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Maori Religion and Mythology Part 2

[argument and introduction]

Personification widely employed; our wrong view of it. Shortland's estimate of Maori view. Maori and Nature myths. Personification terms commonly employed. Natural phenomena personified. Sky Father and Earth Mother. Space, sun and moon personified. Comets, meteors, thunder and lightning. Mist and rainbow. Fire and water. The ocean. Seasons, War, pleasure and knowledge personified. Disease. Compass points. Birds. Fish. Insects. Trees and forest. Volcanic phenomena. Mountain, rock, stones, greenstone, swamps.

The student of Maori myths marvels at the number of personifications met with in such recitals. In the folklore of these natives almost everything possessed its personified form. This usage was not confined to common folk tales, but also extended to a higher class of myths, and to religious ritual. Such forms were mentioned in speech, song, and ceremonial invocations, and this common practice is an important factor in Maori habits of thought, hence the Maori can think in personifications and allegories. For this is the heritage of the more primitive peoples, this their plane of culture, thus do they represent things and animate forces, phenomena and qualities, thus explain origins and impart knowledge to succeeding generations. Barbaric man explains and teaches in an allegorical manner. It is not easy for us to understand this phase of mentality, unless we try sympathetically to enter into their modes of thought, understand their symbolisms, to see things as they saw them, and to know them thoroughly and the surroundings in which they lived.

Anthropologists utter a warning note as to pronouncing the more primitive peoples wanting in intelligence because they personify inanimate objects, forces, etc. We ourselves still employ a few such old world expressions when we personify such qualities as Peace, Charity, etc., but the use of such terms by us is found principally in poetry; the earth is no longer Terra Mater to us, no longer the being upon whose broad breast we dwell, and who provides food for her children. We have passed through the mythopoetic stage of mental growth, and are no longer in true sympathy with it, though we gradually emerged therefrom, whereas the Maori has been abruptly wrenched from it.

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We have assuredly looked at these personifications and origin myths of the Maori from a wrong point of view. We have made known what we thought the Maori believed, but have made no attempt to look upon these myths from his point of view, or to understand what that viewpoint is. Herein we have erred grievously, inasmuch as we have misinterpreted his beliefs, concepts and teachings. Dr Shortland has told us that the Maori regarded the powers of Nature as concrete objects, and so designated them as persons. But did he so regard them? I will here say, in manner emphatic, that he did not. The earth he knew as a concrete object, and personified the same; thunder he knew not the cause of, and he also had a personified form to represent it; the same may be said of lightning. Earthquakes, clouds, mist, all were personified, but I have never understood from explanations made by old Maori folk that they viewed immaterial phenomena such as thunder, lightning, earthquakes, etc., as being of a concrete nature. The Maori would find it most convenient to personify immaterial things simply because there is nothing tangible about them. He also personified things material, for it was the genius of the race to do so, and so his teachings, the result of his efforts to understand causality, the origin of things, were bestrewn with personifications. Such allegorical teachings were the precursors of science, and in some cases betokened the dawn of science, where the conclusions of barbaric man had impinged upon the truth.

On the other hand Dr Shortland was quite correct in saying that there is a lack of terms to denote abstract qualities in Maori. It might be added that there is also a lack of personified forms of qualities and conditions. Misfortune, Evil, Sickness, these are personified, but we find no corresponding terms on the brighter side of the page of life, no beings representing Mercy, Charity, Love and Compassion.

