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Maori Religion and Mythology Part 2

The Origin of Fire>

The Origin of Fire>

In the foregoing recital we see that Rangi the Sky Parent carried fire-generating sticks suspended from his neck, and that the awanga o te poho or hollow seen in the breast bone of man is page 244the result of that suspension. The fire generated with the appliance of the first parent is the sun that moves across the breast of the Sky Parent. Moreover volcanic and subterranean fire is said to have originated in the sparks that fell from the fire making implements of Rangi when manipulated by Tane. Both of these statements are of an unusual nature and must not be viewed as the origin myths pertaining to fire usually given by the Maori folk. The version usually given by the Maori is to the effect that fire was obtained from Mahuika, the personified form of fire and its guardian. We are told that Maui so obtained it for mankind, but in a number of recitals it is stated that, prior to applying to Mahuika, Maui extinguished all the fire in this world, so that fire was really acquired before Maui's visit to Mahuika. A version of the myth collected from the Ngati-Awa tribe of the Bay of Plenty district is the most satisfactory version yet noted, and is also an interesting myth; it runs as follows:

The ultimate origin of the fire of this world was the sun above us, the sun that abides with his parent Rangi, the sun who hath two wives, the Summer Maid and the Winter Maid. Look at the fingers of man, they represent the fire that cooks food for man. Now Auahi-tu-roa (syn. Upoko-roa, personified form of comets) was the male offspring of Ra, the sun, and Ra said to Auahi-tu-roa: "Go, convey a boon to our descendants in the lower world, the world of life." Auahi enquired: "In what form shall I take it?" Replied Ra: "Give your offspring fire; give the five of them; do not give them to the elder sister, but rather to the younger." So it was that Auahi-tu-roa came down to earth and took to wife one Mahuika, younger sister of Hine-nui-te-po, and their offspring were the five Fire Children, whose names are those of the five fingers of the human hand.

Hine-nui-te-po Mahuika=Auahi-tu-roa Hine-i-tapeke
(The ex-Dawn Maid) 1. Takonui 1. Motumotu-o-rangi
2. Takoroa 2. Ngarehu-o-ahirangi
3. Mapere (These are represented by the carbonised tree trunks found buried in volcanic districts.)
4. Manawa
5. Toiti
(The Five Fire Children)

All those children of Mahuika were represented by fire, and that fire was the boon sent down by Ra the sun to comfort the ancestors of the Maori folk dwelling in the world of light. Were it not for that boon, the five Fire Children, then truly would man be in the condition of dogs and birds, eating uncooked food.

Such is a brief account of this sun-comet myth; the comet acted as messenger to bring fire to earth, and is still occasionally seen in page 245the heavens with his fiery burden. The name of Auahi-tu-roa shows that the Maori likened the comet to smoke. Another comet name, that of Upoko-roa may be rendered as "the long-headed one", and this name also appears in connection with fire, as in the saying: "Me oioi ki te ringa kaputa ai te tama a Upoko-roa, which simply tells us that, when the kindling material containing the dust ignited by friction is waved to and fro by the hand then the offspring of Upo-koroa, the comet, will appear. Taylor's pukuroa is an error, and should be Upokoroa.

The names of the Fire Children differ in different districts simply because the names of the fingers differ. Among Kahungunu they are Konui, Koroa, Mapere, Manawa, Koiti. The five fingers are alluded to as the Tokorima a Maui (the Five of Maui, the prefix toko is employed only when persons are spoken of). It was Maui who destroyed the Fire Children; but one escaping, Toiti the little finger, who fled and took refuge within the body of Hine-kaikomako, the Fire Conserver, and personified form of the Kaikomako (Pennantia corymbosa) tree, from the wood of which fire generating sticks were fashioned. In some recitals it is Mahuika who is said to have so taken refuge within certain trees, and we have the peculiar situation that Mahuika's fire children were her five fingers, and these finger-children were destroyed by Maui, hence Hine-nui-te-po slew Maui in order to avenge the death of her sister's children. Maui destroyed those children in a spirit of mischief apparently, as will appear when we come to relate the adventures of that irrepressible hero. It is sufficient to say here that fire seems to have been known in this world prior to Maui's adventure with Mahuika. Concerning the connection between the human fingers and fire it is of some interest to note that Agni, the fire god of far India, had ten mothers, and they were the ten fingers of the human hands.

The younger sister of Mahuika, viz. Hine-i-tapeka, is sometimes referred to as Tapeka, and she is spoken of by the tribes of the Bay of Plenty area as representing subterranean fire, termed the Ahi a Tapeka, also ahi tipua, or ahi tupua or ahi komau. We have already seen that the fire was obtained from Rakahore (personified form of rock) and given to Ruaumoko when he accompanied the Earth Mother down to Rarohenga. Te Pupu and Te Hoata are also said to represent subterranean fire.

Ira-whaki, or Ira the Revealer, is said to have taken Hine-kaikomako to wife. He it was who revealed fire to mankind, and so we find in an old song: "E Ira e! Whakina mai te ahi" (O Ira! page 246Reveal to us the fire). In some districts it is taught that Ira was the father of Maui: family tree Here Maui appears as a grandchild of Mahuika, and three of his forebears here shown suffered at his hands. In another account Ira appears as the offspring of Mahuika.

