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Anthropology and Religion

II The Gods Create Man

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II The Gods Create Man


A Comparative study of the details of the religion in the different island groups of Polynesia reveals the interesting fact that, while some of the names of the gods are common and shared, a large number of names are purely local and are not shared by other islands. The historical time sequence shows that the shared gods had their birth before dispersal took place from some common center, and that the local gods, many of whose names occur in the family lineages, originated after the particular island was settled. Some of the local gods are so recent that on the advent of Christianity they were family gods that had not reached the status of tribal gods. The older gods that were shared by so many islands we may consider as major gods, while those of more recent date and of purely local origin we may regard as minor gods. Let us seek the home of the major gods, where the foundations of Polynesian belief were laid.

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Cultural Center of Polynesia

The Polynesian people inhabit the islands included in a vast triangle formed by Hawaii in the north, New Zealand in the south, and Easter Island in the east. The portal of entry of the early navigators is on the western base line stretching between Hawaii and New Zealand, and the apex is at Easter Island, the most easterly island of Polynesian settlement. The Society Islands form the geographical center of the triangle.

A comparative study of the myths, legends, traditions, genealogies, and historical narratives of Polynesia indicates convincingly that the cultural center corresponds with the geographical center, the Society Islands. From this center, eight radiating lines along the main cardinal points of the compass lead to the various island groups settled by the Polynesians. On all these radials, except the one to the west, the names of the major gods occur. The western radial leads to Samoa and Tonga, and in these groups the name of but one major god is known. From this distribution, it would appear that the descendants of the other major gods must have made their way direct from Micronesia to the Society Islands without passing through Samoa.

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In the Society Islands, legend and tradition attribute seniority in chieftainship and in the priesthood to the island of Ra'iatea, of which the ancient name was Havai'i, the Hawaiki of New Zealand legends. On this island a powerful priesthood arose in the district of Opoa. Here a religious temple, beginning in a simple form, grew in size and importance until it became the great international temple of Taputapu-atea. I visited this temple in 1929. The walls of the raised platform were formed of limestone slabs that rose twelve feet above the ground. Some of these outer slabs had fallen to the ground and revealed the inner, lower slabs of an earlier structure. Thus the process of decay revealed the growth that had taken place in the past. In the heyday of its fame, chiefs and priests had sailed to this ancient religious center from the near-by island groups to lay their offerings on the sacred temple of Taputapu-atea.

The Major Gods

In order not to confuse the reader with unfamiliar names, I will submit but four of the major gods in this brief outline of Polynesian religion. These are Tane, Rongo, Tu, and Tangaroa, names which, I think, will not be found in Indonesia or the early page 36lands from whence the Polynesians came. Knowing what happened in the development of selected ancestral names into names for social groups or tribes and in the deification of selected ancestors as gods, I feel that the Polynesian technique of deifying ancestors applies to the major gods I have mentioned. I believe that the major gods—Tane, Rongo, Tu, Tangaroa—and the other older gods were navigating ancestors who guided their voyaging ships through the later part of the eastward movement through Micronesia into the Society Islands. They may have actually landed on these islands, for Ra'iatea was peopled for some centuries before dispersal took place. There was ample time for them to be deified and then to become enshrouded with the mists of antiquity. The older ancestral gods that were worshiped in the land of origin or were created along the early part of the eastward voyages were dropped, forgotten, and supplanted by later deified ancestors.

It may be taken for granted that the various family groups that developed in Ra'iatea worshiped the particular deified ancestor from whom they were descended. They paid particular deference to their own deified ancestor but were well acquainted with the gods of their neighbors. We have historical evidence of this in the traditions that wars took place between the different major gods. The wars of the gods were page 37the struggles that took place between the descendants of those who created them.

The Growth of Theology

As the temple of Taputapu-atea rose to fame, so did the prestige of the priests associated with it. The priests formed a religious seminary which combined the fragments of myths that had filtered through with the early voyagers and worked them into a pattern to form a theology that was influenced by their oceanic background. "The priests gathered together the warp of myth and the weft of history and wove them into the textile of theology."* The various major gods who had different family origins had their advocates among the priests. Claims to precedence were settled by bringing the major gods together in one family by making them the children of the same father and mother.

The priests, influenced by the social custom of sharing food and material goods, proceeded to share or divide supernatural influence and power among the family of gods. The original sharing of power is revealed to us by the patterns that persisted in the marginal groups of islands that are separated from the center by long expanses of ocean. They ad-page 38hered to an early pattern and did not participate in the further development that occurred in the center after dispersal had taken place.