The cosmogonic genealogies mentioned by Shortland are scarcely evidence of inferior mentality, as he seemed to view them. When the Maori evolved his myths he obeyed the mental urge of his race, as did the old time folk who formed the quaint allegories contained in the Old Testament. Intelligent persons of today can scarcely be expected to believe those old time myths of Babylonia, but we can hardly rate the evolvers thereof as beings of low mentality because they believed in the persuasive serpent and the demoniacal origin of disease. The men who composed those myths were, like the Maori, saturated with superstitions and ignorance. On the other hand a sympathetic study of such page 292myths may show that the composers strove to pass on their own conclusions, and in some cases moral lessons, by such means. We see in Maori myths how the phases of natural phenomena are so embedded in what many deem to be puerile tales. We are much too practical in our view of these titles and concepts. When a Maori refers to a tree by the wayside (Pennantia corymbosa) as Hine-kaikomako, and tells you that this is the Kaikomako Maid, she who conserves fire for mankind, it is absurd to read too much into that remark. The Maori does not view that tree as a female of the human species, or as having been such in the past, but his mind readily turns to thoughts and methods allegorical. He personifies that useful tree, the best material for the generation of fire, as a female because the act of fire generation is by him coupled with the begetting of children, the word hika is employed to denote both acts of generation. Thus, when he desires to produce fire, he hews him a piece from the body of Hine the Fire Conserver, and, by means of a rubbing process with another piece, generates fire; this is the hika ahi or fire generating act. The smaller rubbing stick is described by a number of names, three of which are hika, ureure and kaureure. In hika we have a word meaning "to rub" and "to beget" while the other two are lengthened forms of ure (membrum virile). We now see that the above tree was appropriately personified in female form.

The Maori may speak of trees, stones, etc., as possessing indwelling spirits, he may personify them and so speak of a piece of sandstone as Hine-tu-a-hoanga, of sand as Hone-one (Sand Maid), of the white pine tree as Hine-waoriki, but he does not visualise them as sentient beings endowed with human faculties. Thus in the superior form of myths, in the common class of folk tales, fables, he does so endow them, but certainly does not believe that they ever really possessed such powers. Huge mountains were gifted, in fables, with powers of locomotion, and we ourselves have preserved equally puerile tales, but I cannot concede that mature individuals of the Maori race believed such stories.

In another matter popular explanation does not give the real Maori belief. We are told that certain objects, trees, rocks, etc., were possessed of such innate destructive powers that it was death to touch them, but, in all cases one finds on close enquiry, that such things possess no such inherent powers, that those powers were extraneous and have been implanted, as it were, in those objects, probably by human agency. Thus the superstition is really concerned with faith in the powers of an atua or page 293indwelling spirit, or the powers of such a being.

In the same manner must the subject of anthropomorphism be dealt with in other departments of Maori myth, and among all branches of the Polynesian race. Chaos, space, light, darkness, etc., were all personified and so mated with each other and begat other conditions. This concept of a "genealogical cosmogony" evidently appealed to Polynesian myth makers, but can anyone maintain that the Maori belief was that chaos, light, etc., were beings in human form who mated as do members of the animal kingdom, that Chaos begat Darkness, and Thought begat Mind, as men are begotten? To the Maori it seemed the most natural way in which to present his ideas of evolution, of the origin of the universe, of earth, sky, heavenly bodies, space, also of the various elements pertaining to the earth. The Maori personifies stars and speaks of certain planets as women who lead loose, irregular lives; these are fables alike to Maori and European. The highest form of cosmogonic myth was that in which Io the Supreme Being, who begat no other being, brought the universe into existence, but this concept was confined to a small inner circle of experts. The secondary form of the myths treats of the evolutionary aspect and personified conditions, forces, etc. The members of the primal offspring, the children of Sky and Earth are, in at least many cases, male personifications and tutelary beings of natural phenomena, animal life, vegetation, minerals, etc., and the Polynesian genius for personification was carried into every department of the racial and tribal mythology. More than this the punctilious speeches and even ordinary discourses were permeated by innumerable personification terms, so given were the people to such channels of thought.

The use of such terms in ordinary discourse might be widely illustrated. Thus a person interrogated as to the pursuits or whereabouts of certain young folk might reply: "They are indulging in 'nga mahi a Rehia raua ko Harakoa'", i.e., the arts of pleasure. Herein the two words rehia and harakoa, employed to denote pleasure, amusements, are used as proper names.

