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Maori Religion and Mythology Part 1

Tane and the Whanau Marama — (the Heavenly Bodies Arranged by Tane-te-waiora)

Tane and the Whanau Marama
(the Heavenly Bodies Arranged by Tane-te-waiora)

The heavenly bodies are known collectively as the whanau marama (the Light Off-spring or Family, the Light-giving Ones, the Children of Light).

The Bay of Plenty natives state that when Tane separated heaven and earth he found that darkness still prevailed, hence he set about the introduction of light. In this connection it is well to remember that Tane represents light in Maori myth, even as Whiro represents darkness. Tane went to Tangotango (Tongatonga) in quest of the Light Children, and said, "How brightly gleam our young ones of the whanau marama !" Tangotango inquired, "For what purpose?" Said Tane, "To lighten our darkness, that light may shine across the breast of Earth Mother." Then Tane was given Hine-rauamoa (one of the Light Children), and he placed her on the breast of Rangi, the Sky Parent. But darkness still held; hence he returned and obtained Hina-tore (phosphorescent light); but this feeble glimmer had no effect in dispelling darkness. He next procured the stars, which cast a feeble light, an unsatisfactory glimmer. Then the moon was placed in the heavens, and light grew stronger, but still was not sufficient; and yet again Tane went to Tangotango and demanded the sun. This final demand angered Tangotango, who sent the sun, glaring with heat, to destroy Tane and his brethren. So Tane fixed the sun in the heavens, then thrust the sky up higher, that those on the breast of the Earth Mother might not perish. And the whanau marama still cling to the breast of the Sky Father and give light to the world by day and night. This was how Tane brought light to the world.

The Awa folk of the Bay of Plenty give somewhat different versions of some of these myths to those collected from other tribes. They state that the trio Tane, Tangotango, and Wainui were the offspring of Rangi and Papa (sky and earth), and that from these three sprang all things, animate and inanimate. This was by no means a poor conception for an uncultured people, inasmuch as those three beings represent warmth, light, and water.

We will now relate the east coast version of the origin of light, and the fixing of the heavenly bodies on the breast of the Sky Parent, as taught in the school of learning of the Takitumu tribes. This is a page 91portion of the lore coming under the term of tatai arorangi, or lore pertaining to the heavenly bodies:—

Tane told Kewa to go to Maunganui and bring to him the offspring of Te Ahum (syn. Moe-ahuru), in order that the grandchildren of Rangi-nui (the Sky Parent) might be taken to dwell on his breast. So Kewa went and spoke to Tongatonga, and Whiri-taringa-waru, and Tawhiri-rangi, who were the foster-parents of that supernatural family (the heavenly bodies), for their mother, Moe-ahuru, was a supernatural being, it is said, hence they also partook of that character. The family was taken wherewith to adorn the breast and front of their ancestor, Rangi-nui, and that is why the moon and his younger brothers move round on the front of their ancestor. Their elder brother (the sun) was taken to the back of their ancestor, there to revolve, for he was tapu—that is why they were separated from him. Those offspring are composed of eyes only; they have no bodies. Tane and Tupai placed them on high to illuminate their ancestor. Enough on these matters!

Tongatonga took to wife Moe-ahuru—that is, Hine-te-ahuru according to some—and the sun, moon, and stars were born. The ra kura (red sun) is one form of the name, the ra tuoi is another. The marama rou is one name for the moon, the marama titaha (declining moon) is another name, and the marama i whanake (ascending or waxing moon) is another name.

Now, as to Kopu, Puanga, Tautoru, Matariki, Autahi, Tawera, Whanui, Parearau, Te Ikaroa, and others of that star family, they were exceedingly numerous, as also were their names. They were transferred by Te Ikaroa (Milky Way), by the person who had reared them, who was an elder of that family. Now, Te Ikaroa was an elder brother of Whiro, by whom was Tongatonga, who had that family spoken of. That is why it came about that he reared those offspring. Now, the family was placed in a basket, and Te Ikaroa and Tama-rereti went with their canoe, which was a tapu vessel, and placed the offspring on it. On arriving at the breast of Rangi-nui the offspring were arranged in their places. The sun was placed on the breast and there established, while the moon was set up on the stomach of Rangi. The small sun family (stars) was arranged all over the body, head, and legs. Then Tane said to Te Ikaroa, "You shall remain among our grandchildren, lest they quarrel among themselves." If Te Ikaroa had not stayed there, also Tama-rereti then they (the stars) would have fallen, in which case their heads would have been broken; they would have fallen into the ocean and perished.

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Now, Tane and his elder and younger brothers gazed upon the result, and, behold ! now indeed their parent presented a handsome appearance, the face of Rangi was illuminated, his body also could be seen, and his offspring roaming over him.

