Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Maori Religion and Mythology Part 1



We now come to the third member of the trio, Tane, Tu, and Rongo, the most important of the departmental tutelary beings of Maori myth. In New Zealand we find that Rongo presides over the peace department, he is what we call the god of peace, of peacemaking ceremonial, and of the art of agriculture. He is also known as Rongo-maraeroa. His functions are said to extend to such manifestations and activities of human sympathy as hospitality, generosity, and all the courtesies of life coming under the head of the expression manaaki tangata. At Mangaia Rongo seems to have been viewed as the principal god, though his attributes and functions are very different from those of the New Zealand Rongo. The desirable qualities and activities of the latter are referred to at p. 9 of the Kauwae-runga (vol. 3 of the Memoirs of the Polynesian Society).

Rongo is said to have been the principal being of the original Whare-kura, which was situated at the place known as Hawaiki-nui, in the far-distant homeland of Irihia. To Rongo-maraeroa pertain all cultivated food products, the kumara, taro, hue, ari, and korau, and such other products as may have been cultivated in past times and other lands. These products are the sweet potato, Colocasia antiquorum, the gourd—while the last two are doubtful. Maori tradition describes ari as a "bloodless" (?dry, sapless) food, hence it was used as an offering to the gods in those ancient times. Ari is the Dravidian name for rice. The korau is another puzzle, for we know it merely as the name of the introduced turnip. There was a considerable amount of tapu pertaining to agricultural operations among the Maori folk, and all such ritual and tapu were connected with Rongo. He was the protector of crops, and he was appealed to as the one to cause all crops to flourish and bear abundantly. Pani and others appealed to for the same reason were inferior beings.

page 177

We have a singular form of name in "Rongomatane," as it is usually written, but which presumably should be Rongo-ma-Tane, which can only be rendered as "Rongo and Tane." This peculiar coupling of the names of Rongo and Tane has not been explained, but is a subject of much interest. This form is known in New Zealand, also at the Society and Cook Groups. In local lore, as among Ngati-Awa of the Bay of Plenty, it occurs as though it were simply a lengthened form of the name Rongo. In the Rev. Mr. Gill's notes on traditions of the Cook Islands we note that Rongo and Rongo-ma-Tane are given as two separate beings (Journal of the Polynesian Society, vol. 24, p. 154). At p. 119 of vol. 16 of the Journal quoted we find the following note concerning Rongo-ma-Tane: "Rongo and Tane. Rongo is essentially and originally lord of abundance of harvest. It is. however, realized that but for Tane, who is lord of the forest, plants, and vegetation generally, there would be no such abundance. So we occasionally, and very rarely too, find the names of Rongo and Tane conjoined and honoured together as lords of abundance." When we examine the various myths pertaining to Rongo we can see that he was not originally a harvest lord; he is a personification of something that preceded harvests and crops.

This being is best known to the Maori as Rongo and Rongo-maraeroa—certainly not as Rongo-ma-Tane, which form is much less often heard, though Tregear does not agree with this. Ellis shows us that this peculiar conjunction of names was known at Tahiti. He writes it as "Romatane," instead of "Ro'o-ma-Tane," the apostrophe marking the place of the dropped ng. Ellis uses this as the name of a single being, who is the ruler or custodian of the spirit-world in the heavens. Elsewhere Ellis states that Ro'o-tane was the god of peace. The Ro'o-nui (Rongo-nui, or Great Rongo) mentioned at p. 1 of vol. 21 of the Journal of the Polynesian Society is probably the same being.

At Atiu Island Rongo is said to be a son of Tangaroa. At Mangaia (Cook Islands) and at Rimatara (Austral Group) Rongo was the principal god. At p. 14 of his Myths and Songs the Rev. Mr. Gill evidently confuses Oro (Koro) of Tahiti with Rongo, for the latter was certainly not "the chief object of worship at Tahiti." He tells us that Rongo and Tangaroa were the twin children of Vatea and Papa, in the Mangaian version. It was Tangaroa who instructed Rongo in the arts of agriculture. Rongo was styled an atua po (a supernatural being pertaining to night or the underworld). It is of interest to note that he was also connected with cultivated food products at Mangaia. The Rev. Mr. Gill renders the name of Rongo as "the Resounder"—much the same as Fornander's rendering; but page 178this is not satisfactory—we must go further than "sound" to understand Rongo.

At Samoa Rongo is said to be the offspring of Tangaroa and Sina (=Hina=moon). In Dr. Fraser's account of the Samoan story of creation, as given in vol. 1 of the Journal of the Polynesian Society, Tangaroa, the primal god, is said to have created Longonoa, but no particulars are given concerning this being.

