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Maori Religion and Mythology Part 2

Mataora Visits the Spirit World

Mataora Visits the Spirit World

'The maid Niwareka was a member of a race of Turehu whose abode is in the underworld, the spirit world called Rarohenga, to which descend the spirits of the dead. She was a descendant of Ruamoko and of Hine-nui-te-Po, the Lord of Earthquakes and the Queen of the Spirit World.

'Now it came about that Niwareka ascended to this world with a party of Turehu folk, and came to where Mataora lay asleep in his house. Those folk fell a guessing as to what Mataora might be: some said that he was a supernatural being, while others thought he was a tane [male, a man]. When Mataora awoke, he looked at the Turehu folk; then asked: "Are you females?" While they enquired: "Are you a male?"

'He then asked them to enter his house and partake of food, but they declined to enter. He then gave them food outside the house, but they would not eat it, exclaiming that it was putrid. Then he discovered that these folk were not acquainted with cooked food, hence he gave them some raw fish.

'On observing the party, Mataora saw that it contained a remarkably handsome woman. When the folk had eaten, he grasped his maipi [a weapon] and entertained them with an exhibition of his agility and dexterity. Then the Turehu party rose and performed a posture dance before Mataora. As they danced, page 227one pranced in front of the party with grotesque movements and gesture, while all kept crying the name "Niwareka: Niwareka". They held each others hands in dancing and skipped about, while some kept passing between those who held each others hands.

'Those Turehu folk were a fair skinned people with light coloured hair, having slender but well formed figures. Their hair was most abundant and fell to their waists, below which they wore aprons made of seaweed. Mataora asked that one of those women should be given him, and was asked which he preferred, whereupon he pointed out the handsome woman, she who had pranced before the ranks. This was Niwareka, daughter of Uetonga, of Rarohenga, the spirit world.

'So Mataora and the Turehu maid were married and lived happily together for some time, until he became jealous and enraged, and so it came about that he struck his wife. Niwareka then fled to Rarohenga, the home of her elders and parents, while Mataora mourned for and lamented her.

'Mataora resolved to go forth in search of his wife. He went to Tahuaroa, at Irihia, to the abode of Te Kuwatawata within Poutere-rangi, and enquired of that being: "Have you not seen a woman passing this way?" The other asked: "What is the token?" And Mataora replied: "Her fair hair." Said the other: "She has passed here, weeping as she went." Then Te Kuwatawata, who is the guardian of the entrance to the underworld, allowed Mataora to pass down to Rarohenga, the spirit world. He went on until he met Tiwaiwaka, and asked him what the folk of the underworld were doing. "They are tending the kumara crop, some are building houses, some are fishing, some are tattooing, some are kite flying, some are top spinning." Mataora enquired for his wife and was told: "She has passed on with swollen eyes and hanging lips." So he went on until he came to the home of Uetonga where he saw that chief engaged in tattooing a person, and the blood of that person was flowing freely, hence he called out: "Your mode of tattooing is wrong; it is not done so in the upper world." Uetonga replied: "This is the way we tattoo in the lower world. Your method is wrong." Said Mataora: "Our method is the hopara makaurangi." "That mode of tattooing, " said Uetonga, "is so termed when applied to house decoration, but when devices are merely marked on a person it is known as tuhi." Then Uetonga put forth his hand and wiped the painted devices from the face of Mataora. All the folk laughed to so see tattooing effaced, and Uetonga remarked: "O the upper world! Ever is its adornment a farce, behold how the tattooing is effaced; it is page 228merely a marking. Know then that there are several methods of whakairo [adornment]; there is the female branch, the embroidering of cloaks; and the male branch, the carving on wood; that on your face is simply a marked pattern." Then Mataora learned that these people of the underworld tattooed by puncture, it was not merely marked on the skin. He said: "You have spoiled my tattooing and must now do it properly." So Uetonga called to those who delineated the tattoo patterns, and told them to mark them on Mataora, which was done. He then commenced to tattoo him, puncturing the marked lines with his chisel.

