Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Maori Religion and Mythology Part 1



We will commence our survey of the departmental gods of the Maori by an examination of Tane, who may assuredly be termed the most important being of that class. This is shown by the fact page 165of his greater and more important activities. It was Tane who assumed the most important tasks; he was the most conspicuous of the offspring of the primal parents; his acts had the greatest effect on the world in native myth. He it was who ascended to the realm of Io, the mighty one, and obtained the three receptacles of occult knowledge, the greatest of boons to mankind; he defeated and banished the powers of darkness; he was the author of all vegetation; he created the first woman, and so produced man: truly, these marvellous acts make for importance.

Tane is known to the scattered bands of the Maori from New Zealand to the Hawaiian Isles. At the Marquesas he is the brother of Atea; at Mangaia, the father of all; but at both places overshadowed by Atea and Vatea. At Huahine he was an important deity; at Mangareva Kane is "warmth of sun." Tane, Tu, and Rongo form a most important trio, but in some isles of Polynesia Tangaroa becomes the most important being. Fornander tells us that Tane, Tu, and Rongo at Hawaii represent light, stability, and sound. In regard to Tane this is correct, but as to Tu and Rongo I must certainly disagree with Fornander. There is no evidence to show that these represent stability and sound. Fornander has evidently accepted the dictionary meaning of two words employed as proper names—a most dangerous procedure.

Fornander gives some curious Hawaiian items showing that Tane was viewed by them as a linga god, or at least as representing the male element, or as the fertilizer. Certain upright stones were known as the "stones of Tane," which formerly served as altars, or places of offering at what may be called family worship. "These stone pillars were sprinkled with water, or anointed with coconut-oil, and the upper part frequently covered with a black native cloth, the colour of garment which priests wore on special occasions."

We have already surveyed many attributes of Tane, and given some account of his position and cultus among other branches of the race. We shall again encounter his far-reaching influence when we come to deal with ritual formulae and the spirit-world. These more important departmental beings, such as Tane, Tu, Rongo, Tangaroa, and Tawhiri-matea, appear to have possessed no aria, or form of incarnation, as did many gods of lower grades. This means that Tane and his class did not make themselves visible to man in any form pertaining to the earth. They were presiding beings, but not the active and more familiar beings that lower atua were. They presided over departments, each of which included a number of inferior beings (atua), and theirs was the mana under which those inferior page 166beings operated. These two classes of supernormal beings are on a different plane, and it is unfortunate that we apply the term "gods" to both. In his Hibbert Lectures Reville tells us that personified powers of nature come to be considered as anthropomorphic beings endowed with human passions. But there are two grades of such beings in Maori myth: one is represented by such "heads of departments" as Tane, the other by beings of a lower status who are utilized or employed, as it were, by priestly mediums, to act as protectors or as active agents in some way. Thus Tane himself is the superior tutelary being connected with forests, but there are minor beings also, such as Punaweko, the origin and personification of birds; Rara-taunga-rere, connected with the fertility of trees; and others. Again, in Tane we have a personification of the sun, who occupies an important position, but in Rongomai, Kahukura, and Tunui-a-te-ika we have personifications of natural phenomena who occupy a distinctly lower plane, and are more frequently appealed to.

Tane was directly appealed to in what may be termed the higher-class ritual, wherein we see his name used in conjunction with those of Ruatau, Rongo, Rehua, and other important beings. It is even known to occur in the same ritual in which the mighty Io is invoked.

