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Maori Religion and Mythology Part 1

Tane as the Origin of Birds

page 169

Tane as the Origin of Birds

The origin of birds in Maori myth is an excellent illustration of the Maori genius for personification. The accounts given by different tribes do not agree with each other, but such disagreements are not confined to savages or uncultured folk. In the version under observation we are told that birds were the offspring of Tane-nui-a-Rangi and one Kahu-parauri. The latter was related to Turangi, who is shown elsewhere to be one of the parents of the heavenly bodies. Parauri appears in other versions as the origin or personified form of the tui bird.

The offspring of Tane and Kahu-purauri were Kokomako Patahoro, Kokako, Koko, &c. (all bird-names). These were fed by means of rehurehua-koko*—whatever that may mean, possibly something connected with the forest. As these offspring did not flourish they were then nourished on the vermin of their ancestor Turangi, which appear to have been flies. This diet also failing, they were then fed on the vermin of the heads of the younger relatives, of Tutu, Mako, Toro, Maire, Matai, Miro, and Kahika, of the forest of Tane. (All these are names of trees the berries of which are eaten by birds.) It was now that Tane turned to the reciting of ritual over the vermin of his first-born offspring (that is, over the fruits of forest-trees), lest their relatives perish. This was his charm so recited:—
Kai ana uruKai ana te ihi matua
Kai ana tongaKai ana te pae matua
Kai ana hauE kai kia whiu
Kai ana upaE kai kia upa
Kai ana pikoE kai kia tina
Kai ana ringa wharoE kai kia tonene
Kai ana TawhaitariKa mama ai te hanahana o Kahu-paraauri… e… i.

Thus Tane rendered the forest fertile and enabled trees to reproduce their species, and on the berries of these trees the offspring of Tane, Parauri, Punaweko, and those of other beings who produced birds, were nourished.

Connected with this subject is Te Rara-taunga-rere, who seems to be a personified form of fertility, as of seeds, berries, fruits. Hence it is that Te Rara-taunga-rere and Hukahuka-tea were the houses or repositories in which tree-seeds were conserved, whence they were obtained by Tane.

One Punaweko is said to have been the origin of forest-birds, and he is certainly viewed as the personified form thereof. Hurumanu page 170occupies a similar position in regard to sea-birds, while Raka-maomao was the origin of tapu birds. The latter is a singular and unexplained connection, for Raka-maomao is connected with the south, and Te Potiki a Raka-maomao (the child of Raka) is a term applied to the south wind. La'a-maomao represented the rainbow at Samoa.

Hokahoka is spoken of as the origin of the hawk (kahu), the sparrow-hawk (karearea), and some similar birds, while Tane-te-hokahoka was the origin of small birds. In one version Rehua is said to have been the origin of the tui or koko bird, which birds concealed themselves in his hair and fed upon the vermin of his head. Here Rehua seems to represent trees, and in the Hawaiian Isles lehua was an old-time word denoting a forest, though now obsolete.

Rehua's house was at Te Putahi-o-rangiaho; his house was Te Uruuru-rangi, situated at Tiritiri-o-Matangi, which is the eleventh of the twelve heavens.

Tane-te-hokahoka given above does not seem to be another name of the Tane under discussion; he is given as a distinct member of the Whanau-a-Rangi, or offspring of the Sky Parent. Tane the Great had a number of names—twelve it is said—each of which has its meaning as illustrating a phase of his activities.

As an illustration of how the Maori traces his descent from the primal parents through Tane the Fertilizer, and so claims a supernatural origin, the following line is given:—

family tree

page 171

Here we have fifty-eight generations from the primal parents, so man seems to have originated about the year 400 A.D., a fact of some interest. The names prior to that of Ngatoro-i-rangi are probably mostly mythical. Some branches of the race possess very much longer lines of descent from the parents of mankind, long lists of mythical names, often including, in their earlier parts, names signifying evolutionary processes, stages of development, such as we have noted in Maori cosmogonic lore. As a rule Maori genealogies may be considered fairly reliable for a period of from twenty to thirty generations—that is, from the time they settled in these isles. Beyond that period we find ourselves among beings who were evidently personifications, such as Tawhaki, Wahieroa, Whaitiri, &c.

The myth of Tane and Hine-ahu-one (the Earth-formed Maid) apparently illustrates the fertilization of the earth by the sun. At Samoa we find the myth of a woman named Mangamangai, who was impregnated by the sun. When this child attained maturity he ascended to the sun and obtained from him a "basket of blessings," which reminds us of Tane and his acquisition of the "baskets of knowledge."

The name Tane-te-po-tiwha, or Tane of the Dark Night, or realm of darkness, probably represents him during his passage through the underworld, or below the earth. This lower region in which the sun is lost every night is known to the Maori as te kainga huna a Tane (the hidden realm of Tane). At Hawaii it is termed the aina huna a Kane, showing a dropped k and the T changed to K, a modern letter-change. Fornander tells us that the Hawaiians look upon it as a "land of plenty and bliss," and that it is supposed to be situated far to the north-west of the Hawaiian Isles. In the past several expeditions have started from the Marquesas Group in search of this mythical "happy land."

Among the Tahitians the tenth heaven was that of Tane. At Huahine he was the tutelary deity of the isle.