Mataora now experienced the intense pain of being tattooed, and sang this song:

O Niwareka, the lost one, where art thou,
To appear to me, O Niwareka! Niwareka!
Twos thou who lured me below here, O Niwareka! Niwareka!
and love consumes me, O Niwareka; Niwareka.

'Now the younger sister of Niwareka chanced to be present and she heard the song, hence she ran off to Taranaki, where Niwareka was weaving a cloak, and said to her: "A certain person yonder, a handsome man, is being tattooed, and he keeps singing a song in which your name occurs." Then some cried: "Let us go and see him, " and Niwareka told them to fetch the stranger to the house.

'Now Mataora was in a sad condition, so swollen were his features after the operation of tattooing. As the women led him to the house, Niwareka said: "He walks as Mataora did, and his cloak looks like one of my weaving." So Niwareka and her female companions welcomed the stranger, and pitied him in his sufferings. As he sat down she asked: "Are you Mataora?" He nodded in reply, and his hands clutched at Niwareka. Then she knew that he was indeed Mataora, and greeted him with tears. When he had fully recovered from the severe operation of tattooing, the devices punctured on the face of Mataora looked very fine.

'He then proposed that they should return to the upper world together, but she said: "The ways of the upper world are ways of evil. Both realms have heard of our trouble; I will consult my father and brothers." Came Uetonga to Mataora and said: "Maybe you are thinking of returning to the upper world; if so return, but leave Niwareka here. Is it the custom of the upper world to beat women?"; and Mataora was overcome with shame.

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'Then said Tauwehe, brother of Niwareka: "Mataora, leave the enduring world, the upper world, the home of evil. Hence we see all folk of the upper world eventually come to the lower world through violence and other evils. Let us dwell below; leave the upper world and its evil deeds as a realm apart from the lower world with its peace and goodly ways."

'Then Mataora answered Tauwehe: "I shall adopt the ways of Rarohenga [the lower world] as mine in the upper world."

'Said Uetonga: "Mataora, let us not hear tidings of a second evil act in the upper world. For look you, the upper world and its deeds of darkness is widely sundered from the underworld, which is a realm of light and benevolence."

'Observe well the words of Uetonga. Here in this world, alone are evil deeds known; this is the realm of darkness. As to Rarohenga [the underworld], no evil is known there, nor is darkness known; it is a realm of light and of righteousness. This is the reason why, of all spirits of the dead since the time of Hine-ahuone even unto ourselves, not a single one has ever returned hither to dwell in this world.

'Now at last Uetonga and his sons allowed Niwareka and Mataora to return to the upper world. The former said: "Mataora, farewell; return to the upper world, but beware, lest the evil of that realm afflicts us again." Said Mataora: "By the token of the incised tattooing you have embellished me with, the ways of the underworld shall be my ways."

'As a parting gift Uetonga gave to Mataora the famous cloak called the Rangi-haupapa, which was the pattern from which all garments of this world were made. The belt that confined it was the origin of all belts of this world.

'As the twain returned to the upper world they were stopped by Tiwaiwaka, the guardian of the base of the ascent, who would not let them ascend until the month of Tatau-uruora [November].

'When they finally ascended to the upper world, Tiwaiwaka (a bird name, the fantail), sent his children Popoia [owl] and Peka [bat] to guide them, and Patatai [another bird, the landrail] sent his child with them. Mataora feared that they might be slain, but Patatai told him to locate them in darkling corners and gloomy haunts, and his is the reason why the owl and bat never move in daylight, but only at night. Now if any of the birds, owl, bat or pied tit are seen at a place where people are assembled or dwelling then it is known that some misfortune is at hand. If either the patatai [rail] or tiwaiwaka [fantail] enters a house, that page 230likewise is an evil omen. These two birds, and the whitehead, were the ones that accompanied Maui when he went to slay the Queen of death.

