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The Coming of the Maori

Creation of the Gods

Creation of the Gods

The union of the Sky (Rangi) and Earth (Papa) resulted in the birth of a number of children. They were confined between the bodies of their parents, the most roomy parts between the breasts and under the armpits page 439of their mother. Irked by their cramped position in utter darkness, they consulted as to the best means of providing more accommodation and letting light into their world. Six children took the active part in the discussion and, according to the native text (45, p. 5), their names were associated with authority over certain things as follows:

Tangaroa: ika (fish)
Rongomatane: kumara (sweet potato)
Haumiatiketike: aruhe (rhizome of bracken fern)
Tanemahuta: rakau (trees), manu (birds)
Tawhirimatea: hau (winds)
Tumatauenga: tangata (man)

Tumatauenga, who was the most savage of the brothers, proposed that the parents be slain. However, Tane amended the proposal by suggesting that Rangi be pushed away into the distance and the children remain with the Earth-mother. The attempt to separate the Sky-father was commenced by Rongomatane, but without success. Tangaroa, Haumiatiketike, and Tumatauenga tried in turn, but without avail. Tawhirimatea refused to take part in the attempt at separation. Lastly, Tanemahuta attempted to push their father upwards with his arms, but he also failed. He then inverted his position by standing on his head and pushing upwards with his feet. The change in technique proved successful, and the sky was pushed upwards into the position he now occupies. The falling rain and me rising mist symbolize the perpetual grief of the primary parents at their enforced separation.

The story of the separation of Earth and Sky is present in the Society, Cook, and Tuamotu islands, but Ru takes the place of Tane. Ru experienced the same difficulty as Tane, but he solved the problem differently by doing the work in stages. In the first stage he raised the Sky onto the arrowroot plants, and the flattening of their leaves bears testimony to the part they took in the greatest engineering feat of mythical times. Ru then pushed the Sky higher and consolidated his gain by using wooden props to support the weight. Even so, heads bumped against the low ceiling, so Ru with a last effort, pushed the Sky up into its present position. The arrowroot (pia), which was present in central Polynesia, was not brought to New Zealand by the early settlers, hence its absence from the Maori version is readily accounted for. There are, however, references in some Maori versions to props (toko) having been used to keep up the Sky.

When the Cook Islanders visited the International Exhibition of 1906-7 in Christchurch, a group from Aitutaki enacted the story of Rutetokorangi (Ru-the-propper-up-of-the-Sky). An elderly chief with the air of inherited authority took the part of Ru, and the others represented Ru's family which had assisted in the original task. With stamping feet and quivering page 440knees, they kept perfect time to the beating of wooden gongs. They raised an old-time chant and stabbed with wooden spears at the recumbent form of the Earth-mother. The chanting rose in volume, and the spear points rose, stabbing the air at levels in keeping with the text of the chant. In imagination, we saw the spear points raise the reluctant form of the Sky-father on to the tops of the arrowroot leaves, on to the tops of the wooden props, and finally a full arm thrust propelled him upwards through space. The wooden gongs crashed, the exultant shout of the family of Ru rang forth, and we gazed sceptically upwards at what had been accomplished in the dim past.

In some Polynesian myths, Maui made the first attempt and, having failed, employed Ru to complete the task. In a Tuamotu version, Ru strained his back so severely in pushing that he became permanently deformed and so received the commemorative name of Ru-of-the-crooked-back. In a Tongan myth, Mauimotua, while spreading the heated stones of his cooking oven, bumped the upper end of his spreading stick against the low ceiling of the first of 10 skies. Annoyed, he pushed the first sky up out of the way with the charred end of his spreader, thus leaving marks on the sky.

From the wide distribution of the story, it is evident that the pushing up of the sky belongs to a very old myth. But the honour of accomplishing the feat has three claimants. Maui may be readily eliminated because be belonged to a much later period as evidenced by his snaring the sun in the first instance of daylight saving. When Sky and Earth were separated, the sun had not been evolved, much less hung up in a firmament which did not exist until after the separation. The only Ru in Maori myth is Ruaumoko, the god of earthquakes, who remained at his mother's breast and took no part in the revolt. On the evidence, I think that Ru-the-propper-up-of-the-sky was substituted in central Polynesia after the Maori left with the older version of Tane as the original divider of Earth and Sky.

After the separation of Earth and Sky, war broke out among their children. Tawhirimatea, who was the one dissentient against the separation, went with his father into space. He mustered the various winds under his command and launched an aerial attack against his brothers. He sent his storm troops against Tane, whose forests were uprooted and brought crashing to the ground. He attacked Tangaroa who fled from sea to sea as the tempests raged against him. Tangaroa had begotten Punga who had begotten Ikatere and Tutewehiwehi. The two grandchildren disputed as to where they should seek safety from the storm. Finally Ikatere fled to the sea where he and his family became fish. Tutewehiwehi fled inland and he and his progeny became reptiles. Here we have an evolutionary theory of the development of fish and reptiles from a common ancestor.

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Tawhirimatea turned his forces against Rongomatane and Haumiatiketike but the Earth-mother hid them within her bosom, where they escaped the search of their brother. Lastly, Tawhirimatea attacked Tumatauenga, but Tu stood firmly on the breast of the Earth-mother and defied the winds of heaven.

