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Maori Religion and Mythology Part 1

Atua as Guardians of Tapu Places, &c

Atua as Guardians of Tapu Places, &c.

In former times atua of the third and fourth classes were widely employed by the Maori as guardians of such tapu spots as burial-places. Thus the famous cave called Wharekohu, on Kapiti Island, wherein bones of the dead were deposited for centuries, was under page 210the guardianship of Tunui-o-te-ika. In some cases a lizard was placed in charge of some spot or object the sanctity or privacy of which it was advisable to protect. Thus I know of cases in which lizards were placed as guardians of the so-called burial-caves, and in one instance as guardian of a highly-prized tree much frequented by game birds, and on which they were snared. In such cases the lizard that represents Whiro (the personified form of disease and death) would certainly be an excellent deterrent to would-be trespassers, and doubtless, in some cases at least, the lizard was the aria, or form of incarnation, of an atua, as in the case of Te Hukita and Te Rehu-o-Tainui. Atua were also utilized as guardian beings of a village, as in the case of the Te Whetu-kairangi, an old-time fortified village on Seatoun Heights, Wellington, which was placed under the protecting power of Tuhinapo and Tunui-o-te-ika. Maru was another atua employed for such purposes.