In this early form of supernatural government by the gods, special departments were created for the major gods. The major gods became departmental gods and were appealed to according to the particular desires of the people. Tane was given Forestry and hence controlled trees, birds, and insect life. He naturally became the tutelary deity of wood craftsmen. Before a tree could be felled in the forest for a voyaging ship or an important house, Tane had to be placated with a ritual chant or invocation; and before commencing an important task, an offering was made to Tane by the craftsmen. Tu was given the department of War, and warriors were dedicated to his service. Rongo presided over Horticulture and Food and, as a plentiful supply can be produced by cultivation only in a time of peace, Rongo also became God of Peace. Tangaroa ruled over the Marine Department and hence was appealed to by deep-sea voyagers and fishermen. This simple, straightforward pattern occurs in New Zealand, but, while the main principles also exist in other marginal groups, certain changes occur. Thus some gods are given greater influence and others are demoted.

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* P. H. Buck (Te Rangi Hiroa), Vikings of the Sunrise (New York, 1938).

The Parents of the Gods

Having created major gods, placed them in one family, and given them departments to rule over, the priests were faced with the problem of creating parents for them. Here they entered the realm of meta-physics. No ordinary living persons could be given the posts of parents of gods, so the priesthood personified natural phenomena to fill the positions. The male parent was Atea, the personification of space which lies above the surface of land and sea; the female parent was Papa, the personification of the earth stratum, or land. It is interesting here to theorize on the symbolism of the Sky-father and the Earth-mother. It seems natural that a seafaring people who voyaged over open spaces and wide expanses of ocean in search of land should personify space and earth. However, the concept of the Sky-father and the Earth-mother occurs back in Indonesia, whence the Polynesians came. The concept appears to be too old to have originated in Polynesia itself, and apparently it is one of the myths that was carried along from an ancient homeland. Though it occurs in various forms along seven radials, it is not present in the west. Granted a ready-made Sky-father and Earth-mother, what the priests at Opoa did was to con-page 40nect the newly created major gods to an older myth.

In some islands, two other mythical characters were associated with Atea and Papa. They were Te Tumu (Cause), a male, and Hakahotu (To-take-form), a female. In Penrhyn atoll, Atea married Hakahotu and produced the gods. In Rarotonga, Te Tumu married Papa and produced the gods. In Hawaii, Wakea (Atea) married both Papa and Ho'ohoku (Hakahotu) and produced islands. In the revised mythology of Tahiti, Atea was first a female and then changed sexes with Fa'ahotu (Hakahotu) to become a male. It is evident that different schools in personifying the ideas of a primary cause and material form have mixed them up with the clear-cut concept of Atea and Papa, who gave birth to the gods.

Space having been personified as the Sky-father, some explanation had to be given of why he was so far removed from the Earth-mother. The Sky-father was termed Atea, Vatea, and Wakea in various islands. In the Marquesas, he had the double name of Atea-Rangi, and in New Zealand, the word Atea was dropped and Rangi retained, so that the Sky-father became Rangi (Sky). In order to carry out the theme of the primary parents giving birth to the gods, the human method of reproduction was followed. The Sky-father was materialized as a male page 41who originally embraced the Earth-mother and remained in close touch with her. Their children—Tane, Rongo, Tu, Tangaroa, and others—were born and lay between them in a circumscribed world of darkness. In the New Zealand version, the children complained of darkness and lack of space. Some, led by Tane, determined to separate their parents in order to obtain light and space, but a conservative party, led by Whiro, opposed the plan. However, the iconoclasts prevailed, and Tane took the principal part in effecting the separation. At first he tried to push the Sky-parent upwards with his arms but failed. He then inverted himself and, standing on his head, pushed upwards with his feet. This form of leverage was more successful and so Rangi, the Sky-father, was separated from the Earth-mother and relegated to his present position. Trees, which are the children of Tane, are figuratively held to represent the position of Tane during this great feat. The roots represent the hair of the head, which is down in the ground, and the branches are the feet which pushed upwards.

