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Maori Religion and Mythology Part 2

Uenuku and the Mist Maid

Uenuku and the Mist Maid

We now come to the more interesting of our rainbow myths, the one related by the Maori in order to account for the origin of that phenomenon; it is the story of Uenuku and the Mist Maid. The latter is known as Hine-kohu, Hine-makohu, Hine-takohu, page 418Hine-pukohu and Tairi-a-kohu. One narrative has it that this Mist Maid, the personified form of mist (kohu, pukohu), was a daughter of Whiro, so that she sprang from darkness, as she seems to do when we see her with the breaking day. She dwells in the Cloud House known as the Ahoaho o Tukapua, wherein the Cloud Children abide when not roaming the vast realm of Watea (space). The mist rising from the earth symbolises the greeting of the Earth Mother to the Sky Parent far above. Our Mist Maid was sometimes called upon by man to help him, sometimes as an agent of concealment, at others to prevent certain winds rising. Hine-makohu was sent up on high by Hine-moana and Hine-wai (sea and rain) to cover the body of Rangi the Sky Parent and to provide shade and shelter for the Earth Mother. The Tuhoe story of Hine-pukohu and Te Maunga we have already scanned.

Such was the Mist Maid who descended to earth in remote times, in long past days before the rainbow was seen on high. She was accompanied by her sister Hine-wai, she who represents light, misty rain, and the twain came down to earth enveloped in a column of mist in order to bathe in the waters of earth. Now one Uenuku chanced to be taking his walks abroad, and he came to the place where the two celestial maids were bathing. In one version we are told that Uenuku found his way to the spot where the maids had deposited their garments, and that, when they came to resume their clothing, Uenuku sprang forward and captured the Mist Maid, whom he took to wife. This version I prefer to look upon as a modern or careless rendering, and can it be proved that these celestial beings ever wear anything more material than the diaphanous and fleecy mist. What I regard as the older and more genuine versions speak of them being clad in their long hair, but when they moved abroad, or came down to earth, then they were enveloped in mist so as to be invisible to human eyes.

In another version the Mist Maid tells her sister Hine-wai to remain by the water while she hies her to the abode of Uenuku, and the Rain Maid's duty is to call her sister the Mist Maid when dawn is at hand, so that the twain may return to the heavens ere Tamanui-te-ra, the sun, flashes across the bright world.

When the Mist Maid went to Uenuku he asked her who she was, and she replied: "I am from Rangi-roa and Rangi-mamao; my name is Hine-pukohu-rangi." Thus did she explain that she was from the distant and farspread heavens, and that she was the Celestial Mist Maid. And so, every night, the Mist Maid and her page 419sister came to earth, the one entered the abode of Uenuku while the other remained without. When the first signs of dawn were seen then Hine-wai called to her sister to come forth, as day was at hand: "Come forth, O Hine! Dawn is nigh." Then the sisters would return to their celestial home in the ascending mist of early morning. When Uenuku awoke he would find that the lovely Mist Maid had already gone.

Now Hine the Mist Maid repeatedly warned Uenuku that he must not make her known to his people until their child was born, otherwise she would desert him forever. Uenuku chafed at the restriction, so earnestly did he desire to tell the people about his peerless Mist Maid, the beauty of whom far exceeded that of earthly women. At last he could no longer resist this desire, and he expatiated on the beauties of Hine of the heavens until it was resolved that stratagem be resorted to in order to detain her until she might be viewed by the people. So it was that all busied themselves in filling up the interstices in the walls of Uenuku's home, so that no ray of daylight might enter, all this to deceive the trusting Mist Maid. Next morning, as dawn approached, Hine-wai called as of yore: "O Hine! The dawn cometh, " and the Mist Maid would have departed but Uenuku detained her, and showed her that no smallest ray of light was to be seen. Again came the warning cry of the guardian Rain Maid, and again Uenuku detained the Mist Maid, until Hine-wai was compelled to depart and ascend to the heavens, leaving her deceived sister in the abode of the guileful Uenuku.

