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Maori Religion and Mythology Part 2

Deluge Myths

Deluge Myths

The deluge myths of the Maori are not by any means of a striking nature. Apart from vague allusions to such a happening we have a doubtful account of a widespread deluge and a well established story of what seems to have been a local catastrophe; the latter is just such a tale as might have been evolved after the occurrence of a devastating tidal wave.

There are several names connected with deluge myths that call for a few remarks. In Parawhenuamea we have the origin and personified form of water, as already explained, and her name is connected with floods, mythical and otherwise. Pelehonuamea of Hawaiian myth is also connected with floods. (See the Journal of the Polynesian Society, vol. 19, p. 140 and in vol. 24, p. 114). Tangaroa is not connected with our deluge myths, but if, as one Maori pundit remarked, Tangaroa and Te Parata are one and the same being, then a serious tidal wave might be traced to that mighty deep breather.

In recorded data we note references to a catastrophe that occurred in times primeval and is known as the hurihanga a Mataaho, or overturning of (by) Mataaho. This has, in several cases, been explained, as referring to a far spread deluge of ancient times, but this seems to have been the popular belief, the version known by the;many, the fireside tale, and the superior version is a very different story. Another puzzling fact is that page 402some Maori narrators have confused the two names of Mataaho and Mataora. In one recital of the story of Mataora he is termed Mataaho as we have seen and Ropiha of Waipawa referred to the hurihanga i a Mataora, hence we can scarcely be surprised at there being some confusion among European writers. One version has it that the saying hurihanga a Mataaho denotes the separation of the primal parents Rangi and Papa, but it is the overturning of the Earth Mother that is meant, and that gave rise to the saying. There are two versions also of this colossal overturning act. In most cases the performing of the great task is credited to one Mataaho, who was connected with Whakaraumoko in his volcanic activities, for the latter was the moving spirit behind all earthquakes and volcanic disturbances. These two carried out the commands of Io to the effect that Papa the Earth Mother should be turned over so as to face downward to Rarohenga, and so no longer be grieved by looking upon her far sundered companion of happier days—hence the hurihanga a Mataaho of which you hear. In one case an expert tells us that the name Mataaho stands for Io-Mataaho, one of the twelve names of the Supreme Being. The name of Mataaho as a distinct being apart from the great Io-Mataaho is one that has not been satisfactorily explained; one native gave it as the name of a being who personifies lightning. In the Kauwae-runga we are told that Io sent his attendants Ruatau and Aitupaoa to instruct Mataaho to employ the forces of Kiwa, Tawhirimatea and Te Ihorangi (representing the ocean, wind and rain) in turning or forcing Papa-tuanuku downward to Rarohenga, after which Mataaho and Whakaruaumoko were to busy themselves in arranging the head, limbs, etc., of Papa that she might lie in a proper and seemly manner. In this recital there is no statement to the effect that a flood occurred; the word takapautia has been assumed to mean "drowned" which is certainly improbable, from a number of similar examples of its use I am inclined to think that it bears some such meaning as "deposited".

In Mr White's Ancient History of the Maori, vol. 1, pp. 172-180, we have an account of a deluge given by South Island natives, and which is said to have been brought about by Parawhenuamea and one Tupu-nui-a-uta. This story has given rise to some argument, and it must be said that it contains some disturbing features. The causes assigned for the producing of this deluge have a distinctly Scriptural aspect, as also has the story of the raft that takes the place of the ark of friend Noah. It is quite possible that a genuine Maori tradition has been "improved" and page 403added to by a Maori who had come under missionary influence. We know the effect of such influence among Polynesian folk, and how the Maori acquired the Christian hell myth and its dreadful teachings. On the whole it is not safe to accept the story of Tupu-nui-a-uta as published. If Tupu was such an important being as to possess the power of causing a deluge then how is it that we find no other mention of him in the many recorded myths. The disregard of the laws and teachings of Tane for which the deluge was called upon to destroy man is, as given, quite unlike a Maori concept. Moreover Tupu and a few of his boon companions are said to have constructed a raft on which they rode out the flood, which endured for eight months, and this is, elsewhere in Maori myth, unheard of, it looks painfully like a neolithic copy of Noah's marvellous ferry boat. At p. 164 (Maori part) of White's Ancient History of the Maori, vol. 1, a brief South Island note is given in which another catastrophe is credited to one Puta, whoever he may have been; this is also described as a hurihanga of the land, and this may mean overwhelming or over-turning.

