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

Miscellaneous Myths

Miscellaneous Myths

Some curious myths are connected with the heavenly bodies, as we have seen in the case of Tane. A more popular form is that in which the sun is said to have two wives, Hine-raumati, the Summer Maid, and Hine-takurua, the Winter Maid; he spends half the year with each. In Hina, the personified form of the moon, we have a female who appears in two phases, as Hina-keha (Pale Hina) and Hina-uri (Darkened Hina), but in Rongo we apparently have a male personification of the page 47 moon. This fact is not supported by much evidence in New Zealand, so far as we know, but is made clear in Hawaiian mythology, wherein Hina ascends to the heavens and is hereafter known as Lono, the Hawaiian form of Rongo. This is Lono of the flashing eyes, who dwells upon the waters—for ever, as in Asiatic myths, the moon is connected with water. In the popular story of Rona we are told that she is the woman in the moon. She was formerly a denizen of this world, but she grievously insulted the moon one night when going to a spring for water, because it did not shine on her path. Hence she was taken up to the moon, where she may be seen with her gourd water-vessel. In the higher form of the myth, however, this puerile folk-tale aspect disappears, and we learn that Rona was the guardian and conductor of the moon, and also the controller of the tides, hence her full name of Rona-whakamautai. Tangaroa, who bears the same title, assists in tide-controlling. There are a number of fables and popular myths pertaining to sun, moon, and stars, all of which come under the head of folk-tales. Of much greater interest are the proofs of former systems of sun and star worship as found in the cult of Tane, and in certain invocations addressed to the planets and more important stars. In Maori belief the stars influenced or betokened weather conditions, and also controlled food-supplies to an important extent.

A peculiarly interesting myth, and evidently a very old one, is that concerning one Mataora, who is said to have visited and sojourned a while in Rarohenga, the underworld of spirits. In this archaic story we learn that Mataora was a denizen of this world who encountered a party of female turehu (beings from the underworld). One of these, by name Niwareka, he took to wife, but, having received ill-treatment at his hands, she left him and returned to her own folk. Mataora then went to Rarohenga in order to recover his lost wife. He found the underworld of spirits to be a most desirable place, a place where no evil, in thought or deed, existed—a realm of peace and harmony. Life in that region, however, seems to have possessed a very material aspect, and people lived very much as they do in this world. For instance, Mataora found them tending crops, building houses, fishing, playing games, and so on. He encountered one Uetonga, who was engaged in tattooing a person, and persuaded the artist to tattoo his face. Previous to that time men of this world had merely painted designs on their faces; they knew not the art of tattooing by page 48 puncturation. Mataora found his wife, but her folk objected to her returning to this world, saying, “Is it a custom of the upper world to beat women?”

Said Tauwehe, brother of Niwareka, “Mataora, abandon the upper world; it is the home of evil; hence we see that all folk of that world eventually come to the lower world through violence and other evils.” Said Uetonga, “The upper world and its deeds of darkness is widely sundered from the underworld, which is a realm of light and benevolence.”

In connection with these remarks, our native informant said: “Observe well the words of Uetonga. Here in the upper world alone are evil deeds known; this is truly the realm of darkness. As to the underworld, no evil is there known, nor darkness; it is a realm of light and rectitude. And this is the reason why, of all the spirits of the dead, from the time of Hine-ahu-one even unto ourselves, no single one has ever returned hither to dwell in this world.”

Finally, Mataora and Niwareka returned to this world, bringing knowledge of the arts of tattooing and weaving. Since that time no being of this world has been allowed to pass down to the underworld and return hither; none save spirits of the dead can enter Rarohenga. Yet these barbaric myths are often inconsistent and contain contradictory statements. The spirit only can enter and dwell in Rarohenga, yet the denizens of that realm are spoken of as possessing our earthly bodies, and as engaging in the ordinary tasks, industries, pastimes of this world. The Turehu folk encountered by Mataora are said to have been residents of Rarohenga, and they ate their food raw, though otherwise described as a folk of considerable culture. Evidently there is here a mixture of myths. A number of Maori folk-tales mention people encountered in far-off lands who were ignorant of the use of fire. Some of these, such as the Nukumaitore, are said to have lived in trees. Portions of such myths have probably been included in the story of Mataora.

In the above myth we possibly have a distorted account of an expedition made by some traveller or voyager of remote times, who encountered a people who practised tattooing and the peculiar method of weaving employed by the Maori of to-day. The fair-skinned Turehu folk may represent a race actually encountered by such a voyager, or simply a myth that has become incorporated with the legendary account of a genuine experience. The myth or story of Mataora may be termed a doubtful one to classify.