Hineata, the Morning Maid, came to the home of Uenuku and found the plaza full of expectant people. The door of the house was opened and the broad light of day entered therein; the betrayed Mist Maid rose and passed out on to the plaza, whereupon she ascended to the roof-peak of the house of Uenuku, whereon she stood to sing a song of farewell to this world. As she stood there, clothed only in her long hair, the assembled people gazed upon her and marvelled at her superb beauty. The song referred to the duplicity of Uenuku, her folly in trusting him, and her determination never to return to him. As the Maid sang her farewell song the people saw a column of mist descending from the heavens, descend until it gradually enveloped Hine-makohu; as she finished her song her form was entirely concealed, and then the mist column slowly rose and ascended to the heavens. But when the people looked for the lovely Mist Maid they found that she had left them, had ascended in the mist column to the vast realm of Watea where the Cloud page 420Children bide. Never again did folk of this world gaze upon the beauteous Mist Maid, and never again did Uenuku the weak know peace, or cease to search far distant regions in quest of his lost Maid. Even so he passed long-drawn years, ever seeking his lost bride, ever hoping to atone for past weakness. But Uenuku found, as many others have, that regrets and efforts at atonement cannot rescue the stricken one from what Jerome calls the dark forest of Sorrow. Grief and intense longing led him ever onward in restless seeking, until in a far land that gives upon the hanging sky, death came to Uenuku. Then the gods of celestial regions, they who had denied passage to Uenuku, took him from the lowly earth and translated him to the heavens. And, when Hine-wai and Hine-ihorangi, the Rain Maids, come down to earth, when Hine-kapua, the Cloud Maid, roams the vast plaza of Watea, then is it that Uenuku, is seen spanning the heavens, and be sure that, at such times, Hine-makohu the Mist Maid is anigh.

In some narratives the name of Niniko replaces that of Uenuku, it appears to be a corrupt form. A Taranaki version of the above story may be seen in the Journal of the Polynesian Society, vol. 17, p. 22, in which the lovely female visitor is described as a turehu, a sort of fairy folk, but this causes the true point of the myth to be missed, as also its origin. The myth is based on the fact that there is a connection between mist and the rainbow, both are seen during showery weather. The Taranaki version agrees closely with the Matatua version given above, save that the column of mist descending from the heavens is replaced by a cloud that drifts in from the sea. [At p. 86 of vol. 19 of the Journal of the Polynesian Society is given some account of Asiatic parallels to this tale, while others appear in the writings of Andrew Lang. See also p. 37 of vol. 20 of the above Journal. An Irish folk tale tells us of Aine, a fairy queen, whose cloak was stolen by Earl Gerald while she was bathing, he refusing to return it unless she became his bride. She warned him never to show surprise at anything done by her child, he broke his promise and so Aine was obliged by fairy law to leave him.]

Even in our local mythology we find parallels to the story of Uenuku and the Mist Maid. Thus we know that Whaitiri came down from the heavens and lived here as the wife of Kaitangata. She is one and the same as Hine-whaitiri, the Thunder Maid, and she came down to earth attracted by the name Kai-tangata, which denotes man-eating, she being an enthusiastic cannibal herself. Disappointed at the sad lack of human flesh she set to work to destroy all other food supplies, so as to force Kaitangata to live page 421up to his name, and this was how she gained her full name of Whaitiri-whakapaparoa-kai, she is the food banisher. However Whaitiri resolved to return to her celestial home, and left their child on earth with Kaitangata, with instructions that, when a grandchild was born, he should ascend the heavens and visit her. Then, as in the case of Hine-ma-kohi, the Mist Maid, a mist cloud descended from the heavens, enveloped Whaitiri and so wafted her unseen to the heavens.

The Matatua folk state that Whaitiri had another husband, whose name was Rangi-matakeho, in the heavens; by him she bore one Hapai-ariki, while by Kaitangata she had Hema, who mated with Tako-tako and had Tawhaki. Whaitiri warned Kaitangata that he must not speak of her to his people until her child was born; if he did so she would desert him. She declined to wash or otherwise attend to the babe, on account of her tapu condition, thus leaving Kaitangata to act as nursemaid. Tapu must have been a very convenient institution in former times, for some folks, but not so for others. Eventually Whaitiri returned skyward in a cloud of mist.

When Tawhaki, grandson of Kaitangata, grew up, he had a similar experience to that of his grandfather, celestial maids seem to have frequently roamed earthward in those days. Hapai, who dwelt in upper realms, looked down and saw that Tawhaki was fair to look upon, hence she came down to this world and became his wife. Here also some trouble arose anent the washing of the child, and Hapai left her earthly husband even as Whaitiri had done. In the version collected by Sir George Grey the woman's name is given as Tangotango, a well-known name. We are, however, now straying away from our rainbow myths and invading the sphere of thunder and lightning, which calls for a different sub-heading.