[The brief account of the alleged Tupu-nui-a-uta deluge given at p. 117 of vol. 14 of the Journal of the Polynesian Society was culled from White's first volume.]

In Grey's Mythology and Traditions of the New Zealanders, pp. 2-3, a partial deluge seems to be alluded to in the account of the offspring of Rangi and Papa, and of the contest between Tawhirimatea and his brothers. At that time, we are told, a part of the land disappeared or was covered, in fact the greater part of Papatuanuku (the earth), the names of the "ancestors" who destroyed the land being Ua-nui, Ua-roa, Ua-whatu and Ua-nganga (personified forms of rain and hail), whose children are Mist and Dew. The greater part of the land was covered by water, only a small part remained dry.

We now come to a deluge that may be claimed as a purely Polynesian product, one known as the Tai o Ruatapu. Here we have a genuine Maori story, several versions of which have been placed on record; indeed it may be said to describe an historical deluge, inasmuch as it occurred in the time of persons who flourished some five or six centuries ago. It may be doubted if this well known deluge was of any great extent, for if, as has been stated, the persons mentioned were residents of Rarotonga, that isle is but about twenty miles in circumference, and any part of the deluge that might spill over the edge of it would but become a part of the Great Ocean of Kiwa. Ellis, in his Polynesian page 404Researches, states that traditions of 'the deluge' exist among the South Sea Islanders and evidently he refers all such myths to the Babylonian fable that was borrowed by Christianity and taught to us as an actual occurrence. Our worthy author goes on to say that: "Accounts, more or less according with the Scripture narrative of this awful visitation of Divine justice upon the antediluvian world, have been discovered, among most of the nations of the earth; and the striking analogy between those religiously preserved by the inhabitants of the islands of the Pacific, and the Mosaic account, would seem to indicate a degree of high antiquity belonging to this isolated people." (Ibid., p. 57, vol. 2). This may be, of course, a correct view, but if Providence the merciful wished to destroy a horde of turbulent Asiatics, why include among the doomed the hapless folk of far sundered Rarotonga?—that is if there were any Rarotongans in those days.

To briefly describe the Tai o Ruatapu incident it must first be said that Uenuku, a prominent Maori ancestor, had two sons named Kahutia-te-rangi (also known as Paikea) and Ruatapu; the latter, being the son of a slave mother, was of lower rank than Kahutia. Now Ruatapu committed a serious offence when he used the comb of Uenuku, that object being necessarily tapu owing to contact with the head of a tapu person. Thus it came about that Uenuku spoke severely to Ruatapu, and alluded to his lowly origin on the mother's side with grievous expression. Ruatapu took the bitter words to heart, and resolved to avenge his discomfiture in a manner truly Maori; he made no effort to injure Uenuku, but resolved to destroy Kahutia and some other men of importance. He borrowed a canoe named the Huripureiata and bored a hole in its keel, which he plugged for the time, then invited the principal young chiefs of the district to make a sea fishing trip with him. When they reached a position far seaward Ruatapu withdrew the plug and allowed the canoe to fill with water; in the confusion that followed he managed to slay a number of persons who had treated him with contumely. Kahutia escaped the onslaught and called upon the monsters of the ocean to bear him to land, upon Rongomai-tahanui (who seems to represent whales) and others. As the world of life narrowed Haeora called out: "Who can convey the tohi ora to land?", and Paikea or Kahutia replied: "It can be conveyed by me, for I am the flower of the male and female elements (Ka tae i a au, ta te a ure, ta te a hika)." Then the tohi ora (whatever that may be) was handed over to Kahutia that he might endeavour to reach land with it. Ruatapu again endeavoured to slay Kahutia, page 405but the latter eluded him, and so Rua called to him: "Well, farewell, go your way; when you reach land warn the people to assemble on Mt Hikurangi; when the eighth month arrives I will be with you." Then Kahutia, who claimed to be the offspring of the Petipeti and the Rangahua of the vast ocean spaces, recited a long spell calling upon the monsters of the deep to come to his assistance and bear him to land. So they came, the whales, and, by their help, Kahutia reached land, landing at Ahuahu, and delivered his message to the people. Inasmuch as he had called upon the whales of the ocean for help in his dire need, and because they had assisted him, Kahutia now abandoned that name and took that of Paikea.