In some island groups, Ru is credited with the task of pushing up the sky. In the Cook Islands, Ru was successful without any bodily ill effect. In Tahiti, however, he failed and contracted an inguinal hernia through the muscular strain. In Tuamotu, he bent page 42his spine and was termed Ru-the-humpback. Raising the sky was a wonderful theme to which various details were added. In the tropical islands where arrowroot grew, the Sky was raised in stages. In the first, low stage, it rested on the leaves of the arrowroot which thus became permanently flattened. In New Zealand, where there was no arrowroot, the arrowroot stage of elevation does not occur.

The Sky having been raised on high, light came into their world and the gods were enabled to assume the erect position. The god Tane attached the sun, moon, and stars to the breast of the Sky-father, and day was divided from night. The god Whiro, who had led the opposition, retired into the underworld to live in the darkness that he preferred.

The Era of Darkness

The organization of a theology did not stop at the creation of the Sky-father and the Earth-mother and the details connected with them. There was a vague period preceding them, which began with Chaos and Darkness. The literary tools used by the Polynesian mythologists were personification and genealogy. Chaos or Void was personified by Kore (Nothing) and the primeval darkness by Po (Night). In some versions, the prolonged period of darkness was num-page 43bered as the First Night, the Second Night, and so on in sequence to the Tenth Night. In other versions, the Po received qualifying terms, such as Po-tinitini (Myriad Nights), Po-tangotango (Impenetrable Night), and Po-kerekere (Abysmal Night). Darkness was succeeded by various degrees of light from the merest flicker to perceptible light. In the classical Kumu-lipo chant of Hawaii, there are eleven eras of darkness, and the recital of each era ends with the sentence, "It is night." The twelfth era ends the long period of night, and the canto ends with the significant sentence, "It is light." Thus natural phenomena in varying degrees of intensity were personified, placed in an ordered sequence of evolution, and recited as a genealogy. The content and the sequence may vary in different island groups but, in spite of local variations, emendations, and elaborations, we see through them all the groping of the human mind to understand an ordered sequence in nature from the darkness that is dead to the light that is living. We emerge from the bondage of darkness into the light that sets us free.

Besides the antithesis between darkness and light, the concepts of plant and animal growth were dealt with in this early period by the usual techniques of personification and genealogical sequence. Plant growth is set out in some such form as follows:

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The Rootlets.
The Tap Root.
The Trunk.
The Branches.
The Twigs.
The Leaves.

This is not only an enumeration of the parts of a tree, it also conveys the sequence in which these parts came into being.

With regard to human growth, the sequence deals with birth and adds a few personifications to indicate the development of mind wherein man differs from plants.

Labor Pains.
Bursting of [amniotic] fluid.

It is interesting from an evolutionary point of view that plants, fish, birds, insects, and reptiles are given as originating before man. I am not foolish enough to attempt to link this up with the Darwinian theory of evolution. It is capable of a very simple explanation. The Polynesian mythologists and story-tellers used dramatic effect in their recitals, and it page 45was quite natural that they should enumerate plants and animals in a sequence that led up to the climax, man. But, in order to give man a divine origin, the major gods had to be created before him. Hence the periods of darkness and of light culminate in the Sky-father and the Earth-mother, who gave birth to the gods.

Origin of Island Groups

Before we go further, we must deal with the origin of the island groups that were to form the habitation of man. Land, as personified by the Earth-mother, was a symbol of land in general. The island groups that were subsequently discovered had their own individual origin.

With the concept of an Earth-mother, it would have been easy for the priests to have said that the Earth-mother gave birth to children of her own kind. But the Earth-mother had already been selected as the mother of the gods, and evidently the mythologists at Opoa were averse to mixing the nature of her progeny. In only one island group, Hawaii, did the Earth-mother give birth to islands, and in this group her motherhood of the gods has been somewhat obscured. However, it is one of three versions concerning the origin of the islands. In the west, Samoa and Tonga, the god Tangaroa threw down page 46rocks into the sea and they became islands. These concepts are sporadic and not worthy of deep-sea explorers and discoverers.