'When the twain reached the entrance to the underworld, Kuwatawata, the guardian of the entrance asked what items of the lower world they bore with them. Mataora told him they took but his tattooing and the birds. Said the guardian to Niwareka: "What is the bundle on your back?" She replied that it merely contained some old clothing. As they passed on, the guardian said: "Niwareka; never again will the door of the lower world be opened to the upper world, but only downward to the underworld; only spirits shall traverse both realms." Mataora enquired: "For what reasons?" The guardian replied: "You have the Rangihaupapa [cloak] with you; why were you evasive?"

'Here we see the reason why men can no longer visit the underworld. Never since has living man passed through the door of the "Broad way of Tane" to Rarohenga, only spirits of the dead can pass through, and so visit both worlds.

'After the return of Mataora to this world, then the art of tattooing by puncture became known, and the fame of it spread Awarau, to Tonga-nui, to Rangiatea, and to Hui-te-rangiora, such being names of islands in the region of Tawhiti. A messenger came to ask Mataora to go to Irihia, to the home of Nuku-wahi-rangi, that the people of those parts might see him.

'The tatooing patterns acquired by Mataora in Rarohenga [spirit world] were the poniania, pihere, ngu and tiwhana. The tattooing of Niwareka was confined to a cross on the forehead and one on each cheek, also the poniana device. The pukauae and ngutu [chin and lip tattooing] devices are modern, and were evolved in this land, being first used as ornamental devices on gourd water vessels. Prior to the visit of Mataora to Rarohenga people painted patterns on their faces with red ochre, blue earth and white clay.

'The upper world invented wood carving; it was first performed by Rua-i-te-pupuke and Nuku-te-aio, who so embellished the first house.'

Such is the myth of Mataora, abbreviated in the above translation, but yet containing most of its items of interest.

The legend of Mataora contains some curious and interesting items. The adoption by the ancestors of the Maori of real tattooing by puncture, the fair haired folk who ate raw food and danced in a different manner to that of the Maori, may indicate page 231contact with another race previously unknown. It is also curious that the women should be said to have had long hair.

The Irihia to which Mataora went is the name of the fatherland from which the Maori migrated in long-past times. It is said to have been very extensive land, with a warm climate, and tribes of very dark skinned folk dwelt there. There, also, is the entrance to the spirit world.

It is curious to note, that, although the spirit only of man is said to descend to Rarohenga, the spirit world, yet Mataora found folk there who built houses, cultivated food, played games, and whose faces were tattooed, so causing blood to flow. Also was acquired there the art of weaving, both it and tattooing being introduced into the upper world from that subterranean region.

Niwareka, a being of the spirit world, ascends to this world and marries a man of the earth, hence both must possess earthly bodies. Mataora enters the spirit world as a living man, and returns here, though no other person of this world has since been allowed to visit the underworld in the flesh, apparently because he and his wife brought away a famed cloak, and concealed the fact.

But the most interesting thing in this ancient myth is the picture it presents of life in the underworld of spirits. It is not a dark or gloomy realm; it is a place of light and all things desirable. Evil is unknown there, it pertains only to the upper world. Such was an old time Maori belief, but unfortunately for anthropologists our Maori folk adopted the myths and teachings of Christianity, hence ideas of the spirits of evil person going to the underworld, and those of the good ascending to the heavens, have crept into their statements. Such beliefs were unknown to the Maori in pre-missionary days.

Mataora is asked to go to Irihia to exhibit his tattooing, apparently from Eastern Polynesia, although he had but just returned from Irihia, whereat is the entrance to the underworld.

It is possible that a tradition of some old time voyage reaching a far land where the arts of tattooing and weaving were known, and learned, has become encrusted with myths, such as the descent to the underworld, thus fact and fable have become sadly mixed.