We have already seen how Tane produced trees, but it must also be shown how Tane became to be the origin of water, rock, stones, snow, hail, &c.:—

family tree

Here we have Tane the Parent, or Begetter, taking to wife the Mountain Maid. Their three offspring are the progenitors of monsters, insects, and the waters of the earth. Tuamatua takes Takoto-wai (reclining in water) to wife, and begets all forms of rock, stones, gravel, and sand. Rakahore is the origin and personified form of all rock. He and Hine-one and Hine-tuakirikiri (personified forms of page 167sand and gravel) ever protect the flanks of the Earth Mother from the attacks of Hine-moana, the Ocean Maid, the personified form of the ocean. Hine-waipipi and Hine-wai apparently personify water; thus rock and water are mated and produce gravel and sand. The native mind has noted the effect of water on rock and stone, and so has allegorized a scientific fact in the usual mythopoetic manner. The offspring of Rangahua are simply personified forms of different kinds of sandstone, of whom Hine-tuahoanga is the principal one; others are Hine-kiri-taratara, Hine-maheni, &c.—all females, and all denoting some aspect of sandstone. Sandstones of different degrees of coarseness, &c., were much used by the Maori in his various industries. Para-whenuamea is the origin of all waters, including the ocean. She was taken to wife by Kiwa, the guardian being of the ocean realm, and so produced all waters, the ocean being personified in Hine-moana, who became Kiwa's second wife. Para-whenuamea has been identified by Mr. S. Percy Smith with Pele-honuamea of Hawaiian myth. Hine-moana is ever assailing the body of the Earth Mother, and all bays and inlets are the result of te ngaunga a Hinemoana (the gnawing of Hine-moana). Para-whenuamea was also the parent or origin of oneparahua and onepu (alluvial deposits, silt, and sand).

Another version of this myth is as under:—

family tree

Hine-maukuuku in the first table is also called Hine-ukurangi, the Clay Maid.

The following version differs again somewhat:—

family tree

Para-whenuamea above represents water, of which she is the personified form, while Rakahore is the personification of rock. Hine-ukurangi, to judge by her name should represent clay, while Tuamatua is the parent of stones, pebbles, and sand. Te Ikaroa and Papakura were the parents of taniwha, or water-monsters, that assume many different forms. The sister of the taniwha is the Horu page 168(red ochre), and they dwell together within their ancestress Parawhenuamea—that is to say, in the water. Then, their younger relatives—stones, gravel, and sand—were also placed there to shelter the taniwha and their offspring, hence they are seen in the water protecting their elders. These taniwha appear to man when he trespasses on their domain, because they are tapu beings.

Other offspring of Rakahore (rock) and Hine-ukurangi were Whatuaho, who represents obsidian; Papakura, another progenitor of stones; Tauira-karapa, a form of greenstone; Hine-tauira (a stone name, a kind of flint), and Hine-tuahoanga. This latter is the personified form of all kinds of sandstone such as were used as grinding-stones and rasps.

The weak point in the above relation is the fact that Te Putoto does not appear in the list of the offspring of Rangi and Papa, the Sky Father and Earth Mother.

Another version of this old myth concerning the origin of stones shows that Tuamatua and Te Ao-hore had the following progeny:—

(4.)Te Ahorangi.
(7.)Te Hinurewa.
(11.)Te Mata-ahomatua.
(12.)Te Mata-tohikura.
(13.)Te Mata-tohiawa.
(14.)Te Mata-waiapu.
(15.)Te Mata-whakapau.

The only Ao-hore we know of in Maori myth is a personified form of clouds, but what clouds have to do with the origin of stones is by no means easy to see. The above list includes the names of several varieties of greenstone (nephrite), flint, and chert, also bowenite and sandstone. Thus Nos. 1, 2, 3, 8, and 9 are terms applied to greenstone, Poutini being used as a kind of emblematical name for greenstone; he is now represented by a star in the heavens. No. 6 is a name for lava and scoria, but is also said to be a name for a kind of greenstone. No. 10 is bowenite. Nos. 11, 12, 13, 14, and 15 are flint and chert names—stones employed in the manufacture of implements by the Maori. No. 16 we have already discussed, while Nos. 4, 5, and 7 are not identified.

Such names of personified forms of inanimate objects as we have given were much employed by the Maori in discourse, hence such sayings as "He ope na Hine-tuakirikiri e kore e taea te tatau" (equivalent to our "Numerous as the sands of the seashore").