The more widely spread theories of the origin of islands are that they simply emerged from the depths of the ocean or were fished up, not by the gods but by the culture hero Maui. These theories are a metaphorical way of stressing the fact that the islands were discovered by man. In the Tahitian song concerning an ancestor named Ru, each of the islands of the leeward group of the Society Islands emerges from the sea to the drumming of the surf as Ru journeys among them. Then the drumming of the surf recedes to other neighboring groups, which emerge in the sequence given by the song. The island of Tahiti was peopled from Ra'iatea, and hence a mythical story was composed to relate that, owing to the breaking of a severe taboo in Ra'iatea, a portion of the island broke off and floated down to its present position as Tahiti. When the Polynesian navigators discovered new islands, they had to work along the surf-beaten outer reef to find some channel through which they could pass to make a landing. The song of Ru thus expresses in poetic language the discovery of islands. Similarly, the fishing up of islands is another literary expression, because the discoverer fished them up out of the unknown where page 47he found them. It is quite in keeping with the Polynesian trend to elaborate stories that details of bait, hook, and line should be added to create a literary composition. The culture hero Maui may have discovered one or more groups originally, but the story became so popular that it was applied to islands that Maui never saw. In the course of centuries, the metaphorical language of ancient legends has come to be accepted literally by later generations of Polynesians.

Another myth applied to some islands is that they were floating about and their position was afterwards fixed by the gods, who attached them to the bottom of the sea. This story was applied to the islands of Aitutaki and Rarotonga in the Cook group. Tahiti was regarded as a fish that swam to its present position from Ra'iatea; its sinews had to be cut to prevent it from moving. Here again we find a literary expression to denote the uncertain location of islands until their locality was fixed by their human discoverers. The calling in of the gods to fix the position was for the purpose of adding further interest by invoking the supernatural.

The Creation of Man

The religious seminary at Opoa, having constructed a theology that accounted for the supernatural origin page 48of the gods, had set the stage for the creation of man. It is in keeping with Polynesian modes of thought that the material side of man, through physical birth, should come from the female and that rank and power should be inherited through the male. The gods, who had no material bodies, were faced with the problem of creating material beings to people the earth. Following the line of thought indicated above, the first created human being was a female. The gods themselves were males, and one of their number supplied the male element for the primary pair that produced the human species. This is the main scheme in the myth of human creation that was subsequently carried to the various island groups, but, in the course of time, the original story suffered local variations and contradictions.

The New Zealand version states that the major gods consulted as to how the human species should be created. The god Tane was delegated to mold some red earth at Kurawaka into the form of a woman. The figure was vitalized into the first human being. Blood flowed through her veins, she breathed, sneezed, opened her eyes, and stood erect. She was named Hine-ahu-one, the Earth-formed-maid, the human mother of mankind.

Tane took the Earth-formed-maid to wife and begat a daughter named the Dawn-maiden. The incest page 49that is inevitable with a primary pair took place between Tane and his daughter. Offspring were produced and the populating of the world began.

In some versions, a character named Tiki takes the place of Tane as the male in the act of human creation with the Earth-formed-maid. Some authorities hold that Tiki was a term used to denote the virile power of Tane, but in other groups Tiki was regarded as the first human male. Hence carvings in human form are termed tiki in memory of the first man. In Mangareva, where Tane is demoted to the position of a fisherman, Tiki appears as the grandson of the god Tangaroa, and he molds the first woman out of earth at Ara-kovitiviti. The name given to her is Hina-one (Earth-maid), which corresponds to the New Zealand name. In Tahiti, a similar myth occurs with Ti'i (Tiki) and Hina-one, but this has been overlaid by later versions. In Hawaii, the god Kane (Tane) and his colleagues form a man and a woman out of earth, but the general context of the story shows that the native historian had been influenced by the introduced Biblical version of creation. Another Hawaiian version, however, pairs Ki'i (Tiki) with a female named La'ila'i, as the progenitors of mankind. In the Tuamotu version, both Tiki and his wife have human ancestors. In spite of variations, the prevailing principle is that man was born of a woman created from page 50earth and that the male parent was a god. Thus the New Zealanders say that the material side of man is derived from the human female ancestor, and rank, prestige, and a spark of divinity are derived from the divine male ancestor.

The myth of the Earth-formed-maid is not present in the west, in Samoa and Tonga. Here man was regarded as having developed from worms and maggots that, in turn, were developed from a rotting vine. Hence the creation of man was attributed in the west to a crude form of evolution, whereas in the rest of Polynesia it was attributed to a special creation.