After the storms subsided, Tumatauenga turned against his brothers for their cowardice in tamely submitting to the attacks of Tawhirimatea. To belittle them, he attacked their children and used them for food. He made snares (mahanga) and caught the birds of Tane. He made nets (kupenga) and caught the fish of Tangaroa. He then sought out the progeny of Rongo and Haumia and found the sweet potato and fern root by their hair (leaves) which grew up from the places where they had been concealed by the Earth-mother. He made a wooden spade with which he dug them up and gathered them in a plaited basket. He thus shamed his brothers and, by cooking and eating the birds, fish, cultivated and uncultivated foods, lowered their prestige and thereby established the superiority of man, who was yet to come.

The grief of Rangi and Papa at their separation was intense. The tears of Rangi rained down in a continuous flood accompanied by hail and snow. From Papa rose perpetual mists, and the dampness of grief was congealed on her body into bitter frost. As their grief showed no signs of abatement, their sons decided to end their own discomfort by turning their mother over on her face so that she could no longer see her husband. The leader of the working party was Mataaho, hence the turning over (hurihanga) of the body of the Earth-mother was referred to as Te hurihanga a Mataaho.

The world (ao) which the gods inhabited after the removal of the Sky-father was but dimly lighted. Matters were rectified by placing the sun (ra) in the sky to shine by day and the moon (marama) to give light by night. The sun was fairly constant, but according to the later Maui myth, it moved more rapidly across the sky then than now. The moon was temperamental for it waxed and waned and died at the end of 29 or 30 days. However, the moon was more fortunate than man for it discovered the living waters of life. Hence, when its attenuated form is on the point of complete disappearance, it bathes in the Living-waters-of-Tane (Te Waiora o Tane) and is restored to life, growth, and decay. Thus the term marama applies both to the moon as a celestial source of light and to the period of time counted not by days but by the number of nights between the rebirths as announced by the new moons. The dimmer light of the moon was supplemented by the god Tane, who, after gathering the stars (whetu) in a basket, attached them individually and in clusters to the breast of the Sky-father. Thus the world was illuminated and passed from the darkness of Te Po into the light of Te Aomarama.

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The abode of the gods is not described beyond the vague statement that they stayed with the Earth-mother with the exception of Tawhirimatea who followed the Sky-father up into the ether. Myths concerning culture heroes of a later period indicate that the sky (rangi) was divided into 10 strata in vertical section. The Sky-father was evidently pushed aside as an academic abstraction. From the story of Rupe (45, p. 25), we learn that the skies had been divided (roherohea) and fixed in sequence (tuituia) by the god Tane. Each sky was inhabited by people (tangata), as Rupe found out when he broke through each sky on his way upwards to consult the god Rehua. He found Rehua living on the tenth sky (te ngahuru o nga rangi) and obtained the information he wanted as to the whereabouts of his sister Hinauri. In another myth (45, p. 177), an analysis of the text shows that the name of Tane has been substituted for that of Rupe. In the widely distributed tale of Tawhaki (45, p. 37), Tawhaki climbed to the upper skies by means of a vine (aka matua). He used a chant of which the following are the introductory lines:

Piki ake Tawhaki Tawhaki climbed up
I te rangi tuatahi, To the first sky,
I te rangi tuarua. To the second sky,
…. ….

He found his celestial wife, daughter, and her people but the story does not say in which sky or how many skies there were.

From the various popular tales, it is garnered that Tane divided the sky into ten tiers or created an aerial mansion of ten stories. The only god who appears to have taken up residence was Rehua who occupied the top story with his family and people. The other stories were occupied by people (tangata) as evidenced by the tale of Rupe. The daughters from the sky came down to the sons of men, as in the nightly visits of Tango-tango to Tawhaki. Though she possessed the power of levitation, she was human in that she bore him a daughter. When Tawhaki subsequently visited her people in their sky abode, he found them building a canoe with adzes. They did not possess any supernatural powers, for Tawhaki proved himself a better craftsman than any of them and astonished them with his magic power of transforming himself into an old man at will. The ten skies evidently started as a myth to show the power of Tane, and the old time tellers of tales later found them convenient localities to incorporate in their literary compositions. Probably some of the possible incidents had occurred as historical events in distant lands and the change of scene to the upper regions of the sky added that extra touch of the miraculous so dearly loved by both orator and audience.

The Po as the Underworld is a distinct concept from the po periods of darkness. It was a vague region usually located in some distant part page 443below the surface of the earth. According to the Matorohanga school, it is beyond the under surface of the earth, for when Papa was turned over on her face, she looked down into Rarohenga which is another name for the Po. It was the Spirit-land to which the souls of the dead went, not as a reward or a punishment for their deeds in this life but simply as a home which had been provided for them.

In Mangaia, it was divided into a number of named strata or stories inhabited by mythical characters and the gods. In the Tuamotu, the Po was divided into ten tiers in the same way as the skies above. In Mangareva, there is a story tellers' Po which served as a background for a number of folk-tales. The concept of the Po as an Underworld is widely spread, but different groups have elaborated their own versions as to its geography and the principal characters residing there.