Paikea and Ruatapu were the sole survivors of the Huripureiata disaster according to one version. The forewarned people retired to Mt Hikurangi in order to escape the flood promised by Ruatapu in his very ambiguous remarks; those who retired to Hikurangi, said to have been the peak of that name at Rarotonga, escaped disaster, but others who remained on the low lying lands perished. In the eighth month the sea swept over the lowlands and devastated them, and that inundation is known to the natives of Rarotonga as the Tai o Uenuku, but to the Maori of New Zealand as the Tai o Ruatapu. Paikea is said to have come to New Zealand, where he settled at Whangara, on the East Coast, and his descendants are the natives of that coast. A local version of this story centres it on Mt Hikurangi that stands inland of Waipiro, and brings Paikea to land at Ahuahu or Mercury Island in the Bay of Plenty area, but the tale belongs to Rarotonga.

It is quite possible that this flood myth has grown on the basis of a severe hurricane, such storms are extremely destructive in some cases when they strike the low lying lands of Polynesian isles. The tohi ora mentioned was probably some form of emblem. A statement in one version is to the effect that the tohi ora was handed over to Paikea as though it were a material object. The saying of Paikea anent the a ure and a hika (the force, vigour, of the male and female genitals) is one that is generally miswritten and misrendered; in White we find aure and ahinga. White renders tohi ora as "power of life", and ta te a ure, ta te a hika as "the heat and power of life".

There is no explanation of how Ruatapu produced his flood, or why he should devastate the land and yet warn the people to escape. A brief version of the myth contributed by Hori Ropiha of Waipawa, contains a statement that Rakaiora prevented the page 406flood waters overwhelming Hikurangi by means of his occult powers. As to the remark made by Ruatapu to Kahutia the differing versions thereof are as leaves in the vale of Vallombrosa; a Matatua one is as follows: "Huia ki Hikurangi, tawhitiria ki te whakarua tapu, tena au kei nga popo nunui au o te want." Pio of Ngati-Awa, with commendable pride, makes the famous flood a local one. He quotes Ruatapu as saying to Kahutia: "Haere, e hika! Huia te tangata ki Hukurangi, taia ki te tawhiti whakarua tapu kia rere ai nga morehu; ko ahau kei nga popo nunui au o te want; me hui nga tangata ki Hukurangi." This Hukurangi is a variant form of Hikurangi. Pio went on to say: "This Hukurangi is a mountain on the east coast; the tribes of Aotearoa assembled at that place, whereat they were unassailed by Ruatapu." In a second account written by Ropiha we find that Ruatapu saves his own life by bestriding the capsized canoe, and Ropiha has it that Ruatapu referred to the long nights of the winter, which looks better than the "long nights of the eighth month" noted in some versions, one does not look for long nights in February in southern lands. It was the Tai o Ruatapu that was responsible for the burying of the trunks of trees that are here found during excavations, thus Pio of Awa.

Another version of our story has it that Ruatapu was flying a kite and it descended on the roof of Uenuku's hut, whereupon Rua clambered up on to the roof in order to recover his kite, and it was his venturing on to the tapu roof that incensed Uenuku. As to the landing place of Paikea after his adventurous trip, Ahuahu is much too common a place name, for it was an old name of Mangaia isle, and of Maitea island, also a place name at Hawaiki islands, and in New Zealand. An old native has told us that the Ahuatu at which Paikea landed was at Te Pakaroa, in the Whangara district of Hawaiki. Te Pakaroa was the village home of Ira and Ruawharo; Pukehapopo is on the south side of Te Pakaroa, while Titirangi is on the western side of Pukehapopo, and Pikopiko-i-whiti is west of Titirangi; the old name of Pikopiko-i-whiti was Honoura.

