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Maori Religion and Mythology Part 1

The Overturning of the Earth Mother

The Overturning of the Earth Mother

After the separation of Rangi and Papa they were seen to be ever weeping and wailing for each other. All space was filled with clouds and mist; the tears of Rangi fell ceaselessly—that is to say, the rain; the mist that was caused by the weeping of Papa ever rose. Rain, snow, and hail ever fell, and the offspring were much distressed. It was now resolved that the Earth Mother be turned over with her face down to Rarohenga, the underworld. With her went Ruaumoko, the last-born, who was still suckling the Earth Mother. This overturning of the Earth Mother was known as the hurihanga a Mataaho. It seems to be sometimes referred to as a flood, but our whare wananga lore does not support this. Mataaho is said to be one of the names of Io, who is sometimes styled Io-mataaho; one version states that he ordered that Papa should be turned over, that the Earth Mother might page 88no longer be pained by gazing upon the form of Rangi. Hence it is clear that we of this world are dwelling upon the back of the Earth Mother.

After Papa had been overturned, her children at once commenced to trample on her back while it was still warm and soft, hence the rough condition of the earth's surface at the present time—hence the hills, ranges, mountains, and valleys. This name of the Earth Mother, Papa, signifies anything flat, broad, or outspread, as a rock or earth surface. One of her titles is Papa-tuanuku, another is Papa-matua-te-kore, or Papa the Parentless. She is sometimes alluded to as Tuanuku.

As in other mythological systems, the Maori ever speaks of the parentless earth as the kindly Earth Mother. She it was who gave birth to man—that is to say, his progenitors; she provides him with food, and again shelters his body when death comes to him. She is described as the passive agent, the whare moenga, the receptive female element acted on by the fertilizing-power represented by Tane. Papa is always alluded to, naturally, as being in a recumbent position, and one of her names is Papa-tiraha; this word tiraha meaning "face upwards." We are also told that Papa-tuoi, or Hine-oi, Papa-tiraha, Te Kuku, and Pu-mairekura are names personifying volcanic disturbances and earthquakes.

The Maori taught that all things sprang from the primal parents, Rangi and Papa, through their offspring, the seventy supernormal male beings. All life and all things on earth, and in the ocean, also the heavenly bodies, all originated from Rangi and Papa.

In Hindu belief the generative or male principle, the female principle, and mind all proceeded from the Supreme Spirit; by these the universe was produced.

Although the sons of Rangi and Papa are said to have been supernatural beings, yet we have already seen that Kaupeka was slain by his brothers, so that, apparently, the gods of the Maori can be put to death. The following myth, however, probably refers to the human descendants of the primal parents:—

With regard to the death of the sons of Rangi and Papa: Rangi the, Sky Parent said to the Earth Mother, "Let us dispose of our offspring between our bodies." But Papa replied, "Not so. Leave them to me. Let them return to rest within me. I brought them forth to the world of life; let them come back and rest with me as spiritual children for us. Though they rebelled against us, yet are they still my children. Enough for me is the company of the dead." Hence to this day we see man, when struck down by death, ever buried within the body of the Earth Mother.