Rangi called out to Te Ikaroa, "Our offspring, the very small suns, let them keep close to your side that they may be carefully cherished, that you may become an indication of approaching day, and that the movements of our offspring may be ever continuous and steady in their course."

When Te Ikaroa (Milky Way) and the offspring moved in their course, the burning heat of the sun became intensified; Papa the Earth Mother became all dried up, the dust flew, nor eye of man nor aught could see; for Papa was lying naked, hence that condition of things.

Now called Tane unto Te Ikaroa: "O friend! Readjust your movements, and those of the lesser suns and the moon, in order that we may sleep. Transfer the sun forward, there to pursue his way while you and his younger brothers move in the rear, so that he may conduct you and our offspring."

This was agreed to by Te Ikaroa, and so the world acquired night. Day was permanently assigned to the red sun, and night to the Milky Way, the moon, and their younger brothers.

The principal persons of the offspring of Papa and Rangi-nui, when they were located on the breast of their elder, who were detached for special duties, were Te Ikaroa, to whom the leadership of their little-sun offspring (that is to say, of the stars) was assigned, and whose companion, Tama-rereti, was the caretaker of their canoe, and Rona, guardian of the marama whiro (moon), as some term it, or marama hua, as called by others. The twain (Te Ikaroa and Tama-rereti), including their companions, detained the moon and the stars so that they might follow behind in the shadow of their elder brother, the ra kura (red or glowing sun), or ra tuoi, as some term it—hence the darkened nights.

Now, regarding the intense strength and broiling effect of the sun on the progeny of the Earth Mother, it caused the whole family to wail—all those who remained below with her. Then Roiho and Haepuru were despatched by Tane that they might go and look after that one of their offspring, telling them that his offspring the red sun should be transferred to the back of the Sky Parent and so carried, leaving on his breast his "lesser sun" offspring only. The elder brothers agreed to this, and so those members of the brethren were transferred to that place, hence the separation of night and day became satisfactory.

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Now, Tane looked and saw that the glowing sun had passed to the head of the Sky Parent, and their parent wailed aloud. Roiho, Haepuru, and Tu-te-wanawana looked; and, behold, the head of their elder had been burned by the glowing sun! Roiho called down to Tane, "O friend ! We and our father are suffering grievously by reason of our offspring burning us by means of Matiti-tiramarama."

Tane now called upward, "Place him afar off at Tauru-o-rangi." Then the sun was moved to the breast of his grandparent Rangi-tamaku. On his arrival there, matters were satisfactory, he having the forefront of his forbear on which to roam to and fro. Now, the navel of his elder was the place where the red sun paused. On reaching the navel he proceeded toward the legs of the elder, this being the winter, and on reaching his stomach he became fearful and turned back. On reaching the navel of the elder he sheltered himself at that place, then proceeded to the head of the elder and there stayed, that he might clearly view his younger brethren, his elders and forbears, roaming across the front of their elder Rangi-nui, and of the Earth Mother also. And this period became summer for his young brethren, his parents and elders dwelling with the Earth Mother.

Now, at that time all dwelling in the sheltered space between earth and sky were distressed by warmth, day and night. So Tane said to the elder brother, to Tawhiri-matea, "O son! Go you and our offspring, retain them about the supports of our father, Rangi-nui. Transfer the females to the support of the head, and some to that of the armpits, and the males to the support of the legs, that they may serve to cover our parent, and that we may escape from (the heat of) our offspring."

Tawhiri-matea consented, and the family were conveyed and established at those places, while he, Tawhiri-matea, and his companions, went up on to the Tihi-o-Manono to prepare a home for himself and his offspring. (These offspring of Tawhiri-matea are the whanau puhi, the Wind Children, whose home is in the space between the Earth Mother and the Sky Parent, who drive the clouds across the forefront of the heavens, and also lessen the heat of the glowing sun. At other times they come from north, south, east, and west, trooping forth in swift array to meet and gambol on Tahora-nui-atea, the vast plaza of Hine-moana, the Ocean Maid, the far-spread ocean spaces. The four toko (props or supports) on which the Sky Parent was supported are the four winds of space.)

A brief and unexplained note states that Tane took from Wehi-nui-o-mamao the coverings of his garments—namely, Hira-auta, page 94Porera-nuku, Takurua, Whare-pukarehu, Ruaki-motumotu, Tahu-werawera, Whero, Whero-i-te-ninihi, Whero-i-te-kokota, and Whero-i-te-ao-maori. These are apparently all star names, though the various Whero are usually given as Wero. The name Wehi-nui-o-mamao, which White calmly renders as "Great fear of the distance," evidently represents one of the custodians or guardians of the "little suns," as the stars were termed. Another version calls the stars the ornaments of his house. The stars called Wero are winter stars, hence their name of Wero, probably, though White renders the name of Wero-i-te-ninihi as "Pierce the coward" at p. 137 of his Ancient History of the Maori vol. 1, but as "Arouse the absconding" at p. 149.