A brief and unsatisfactory version of this story of Mataora and Niwareka is given in White's Ancient History of the Maori, vol. 2, p. 6 (Maori version), it did not find a place in Sir George Grey's collection. Another version presents a peculiar feature in that, in its latter part, Mataora has become confused with Mataaho, page 232hence the deluge myth connected with the latter has been added to the story of Mataora. The version runs as follows:

'Waiongaru is a place at Tawhiti-pamamao whereat dwelt this person Mataora, his home was named Hui-te-rangiora. Now the people of Mataora, a clan known as Ngati-Wairehu, moved away to another place in order to clear scrub off the land called Haehae-te-ata, leaving Mataora at home. Then appeared the party of Tuta-hinga-a-rangi of twenty persons, coming to his home. Mataora invited the party into his house, and, when they were seated, Mataora procured a basket of charcoal and a firebrand, and, ere long, had kindled fires in the rear fire pit of the house and in that at the front end of the awarua or fairway of the centre of the house; whereupon Mataora said to his guests: "Make yourselves at home, here is the first comfort for the travellers." He then left the house and went to procure water at the spring; and so two gourd vessels of cold water were placed before the travellers, while Mataora said to them: "This is the second refreshment for the party." Again Mataora left the house and saw that oven pits were heated and food, sweet potatoes and fish, cooked therein; when ready the food was placed before the visitors, and Mataora remarked: "Here is the third provision for you."

'When the visitors had partaken of their meal they stood up to perform a posture dance, when Niwareka came forward to prance and grimace before the ranks, whereupon Mataora observed the charms of Niwareka, whose eyes resembled Venus as she appears above the water horizon. When the dancing came to an end Mataora called out: "O Give me one of your number as an equivalent for my hospitality." Tutahinga-a-rangi replied: "O Mataora! Point out the woman you have selected." Then Mataora advanced and pointed out Niwareka as the chosen one, when Tutahinga stood forth and said: "You have now rendered the underworld one with the upper world of life." Niwareka then consented to take up her abode in the upper world. Then Mataora came to know that these folk were Turehu.

'The visitors returned to their own place, leaving Mataora and Niwareka dwelling together, but after some time Mataora became jealous of his elder brothers and nephews with regard to Niwareka, and so he beat her. This occurred a second time, whereupon Niwareka wept and then said to Mataora: "Remain here in the upper world, for I now return to the lower world;" and so Niwareka passed out of Hui-te-rangiora.

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'Mataora now bestirred himself to follow Niwareka, but he did not succeed in overtaking her. When Niwareka reached Poutere-rangi she descended the passage that leads to the underworld. Later on Mataora arrived at Poutere-rangi, and enquired of Te Kuwatawata; "Did you not see a woman who came this way?" Te Kuwatawata replied: "I saw her passing by with pouting lips and swollen eyes, she was far away when you arrived." Mataora asked: "Cannot I reach that place?" and Te Kuwatawata answered: "You can indeed."

'Mataora now descended to the underworld where he found that Uetonga was engaged in tattooing persons, so he said to him: "You folk of the underworld do not understand the art of tattooing; you see on me the style of tattooing of the upper world. Your method is a brutal one, the flowing blood shows, ours of the upper world calls for no such shedding of blood." Hereupon Uetonga stretched forth his hand and rubbed the designs marked on the skin of Mataora, thereby spoiling them, they were merely marked with blue paint. Said Uetonga: "Your tattooing is a mere farce in that it can be rubbed off." He then pointed out some true tattooing by puncture, which Mataora tried to rub off with his hand but found that it was not affected by rubbing. Mataora now said: "Well, you must now tattoo me in that manner." So now Mataora was tattoed by Uetonga, and when the instrument used pierced his upper lip, just below the nostrils, the pain was so distressing that he endeavoured to soothe it by singing to his lost wife: "Niwareka! Niwareka! Where are you hidden from me?" Said Uetonga: "Niwareka of this place is the only person of that name, there is no one of the upper world so named." Hinerikiriki heard the words of Mataora's lament and so went to Niwareka and said: "There is a person yonder singing—"Niwareka! Niwarekao! Where are you hidden from me?" Niwareka said: "Well now, of what appearance is he?" Her younger sister replied: "He has light-coloured hair." Niwareka now came to see for herself, and, upon seeing him, knew that he was her husband, whereupon she said to her father, Uetonga: "This is your own son-in-law who is being tattooed by you, be sure that you tattoo him well."