The above expression is noted in an East Coast song, as follows:

Naumai, e tamu aku! ka moe taua
Koi mau ana te waituhi o taku hinenga
Kia aropiri mai ai ki au nei
Ka whanatu au ka haere i te one whakakoakoa ngakau no Tuaro-papaki
Mau e piu o mata, maku e karipi, ka rawe au i konei
Nga mahi a Rehia raua ko Harakoa … e … i

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Herein a young woman asks her chosen lad to mate with her while yet she preserves the bloom of her girlhood, and to cling to her, then will she fare with him with joyful heart down the strand of life. Then, as he ever turns his eyes to her, she will glance at him and so feel the joy of life as personified by Rehia and Harakoa.

A remark frequently employed in funeral discourses is the following: "Ko Roimata, ko Hupe anake nga kaiutu i nga patu a Aitua" (Roimata and Hupe alone are the avengers of the blows of Misfortune). Here are three words of ordinary vernacular speech, roimata (tears), hupe (nasal discharge) and aitua (misfortune) used as proper names, in fact those three things are personified. A natural death can only be avenged by weeping and lamentation.

The mythical origin of the Tuhoe tribe is explained as follows: one Hine-pukohu-rangi, the Celestial Mist Maid, personified form of mist, descended to earth and mated with Te Maunga, who personifies mountains and high ranges. From this union sprang the Tuhoe tribe, formerly known as Nga Potiki, and these two mythical ancestors are spoken of as persons by the tribesmen who are the Children of the Mist. These bush folk will relate this tale in the most serious manner, and so such incidents have led to statements being made that the Maori actually believed these fanciful tales, the fables of barbaric man. At the same time these Tuhoe folk will give the descent of their forebears from the immigrants of 22 generations ago, genuine human ancestors, albeit their line of descent from the mythical Mist Maid shows but 16 generations. They do not consider it necessary to explain the glaring discrepancies that form so prominent a feature of such recitals.

In the following lines we have a good illustration of the Maori practice of introducing personification terms into song; these lines are taken from a lament composed by Nuku for Te Ohongaitua and Te Rangi-takuariki, slain in a fight at Pehikatia, Wairarapa, early in last century.

Haere ra, e tama me … e, i te ara ka takoto i Tahekaeroa
Kia karangatia mai koutou ki te muri ki te wai hou
I to koutou tipuna i a Ruaumoko e whakangaoko ra i Rarohenga
Ka puta te hu ki te taiao, koia Hine-puia i Hawaiki
E tahi noa mai ra i te kauhika ki waho i te moana
Ka tere Hine-uku, ka tere Hine-one, ka tere Parawhenuamea
Ki a Hine-moana e tu mai ra i Tahora-nui-atea
Ka whakapae ki uta ra koia Hine-tapatu-rangi
E haere atu na korua, e tama ma … e … i.

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These lines may be roughly rendered as follows: "Farewell O friends! on the path that lies by Tahekeroa, that you may be summoned to the entrance of that region where your ancestor stirs within Rarohenga, whereby results disturbance in the upper world, hence Hine-puia at Hawaiki sweeps all before her out to sea. Even so drift Hine-uku, Hine-one, and Parawhenuamea out to Hine-moana in Tahora-nui-atea and later reach Hine-tapatu-rangi, whither ye two go, O friends." Tahekeroa mentioned above is the descent to the subterranean spirit world, the entrance to which is the Muriwai that lives upon Rarohenga (the underworld). There the souls of the dead twain will reach the realm of Ruaumoko, who personifies earthquakes and all volcanic phenomena, he who stirs restlessly ever and anon, and so causes earthquakes. These are felt in the upper world, where Hine-puia, who personifies volcanoes, is awrath, and who sweeps before her Hine-uku (personifying clay, etc.) and Hine-one the Sand Maid (sand and gravel) and water (Parawhenuamea) to the ocean (represented by Hine-moana, the Ocean Maid), the vast wastes of which are known as Tahora-nui-atea. The land wrack is stranded far away where the sky hangs down, a place represented by Hine-tapatu-rangi. Here we see how essential it is, to those dealing with Maori songs, to be conversant with the myths of the race.

