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Maori Religion and Mythology Part 1



Here we have another member of the great Polynesian trinity of Tane, Tu, and Rongo. As in the case of Tane, so also is Tu known far and wide across the Pacific area. In New Zealand Tu is the principal war-god; he is, as it were, at the head of the war department. In some cases he is credited with having brought man into existence, but the higher-class teachings of the east coast do not admit this. His name is often lengthened, as in the case of Tane, by the addition of terms denoting his functions, &c., as in Tu-mata-uenga, Tu-mata-whaiti, Tu-kai-taua, Tu-ka-riri, and Tu-ka-nguha. Tu is the destroyer of man, the lord of the red field of war, and thus is associated with death. All men taking part in a war expedition came under the tapu of Tu, and were forced to be extremely circumspect in their behaviour. Any infringement of the rules of such tapu was a very serious matter, for the offender would thereby be left defenceless, exposed to innumerable dangers. His one hope was to apply to the priestly expert of the party in order that he might again be brought under the protecting power.

Tu was well known at the far-away Hawaiian group, and at Tahiti. At Samoa Tu was a war-god, as in New Zealand, and he was also known at the Cook Islands and Mangareva. The Rev. Mr. Gill tell us that, in Mangaian myth, the art of war was learned from Tu-kai-taua and Tu-tawake, denizens of the underworld. Both these names for Tu are employed in New Zealand. At Aitutaki this Tu-kai-taua is, curiously enough, a benevolent being. At Mangaia it page 175was Tu-kai-taua who introduced death into the world. In vol. 14 of the Journal of the Polynesian Society, p. 115, Colonel Gudgeon writes concerning Tu, "Great as his power and mana have been, it must not be forgotten that he it was that brought death into the world in expiation of the sin committed when they rebelled against their parents." Again, Judge Fenton states, in his Suggestions for a History of the Maori People, as follows: "Tu, the god of death and bloodshed, representing the setting sun, and Ra, the sun god, were generally recognized overall Akkadia." Professor Sayce wrote: "Tu was the god of death in Assyria." The Rev. Mr. Gill tells us that Tu dwells in the underworld, in Mangaian myth. It is quite possible that Tu does represent the setting sun in which case he would assuredly become connected with death, for ever are the two allied in the beliefs of barbaric man.

In the Rev. Mr. Gill's Rarotongan papers we are told that Tu, Tane, and Rongo are gods of the heavens. In vol. 19 of the Transactions of the New Zealand Institute, p. 504, is an extract from a Hawaiian poem:—

Tane, lord of night, lord the father;
Tu-te-pako in the hot heavens;
Great Rongo with the flashing eyes.

How Fornander could render these names as "light," "sound," and "stability," in face of the evidence, it is hard to grasp. We must admit that Tane represents light, but what have Rongo and Tu to do with sound and stability? In this extract they both appear to represent heavenly bodies. Why should Tu be located in the hot heavens? And what right has "sound" to possess flashing eyes?

Once more, in vol. 2 of the Journal of the Polynesian Society, p. 132, we find, "May Tu and Tane and Tama meet; may the light come." Is Tu the personified form of the setting sun here, as Tu was in Accadia, and as Turn was in Egypt? Wyatt Gill tells us that, in Mangaian myth, the sun-god Ra drops down behind the horizon and so lights up the nether world, wherein dwells Tu, his wife, whom he thus frequently visits. Here we see that the sun passes every night with Tu, and so we have Tu of Babylonia corresponding with Tu of Polynesia, and connected with the setting sun and death, while Ra-tum, of ancient Egypt, is the ra tumu of eastern Polynesia—the setting sun.

In New Zealand Tu is undoubtedly a male being, as also apparently at Hawaii; but Gill speaks of Tu as the tutelar godess of Moorea Isle. This latter may possibly be a different being. As to Tu being the creator of Tiki, the first man, we have shown in another paper that Tiki was no man, but merely a personification.

page 176

Tu was known at Mangareva, the Gambier Group, where he was the principal atua of the people. In vol. 27 of the Journal of the Polynesian Society, at p. 124, we are told that Mangareva natives viewed Tu as a sort of trinity composed of Atu-motua, Atu-moana, and Atea-Tangaroa. Atea-Tangaroa is a curious compound form, including two well-known Polynesian terms. Atea personifies space in some groups, in others light; while Tangaroa we shall deal with shortly.

Tu was a secondary atua at Niue, where he is said to be an albino, but we have no further particulars from that isle.