'When the tattooing of Mataora was finished he was conducted by Niwareka to her house, where they took up their abode; after some lapse of time Mataora said to Niwareka: "I have a longing to return to the world of light above, let us return to that upper world." Niwareka consented to so return, whereupon Uetonga spoke: "O Mataora! Farewell, abandon the behaviour that led to page 234your descending to this realm; treat Niwareka with kindness and respect." To these parting words of Uetonga Mataora consented, and so he and Niwareka returned to the upper world.

'When they ascended to the place where Te Kuwatawata [guardian of the entrance to the underworld was awaiting the return of Mataora, that being enquired: "Mataora, what tidings from the lower world, what are Uetonga and his people doing?" Mataora replied: "They are tattooing by puncture." Te Kuwatawata looked at the tattooing of Mataora, at the grooved lines of the designs, and said: "How were the lines of tattooing produced?" Mataora said: "The cutting implement used was fashioned from human bone from the upper world, that used for the insertion of the pigment, also the tapper, were of similar material; the material for pigment was obtained from Te Whakahara at the One-pipipi, from where it lay in their house, One-tahuaroa." Te Kuwatawata enquired: "Did not the red fluid flow?" Said Mataora: "It flowed, and pain was felt." Te Kuwatawata continued; "These visits of yours to the underworld must now cease." And Mataora answered: "They will so end." He did not mention the gifts given him by Uetonga, the tattooing implements and the vessel of pigments, also the two garments to serve as patterns of taniko work, with the stone weapon, and the dressed fibre.

'Mataora passed out of Poutere-rangi carrying his basket on his back as Te Kuwatawata called out: "Mataora, put your basket down." But Mataora replied: "O, it is nothing, merely a basket containing my garment and comb." Te Kuwatawata repeated: "Put it down." Then the contents of the basket were examined, and so were seen the tattooing implements, the gourd vessel of pigment, the two garments named the Rangi-haupapa and Raumahora, also the stone weapon. Te Kuwatawata was annoyed at the action of Mataora and so remarked: "On account of this action of yours the underworld will be no longer accessible, never again shall living man be seen below."

'Such was the misdeed of Mataora that brought to an end the passage of living man to the underworld, and so after this none save spirits could pass down the way that leads to the lower world.

'Some time after the above, Mataora again became jealous with regard to Niwareka and again he beat her. Then Niwareka went off and returned to the underworld, and from this descent to the lower world was derived the expression Te Po Ka Wheau, a name that denotes the retirement of Niwareka to the Po; never again was the upper world returned to by Niwareka.

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'Mataora now set off to follow his wife Niwareka, but found that she was afar off and had retired to the lower realm. Mataora strove to persuade Te Kuwatawata to allow him to descend to the Po in order to follow his wife, but that being replied by saying: "Go, return, for a barrier has been fixed between the lower and upper worlds, only the spirit shall pass to the Po, never again the body." Mataora was now angry with the guardians within Poutere-rangi, and so he returned to his own place. Certain laments for Niwareka sung by Mataora have been preserved but I did not acquire them.

'From this point onward the story differs from other versions. The name of Mataaho replaces that of Mataora in the original and incidents pertaining to the myth of Mataaho are introduced. Evidently the narrator has confused the two stories.

'These occurrences caused Mataora to be annoyed with his elder and younger brothers, for he believed that his desertion by Niwareka had been caused by instigation from them. Then Mataora returned to his own home at Waioagaru, and, on arriving there, he sent messengers out to acquaint all people with the fact that a barrier had been erected in Poutere-rangi as between the upper world of life and the spirit world below. The poutiriao or guardians had effected this so that Mataora might not succeed in reclaiming his wife Niwareka. He now set about causing heavy seas to rise so as to destroy man and cover the land. He prepared his canoe Nuku-taimemeha, the vessel of his ancestor Maui-tikitiki-o-Taranga that was lying in a cave on Maunganui, as some authorities call it, on Maungaparoro as I heard it. Then that vessel was hauled out of the cave and refitted, after which it was placed in the cave again. Mataora now returned home to his people, Ngati-Wairehu. Said Mataora: "Go you among the people and tell all that overwhelming floods are at hand that will cover the earth and destroy man, after which nought of progeny shall mature."

