Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The Maori As He Was : A Brief Account of Maori Life as it was in Pre-European Days


page 32

Myth and religion. Folk-lore. Two versions of many Maori myths. Cosmogony. Personification. The Sky Parent and Earth Mother. Light and darkness personified. Persian concepts in Maori mythology. Origin of light. The waiora a Tane. Tane as the origin of occult knowledge. The twelve heavens. Creation of woman and vegetation. The Dawn Maid. Two spirit-worlds of the Maori. The Maori genius for personification. The Maui myths. Origin of the rainbow. Miscellaneous myths. Rongo and moon. Rona the Tide-controller. The legend of Mataora. Folk-lore. Greenstone myths. Taniwha and tipua. Supernatural beings. Fairy folk. Fables. Mountain lore. Mental condition that produces myths. Maori mentality. Superstitions, omens, signs.

In any description of the mythology of a people occupying the culture plane of the Maori it is impossible to avoid intruding upon the domain of religion. Myth and religion meet upon the common ground of cosmogony and anthropogeny, as also upon that of personification. In the following brief account of the primary myths of the Maori folk it will thus be necessary to give some explanation of the first two grades or classes of the gods of the Maori pantheon—viz., the Supreme Being and the departmental gods. The former is connected with cosmogonic myths, and the latter with the origin of man. It is well to state that these departmental deities, together with most, if not all, of the progeny of the Sky Father and Earth Mother are personified forms of natural phenomena, conditions, and products. Here we encounter natural religion and animism, and these are encrusted with archaic myths in such a manner that the different concepts have become welded together into a decidedly harmonious whole. This aspect has undoubtedly been produced by the ever-present and persistent human desire to account for the origin of all natural phenomena, of man, of life and death.

It may be said that there is a wide gulf between the primary or sacerdotal myths of the Maori and their common page 33 folk-tales. The first are practically a part of their religion, while the latter are not connected with it, but merely with superstition and the mythopoetic faculty. Polynesian myths and religious ideas illustrate the mentality of the race, and form a highly interesting study. The native concept of a Supreme Being, and their conception of the soul in nature, are pitched upon a high plane of thought, and point to very remarkable powers of abstraction.

There are usually two forms of the superior Maori myths to be considered, as apart from ordinary folk-lore. These forms are in sympathy with the two aspects of the old-time native religion, and in both cases they may be described as the esoteric and exoteric versions. This double aspect pertains to native concepts concerning the origin of the universe and of man, to those of the spirit-world, and many other subjects. This peculiar double aspect hinges upon the fact that there were two classes or grades of experts engaged in conserving and teaching sacerdotal and traditional lore. Possessing no form of script or other mode of recording events, all such knowledge was preserved by means of oral tradition. The superior class of experts was taught the superior version of archaic myths and religious practices. These were viewed as being extremely tapu, and were known to few persons; the bulk of the people knew naught of them. A secondary class of experts was not taught in the high school of learning, but acquired a considerable amount of knowledge of a less authentic nature. These secondary tohunga never acquired what may be termed the higher teachings, such as the ritual pertaining to the Supreme Being, and the more refined versions of the higher myths.

In the superior version of the cosmogonic myths of the Maori we are told that the universe was brought into being through the instrumentality of Io, the Supreme Being. It was he who willed that the earth should appear; he was the primal origin of all things; everything on earth or in the heavens could be traced back to the one cause, the sole origin, Io the Parent, Io the Eternal.

In the other version the name of the Supreme Being does not appear; it never does appear in any of the ordinary teachings intended for the many. In place of a creation by that Being we have an evolutionary process arranged in genealogical form, showing the development of mind, of matter, earth and sky, of light, and finally of man, from primal chaos, nothingness, and darkness. These remarkable page 34 allegorical myths embody some extraordinary concepts illustrating the powers of the ancestors of the Polynesians in the line of abstract thought. They are encountered from New Zealand northward to the Hawaiian Isles. The cosmogonic myths of New Zealand, of the Tahitian, Samoan, Hawaiian, and Marquesas Groups, are notable examples. One Maori form carries us back to the cosmogonic tree of the old world. Another peculiar feature is that of wholesale personification. Natural phenomena and conditions are treated as entities, as sentient beings, and these beget personifications of other conditions. From the primal period, termed the Po, an expression that implies, night, darkness, and the unknown, were gradually evolved light and all other conditions, all matter, all beings. The ancestors of our Maori folk, in their strivings to discover origins, apparently thought out what they deemed a probable or feasible line of evolution, and then taught the same in the form of allegorical myth. Thus Darkness begat Light, for the stars were the offspring of Whiro, the personified form of darkness, in one version.

