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The Coming of the Maori



The theories concerning the natural phenomena fall into two categories, a popular version which was given to the public by expert genealogists and priests and a more select version said to have been held by an inner circle of priests who considered it too sacred to be divulged to the common people.

The popular, or exoteric, version consisted of applying proper names to the phenomena of nature, arranging them in an ordered sequence, and reciting them in the same way as a genealogical table of human descent. The expert genealogists, when they wished to demonstrate their scholarship, recited the sequence of natural phenomena as an academic introduction to the human lineage which was the immediate subject of interest. Such an introduction gave added length and prestige to the human line of descent, and this practical factor may have had as much influence in page 434its compilation as a purely theoretical attempt to interpret the sequence of evolution in the forces of nature. Whichever factor came first, it appears certain that the genealogical method was followed in creating a list of proper names by converting common names, such as kore (nothing) and po (night, darkness), into proper names by prefixing the definite article te (the) and so creating Te Kore (The Void) and Te Po (The Unknown). The list commenced with what was considered the most remote and worked down in sequence to the most recent as in the genealogical tables of human descent.

The most remote phase, as contrasted with the fullness of life, was regarded as a period when there was nothing and the world was a void. This condition was expressed by the word kore (nothing), so Te Kore (The Void) was established at the head of the list. The absolute emptiness of the period was stressed by adding further negative qualities to Te Kore in synonyms such as Te Kore-te-whiwhia (The Void-in-which-nothing-could-be-obtained) and Te Kore-te-rawea (The Void-in-which-nothing-could-be-done). In these additional names the second te is an idiomatic negative. Thus the period of Te Kore expressed the idea of a vacuum in nature wherein nothing existed.

The second phase was a period of darkness and ignorance. This was expressed by the term for night (po) and hence named Te Po. Qualifying terms were added to express various attributes of Te Po. The extent (nui) in space was expressed by Te Po-nui and its length (roa) in time by Te Po-roa. The negative use of te appears in the name Te Po-te-kitea (The Night-in-which-nothing-could-be-seen), which applied to both visual and mental darkness. The intensity of the darkness was expressed by such classical terms as Te Po-uriuri, Te Po-kerekere, and Te Po-tango-tango, each with fine shades of meaning for which there are no satisfactory equivalents in English. The length of Te Po was also stressed by a numerical sequence of ten Po from Te Po-tuatahi (Po-the-first) to Te Po-tuangahuru (Po-the-tenth). I once translated a speech by a Maori orator to a mixed audience. The speaker insisted on reciting each of the ten Po in spite of my whispered suggestion that he avoid monotony by leaving out the numbers between the first and the tenth Po. I was wrong, of course, because what might have appeared monotonous to the European part of the audience gave pleasure to the Maori present and, above all, satisfaction to the orator. The various tribes had their own versions and, no matter what errors might be revealed by a comparative study, the tribal version was the correct rendering for that tribe. The Maori myth composers took short cuts in description by attaching qualifying terms to the main name, but the omission of a name from the accepted list was a hapa (error) which incurred adverse criticism from men and perhaps punishment from the gods.

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From a period of darkness we should pass directly into a period of light, as from night to day, but some accounts have intercalated two other lists of a different nature. One, of selected material terms from plants, conveyed the idea of cause and growth, as in the following list which may have variations and additions:

Te Pu—root, cause
Te Weu—rootlets
Te More—taproot
Te Aka—vine
Te Tipuranga—growth

The other is a list of abstract terms arranged in a sequence of mental development.

Te Rapunga—seeking
Te Kukune—growth
Te Pupuke—swelling
Te Hihiri—energy
Te Mahara—thought
Te Hinengaro—mind
Te Manako—longing

Their inclusion, variation, and place in the complete recital depended on what had become established by tribal authorities or schools of learning. An attempt on the part of any student to pick and choose from the various tribal versions in order to provide a more perfect list would create a perfection which never existed.

The earth stratum (papa) evidently developed spontaneously during the period of Te Po, and it was personified as a female with the full title of Papatuanuku. The sky (rangi) was somewhere in the offing and was materialized and personified as a male with the name of Ranginui. The recital of the Po names close with the mating of Ranginui and Papatuanuku, but the period of darkness did not end, for Earth and Sky lay blended in the close embrace of matrimony for an indefinite period. Children were born to them in confined space. Light awaited the revolt of the brood which existed in darkness under the armpits of the Earth-mother.

The select, or esoteric, version of the cosmogony has been written up in much detail by Best (15) and Percy Smith (80) from the Maori text compiled from the teaching of the school of Te Matorohanga. In spite of its source, it is confused and contradictory, probably reflecting the state of mind of the experts who tried to build a more pretentious structure on the narrow foundations of an older and simpler school.

The period of Te Kore is omitted. The period of Te Po takes first place with the recital of six Po (80, p. 99) which does not maintain an page 436accurate sequence of natural phenomena. Thus Te Po-kakarauri (Age-of-great-darkness) is followed by Te Po-aoao-nui (Age-of-great-dawn) but instead of the next ages showing increasing light, they denote a lapse into still greater darkness in the names Te Po-uriuri (Age-of-deep-black-darkness), Te Po-kerikeri (Age-of-darkness), and Te Po-tiwhatiwha (Age-of-gloom). Te Po-kerikeri is evidently a misprint for the well-established Te Po-kerekere of the vulgar text. However, the abortive promise of light was met later by assigning a division of Te Po to the moon, which occupied seven phases, as follows (80, p. 100):

1.Te Marama-i-whanake—the waxing moon
2.Te Marama-i-roa—the lengthened moon
3.Te Marama-i-whiro—dark night of the moon
4.Te Marama-whakaata—moon with faint light
5.Te Marama-waha-roa—great mouthed moon
6.Te Marama-atua—moon of the thirteenth day
7.Te Marama-mutu-whenua—last days of the moon

The above is an incongrous interpolation because the moon was not created until after the period of Te Po had ended.