In his Hibbert Lectures Reville has sagely remarked: "It is the phenomena of nature, regarded as animated and conscious, that wake and stimulate the religious sentiment and become the object of the adoration of man." Now, in works on the natives of New Zealand and Polynesia there is a marked lack of definite information concerning any cult of the heavenly bodies—of sun, moon, or star worship. This would appear to be a very remarkable thing were it not that the lack is but apparent, and does not really exist. The cause of our failure to recognize such a cultus is the fact that never yet have we conceived the extraordinary genius of the Maori for personification. Here is the key to our ignorance. We know how important page 172a position Tane occupies in the Maori pantheon—how he was placated and invoked as the principal departmental being—but we did not recognize that he represents the sun. The Maori of to-day has forgotten that Tane is the sun, but clear and fair lies the proof. A similar state of things exists in connection with the moon; we have not recognized the fact that the Maori practised a moon cult because, in that case also, a personification was employed.

As to whether the cult of Tane would have been further developed, carried to a higher plane, had not the arrival of Europeans disturbed native beliefs it is idle to inquire. Good and evil gods have originally been allied to, and have represented, light and darkness; thus Tane may have developed into a superior form of deity, a moral being, in course of time. If so, he would assuredly have been still opposed to Whiro, and some change would have taken place in regard to the native belief in the spirit-world. The beginning of such a change had already occurred, as will be shown elsewhere. The type of ritual pertaining to the cult of Tane will also be explained in a future chapter.

When one reflects upon the clearly evident power of the sun in promoting growth and welfare generally, then one sees that such a folk as the Polynesians could scarcely refrain from evoking a sun cult. Max Muller quotes the following passage from a writer on the American Indians: "When the Indians saw the power of the sun in bringing life out of the earth in the shape of growing plants from hidden seeds, the sun seemed to them like a living spirit."

A peculiarity noted in connection with these departmental and tutelary beings is that their names are often applied to the objects they represent. Thus fire is sometimes referred to as Mahuika, the origin of fire, and who may also be said to personify it. In like manner trees are called Tane, and canoes are referred to as Tane, because they are made from trees, which are the offspring of Tane. Canoes are also termed the ara tauwhaiti a Tane (the narrow conveyance of Tane), and the riu o Tane (as likening a canoe to a hollow tree-trunk).

Ceremonial offerings were made to Tane in connection with many functions and activities. In many cases a tapu fire was kindled, at which the priestly expert roasted a bird as an offering to Tane. This offering might be eaten by the priest if he was of sufficiently high rank, otherwise he would place it on a tree to be consumed by Tane. In such cases the atua merely consumed the semblance of the food.

In a paper on "Asiatic Gods in the Pacific," published in vol. 2 of the Journal of the Polynesian Society, we are told that "Tane is, with little doubt, the same god in New Zealand as in Hawaii, page 173though in the former place he is regarded as the male principle, and in the latter as the god of light." It is now time that we recognized the fact that Tane is also the god of light in New Zealand, of which there is ample proof.

Tane was well known at Tahiti, and in former times was the great tutelar god of that island before Oro became supreme. Banks tells us that Tupaea "often prayed to Tane for a wind, and as often boasted to me of the success of his prayers, which I plainly saw he never began till he perceived a breeze so near. the ship that it generally reached her before his prayer was finished." There are some signs also that the sun was venerated and treated as an atua, under the name of Ra, in one isle at least of the Society Group (for which see Fornander's Polynesian Race, vol. 1, p. 44). The Maori folk have a tradition that a direct sun cult was practised at Rangiatea (Ra'iatea Island) long centuries ago, before their ancestors came to New Zealand. Fornander states that the first high chief of Ra'iatea is said in native myth to have been the grandson of Uruu-matamata, who was the son of Ra (the sun). This Uru may or may not be connected with the Maori Uru-te-ngangana. Fornander's double vowels are confusing, his use of them not being consistent, apparently.

In New Zealand Tane is very closely connected with the forest and its products, and this aspect is not apparent at the Cook, Society, and Hawaiian Groups. It is quite possible that this change has been caused by the long residence in forest-clad New Zealand.

In vol. 19 of the Transactions of the New Zealand Institute Mr. Blyth confuses Tane with Tiki, for it is the latter who personifies the creative power of Tane.

Although Tane and his brethren, offspring of Rangi and Papa, are tutelary and creative beings, departmental creators holding supreme power each in his own department, yet the application of the term "god" to them may be objected to. Some authorities assert that such beings belong more to mythology than to religion. This may be so, yet when we know that these beings were placated by offerings, and also invoked by the Maori when he felt that he needed their assistance or protection, then assuredly we must deal with them as we do with other supernormal beings, such as what may be termed "spirit gods." The religious ceremonial of the Maori pertained largely to these beings; they were on a superior plane to that occupied by deified ancestors, and many of what may be termed "nature gods," personified forms of natural phenomena. With our atua maori the sons of the Earth Mother must remain.

page 174

In like manner is the old Sky Father appealed to in Maori ritual; and the primal parents, Sky and Earth, were ever looked upon as the origin of all things, not of man alone. Hence this cultus of departmental gods may be viewed as a family affair pertaining to the first parents and their many offspring. All these beings were superior to the atua of the third and fourth classes, and were inferior only to Io. Many of the inferior beings may be viewed as underlings of the departmental gods or tutelary beings. Thus all the many inferior atua utilized as war-gods, whose aid was sought in times of stress, are below the rank of Tu.

The fact that Tane represents knowledge in its higher branches, occult lore, resolves itself into the belief that knowledge emanated from the sun. Thus, in Tane-i-te-hiringa we appear to have the personified form of such knowledge, and Tane is also the Fertilizer, the creative being. In far-off Asia the Vedic poets deemed the sun the leader of the gods, the creator and protector, and as one who knows all things.

* Or, ko was fed by means of rehurehu.