Fig. 18.—Rakau whakapapa: a mnemonic aid to memory, employed in reciting genealogies

Fig. 18.—Rakau whakapapa: a mnemonic aid to memory, employed in reciting genealogies

In one of these curious evolutionary formulae Conception is given as the forbear of Growth, who produced Energy; then follow Thought, Mind, Desire, &c. Then come various phases of Po and other conditions of chaos, until the last one, in conjunction with Atea (space), produces the heavens. The sky is personified in Rangi, who takes Papa, the Earth Mother, to wife, and this twain beget seventy offspring, all males, and all supernatural beings. Many of these are personifications, as of light, the sun, moon, darkness, wind, rain, clouds, lightning, &c. Some are described as originating beings—tutelary beings and “parents” of fish, birds, stars, stones, &c.; while yet others were denizens of the uppermost heavens. From among these offsprings were page 35 selected many of the poutiriao, or guardians appointed by the Supreme Being to watch over and preserve the welfare of the different realms of the universe.

The following are the best-known members of the numerous offspring of the primal parents, Rangi and Papa, the Sky Father and Earth Mother: Tane, who is the personified form of the sun; Tane the Fertilizer, he who fertilized the earth and caused it to produce trees and herbage, as also man, who was born of the Earth-formed Maid. Rongo, who represents the moon, as shown in Hawaiian myth, is the patron of peace and the art of agriculture. Tu, who is the patron of war and death, probably personified the setting sun, as he did in Babylonia and Egypt. Whiro personifies darkness, evil, and death. Tangaroa is the origin and personification of all fish, though he occupies a much more important position in the mythology of some groups of Polynesia. Tawhiri-matea personifies wind; and Ngana, or Uru-te-ngangana, was the origin of stars. Kiwa was the guardian of the ocean; Te Ihorangi personifies rain; while Ruaumoko is the origin of earthquakes and all volcanic disturbances.

The curious myth concerning the children of the Earth Mother is to the effect that, in the night of time, sky and earth were in close contact, the Sky Parent embraced the Earth Mother, and Light was not. The offspring of the primal parents dwelt in gloom; darkness enveloped the earth. From this darkness the offspring found means to escape, and so came forth and found light—not the bright light we know, but a dim, subdued light. In order to obtain more light, and to relieve their confined position, it was resolved to separate Sky and Earth; the closely embracing parents must be separated. This was effected principally through the efforts of Tane. Despite their lamentations, regardless of their affection for each other, the parents were violently separated; their limbs, as they clung to each other, were severed; the sky was thrust far upward. Even so, the offspring gained space and freedom to move about athwart the breast of the Earth Mother. But ever do the primal parents yearn for each other, and bewail their separation; ever fall the tears of the Sky Parent in the form of rain and dew, and ever the rising mist betokens the love of Papa, the Earth Mother.

This harsh treatment received at the hands of her children failed to embitter the old Earth Mother. When the parents discussed the disposal of their descendants when page 36 death should overtake them, Rangi said, “Let us place them between us.” But the gentle Earth Mother said, “Not so; leave them to me. Though they have rebelled against us, yet they are still my children. I brought them forth to the world of life, in death they shall find rest within me. Mine shall be the care of the dead.” Even so we see that man, when struck down by Whiro, or Maiki-nui, is buried within the body of the old Earth Mother.

Now there came about the first great contest known in the world—the fierce, long-continued struggle between Tane and Whiro. This is but another version of the old Persian myth, wherein Ohmuzd and Ahriman strive for mastery, the one personifying light and goodness, the other darkness and evil. In Whiro we have the personification of evil, darkness, and death; while Tane represents light and life, but he cannot be said to personify goodness. The clear contest between good and evil was not a Maori concept. After many encounters Whiro and his legions were defeated, and retired to Rarohenga, the underworld. Thus was Darkness defeated by Light; thus was the personified form of darkness and evil driven down to the underworld, the realm of Rarohenga. In that realm is Tai-whetuki, the dread House of Death, wherein dwell Whiro, and Maiki-nui, Maiki-roa, Maiki-kunawhea, and many others, a grisly company. These are the personified forms of disease, sickness, and all grievous affictions. Ever they assail mankind; ever they strive to destroy man, who dwells in the Ao Marama, or Taiao, the world of light and life, this upper world. That strife never ceases; and the visible form of dread Whiro the Destroyer in this world is the lizard.