A long formula is said to have been chanted by Kahutia when he was preparing for his perilous venture. It was a highly singular feature of desperate crises of old times in Polynesia that persons within a hair's breadth of death found time to recite several yards of lengthy formulae designed to assist them. A version of this charm appears in vol. 3 of White's Ancient History of the Maori at p. 36, Maori part. On p. 35 of that same volume is a statement to the effect that the great pumice deposits of the Kaingaroa Plains page 407are the result of the Tai o Ruatapu, and, according to the lines of descent from Ruatapu and his contemporaries, we may place the date of the terrible inundation at about the year 1380, whereas most of us have held that a longer period had elapsed since this island was under water! At p. 59 of Smith's Lore of the Whare-wananga, part 1, we see the proper form of Ruatapu's remarks concerning the long nights which pertain to the winter months. Ruatapu tells them that the stars will show the season of his coming, and that they can check the months by counting the twelve feathers of the kumikumi of the child of Parauri, that is of the bunch of white feathers on the neck of the tui bird. The Maori maintains that there are twelve of such white feathers; the twelfth month would certainly contain long nights. (E tae ki uta kei a Wehinui-a-mamao mana a whakaatu max te tau. Tirohia te kumikumi o te potiki a Parauri ngahuru ma rua, popo roroa o te takurua tena au te haere atu mu.)

Hikurangi is a favoured mountain name among Polynesian folk. Mount Hikurangi in the old homeland was a tapu place where sunlight ever fell and death was unknown. There is a Mount Hikurangi at Tahiti, another at Rarotonga, and several in New Zealand, where, in some cases it is applied to mere hills. Hukurangi is a well known variant form among the Matatua folk. A local myth in the Waiapu district is that the canoe of Maui, in stone form, lies on the summit of Mt. Hikurangi of that district.

In another version of this story it is made clear that the main object of Ruatapu was to avenge certain disasters that his mother's people had suffered, and which are known as Ra-kumia, Rata-rua, Rangikapi, Kura-tangohia, Moana-waipu, Taiparipari, etc., the offensive remark of Uenuku explained before was merely a last straw that brought matters to a head. Ruatapu selected elder sons of high caste families only as companions on his fishing trip, so that his act of vengeance would be more keenly felt. The particular narrative referred to does not, however, include the latter part of the story, though it is enlightening as to the causes of the trouble. It should be remembered that Paimahutanga, mother of Ruatapu, was an inferior wife of Uenuku, she having been a captive.

Colenso published a translation of a long version of this tale in volume 14 of the Transactions of the New Zealand Institute, and this version is an interesting one on account of the narrator having boldly localised the story, a thing seldom done. Uenuku and his folk are said to have dwelt on the East Coast, where the famous (Hawaikian) fighting between Uenuku and Tawheta is page 408said to have taken place, though the narrator wisely refrained from saying just where Uenuku did live on the coastline. This account is marked by much detail, also by explanations emanating from the translator. The account of the flood does not appear in this version, but merely the disaster at sea, wherein Paikea is said to have escaped death because he was a descendant of Rongomai-tahanui, who represents the monsters of the ocean. Colenso viewed the flood myth as an excrescence, but stated that it appears in some versions, and maintains that the Hikurangi mountain referred to is the peak of that name on the East Coast. It were well to explain that Colenso held that all the tales told by the Maori of their ancestors having come hither from Polynesia in vessels are myths.

In one version we are told that Paikea transformed himself into a fish when he swam to land, in another Ruatapu states that he will not reach land during the seventh, eighth, ninth or tenth months, but during the Maruaroa, a winter month, the second month of the Maori year.