The Matiti-tiramarama mentioned in the foregoing narrative is either the summer star Matiti, or Matiti=the summer season. As a means of conveyance the sun was placed in a basket called Rauru-rangi, the moon in one termed Te Kauwhanga, while the stars were placed in Te Kete-rauroha, so all were conveyed to the body of Rangi, and there arranged.

A number of names commencing with Matiti denote different periods or phases of summer. (See Williams's Maori Dictionary, 5th ed., p. 226; also Stowell's Maori-English Tutor, pp. 203-4.)

Light had now entered the world—broad daylight, the clear light we know, and which is known as ao marama. After the final arrangement of the heavenly bodies the world possessed day and night. The long, weary waiting for light had ended; slowly through many phases darkness had passed away and light had come. Tane had illuminated the world.

Two of the supernatural offspring of Rangi and Papa, those named Rongomai-tahanui and Rongomai-taharangi, were located in the heavens in order to act as guardians of the heavenly bodies.

A South Island version of the myth of Tane placing the stars in position, as given by Wohlers. in vol. 7 of the Transactions, states that he went to Okehu to procure them. He first obtained the kura (whatever that may have been) and arranged it in the sky, but it was not suitable. He then returned to Okehu and brought the stars, and arranged them on Rangi. He stretched the Galaxy across the heavens, and fixed Panako-te-ao, and the Patari (Magellan Clouds), and Autahi (Canopus), the star of the year. He then went to the home of Tukai-nanapia and obtained the "coverings" or adornments of Wehi-nui-o-mamao. These were Hirautu (?Hirauta), Poreri-nuku (?Porera-nuku), Kahui-whetu (descriptive term for a constellation), Poaka (=Puaka =Puanga =Rigel), Takurua, Whare-pungarehu, Kuaki-motumotu (Ruaki-motumotu), Tahu-weruweru, Wero, Wero-i-te-ninihi, Wero-i-te-kokoto, Wero-i-te-ao-maori. Then Tane came page 95down and looked upward at his parent, who now presented a truly fine appearance. (In this account Wohler's translation of the original is scarcely to be commended; it is in the nature of a paraphrase, with considerable omissions.)

There is abundance of evidence that Tane represents light, and that his name of Tane-te-waiora represents him as the source of the sunlight, which is the welfare of all things. Fornander speaks of the three great Polynesian deities Tane, Tu, and Rongo as the personified forms of light, stability, and sound. Of these the two last may be queried in connection with our New Zealand myths, but the first named is correct. This writer also clearly shows that the Hawaiians knew Tane as representing the sun, and adds that offerings were made to him. He gives some interesting notes concerning Tane. In their ancient poems the east is called the ala nui hele a Kane (the great highway of Tane), and the west is styled the ala nui o ka make (the great road of death, or of the dead). In other chants the east is called ke ala ula a Kane (the bright road of Tane), the way that is brightened or illuminated by him. "Other names of the west, only occurring in the older chants and prayers, and referring to the same symbolism and identification of Kane with the sun, are found in Kaulana-a-Kane (the resting-place of Kane), and in Kane-neenee (the moving sun)." The reader, by remembering the dropped k of the Hawaiian dialect, and the substitution of k for t, will recognize Tane in Kane, while Kane-nee-nee would be Tane-nekeneke in the New Zealand dialect.

Fornander believed, however, that this sun-worship had faded away prior to the entry of the Polynesians into the Pacific area, or nearly so. "If the ideas of solar worship embodied in the Polynesian Kane (Tane), as the sun, the sun-god, the Shining One … were of Cushite origin, yet the name itself is of Arian kindred, and refers itself to some primary root expressed in the Sanskrit Kan (to shine), &c."

Hawaiian chants also speak of "the heaven of Tane," "the stars of Tane," &c. Another matter of interest is the existence in that group of certain upright stones known as "the stones of Tane," which were covered by priests with a black cloth, and at which offerings were made.

Our Maori folk have forgotten that Tane is the sun, and so tell us that they know nought of any veneration for the sun in former times, save in the far-off isle of Rangiatea, in eastern Polynesia. But Tane they knew here in New Zealand as the most important atua of the second class of deities, and inferior only to Great Io. Tane, like some other Maori deities, has his counterpart in the Old World, where page 96Tanen was the "god of the heavens" in Egypt, where also the sun was called Ra, as it was in New Zealand and Polynesia. In ancient Egypt different names were applied to the sun at morning, noon, evening, and during his passage through the underworld at night. Something of the same kind seems to have obtained among the Maori, where, according to Takitumu data, the name of Tama-nui-te-ra was applied to the sun only in the morning, perhaps only to the rising sun. In Egypt the setting sun was Turn, or Ra-tum, while in the Paumotu Group of eastern Polynesian ra tumu signifies the setting sun. In Fenton's Suggestions for a History of the Maori People we are told that, among the Accadians, Tu, the god of death and bloodshed, representing the setting sun, and Ra, the sun-god were generally recognized.