'Hineruhi, the principal wife of Mataora, enquired: "And what about my brothers and myself?" Said Mataora to the woman, also to his brothers-in-law and their wives: "Let us provide ourselves with food, for I am about to call upon the great waters to rise." That remark of Mataora's concerning the conserving of food referred to cooked food and also to raw products to serve as seed supplies. At this juncture Pani was appealed to in order that her child, the rat, might be placed in the gourd vessel, to be confined within the receptacle of Matuku (bittern) of Kautuku (heron), of Pakura (Swamp hen), of Whio (blue duck) and of Parera (grey page 236duck) as an adornment for their canoe. The tuatara lizard, the moko huruwaru, the ngarara pekepeke and Tutangatakino were placed at the thwart at the bow of the vessel.

'Then at last Mataora took his paddles, Tutewana-a-tai and Tutewana-a-ngaru, also the stone anchor of the vessel, named Pungatere, which is represented in this world by pumice stone, that was the anchor of Nuku-taimemeha. Then Puhi and his young relatives, the offspring of Te Ihorangi, were summoned by Mataora. Now the south wind was released by Mataora, then appeared storms and flood, and then his ancestor Whakaruaumoko with his family were summoned by him to send Tahupara, Turumakina, Takahuri-whenua, Te Oiroa and Puhoronuku. When these were brought by them the brothers-in-law were drifting on the ocean. Such was the huri-hanga a Mataaho, the overwhelming of [by] Mataaho, spoken of by man. Now it was that the land was destroyed by Mataaho, the broken appearance of the land was brought about by him. He controlled two destructive forces, earthquakes and water. Let this recital now be concluded.'

The above version of the Mataora is not equal to the first one given, but the addition to it by the narrator of a totally different myth shows how myths may be altered among a folk possessing no form of written language. An interesting description of the reception of visitors appears in this version. The account of how Mataora provided, first warmth, then water, then food for his guests well describes a local custom, and one that the present writer has had some experience of, occasionally to his discomfiture, as when he was expected to partake of three meals within a time space of four hours.

Our narrator employs a telling phrase when he compares the eyes of Niwareka to Venus flashing above the horizon. We see here how the arts of tattooing by puncture, of weaving and plaiting were acquired from the underworld; though the guardians of the entrance to that world seem to have objected to those arts passing to the upper world.

This version differs from the first one in its disposal of Niwareka; in this case she retires to her home in the underworld a second time, and remains there, Mataora being unable to follow her again; and so living man has never since entered the spirit world, and no spirit has ever returned hitherward to reside permanently in this upper world of light and life. Mataora seems to have called up his deluge and earthquakes in order to punish page 237his brothers and to satiate his anger at not being allowed to follow Niwareka a second time.

Evidently the food supplies mentioned were to serve as sustenance until the flood subsided, and the raw products were to serve as seed when the flood subsided. The reference to the child of Pani is by no means clear; the rat is alluded to in Maori myth as the child of Hine-mataiti, the younger daughter of Pani, and Pani takes the place of Ceres of corn producing lands. The various birds and reptiles mentioned as being on the vessel seem to be the equivalent of friend Noah's menagerie. The Ihorangi mentioned is Hine-ihorangi the Rain Maid, and Mahutonga denotes the south. Whakaruaumoko was summoned because he represents earthquakes, and Oiroa (or Hine-oi) is also connected with such phenomena. Some parts of the narrative have not been made clear by the narrator, and the latter part reminds one painfully of the famed deluge in Noah's time; this unusual ending may be the result of missionary teachings.