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

The Origin of the Rainbow

The Origin of the Rainbow

Here we have one of the curious myths that pertain to natural phenomena. The story of Uenuku and the Mist Maiden is one known far and wide across the world, and many lands have told it. As preserved by the Tuhoe folk of the Urewera district we are told that the Mist Maid, one Hine-pukohu-rangi (Celestial Mist Maid) came down to earth in order to bathe in the waters of this world. This being is the personified form of mist, the white mists we see rising from the body of the Earth Mother in early morn. Her sister is Hine-wai, who personifies light, misty rain. These two maids came down to earth from their abode in the heavens, and enjoyed the waters of this world. As they did so Uenuku saw them, and became so enamoured of the beautiful Mist Maid that he resolved to capture her. This he succeeded in doing, and so Uenuku took the beautiful Mist Maid to wife. She did not dwell with him openly and continuously, but came to earth each night and sojourned with him until dawn, when she returned to the heavens. Her sister Hine-wai accompanied her each night and warned her of the approach of day, that the twain might depart ere dawn arrived. The Mist Maid would not allow herself to be seen by the people, nor would she let Uenuku mention her to them. He was told that he must not mention her until her child was born, otherwise she would forsake him for ever.

This condition of affairs continued for some time, but at last Uenuku could no longer refrain from boasting of his lovely bride, and he decided to allow his people to see her. In order to effect this he carefully closed all apertures and crevices of his abode, so that no ray of light might enter therein. His plan was to keep the place in utter darkness until day came, that the Mist Maid might be deceived into believing that night still held, and so she might be exhibited to the people. That plan succeeded full well, to the discomfiture of the Mist Maid and the utter undoing of Uenuku. For, as dawn approached, Hine-wai called to her sister to awake and depart, but no Mist Maid appeared, and so Hine-wai was compelled to return alone to the heavens.

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When broad daylight arrived the people assembled before the abode of Uenuku in order to gaze upon the fair Mist Maid, of whose beauty he had spoken in such glowing terms. As he drew back the sliding-door of his dwelling the light flashed into it and awoke the sleeping Mist Maid. She rose and came forth from the house, clothed only in her long hair that covered her like a veil. She ascended to the ridge of the house, and stood at the gable-point, where she sang a song of farewell to her earthly husband. Then, as she sang, and as the assembled people gazed upon her, a mist-cloud was seen descending from the heavens. As she concluded her song, the mist reached and enveloped her. Then, as the column of mist rose and ascended to the heavens, it was seen that the Mist Maid had vanished. Never again was the Mist Maid seen by her deceiver; never again did Uenuku behold his lost bride.

As time wore on, Uenuku, urged on by regrets and remorse, set forth in search of the lost one. Over far lands and distant seas he sought her in vain; through long, weary years he continued his fruitless search. In distant realms of forgotten names old age came to Uenuku, and death found him. But the gods of old knew of his remorse and faithful search, and so transformed him into the rainbow that, in many hues, bestrides the far horizon. And when we see that bow we know it to be Uenuku, he who found and lost the peerless Mist Maid.

Even so, when the Dawn Maid comes to us with gleaming presence, and passes on her way pursued by Tane, we may look upon the fair Mist Maid as she rises from the breast of the old Earth Mother and ascends to her home in the heavens. And Uenuku, the Seeker, he who lost his bride through disobedience, still tarries afar off, and spans the wall of the heavens as though yet in search of Hine the Mist Maiden.