At the Hawaiian Islands Rongo is said to live on or in the waters, and he is said to be the light of heaven on earth. He was styled "Great Rongo dwelling on the Waters." At Hawaii also Tane, Tu, and Rongo are said to be three in one—three manifestations of one being—which is remarkably suggestive. Here Rongo is the water-dweller, just as Hina-uri is said to be. Again, at p. 52 of vol. 30 of the Transactions of the New Zealand Institute we find an extract from certain ritual connected with the above trinity, in which Tane is associated with Tu in the blazing heavens, "with great Rongo of the flashing eyes, a god, the god of lightning, the fixed light of heaven standing on the earth," &c. And yet, so effective is example, the writer of the article tells us that Rongo represents sound. Truly, a dictionary is not an unmixed blessing!

In writing of the moon-god of Accadia Fenton says: "This god was regarded as masculine, and seems to have borne also the name of Rono." At p. 121 of his little work Suggestions for a History of the Maori People he refers to Ra, Rono, and Tangaroa as signifying sun, moon, and sea. At p. 122 he states that the Orongonui night of the moon was so called after an ancient name of the moon-god. He also seems to connect Rono, or Rongo, with Rona. Now, Rona is, in common myth, the "woman of the moon," but the higher version is that Rona is the leader or conductor of the moon, and is the "tide-controller."

We know that Rongo appears as Lono at the Hawaiian Isles, and that Hina, Ina and Sina in various groups is the moon and the dweller in the moon. A Hawaiian myth given at p. 172 of vol. 20 of the Journal of the Polynesian Society shows that Hina came from a far land where she had a husband named Makalii (Maori Matariki= the Pleiades), who became the stars of the Pleiades. In after-time Hina ascended to the heavens and dwelt in the moon. But because of an injury she had received she was now called Lono-moku. Now, this latter name is, in the New Zealand dialect, Rongo-motu, and here we have both Hina and Rongo as moon-names. At the Paumotu Group Hina is the daughter of Rona. In the South Island of New Zealand Rona appears as a male being. Hina, the water-goddess, and Rongo of the flashing eyes, who dwells on the waters, seem to page 179melt into one; while Rona is, to say the least, closely connected with them.

In White's Ancient History of the Maori, vol. 1, p. 163, occur the words "Ka tu a Kahukura i te rangi, a Rongo-nui-a-tau ano hoki, raua tokorua" Apparently these words imply that both were seen on high (presumably in the heavens), so that this Rongo-nui-a-tau may be the Lono who is Hina of Hawaii.

So now we begin to see why the Maori coupled Rongo and Tane together as Rongo-ma-Tane. They are the twins of Maori myth; they are Sin and Ra; they are Isis and Osiris. They are gods of Accadia and of Egypt survived in the far-flung isles of Polynesia to our own time. And Isis, with the child Horus in her lap, broods over the dead land and lost gods of Egypt, but is represented by Pale Hina in the sunlit isles of the far south.

The stones, plain and unworked, or rudely hewn into grotesque semi-human form, and termed by us "kumara gods," were utilized by the Maori as taumata atua in their cultivation-grounds. They acted as mediums or abiding-places for the gods under whose care the growing crops had been placed. They were the visible symbol of the protective and fertilizing powers of such gods. In many cases such a stone medium represented Rongo. One such at Waikato, that is known by the name of Rongo, is still preserved by the Wahanui family. These protective and nurturing symbols are sometimes termed mauri, a term that will be dealt with later on. Of course "god," as a term for such objects, is a misnomer; "talisman" would be a more suitable word than "god," but we have no word that signifies with precision such peculiar material mediums.

A Bay of Plenty version of the old primal myths shows that, in the dawn of time, when the offspring of Rangi and Papa fell a-quarrelling, Rongo desired that the conduct of affairs be placed in his hands. This proposal his brothers would not agree to, hence war and many other troubles ever afflict mankind. Had Rongo but obtained the direction of affairs, then peace would have prevailed on earth for all time. Man would have confined his energies to peaceful arts; quarrels and war would have been unknown.

An agricultural people such as the Maori looks upon the Earth Mother as their best friend and nurturer, for she provides food for mankind. Also, they view the heavenly bodies, and other natural phenomena, as affecting their welfare, and so such powers were personified and treated as atua. The art of agriculture demands at least a special patron deity, and there is, in barbaric culture, a close association between that art and the gods; while page 180tapu also enters largely into it. Seeds are planted at the full of the moon, and there is a close connection in many cases between the art of agriculture and the moon, which fact casts an aspect of interest over the Hina-Rongo connection.