in those days was darkness, for there was no sun, no moon, no stars, clouds, or mist.