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Maori Religion and Mythology Part 2

Earth Mother

Earth Mother

Papa Papa-tiranga
Papa-tu-a-nuku Papa-tiraharaha
Nuku Papa-i-raharaha
Tuanuku Papa-nui-tinaku
Papa-matua Tahuaroa
Papa-matua-te-kore Papa-tahuaroa

The word papa conveys the sense of flatness. It denotes here the flat outspread earth lying below the arched sky. Nuku denotes "distance" and "wide extent". Papa-matua describes her as the Earth Parent, the mother of mankind, she who provides sustenance for her children. Papa-matua-te-kore is Papa the Parentless, not born of parents was she, Papa-tioi describes her as swaying or shaking Papa, apparently as affected by Hine-oi and Hine-tuoi, who represent volcanic disturbances, indeed one native authority gives Hine-oi as a sister of Papa, Papa-tiranga I have received no explanation of; tiranga may carry a secondary meaning of tuarangaranga, as it carries its first, and so describe the broken appearance of the earth. Papa-tiraha is clear, inasmuch as tiraha means "facing upward" which was the original position of the Earth Mother before she was turned over so as to face down to Rarohenga. The form Papa-i-raharaha appears in the Tuamotu Group, and may, or may not carry the same page 300meaning that it does in the local Maori dialect. Papa-raharaha is a Tahitian form, so also is Papa-tuoi. Also Papa-tukia, Papa-reva and Papa-monotaki seem to be names applied to the earth in the Tuamotu group while Papa-henua and Papa-rouaki appear in a Tuamotu cosmogonic chant. The title Papa-nui-tinaku appears in a Marquesas deluge chant, and is an interesting form, when we consider that tinaku conveys the meaning of "to increase" and "to germinate". The full name of Pani, the "mother" of the sweet potato is Pani-tinaku. Tahuaroa is a name used to denote not only the earth but also the ocean. The word tahua carries a similar meaning to marae, viz, a plaza or open expanse, and so we have Marae-nui and Marae-nui-atea, terms employed to denote the ocean.

The following line from an old chant contains well known names for sea and land: "Tau atu ki nga tupaki, ki nga tihi o Hinemoana, o Tuanuku" Here, again, we have a statement that tells us how Rangi desired Papa and so took her to wife: "Ko Rangi nui e tu iho nei i pirangi ki a Papa-tu-a-nuku, a i moe i a Papa-tu-a-nuku" The name of Papa-karioi occurs in a karakia recited by Maui over his "land fish" when he hauled it up from the depths of Hinemoana. It is used in conjunction with the term Tuauriuri, which denotes the darkling depths—"Ko te ika nui koe a Tauriuri, ko te ika nui koe a Papa-karioi"—and so may be yet another of the many titles of old Terra Mater.

The Maori is often very thorough in his personifying of inanimate nature. In a recital before me I note: "Rangi looked at Papa as she lay face upward, and his affection for her caused him to weep, his tears are the rain we see falling from the heavens."

A South Island recital gives Tangaroa as the being who took Papa to wife, for which see p. 13 of vol. 3 of the Journal of the Polynesian Society.


The upper world is sometimes alluded to as Runga, a word meaning "above", and the many atua of the heavens are occasionally appealed to under that title. In such appeals the expression "E Runga!' is equivalent to "O ye above!" The Ngati-Porou folk of Waiapu state that when, in former times, the people were suffering from the ravages of an epidemic, or other grievous calamity, a tohunga of standing would retire to a secluded spot and address the atua of celestial realms thus "E Runga, e! Kai a wai te hara i ikia nga tangata ki te Po" (O ye page 301above! For whose sin are the people being swept away to the spirit world?) My informant added that the gods would vouchsafe some reply through the agency of the heavenly bodies or the elements. Raro: The word raro, meaning 'below' is employed in a similar manner. Thus Raro is used to denote the underworld, and perhaps the earth in some cases. We hear that the stars Rigel, Sirius and the Pleiades ascended from their mother Raro to the heavens. (Ko Puanga, ko Takurua, ko Matariki ka piki ake i to raua whaea, ko Raro te whaea, ipiki ki te rangi.) A charm recited by fishermen of the Matatua people appeals to Raro, the deeps, or rather the denizens of those depths, to come and be caught. "E Raro! E Raro! To poa, tikini mai, kumekumea." In another version Raro seems to be coupled with the underworld (Po): "E Raro! E Raro! Te Po, te Po tahuri ke, te Po tahuri mai, tau maunu tikina mai" etc. The term tuauriuri, employed to denote dark, sullen depths, is occasionally used in a similar manner, as in "Ko te ika nui koe a Tuauriuri" etc., as given above under "Papa".


Here we have the personified forms of space. Concerning the second name we have but a brief statement. Watea, though seldom mentioned in Maori myth, seems to appear in various parts of Polynesian as Atea, Akea Vatea and Wakea. However he seems to be identified with light, not space, in those parts, and so the Avatea form of the Cook Islands seems appropriate. Tregear gives Atea as representing space. "The light Space, personified". In Maori myth it was Watea who separated the heavens from the earth. Atea is a name that appears in some cosmogonic genealogies of the Maori while in Hawaii Akea is a being who abides in the underworld and is said to have been originally a king of Hawaii, evidently some statement has been taken in too literal a manner.