In Tane-te-waiora we have the personified form of the sun as the origin of light and the welfare that springs from it. In Tane-te-po-tiwha we probably have the counterpart of the Egyptian Osiris, the sun during its passage through the underworld at night. In one version of the origin of light Tane obtains the stars from Tane-te-waiora, and the stars are spoken of as the ornaments of that being's house.

In the expression te waiora a Tane we have another singular abstraction, and one of much interest. This word waiora is usually rendered by writers as "waters of life" and "life-giving waters," which error has been repeated in many works. In some cases, as in the Hawaiian Isles, natives really do speak of it as a lake or river whose waters are life-giving and will restore the dead to life. But the true meaning is "sunlight"; that of "welfare" or "prosperity" is a secondary meaning when the word is used in this connection. As a word of the vernacular waiora means "health," "welfare." In eastern Polynesia we find vai = to be, to exist, in the Tahitian and Paumotu dialects; and in the latter the form vaiora = to survive. On Porapora Island, Society Group, is a spring of water known as Te Vaiora-a-Tane. In Tahitian myth we find that the Vaiora-a-Tane is said to be the Milky Way, in the vacant parts of which dwells the shark and certain fish. (See Journal of the Polynesian Society, vol. 16, p. 102.)

In many works on the Maori we are told that when the moon becomes old and feeble she goes away to the "living waters of Tane," or "life-giving waters of Tane," where she bathes in those waters and then returns to this world with renewed youth. An account given by Hori Ropiha reads: "Ko te pouritanga o te marama, e kainga ana e Rona, a ko te wa o te marama e ngaro nei, ko Rona raua ko te marama e kai ana i a raua. Ka kai tetahi i tetahi, a ka kau raua i te wai-page 97ora a Tane, ka ora mai ano" ("The dark phase of the moon; it is being consumed by Rona, and when the moon is lost to view Rona and the moon are consuming each other. One assails the other; then they bathe in the waiora a Tane, and recover").

White gives a version of the myth in which it is said that the moon is periodically afflicted by sickness, and, when much weakened, goes to bathe in the waiora a Tane, and so recovers. This periodical illness of the moon seems to be the cause of the connection said to exist between women and the moon.

All these expressions are mythopoetic fancies, and fanciful ways of saying that the moon bathes in sunlight, which, as it were, rejuvenates her.

This concept is most easily grasped in its Hawaiian form, and it is evidently an ancient production, probably brought from the homeland of the race. In vol. 4 of the Memoirs of the Bishop Museum of Honolulu is given the old myth of the expedition of Kautere in search of these waters of life of Tane, the waters guarded by Tane-naiau. In his search for ka wai ola loa a Kane (te wai ora roa a Tane in the New Zealand dialect) he was told to proceed straight to the rising sun. Kane-makua (Tane matua) is also mentioned in this myth.

In the White manuscripts occurs a brief note stating that the wai paparoa o Tane is the water by means of which man may be restored to life. All these quaint concepts carry us back to the old Babylonian myth wherein the sun bathes in the water of life, and Istar, the moon, does the same, and has her glory restored. The Egyptian myths of Osiris shows how a belief in immortality or resurrection was evolved from the regular passage of the sun through the darkness of the underworld, and its reappearance in this world. In India the sun-god was plunged into the pool of regeneration to restore his youth.

In Wyatt Gill's Myths and Songs from the South Pacific it is said that at Mangaia Tane seems to have been recognized as the sun, and Venus is called the brilliant right eye of Tane.

We now see why it is that the Maori has been said by many writers to have had no conception of a sun deity, that he practised no form of sun-worship, that he showed no reverence for that important luminary. It is because he personified the sun in Tane; because he discarded, in this connection, the ordinary word denoting the sun, ra, and elevated it to a high place in the Maori pantheon under a different name. And in this matter he was but following the method employed by the old races of Egypt and Babylonia. The sun-god with twelve names of the far-off Land of the Two page 98Rivers reappears in Tane of the twelve names of Polynesian and New Zealand. Nor may we say which is the older, for no man can say as to where the original homeland of the Maori lay, where Uru and Irihia are situated, or how many centuries have elapsed since he passed out upon the great ocean to claim his place as the foremost neolithic navigator of the grey ages.