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

The Two Spirit-worlds of the Maori

The Two Spirit-worlds of the Maori

We may here draw attention to the fact that Maori religion and mythology were in a very interesting stage of evolution at the time when the arrival of Europeans page 40 broke down the system. These barbaric folk had evolved a belief in two distinct spirit-worlds resembling that borrowed and developed by Christianity. These two realms would probably have been developed, in the course of time, into a heaven and hell, such as those of Christian teachings. The peculiar conditions of life in the underworld were so strange that some change in the conception, as time rolled on, would presumably have been inevitable. The spirits of both good and evil persons went to the underworld, where, if not protected by the Dawn Maid, Whiro would assuredly destroy them. Again, some spirits of the dead ascended to the heavens, where they abode in the uppermost of the twelve heavens, where Io-matua, Io the Parent, abides. There is no word of any trouble or danger in this upper spirit-world—in fact, evil had apparently no place in that realm.

Now, the Maori had never evolved or borrowed the belief in punishment of the human soul after death, neither does he appear to have developed a clear, universal code of ethics. Hence there was no system of rewards and punishments in the spirit-world, nor were there separate realms for the spirits of good and evil persons. Yet the belief in two spirit-worlds existed, while in the underworld forces of evil existed under a personified form of evil. Thus the Maori had advanced far in his search for knowledge in this direction, the destination and fate of the human soul. Greater power in priestly hands, and better recognition of the forces of good and evil, would probably have given him a hell and a heaven such as ours.

The popular conception of the underworld is that the ex Dawn Maid destroys man, but the higher teaching was that above given. The bulk of the people knew little or naught of the upper spirit-world, which has the aspect of an aristocratic realm, or concept. The statements made by some natives concerning punishment of the soul in the spirit-world are the result of missionary teachings.

The only explanation given of the fact that spirits of the dead went to two different realms is that those who sympathized with Papa, the Earth Mother, in regard to the forcible separation of the primal parents go to her in the spirit. They descend to Rarohenga, the subterranean spirit-world. The spirits of those who sympathized with Rangi, the Sky Parent, ascend by means of the whirlwind to the uppermost of the twelve heavens, where they are welcomed by the mareikura, or celestial maids.

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It is just possible that the peculiar aspect of the Maori beliefs in two spirit-worlds and the destination of the human soul after death may be due to racial mixture and a consequent mingling of two mythological systems. On the other hand, they may represent a local development, a concept evolved by the ancestors of the Maori folk—that is to say, of the Polynesians. I am inclined to think, in face of evidence from many lands, that the latter view is correct.

The concept of two distinct spirit-worlds, one subterranean and the other a celestial realm, is apparently connected with the recognition of the importance of the opposing conditions of light and darkness. In a cosmogonic genealogy of much interest preserved by natives of the Waikato district Io appears as the origin of everything, the creator. The stars are brought into being, then the moon and sun, the moon being of the female sex and the sun a male. Then come, in the form of a double line of descent, male and female lines from sun and moon in genealogical form. The male line contains nineteen names commencing with Ao, a word denoting daytime, and followed by a qualifying or explanatory term, after which comes Rangi (sky). The female line, coming from the moon, contains nineteen names commencing with Po, a word meaning night, and then comes Papa, the Earth Mother. Sky and Earth come together; the Sky Parent mates with old Terra Mater, and their progeny we have already referred to. Herein we have two distinct lines of descent, male and female, illustrating the phases of light and darkness. The two coalesce in the union of sky and earth, of the male and female elements, after which Tane created the Earth-formed Maid as a progenitor of the human race. Thus man has a double origin: he is partially divine—he has within him a portion of the ira atua, or supernatural life, inherited from Tane.