War Among the Gods

A comparative study of the myths concerning the major gods reveals the fact that they were not a united family. In spite of different spheres of influence having been provided for them, they did not always live in peace and harmony with each other. The first disagreement took place before the enforced separation of the Sky-father from the Earth-mother. The separationists ranged themselves under the leadership of Tane, and the opposition, under Whiro. There was bitter opposition to Tane, which continued after the period of the separation of Rangi and Papa, but finally Whiro was defeated. In the Tahitian legends, there is a record of the struggle between Tane and page 51the navigator Hiro. The late Queen Marau of Tahiti regarded Tane as a chief who was a contemporary of Hiro, who lived about the middle of the thirteenth century. It is thus possible that the New Zealanders have projected an historical event back into the period of the gods by confusing a human Tane with the god Tane and therefore adding his human contemporary Hiro under the dialectical form of Whiro to the godhead.

In the Tahitian traditional narratives, it is stated that the gods of Ra'iatea descended upon Tahiti and waged war against the god Tane, who was worshiped at the time in Tahiti. The principal invading god was 'Oro, the son of Ta'aroa (Tangaroa). In the end Tane was defeated. The temples of 'Oro were established in Tahiti, and 'Oro became the principal god of the Society Islands. The Cook Islands' traditions of Aitu-taki, Atiu, and Mangaia state that there was an influx of people to these islands from Tahiti and that they were worshipers of the god Tane. It is thus evident that the wars between the gods were the wars between their followers and that when the worshipers of 'Oro from Ra'iatea conquered the Tahitian followers of Tane, many of the Tahitians left for the Cook Islands rather than submit to their conquerors.

From the myths and traditions of Mangaia in the Cook Islands, it would appear that the Mangaians page 52emigrated from the neighboring island of Rarotonga. The principal god of Rarotonga was Tangaroa. The ancestors of the first settlers to Mangaia must have occupied some inferior status in Rarotonga, for they concealed their sojourn in that island and their voyage from it by saying that the island of Mangaia rose from the ocean depths with their human ancestors upon it. Not only did they shake off the temporal yoke of Rarotonga, but they emancipated themselves from the spiritual yoke of Tangaroa by substituting Rongo in his place. Thus they recast both their history and their mythology. In their mythology, they acknowledged Vatea (Atea) and Papa as the primary parents of the gods. In the family of gods, they placed Tangaroa as the first-born, with Rongo as the second, and Tane and the others following. Tangaroa was neatly disposed of by means of the custom which prevents the parents from eating with their first-born son. Vatea, in dividing his estate among his sons, proposed to give all the food to the first-born, Tangaroa. His wife, Papa, influenced by the desire to share in the food offerings, persuaded Vatea to allocate the red foods to Tangaroa and give all the other food to the second son, Rongo. Red was the color of the gods and high chieftainship, so Vatea consented. At a feast which followed, all foods with a reddish color, cooked or uncooked, were set aside in the heap for Tangaroa. page 53They consisted of coconuts, taro, fish with a reddish tinge, and crayfish and crabs that turn red on cooking. But the red foods were small in quantity, whereas the pile of other foods for Rongo was so great that some rolled off and were trodden underfoot. The symbol of chieftainship went to Tangaroa but quantity and variety went to Rongo. Tangaroa, in a huff, left and so was removed as an active member from the Mangaian pantheon. The Mangaians further concealed their mundane history by making their primary ancestors the children of the god Rongo. Hence the story of the Earth-formed-maid was omitted from Mangaian mythology. It is interesting to note that the Mangaians added the Rarotongan ancestor Tangiia to their gods but projected him back in time by making him a brother of Tangaroa and Rongo.

In Mangareva, the principal god was Tu, but he was made the eldest son of Tangaroa instead of his brother. Atea was present as one of the earliest gods but he appeared as an individual and not the father of the gods.

It is evident from the mythology of different island groups that a pattern of theology was carried out from the center to the marginal islands along the various radials. The main feature consisted of a number of deified ancestors having been grouped together into one family by making them the children of per-page 54sonifications of Space and Earth. The gods were given separate departments to rule over, but, though they were theoretically equal, different island groups have had the tendency to exalt one member of the family over the others. Thus Tangaroa was exalted in the Society and Cook Islands, Tane in New Zealand and Hawaii, Rongo in Mangaia, and Tu in Mangareva. In the process of exalting a particular god above his fellows, the older pattern of mythology was sometimes altered to fit the circumstances, as in the supplanting of the elder brother Tangaroa by Rongo in Mangaia. The struggle among the gods for greater prestige was merely a reflection of what took place among their human followers.

