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Maori Religion and Mythology Part 1

Atua Introduced from Polynesia

Atua Introduced from Polynesia

We have seen that the Polynesians in former times carried the names of many of their gods and mythological heroes over a great area of the Pacific, and that many such names were, and are, known from New Zealand in the south to the far-distant Hawaiian Isles. page 216Not only was the knowledge and cult of such gods carried abroad by seafarers and colonizers, but also, in at least some cases, material emblems of such gods were transported in like manner. In some cases these atua served as guides to such vessels and as guardians of vessels and voyagers. When the expedition under Rata-i-te-pukenga left Whiti-anaunau to sail to Pariroa, the land of Matuku-tangotango and a strange folk described as pakiwhara (uncivilised), the priestly expert Apakura accompanied the party to act as medium and controller of the gods. These gods were the beings under whose sway and mana the expedition had been put.

The following is a translation of a native account of the gods brought from eastern Polynesia to New Zealand by the crew of "Takitumu," a vessel that reached these shores about five hundred years ago. The original narrative will be found in the Addenda, No. IX:—

The gods fetched from Te Kohurau, which is a cave, by Te Rongopatahi, were Kahukira, Rongomai, Tunui-o-te-ika, Tama-i-waho, Ruamano, Hine-korako, and Tuhinapo. When Te Rongo-patahi, Ruawharo, Tupai, and Kohupara, who were priests of the tuahu and ahurewa, went to obtain them, prior to their going, the "Takitumu" canoe had been hauled so that her stern rested on the latrine of Titirangi. the village of Tamatea at Whangara. The reason why that was done was so that Kahukura would embark on "Takitumu."

Seven vessels were taken as abiding-places for the gods, and those vessels were wooden ones, hewn inside and outside. They were made in two pieces, which, when hewn into form, were put together and so lashed, the joining being dressed with vegetable gum. When finished they were painted on the outside only with red ochre, and the lid was inserted. The appearance of the vessel, and of the peculiar lashing of that kind of god's vessel employed, when coming to the land area at Aotea-roa was as shown in the diagram (p. 217). These vessels were closed up at night; on bright days they were opened so that the gods might emerge on to the stages, of which there were seven.

The persons permanently appointed to look after those gods were Te Rongo-patahi, Ruawharo, Tupai, Kohupara, Kaewa, Puhiwhanake, Mokinokino, and Whatuira; these were all. Those priests occupied the stern thwart of "Takitumu," on account of the gods, also because of Kohupara and Tupai, younger brother of Ruawharo, who were adepts at steering sea-going vessels. Their knowledge of that work was from the time of Tawhitiroa, and these were the reasons why the stern thwart was allotted to them; in fact, they occupied two thwarts, the two below those of Tamatea-ariki.

page 217

Taha Rakau

Kaewa was the bearer of the tapu firesticks, the lower stick (kaunoti) and the hika or rubbing-stick pertaining to it. That kaunoti and hika were named after the star Puaroa, because that star is one of the principal ones and also tapu, a star that has a misty or smoky appearance called au pukohu and hiku makohu rangi; hence they were named after that star, because of the smoke proceeding from the firestick. (Puaroa is probably a comet.)

As to Puhi-whanake and Whatuira, these persons were observers of the stars of the heavens in order to foretell bad weather and fine weather; also observers of the moon and sun, so that the prow of the vessel might be held steadfastly on the region of the land objective. Such was the task of those two persons; they remained awake all night and slept in the daytime; such were their actions.

Kohupara and Tupai looked after the gods, lest some of them should escape. They closed the openings of the vessels in which the gods abode, and opened them in daytime, besides certain times when it was considered desirable to let them move about outside; they alone had the arrangement of such matters.

Mokinokino was a food-bearer and conserver of food-supplies for all the priests mentioned by me; these were the priests to be page 218supplied by him at all times when "Takitumu" was sailing the ocean. The storage place for food-supplies was in the bow of the vessel.

Te Rongo-patahi and Ruawharo were the priests who despatched the gods to perform any task desired of one or more of them. Now, such were the positions assigned to them in regard to all their gods.

The atua brought hither by the Aotea immigrants were Maru, Kahukura, Rongomai, and Te Ihinga-o-te-rangi, the first three of whom are widely known in these Islands, and of whom we have given some description. In the case of the vessel known as "Kurahaupo," we learn from tradition that Mahutonga was the priestly expert on board, and that the atua in his charge were Maru, Tunui-o-te-ika, and Ruamano.