The interpolation of moonlight into the Po sequence was followed by a return to a sequence of six Po, which was still dominated by the moon (80, p. 100):

1.Te Po-taruaitu—the night with light faintly seen
2.Te Po-whatuao—the night with the eye of light
3.Te Po-atarau—the night of moonlight
4.Te Po-para-uriuri—the night with fragments of darkness
5.Te Po-turu—the night confirmed
6.Te Po-whiro—the night of darkness before the new moon

The more correct translation of the last two Po is that Te Po-turu means the fifteenth night of the moon and Te Po-whiro means the first night of the moon in which moon means the lunar month. In the previous moon list, Te Marama-atua is the moon on the thirteenth night and Te Marama-mutu-whenua is the moon on the thirtieth night. In the two lists, Te Marama-i-whiro and Te Po-whiro both mean the first night of the moon. It is evident that in the two lists, names representing nights of the lunar month and appearances of the moon have been interpolated into a sequence supposed to represent aeons of cosmic darkness. Percy Smith (80, p. 101) says that it seemed to him as a translator that "there has come about in the process of ages of teaching, a confusion between the one series of Po's relating to the cosmological ages preceding the birth of the gods, and another series under the same name, which are more intimately connected with Astronomical Myths and nights of the Moon, etc."

page 437

The confusion between two different series is obvious. However, I do not believe that it was due to "the process of ages of teaching" but rather to the reverse, in that the school was of such comparatively recent origin in New Zealand that it had not had time to iron out its inconsistencies.

Papatuanuku (Earth) lay naked on her back facing upwards. Ranginui (Great Sky), saw, desired, descended and took her to wife (ka moea hei wahine māna). This was in a period of Te Po when there was no sun, moon, stars, clouds, light, mist, or water (100, p. 117). To cover the nakedness of Papa, Ranginui set plants (otaota) in her armpits and on her head and body. After that he planted small trees (rakau iti) and then large trees of the forests (rakau tu i te wao nui) so that at last Papa was warm. Then insects (aitanga-pepeke) and reptiles (aitanga-pepeke-tua) were placed in the vegetation and crabs and shell fish in the waters. After these activities, Rangi and Papa shaped the form of their own offspring (whanau), the eyes, head, body, and limbs according to their kind (tipu). All things, however, did not grow to full size or bear fruit, because they were cramped and confined by the continued embrace of Rangi and Papa.

Some additional terms for the Po enumerated by Best (15, p. 33) were evidently coined for the period when the progeny of Papa were groping in the dark for some way out of their confinement. The significant terms are as follows:

Te Po-whawha—the night of feeling [with the hands]
Te Po-namunamu-ki-taiao—the night of the narrow passage to the outer world
Te Po-tahuri-atu—the night of turning away
Te Po-tahuri-mai-ki-taiao—the night of turning towards the outer world

The above terms are not divisions of the Po, but they describe what was happening. Thoughts of the outer world of light (taiao) had begun to stir in the minds of those confined in utter darkness.

The Matorohanga school states that Io evolved the world out of chaos, created life, and caused all gods to appear. Support of Io's first activities is contained in a cosmogony obtained from the Ngati Maru tribes of Hauraki (101, p. 109). Briefly, it runs as follows:

Io dwelt in space, the world was dark, and there was water everywhere. Io spoke for the first time and said, "Darkness, become a darkness possessing light." Light (ao) appeared. Then Io reversed his words by saying, "Light, become a light possessing darkness." The light returned to darkness. Io spoke a third time and the gist of his command appears to have been in the direction of separating darkness and light so that each would function as he commanded. The early light termed ao had now page 438become a greater light termed mārama. In this greater light, Io observed the waters encompassing him (nga wai e awhi nei i a ia) and spoke a fourth time, commanding the waters to separate, the sky to grow (tupu) and become suspended (tarewa), and land (tupua-horo-nuka) to be born (whanau).

Na takpto ana a Papatuanuku.
And behold the Earth lay stretched abroad.

The sequence of events bears an interesting similarity to the cosmogony described in the first chapter of Genesis. Compare the first line of the Maori version with verse 2: "And the earth was without form and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved on the face of the waters." God commanded light to appear and divided the light from the darkness. He commanded a firmament to appear, the waters to divide "and it was so". Then he commanded the dry land to appear and called it Earth.

The order in which things appeared is given as follows (80, p. 136):

1.The oceans of the world (ao) were created by water; the land (whenua) grew, matured, and later was married by Ranginui.
2.Small vegetation (otaota).
3.Trees of all kinds (rakau katoa) to cover the naked skin of Papa.
4.Reptiles (ngarara).
5.Animals (kararehe), such as dogs (kuri), of every kind.
6.Birds (manu) of land and sea.
7.The moon (marama), sun (ra), and all the stars (whetu). When this was accomplished, the world of light (Ao-marama) became permanent (tuturu).
8.Hineahuone and Hinetitama, from whom mankind (tangata) in this world (ao nei) sprung.

This list omits insects, which came in with reptiles, and crustaceans and molluscs, which came in after reptiles. It will be noted that in the above evolutionary sequence, mammals precede birds. Continuing with the native text, all the things listed had their period (wa). All things have a female (uha) by which they can conceive (i whai tohua ai). Nothing stands alone but all things have a female mate (hoa).

The items 7 and 8 belong to a later period to which we have not yet arrived.