Later Elaboration in Ra'iatea

A study in Tahitian theology reveals the fact that, after the family of gods had radiated from Taputapu-atea with the colonizing ships, further elaboration took place at that center of religious teaching. The priests who supported Ta'aroa (Tangaroa) seemed to have gained the ascendancy, for the cult of Ta'aroa was spread from Ra'iatea to Tahiti and forced upon the followers of Tane in that island. An early stage of this cult spread as far as Rarotonga in the Cook Islands, for Tangaroa there was merely the principal god and not a creator. At Taputapu-atea, however, page 55Ta'aroa was elevated to the position of Creator, and the old pattern of mythology was changed accordingly. This is the new tale that the priestly scholars elaborated:

"Ta'aroa, the Creator, was self-begotten, for he had no father and no mother. He sat in a shell named Rumia, shaped like an egg, for countless ages in endless space in which there was no sky, land, sea, moon, nor stars. This was the period of continuous, countless darkness and thick impenetrable darkness. At long last Ta'aroa cracked the shell to hatch himself. He stood on the shell and called in various directions, but no sound answered from the void. He retired within Rumia into an inner shell termed Lesser-foundation, where he lay torpid for a further untold period. At last he determined to act. He emerged and made the inner shell of Rumia into a foundation for the rock and soil of the world, and the outer shell he made into the dome of the sky which was low and confined. He breathed into the rock foundation the essence of himself and personified it as Tumu-nui to be the husband; likewise he personified the rock stratum as Papa-raharaha to be the wife. . . . Then Ta'aroa created rock, sand, and Earth. He conjured up Tu, the great craftsman, to help him in the task of creation, and together they formed the myriad roots. The dome of Rumia was raised on pillars, and page 56thus space beneath was extended. The space was termed atea and pervaded with a spirit personified as Atea. Land and space were increased, and the underworld was set apart. Forest trees and food plants grew, and living things appeared on the land and in the sea. At the back were the mountains personified as Tu-mou'a, with land, springs, and rivers. In front was the ocean and its rocks ruled by the ocean lord Tino-rua. Above was Atea (Space) and below was Rua (Abyss). The land was Havai'i, the birthplace of other lands, gods, kings, and man.

"Darkness brooded under the confined dome of Rumia. The gods Tu, Atea, Uru, and others were created or conjured forth by Ta'aroa in darkness. From Ta'aroa and Atea (here a female) the god Tane was born. Rongo was born from a cloud and then Atea changed sex to become a male." *

This version of Ta'aroa's existing in a shell shaped like an egg and then emerging as a creator exists only in the Society Islands and was evidently composed at Taputapu-atea after the colonists had left for other islands. It places Ta'aroa at the beginning of the evolutionary period of natural phenomena to predate the Sky-father Atea. Atea is further demoted by changing his sex to female and making him the mother of Tane. The older myth is then reverted to by re-page 57storing his original sex. Competition from the powerful Tane is further disposed of by making him the son of Ta'aroa and Atea, while the other major gods, Tu and Rongo, are simply conjured forth by Ta'aroa. Thus did the priests of Opoa consolidate in heaven the victory they had won on earth.

A later elaboration was the creation of 'Oro as the son of Ta'aroa. Ta'aroa was retired as an emeritus, and his son 'Oro became the active functioning god at the temple of Taputapu-atea. Again the Ra'iatean fleets sailed to Tahiti to proselytize the people. After severe fighting, 'Oro was imposed on the Tahitians, and a new temple named Taputapu-atea was erected for his worship in the district of Tautira. In time, 'Oro became the principal god of the Society Islands but his worship spread no farther. The name of 'Oro as a son of Ta'aroa does not occur in the myths and genealogies of any island group but the Society Islands. This limited distribution supports my contention that 'Oro was a late addition to the Society Islands' pantheon.

The promotion of Ta'aroa as a creator did not do away with the worship of other gods. He was merely supreme among many, and the remade theology remained polytheistic.

We have seen that the early polytheistic pattern evolved at Ra'iatea was carried in its original sim-page 58plicity to New Zealand, but local additions were made to the family of the Sky-father and the Earth-mother. A notable addition was that of Haumea as the god of uncultivated food. The name of Haumea is present in other island myths but appears usually as a female who has no connection with uncultivated food. The new function of Haumea in New Zealand was due to certain local conditions that did not occur on the volcanic islands of the tropics. The New Zealand climate was so much colder than that of Polynesia that the coconut, breadfruit, plantain, and banana would not grow, and even the introduced sweet potato, taro, and yam were restricted to the warmer parts of the islands. This curtailment in cultivated food supplies rendered the endemic bracken fern (Pteris aquilina var. esculenta) very important. The underground rhizome of this plant was rich in carbohydrates, and, being widely spread, it became a more constant and a surer source of carbohydrate food than the introduced plants. The god of the introduced food plants was Rongo, but, as the bracken fern was recognized as growing wild in the new country, the care of this uncultivated food was given to Haumea. As Haumea was added to a male pantheon, the sex was apparently accepted as being male. Hence local conditions have had an influence on the personnel of the family of the gods.