Ordinary fire of this world is known as "the fire of Mahuika" (te ahi a Mahuika), and, in former times, was often alluded to simply as Mahuika. Thus, if a Maori stated that his hut had been consumed by Mahuika, he simply meant that it had been burned.

When the monster Ngarara-huarau was slain by heroes of old at Wairarapa we are told that the slain persons were buried, but that Mahuika was allowed to consume the slain dragon ("Ka tanumia nga tangata, ka hoatu ma Mahuika e kai a Ngarara-huarau").

A peculiar and seemingly unorthodox position is assigned to Mahuika by Ngati-Awa of the Bay of Plenty: family tree Here Mahuika appears as second in descent from Pu-te-hue, the origin of the gourd, while Hine-nui-te-po, the ex-Dawn Maid is two generations below her correct place as a daughter of Tane, the sun lord. Hine-te-iwaiwa, the Moon Maid, comes near to Tane, though the male representative of the moon seems to have been deemed older than Tane in the well known coupled form of Rongo-ma-Tane.

Mahuika is known far and wide across the Pacific, and appears as a male in some regions, in others as a female. At the Chatham Islands the name is Mauhika, and the story of Maui and Mahuika page 247is much the same as that of New Zealand (see Journal of the Polynesian Society, vol. 3, pp. 122-3). Mahuie is the guardian of fire at Tahiti; in the Bowditch Islands the goddess of fire is Mafuike, at Mangareva Mauike, while to the Tongan mofuike denotes an earthquake. At Mangaia Mauike, a male, represents fire; and at Urea in the Loyalty Group Mafuike represents earthquakes. In New Zealand we also note that subterranean fire and earthquakes are associated in Maori myths, and in most isles Mahuika is spoken of as a denizen of the underworld. In the Tokelau Group Mafuike is a blind woman who guards fire in the underworld, and fire was obtained from her by Talanga, the Taranga, parent of Maui, of the New Zealand tale. (Such is the story at p. 147 of vol. 29 of the Journal of the Polynesian Society, but at p. 164 of vol. 32 of that Journal we are told that it was Lu, the son of Ikiiki, who so obtained fire. Possibly there are variant forms of the tale in the different isles of the Group.)

At Samoa Mafuie conserves fire in the underworld, and from him it was obtained by Ti'i-a-Talanga, the Maui-tikitiki-a-Taranga of the New Zealand version. In Turner's Nineteen Years in Polynesia the name is given as Ti'iti'i, and we learn that Mafuie (Mafui'e) is also the cause of earthquakes (pp. 252-255). At Mangaia, Maui has the same contest with Mauike that Ti'iti'i had at Samoa, but, prior to that time, fire had been obtained from Mauike by Ru, presumably the Lu of the Tokelau Group. Also, in the Mangaia version, Maui repeatedly extinguishes gift fire as in our Maori version, and so local peculiarities and certain incidents are wanting in some isles and reappear in others.

Fornander tells us that Mahuika appears in genealogies of the Hawaiian Isles as Hina-mahuia (see An Account of the Polynesian Race, vol. 1 p. 191).

As observed above the sex of Mahuika changes in different isles and appears in both ways in New Zealand. In most cases the Maori favours the female sex, but occasionally the male element prevails (see Te Ika-a-Maui, 2nd ed. pp. 13(M31 and 170-171, and in vol. 2 of The Ancient History of the Maori, p. 61, Maori part, though the female sex reappears in the same volume at pp. 65 and 102, in other versions).

Wiwi of Pipiriki, Whanganui river, stated that Mahuika was the daughter of Hine-kaikomako, the Fire Conserver; if so then she took refuge within the body of her own mother when assailed by the heavy rains of Uanui and Hine-te-ihorangi, the Rain Maid, at the behest of Maui. (A statement made at p. 93 of vol. 31 of the page 248Journal of the Polynesian Society to the effect that, in Maori story, Mahuika is the father of Maui, is one that cannot be allowed to pass unchallenged, but it is quite possible that some irresponsible native has contributed a note to that effect.)

Lightning is alluded to as a form of fire and is called ahi tipua, and ahi tipua a Hine-te-uira (supernatural fire of the Lightning Maid). Volcanic fire is sometimes alluded to as ahi umuroa; it was found in the land called Tawhiti pamamao. Subterranean fire is also alluded to as the fire of Ue (ahi a Ue) in South Island myth (see the Journal of the Polynesian Society, vol. 24, p. 132, also in vol. 28 p. 50. At p. 156 of vol. 3 of that Journal is given an account of the contest between fire and water in the form of a fable).

