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Maori Religion and Mythology Part 1



This member of the seventy brethren was the youngest of them, and is said, in popular myth, to have been still suckling the Earth Mother when she was turned over face down to Rarohenga. Hence he never emerged into the upper world or saw the light of day. He makes war against mankind, in conjunction with Whiro, and ever seeks to destroy them. He represents earthquakes and all volcanic phenomena, and it is by means of these activities that he assails man.

The evil and disastrous powers of makutu, or black magic, emanate from Whiro and his horde, the Maiki clan. This is the pernicious branch of knowledge known as the uruuru tipua, or uruuru tawhito. Ruaumoko and Whiro work together in assailing the offspring of Tane in order to avenge the separation of their parents.

Ruaumoko is also known as Ruaimoko, and Whakaruaumoko also Ruaimokoroa. Ngati-Awa folk tell us that he is the origin of thunder; that he separates the seasons summer and winter. Earthquakes are caused by his turning over in his subterranean abode; on such occasions, if summer is approaching, he is said to be turning warmth uppermost; in autumn he turns cold uppermost. These are popular tales.

We have seen that Ruaumoko is said to have taken Hine-nui-te-po to wife in the underworld. This is a very curious position, for Ruaumoko is ever a destroyer of man, while Hine is shown, in the higher teaching of Maori myth, to be the protector of the spirits of the dead.

In vol. 11 of the Journal of the Polynesian Society, p. 67, we note that a Ruaimokoroa was utilized ad a tribal war-god. In certain ritual formulae we see reference to the po tangotango and po whawha of Ruaumoko—expressions denoting the realm of darkness in which he abides. In an old lament we find the following:—

I a Ruaimoko, e whakangaoko ra i Rarohenga
Ka puta te hu ki taiao; koia a Hine-puia i Hawaiki.

This alludes to the activities of Ruaimoko in the subterranean world, which cause the earthquakes felt in this world, and which page 188are represented by Hine-puia at Hawaiki. This Hine-puia is the personified form of volcanic disturbances, volcanoes. The song from which I quote continues:—

Ka tere Hine-uku, ka tere Hine-one, ka tere Para-whenuamea
Ki a Hine-moana e tu mai ra i Tahora-nui-atea.

This is curiously suggestive of the effects of volcanic disturbance, the flowing of mud and water, the fall of pumiceous sand, to the ocean. Hine-uku personifies clay or mud, Hine-one sand, and Para-whenuamea water; while Hine-moana is the Ocean Maid, and Tahora-nui-atea is her plaza, the vast expanse of open ocean. Para-whenuamea is considered by Mr. S. Percy Smith to be the same as Pele-honuamea of the Hawaiian Isles, who is there the goddess or personified form of volcanic fire. In our Bay of Plenty district the Awa folk state that one Hine-i-tapeka was the origin of subterranean fires, and that she was a sister of Mahuika, who personifies fire of this world.

The name Ruaumoko, or Ruaimokoroa, does not explain itself. Ru denotes an earthquake, but the aumoko carries no definite meaning known to the writer. Mokoroa is of some interest, and might denote a huge reptile. In our local dialect moko means a lizard, but there is some evidence to show that, in the western Pacific area, the crocodile was, or is, so called. It is just possible that Ruaimokoroa has been held to be a huge monster of the taniwha type dwelling in subterranean depths.