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The Astronomical Knowledge of the Maori, Genuine and Empirical

Origin of the Heavenly Bodies

Origin of the Heavenly Bodies

The mythopoetical Maori, when explaining the origin of the heavenly bodies, put his ideas on the subject into the form of an allegory. He derived them from certain mythical beings, many of whom appear to be personifications of some form of light. Thus the Awa folk of the Bay of Plenty explain that Tangotango and Wainui, two of the offspring of the Sky Parent and the Earth Mother, produced the sun, moon, and stars. Wainui is the personified form of the ocean. This myth is given in the form of a genealogical table:—

This Tangotango is said to have been the origin of day and night, the alternation of light and darkness. Among some tribes he is termed Tongatonga, and another of his names was Turangi. Some East Coast authorities say that Turangi mated with Moe-ahuru, and that they produced Tama-nui-te-ra and the Marama-i-whanake. The former is the personified form of the sun, and the latter a honorific name for the moon. After these they produced the stars, who are spoken of as the younger members of the family. Another version makes Rona (the woman in the moon) a member of this family. Turangi and his wife Moe-ahuru are said to have dwelt on Maunga-nui, their abode being known as Mairehau, while that of the sun on the same mountain was called Mairekura, an exceedingly tapu place. Rona dwelt with her parents in Mairehau, as also did the moon. They were ever on the move and kept roaming about, their plaza being known as Te One i Oroku (The Strand at Oroku). Here the Children of Light (sun, page break moon, stars) and Rona were found by Tongatonga and Te Heremaro, who placed them under shelter. The saying of te pukai mata kirikiri a Turangi (the small-eyed assembly of Turangi) is applied to the Shining Ones.

The female being, Moe-te-ahuru, mother of the Whanau Marama, also appears as Hine-te-ahuru. Thus we have in one version—

In this version the male parent of the heavenly bodies appears as the offspring of Darkness, and Te Ikaroa (The Milky Way) is not included among the Star Children, but is said to have been a younger brother of Whiro, and that is why the Galaxy was placed in charge of the stars. One version seems to show that Te Ikaroa and Te Ikanui were the parents of the stars, but does not explain who or what Te Ikanui was.

Another version endows Uru-te-ngangana with two wives, Hine-te-ahuru and Hine-turama, the former being the mother of the sun and moon, and the latter the origin of stars. This Uru-te-ngangana (Uru the Red, or Gleaming One) was one of the offspring of the primal parents Heaven and Earth, and seems to personify some form of light. Hine-turama may be rendered as the “Light-giving Maid.”

These are honorific names for the sun and moon.

Nepia Pohuhu, a Wairarapa adept, who gave the above version, stated that Matariki (the Pleiades) was a young brother of Tongatonga, and that Matariki was conveyed to the Paeroa o Whanui (another name for the Milky Way) to take care of the whanau punga (stars), lest they be jostled by their elders and so caused to fall. This peculiar name for the Milky Way is not clear. Whanui is the star Vega, and paeroa means “a range”; but why should the Galaxy be termed “the Range of Vega”?

Here we may refer to an explanation made by the learned man Te Matorohanga, who said that Turangi was an ordinary or unimportant name of Uru-te-ngangana, and that Moe-ahuru and Te Ahuru are names applied to the one being. This name Turangi might be rendered as meaning “sky standing,” or “placed in the sky,” or “set in the sky.” There are two statements in John White's works to the effect that Turangi was the owner or caretaker of the moon, or that it originated with him. They are as follows: “Na Turangi te marama,” and “I a Turangi te marama, i a Tunuku te ra.” We now see that Uru-te-ngangana, page break Turangi, Tangotango, and Tongatonga are all names for one being, evidently a personification, and that he mated with Moeahuru, or Hine-te-Ahuru, to produce the heavenly bodies. The peculiar names of the “mother of stars,” or mother of the Whanau Marama, denote “sheltered sleep” or “comfort, as of a haven,” and the “Shelter Maid” or “Haven Maid.” The calm haven in which reposes the unborn child is termed the ahuru mowai, and it bears that meaning. Thus Uru the Gleaming One, the Sky Stander, looks very much like the personified form of one of the heavenly bodies. As Tangotango he changes day into night and night into day. He was the first-born of the godlike offspring of the Sky Father and Earth Mother. He first abode with Whiro (Darkness), then joined Tane (Light); his offspring are the Whanau Marama, the Children of Light. As his name may be rendered as “the gleaming west,” it night be thought that he represents the setting sun, were not other evidence against it. In a list of star-names given by Hamiora Pio, of Te Teko, Tangotango is mentioned. Elsewhere he remarks, “Tangotango is the object seen stretched across the heavens at night, surrounded by his star children.” This looks like the Milky Way, the position of which was the sign of approaching dawn to the Maori; and Tangotango is said to turn night into day. In Babylonia Uruk was the moon, and was deemed of greater importance than the sun, and existed before the latter.

An uncorroborated version from a Takitumu source makes one Ahu-matonga the progenitor of the heavenly bodies. He is said to have been the child of Roiho, who was one of the offspring of the primal parents. It was Roiho who gave warning of the coming of Light, in these words: “Light is coming in the form of Tama-nui-te-ra (sun) and the Marama-taiahoaho.” This last name denotes the full moon.

In his Maori Religion and Mythology Shortland gives an old myth that makes Kohu (mist) take Te Ikaroa (Milky Way) and produce the stars.

Another singular concept is the following:— Here Raro, who seems to personify the underworld, or the earth, takes Summer to wife, and begets Rigel, Sirius, and the Pleiades. This does not bear the aspect of what we may term the higher Maori teaching, but looks like one of the many popular unorthodox myths so common among the natives.

A collective name for the heavenly bodies is Te Apa Whatu a Te Ahuru, apparently denoting the “eye-like company of Te Ahuru,” for they appear like a number of eyes in the heavens, and stars are said, in popular myth, to consist of eyes only—they have no bodies. Te Ahuru is the Hine-te-Ahuru already referred to, the Star Mother. The term whanau atua, or “supernatural family or offspring,” is also applied to the heavenly bodies.

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Te Ikaroa (Milky Way) and Tama-rereti were both placed in charge of the ra ririki (little suns = stars), or whanau riki, as they were also called. Even so, some wilful younger members of the family sometimes stray away among their elders, and are struck by them and so fall. These stricken ones are termed mata-kokiri, “the Darting Ones” (meteors).

Dr. Shortland, in his Maori Religion and Mythology, has yet another version of the origin of the heavenly luminaries. Rangi took one Hine-ahupapa to wife, her offspring being Tunuku, Turangi, Tama-i-Koropau, and Haronga. Haronga took Tangotango, their offspring being the sun and moon. Kohu (mist) and the Milky Way produced the stars.

A version recorded by Taylor puts it that Rangi (the sky) took to wife the Glowing Dawn, and begat the moon. Again he took to wife Rays, or Radiance, and begat the sun, and so light came into the world.

In yet another Takitumu version Uru-te-ngangana takes one Iriiri-pua to wife, and their offspring are Te Au-matangi, Tongatonga, and Tama-rereti. The last-named we shall hear more of anon, but Te Au-matangi is not explained. The name probably represents a personification. Tongatonga was also known as Rama-whiti-tua, which name conveys the sense of light radiating to a distance. One version makes her the daughter of Whiro, who represents darkness. We are told that Uru sojourned a while with Whiro, and then joined Tane, who represents light. A change of sex is noted in different versions of this myth, as in the case of Tangotango or Tongatonga.

In Tahitian myth Atea (space) was taken to wife by one Ruatupua-nui, and produced the sun, moon, stars, and comets.