Several folk tales of the Maori contain accounts of voyagers visiting lands where the use of fire was unknown and the folk thereof were raw-eaters. This, as we have seen, appears in the story of Tura, and it also enters into the tale of the voyage of Hikiparoa from Cook Strait, a voyage that evidently never took place. In vol. 8 of the Transactions of the New Zealand Institute (pp. 108-110) Wohlers gives a South Island tale of certain voyagers from Tawhiti-nui-a-Rua reaching a far land where fire was unknown, and where the voyagers freed the land from a dread scourge, viz, the ravages of a huge, man-eating bird that had destroyed many persons. This is practically the same story as that of Hikiparoa and Manini-pounamu, save that the latter is given as a sequel to the strange tale of Hinepopo. The name Tawhiti-nui-a-Rua above is in full Tawhiti-nui-a-Ruamatua, and is a Maori name for the island of Tahiti; this name partially reappears in New Zealand in Turangi-nui-a-Ruamatua (Gisborne district) and Tamaki-nui-a-Ruamatua (The Seventy Mile Bush area). In these place names the personal name of Ruamatua is usually abbreviated to Rua.

In Maori myth we meet with the idea that the original fire was the ahi komau or subterranean fire concealed within the earth and in stones; hence the wise men of old said "Na Rakahore te ahi"—fire emanated from Rakahore—the personified form of rock. We have seen that, when Sky and Earth were separated, Ruaumoko, their youngest child, was still suckling the Earth Mother, hence it was arranged that he should remain with his mother when she was turned face down to Rarohenga, to warm her breast and to serve as an objective for her mother love. Then Tu said: "She will suffer from cold; give her the ahi komau as a page 249boon." Even so the ahi komau was procured from Rakahore, who was its guardian, and given to Papa the Earth Mother, with the remark: "Here is fire for you." When Papa and Ruaumoko had been turned down to the underworld then that subterranean fire became the origin of earthquakes. Whiro joined with Ruaumoko in using subterranean fire as a weapon in assailing mankind in the world of life, hence we ever have Hine-puia, the Volcano Maid with us in the upper world. These beings are enabled to shake the earth because it became somewhat loose and unstable when turned over at the command of Io-nui, an occurrence known as Te hurihanga i a Mataaho. This Mataaho is a colleague of Ruaumoko and is associated with him, they are the cause of earthquakes and all volcanic action (Ko Mataaho, ko Whakaruamoko, ko nga tangata era i a raua te mana o te ru, o te puia).

A statement was made by Te Matorohanga to the effect that persons often insert names of personifications, etc., in genealogies, in which they should find no place. He also stated that the names Papa-tioi (the swaying earth), Papa-tiraha (Papa facing upward), Te Kuku, Pumairekura, and the Po ka taka i runga o Waowaonui are names or expressions that denote different phases of volcanic activity and earthquakes; Papa-tioi, Hine-oi and Papa-tiraha are specially connected with earth trembling.

The following brief communication from Nepia Pohuhu refers to the principal member of the earth-disturbing company of the underworld.

  • I mua atu i te haerenga o Tane-nui-a-Rangi i te ara tiatia ki te toi o nga rangi taupuru i te otinga o te wehenga i a Rangi raua ko Papa-tu-a-nuku, ka hurihia te aro aro o ta ratau hakui ki raw ki te muriwai hou ki Rarohenga; ko ta raua potiki e kai ana i te u i tera wa, ko Whakaruaumoko. Kati, waiho atu ana tena e ratou hei tanga manawa moto ratou hakui; kati, koia te putake mai o te ru, o te puia hoki e pakanga nei ki a tatou i nga wa katoa nei.

Here we are told that, prior to the ascent of the ara tiatia to the uppermost heaven made by Tane after the separating of Rangi and Papa, the Earth Mother was turned face downward to the entrance to the underworld. At that time the youngest child of the primal parent was still at the breast of the Earth Mother. This was Whakaruaumoko, who was allowed to remain with his mother as a comfort to her, and he it is who is the cause of earthquakes and all volcanic disturbances, by means of which he is ever assailing us, the denizens of the upper world.

page 250

The destructive powers of Ruaumoko are occasionally referred to in song, as in the following line—"Me ko te ma an o te Whakaruaumoko e how nei i te tangata ki te Po."

Another version of the origin myth pertaining to volcanoes includes the names of Ioio-whenua, Hine-tuoi, Hine-tuarang-aranga, Te Kuku, Te Wawau and Tawaro-nui as those of mythical beings connected with earthquakes and volcanoes. Hine-tuoi is probably one and the same as Hine-oi, Hine-ori, and Papa-tioi or tuoi, for the latter form appears in one version.

A brief Kahungunu note contains a statement that the Ru a Mahutonga or earthquake of Mahutonga is said to have been the name of a very severe earthquake that destroyed much land at the island of Rangiatea, an island that was once so extensive that a journey round it occupied three kaupeka or months. A later contribution couples the name of Whangara with that of Rangiatea, and states that many tribes occupied that land in remote times. A dreadful earthquake caused a large area of land to disappear into ocean depths, and many people perished, whole tribes were lost. A numerous people known as Ngati-Kaiperu so perished, leaving no survivor. It was the western area of Rangiatea that so disappeared, and on it stood a great mountain named Maunganui. That mountain was shattered and engulfed in the ocean, it had been active before, when its parapara (ejecta) was deposited in the ocean, but the final explosion was a terrific one and that part of Rangiatea known as Whaingaroa disappeared forever. This information is said to have been given by Te Matorohanga.