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Maori Religion and Mythology Part 2

Origin of Wood Carving

Origin of Wood Carving

The Maori assuredly does not suffer from a lack of origin myths, in fact they are somewhat too numerous, inasmuch as we page 286often find that several different origins are given in connection with customs, arts, animal life, natural phenomena, and countless other things. This aspect extends to the question of the origin of the art of wood carving. Here we find that a carefully preserved record exists that this art was originally derived from denizens of the heavens, though another version has it that the art of painting designs on house timbers was the one brought down to earth. Another story is to the effect that the art of carving was derived from the people of Tangaroa, a folk who dwelt in the ocean, and here apparently fish are alluded to. There are a number of references to a belief that decorative designs were originally derived from the markings on fish, such as the mackerel (tawhatawa). Into both these quaint tales enters Rua, but then Rua simply personifies knowledge.

Te Manu-hauturuki was the daughter of Rua-te-pupuke, and she was slain by Tangaroa and his horde, not only so but her body was secured to the gable of Hui-te-ananui, the house of Tangaroa, to serve as a tekoteko (image). Rua set off in search of his daughter and found her body fastened to the gable-roof peak of Tangaroa's house. After silently greeting his daughter Rua proceeded to seek the people of the place, but all were absent save a caretaker, one Hine-matiko-tai, from whom Rua learned that Tangaroa and his folk were all absent seeking food, and that they would not return until the evening. He now sought some way of avenging the death of his daughter, and was advised by Hine to close all crevices by which light might enter the sleeping house of Tangaroa, and so prolong the sleep of the ocean hordes. Rua followed her advice and also noted what a fine house it was, and how ornate were its carved decorative designs. Rua then noticed that the poupou (uprights of walls) of the house interior were all talking to each other, but not so those of the outside.

With the shades of evening came Tangaroa and his great family, who entered the house and passed the evening hours in singing, posture dancing, playing cats cradle and ku, in reciting genealogies, charms, folk tales, and stories of grim fighting, the pursuits and pastimes of gregarious man. As the night advanced the people slept; when day dawned they asked of Hine: "Is it daylight?" Hine replied: "Sleep on, it is the long night of Hine-matiko-tai." Even so they slept again. Then fire was set to the house and Rua took his stand in the porch in ordet to slay with his weapon the Tangaroa folk as they came forth. Kanae (mullet), Maroro (flying fish) and many others escaped from him, and these escapees we find dwelling in the ocean and in fresh waters. The page 287house was destroyed by fire, but some of the carved slabs were preserved and brought away by Rua to serve as copies for the people of this world. The slabs so procured were some of the outer ones, which did not possess the power of speech, hence the carved figures of this world are dumb.

As usually given the hordes of Tangaroa are destroyed, not by fire and weapon, but by daylight, or sunlight, and so Rua prevented any light entering the house until the sun rose, when he opened the door and the light destroyed all the sea folk, who are said to have been known as the Ponaturi. One can but wonder what the wall posts were saying to each other, and why they would say it.

The practice of adorning houses with painted designs would also appear to have been of celestial origin, as it was brought to earth from the second of the twelve heavens by Rua and others. The Ruatau mentioned was a denizen of the heavens, the two Titi were of the great family of Wind Children, as also were the two Apu. Here follows an account of the procuring of this art of adorning houses with painted designs:

"Now the art of house decorating was obtained from Rangi-tamaku, the father of Rangi-nui [Ranginui is the first of the twelve heavens, counting from below upward, while Rangi-tamaku is the second]. Here are the persons who went and brought hither the designs from Rangi-tamaku: Ruatau, Rua~i-te~ puke-nga, Kokohura, Titi-parauri, Titi-matakaha, and others.

"Wharekura, the house referred to, belonged to Nuku-te-aio, Te Apu-matangi-nui, Te Apu-matangi-roa, Tu-te-heihei and Tu-te-wanawana. The designs were taken from within Wharekura, and the house of Rongomarae-roa and his younger brothers were embellished with such devices, when finished it also was named Wharekura. The reason why the carved images of this Wharekura cannot speak is that Tangaroa would not agree to Tangaroa-a-timu being placed as a whatu [dedicatory offering] for the rear wall, hence the child of Te Arawaru, that is Koururu was so buried. The representative of Koururu in this world is the owl, hence the eyes of carved figures ever glare, though the images are dumb.

"Now Whiro, Haepuru and Haematua observed these things, and so went to obtain carvings for their house at Rangitamaku, but, on their arrival, Nuku-te-aio said: 'The art of decorating is again sought; it has been taken by your younger brothers, and is at Rangi-tatau in the lower world.'

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"Whiro and his friends said that they were not agreeable to giving to their younger brothers to gain the art of decorating as an accomplishment for themselves and their elder brother. Then Nuku-te-aio said: 'Well, come with me' and the embellishments of the house were shown, which were painted designs, painted it is said with red ochre, blue pigment, white clay, and charcoal. Now the house Tu-te-aniwaniwa was adorned with painted designs."

The pleasing custom of utilising the bones of enemies wherefrom to fashion fish hooks and barbed points for bird spears dates back to the time when the bones of Matuku-tangotango, Pouhaokai and Huritaniwha were so served. This means that it originated at far Hawaiki in the time of Rata-i-te-pukenga.

The highly prized pounamu or greenstone, names applied to nephrite and some other stones, is said to have originated with one Poutini, and Poutini seems to be also a star name. In some recitals Poutini is clearly the personified form of greenstone, and these myths concerning the greenstone, appear elsewhere in this study.