* P. H. Buck (Te Rangi Hiroa), Vikings of the Sunrise, p. 69.

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In addition, however, to changes in and additions to the old pattern, there is evidence that an esoteric school arose in some part of New Zealand, probably in the Wairarapa district of the North Island. Like the religious seminary at Taputapu-atea, the New Zealand school created a creator but gave him the name of Io. Like Ta'aroa, Io had no parents but simply came into being. He was then made responsible for the creation of the already existing pattern of religion, but certain additions were made. Two more skies were added to the older count of ten, and Io went into residence in the twelfth, or topmost, sky. A house was provided for him, named Rangiatea, and the assembly place before it was named Te Rauroha. A staff of Celestial Maids (Mareikura) was provided, and Guardians (Poutiriao) were appointed to the series of sky levels which were given individual names. Messengers were engaged to carry on communication between Io and the major gods who were not interfered with in the new reorganization. As Io was regarded as the source of all knowledge, a new incident was added in Tane's ascending to the topmost heaven to obtain the three baskets of knowledge from Io. An old incident was introduced when Whiro tried to oppose Tane's mis-page 60sion but Tane was eventually victorious. It will be seen that the New Zealand revision was much more smoothly accomplished than that at Taputapu-atea. Furthermore, there is no evidence that the Maori school attempted to proselytize other tribes. The cult of Io seems to have been an intellectual effort confined to the higher priesthood and to have a limited distribution. Except for the element of predating a creator, there is no similarity in the details of the cults of Io and Ta'aroa. Io steps into the picture as a new individual with a higher prestige than the major gods, but the religion of the people remained polytheistic.

A third center of religious activity resulting in drastic changes appears in the Tuamotu atolls. From native informants and from his translations of various chants, J. F. Stimson has come to the belief that the Tuamotuans also had a creator named Kiho or Kio. Kio fights with Atea and others for supremacy and conquers them. It is tempting to see a similarity between Kio and Io, but, as the Maoris do not drop the consonant k, they seem to be distinct words. Furthermore, an analysis of the details of the Tuamotuan and New Zealand myths show nothing in common beyond the promotion of an individual above his fellows. Here again the religion remained polytheistic.

There has been a tendency to regard these sporadic occurrences of a creator as evidence that the Poly-page 61nesians originally had a monotheistic religion which was later changed to polytheism. From the pattern of Polynesian society, which in turn influenced the religious pattern, we see that the dominant features are the distribution and sharing of food and material goods and the budding off into family groups ruled by their own chiefs. The offerings of food and the division of power among a number of gods follow the human pattern. At the same time, there was a constant struggle for supreme power among the chiefs, and this struggle was reflected in the various island groups in the wars of the gods for supremacy. I believe that Polynesian religion has always been polytheistic but that intellectuals among the priesthood have in some localities elevated a particular god to supremacy among his fellows by making him a creator. I regard these versions of a creator as late sporadic efforts that took place after the general dispersal and not as the remnants of an ancient general monotheism.


We have seen that in a simple stage of social development man created his gods. The parents of the gods were human beings who had their place in the family genealogy. The technique of deification was continued by family groups until the advent of Christianity. page 62There is a certain affinity between gods and eponymous ancestors whose names were used to denote tribes and subtribes. The major gods and tribal ancestors were earlier in time and were shared by many, whereas the minor gods and subtribal ancestors were later in time and were shared by a lesser number of people.

With the passing of years and the growth of an intellectual and imaginative priesthood, some of the deified ancestors who had led the great voyages into central Polynesia were given a greater prestige by changing a human parentage into a supernatural origin to fit in with a reconstructed theology. The abandoned and forgotten human parents were replaced by the personifications of the Sky-father and the Earth-mother. Additional prestige was given to these major gods by reversing the earlier technique and making them the creators of man. Thus man-created gods in their turn created man.