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The Astronomical Knowledge of the Maori, Genuine and Empirical



Here we have another phenomenon that occupied an important place in Maori estimation, for the personified forms of the rainbow, or two of them, Kahukura and Uenuku, were important atua of the Maori pantheon.

The personified forms of the rainbow are Kahukura, Uenuku, Haere, and Pou-te-aniwaniwa. Uenuku is also known as Uenukurangi and Uenuku-kai-tangata; he was employed as a war-god, &c. White says that Kahukura was also known as Tahaereora. There are said to be three Haere—viz., Haera-a-Tautu, Haerewaewae, and Here-kohiko—though but little is heard of them. The ordinary names for a rainbow, the vernacular terms, are aniwaniwa, aheahea, and kopere, the latter perhaps a modern or descriptive name. Taylor also gives puaheihei, which, however, does not seem to be recognized by our dictionary-makers. Atua piko and atua tapiko are descriptive names. Anuanua is a widespred name for the rainbow in Polynesia.

We are told that Kahukura is the descendant of Pou-te-aniwaniwa, and that he appears in the form of a bow in the heavens. He is a double bow; the upper dark-coloured bow is a male, and called Kahukura-pango; the red-hued lower one is a female, known as Pou-te-aniwaniwa. When they appear not page 59 fully formed or developed it is an ill omen. They give signs concerning rain, the ceasing of rain. The correct ritual will avert any evil omen of rainbows.

Another pundit states that the name of the female bow is Tuawhio-rangi. Their offspring are the whirlwinds, and their parent is the Imurangi, whose wife is Tuhirangi. Yet another says that the lower bow is known as Kahukura-whare. Kahukura-i-te-rangi (Kahukura in the heavens) is a name sometimes employed, and the female bow is called by some the Atuawharoro-mai-te-rangi. Kahukura is said to stand with one foot on land and one on the ocean. Again, Kahukura is said to be the offspring of Rongomai and Hine-te-wai, and the companion of Rongoiamo. Both parents of Rongomai seem to be rainbows, or were transformed into such. Paoka-o-te-rangi, Totoc-rangi, Tahaina, Te Kaurukiruki, and Te Hereumu seem to be similar phenomena—perhaps the differently coloured parts of a rainbow. We are not aware of the difference between Kahukura and Uenuku, or whether there is any.

Kahukura was a famed guide for mariners when making the long sea voyage to New Zealand. He stood in the heavens before the prow of the vessel as a guide during the day. At night he retired to the stern thwart of the vessel, and his sister, Hinekorako (a pale luminous arch in the heavens), went to the front as a guide. So saith the Maori; and who should know if he does not?

As for Uenuku-tawhana-i-te-rangi (Uenuku bow-like in the heavens), there is a weird story concerning him. Originally he was a denzen of this world—he dwelt on earth—where came to him one Hine-pukohu-rangi, the Mist Maiden, also known as Tairi-a-kohu, who is the personification of mist. She was accompanied by her sister Hinewai, who personifies light rain. But the Mist Maid never remained on earth during the hours of daylight; as dawn approached she disappeared and returned to the heavens. This story proceeds as it does in all other lands, even to far-distant Europe. The Mist Maid forbids Uenuku to make her known to his people until a child is born to them. He disregards the injunction, and she leaves him for ever. She sings a song of farewell to Uenuku; a column of mist is seen descending slowly from the heavens as she sings her song. It reaches and envelopes her just as she concludes the song. As the mist column rises again towards the sky the people look in vain for Tairi-a-kohu. The Mist Maiden has returned to her home. Uenuku was now disconsolate, and mourned the loss of his beautiful Mist Maid, but never again was he to see her. Even so, he wandered over far lands in his search for her, and at length death found him. So perished Uenuku, whom we now see in the heavens as a rainbow.

Omens, signs, and auguries are drawn from the rainbow. In some cases it is a sign of death. If it appears incomplete, or of a pale appearance, it is a portent of evil. If a war expedition sees such a bow before it, then the party returns home. Other signs pertain to storms and rain. A bow of many colours is a rainsign. In Sir G. Grey's list of Maori sayings is—Ki te koma te page 60 aniwaniwa, ka mate te iangata (If the rainbow is of a pale hue, man will perish).

The rainbow is a phenomenon that has attracted the attention of savage and barbaric man, and myths concerning it have been preserved after nations have attained a higher culture-stage. The rainbow was highly venerated in Peru, and old myths connected with it are found in European countries.

The are also some tokens in Maori lore that the whirlwind was personified and viewed as something supernormal, but the evidence is not clear. The ordinary term denoting it is awhiowhio, but it is referred to in ritual chants as the anewa-o-te-rangi. Toi huarewa seems to be a kind of honorific name for the same phenomenon.

La'amaomao was a rainbow-name at Samoa. In New Zealand Rakamaomao is connected with wind.

In his work on Cook Group myths Gill tells us that Hina formed a rainbow by which her mortal husband descended to earth to die; also that Tangaroa came to earth by the rainbow, and came to Hina as she ws bathing in the waters of this world.