When Tane and his brothers wished to sharpen the stone adzes known as Whironui, Te Awhiorangi, etc., they naturally procured a slab of sandstone and proceeded to grind them. But the 3narrator could not express himself in this simple and clear manner, he put it as follows: Ka whakakoia ki te tamahine a Rakahore, ki a Hine-tu-a-hoanga i tikina i roto o te akau e noho ana: They were sharpened on the daughter of Rakahore, on Hine-tu-a-hoanga, who was brought from her resting place on the rocky coastline. This Hine is the personified form of sandstone.

We have seen that common vernacular expressions were sometimes used as proper names, as in the following: "Enei toko tona koiuri i te ao nei ko nga hau e wha nei, ko Marangai, ko Mauru, ko Rawhiti, ko Tonga, ka wha." (These toko are represented in this world by the four winds, North, West, East, South, four in all). In ordinary speech the speaker would have said "te marangai", etc., using the article.

When the forest folk known as the Hakuturi set about the task of fashioning a canoe for Rata they employed their most expert artisans, as the following sentence shows: "Ka tahuri nga tohunga page 296ki te mahi i te waka ra, koia tenei nga tohunga, ko Mokota, ko Tunga, ko Uhu, ko Mahuika, nana i whakapai rawa." (The experts set to work to make the canoe, and these are the experts who turned out a good job, Mokota, Tunga, Uhu and Mahuika). The names of the first three expert wood workers are those of three species of wood boring grubs, the fourth is the personification of fire, which was employed in felling trees and hollowing out canoes.

In the series of myths connected with Maui we are told that when Maui went to the home of Hine-nui-te-po he took with him as companions his friends Karuwai, Tatahore, Miromiro and Tiwaiwaka, and that he conversed with them on the way. These are the names of four forest birds, and the description of their actions shows that the companions of Maui were such birds.

In folk tales and fables one often notes this use of personification and honorific terms. Thus in the story of the origin of greenstone in New Zealand we see that Hine-tu-a-hoana (sandstone) and Whatu-tongarerewa (a form of greenstone) were sisters of Pounamu, and that a sister of Whatu married Paretao (obsidian). The Maori had many proper names to denote different aspects of natural phenomena, thunder, lightning, rain, etc., and in many cases these seem to be true personifications. As an example I quote two names applied by the Taupo folk to certain aspects of rain, viz, Uhiara and Maroi. The former name described a fall of rain that causes the narrow footpaths of the Maori to become covered with fern, our local bracken (Pteris). The name seems to be applied, not so much to a heavy rain squall as to a rain unaccompanied by wind, a rain that causes the bracken fronds to droop and so cover the path (uhi = to cover; ara = path). The name Maroi is applied, so I was informed, to rain that caused the garments of a person to become i or piro, clammy, bedraggled, soppy. One would suppose that any kind of rain would have that effect, but I refrained from argument. When rain came on old folks would recognise its nature, and remark: "Ko Uhiara tenei" (Here is Uhiara) or whatever its name might be.

The Maori has so many proper names to denote personifica-tions, tutelary beings, originating beings, honorific terms, etc., that it is often a puzzling matter to distinguish one class from another. In many cases a name seems to have two applications, thus a Maori will state that all forest birds originated with Punaweko, but he also distinctly employs the name as a personificatory term for all such birds. We are also told that all page 297birds originated with Tane, but then again one pundit gives Tane-punaweko as one of the many names of Tane. These remarks also apply to Hurumanu, who represents sea birds, and so we have Tane-hurumanu.

We have also collective names or titles, such as Whanau marama, the light-giving family; Whanau puhi or wind family; and Whanau akaaka as a generic name for reptiles and insects, the repulsive ones. Other such names appear in a less concise form, as Tini o te Hakuturi, the Multitude of Forest Elves.

In the following list will be found the names of many personifications met with in Maori mythological recitals, songs, proverbial sayings, etc. The list is a fairly comprehensive one, ranging from natural phenomena to lowly forms of plant and animal life, and even to minerals. Qualities, mental and moral conditions, and processes are by no means so well represented in the list as are concrete objects, as might be expected in the concepts of barbaric man; a notable exception is, however, seen in the array of names representing the diffusion, the acquirement, and the practice of knowledge. It will be found that the fields of natural history and natural phenomena cover a considerable proportion of the terms here given.