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The Coming of the Maori

The Departmental Gods

The Departmental Gods

The departmental gods were major gods who were selected sons of Rangi and Papa. Though the esoteric version lists 70 male children in the family of the primary parents, it was the six sons named in the popular version who were important enough to receive divine authority over certain departments of life. When man required supernatural favour and assistance, he addressed himself to the divine head of the department in which he was immediately concerned. There were six departmental heads: Tane, Rongo, Tu, Tangaroa, Tawhirimatea, and Haumiatiketike. In addition to these, three other sons of Rangi are of academic interest, namely Whiro, Ruaumoko, and Urutengangana. The other members of the seventy did not display any interest in human affairs.

Tanewas the most important of the departmental gods in New Zealand. He had been the leader among the sons of the primary parents page 455during the creation period. He was the father of trees, birds, and other curious progeny. He was the progenitor of man and, in spite of the claims made for Io, man acquired the divine spark through birth from Tane.

For his numerous activities, Tane received many titles, and Best (15, p. 72) listed 41 titles applied to him by various tribes. As the greatest son of the Sky-father, he was Tanenuiarangi; as propper-up-of-the-sky, Tanetokorangi; as the parent of man and other progeny, Tanematua; as the producer of life. Tanetewaiora; and, because of his association with knowledge, Tanetewananga and Tanetepukenga.

Apart from classical distinctions, Tane's practical value to the people was his position as divine head of the department of forests and their products, timber for woodwork and birds for food. Before one of the tree children of Tane was felled for an important house or canoe, recognition of Tane's parenthood had to be made by some ritual chant or an offering. Non-recognition of Tane brought punishment in some form, such as obstruction to the work. In the widely spread story of Rata (45, p. 47), the wood elves replaced the chips and re-erected the tree which Rata had felled without divine permission. After a second felling with similar results, Rata surprised the wood elves and upbraided them for retarding his task. However, they turned the tables by demanding, "Who gave you permission to fell Tane to the ground?" Rata was deeply shamed and admitted his error, so the fairy people forgave him by completing the canoe for him.

Not only trees but sometimes the completed canoe was invested with the personification of Tane, as illustrated by the following lines from the paddle song of the Aotea canoe:

E tapu tena te ara Sacred is the course
O Tane matohe nuku, Of Tane struggling below,
O Tane matohe rangi. Of Tane striving above.

Tane is the Aotea canoe on her historic voyage to New Zealand, fighting against the waves from earth below and the storms from the skies above.

Fowlers hunting in the forests recognized Tane as the lord of birds, and the first bird killed was laid aside, with appropriate words, as an offering to Tane. After that they had Tane's tacit permission to go on catching for themselves.

Tane was the tutelary deity of woodcraftsmen in Mangaia and Tahiti. The Mangaian woodsmen paid homage to him as Tanemataariki (Tane-of-the-regal-face) whose symbol was said to be a composite adze with a carved haft and three blades. In Tahiti, the craftsmen offered to Tane the first chip cut from the trunk of the tree they were felling. Before building the canoe, they killed a pig and offered a tuft of its hair before cooking and its tail after cooking. Tane (Kane) was one of the most important page 456gods of Hawaii. In the Marquesas, he diminished in divine stature and in Mangareva, he lost his godhead by becoming a historical character. However, his daughter married Tangaroa and so restored her father's status to some extent. Tane was the most important god in Tahiti until Oro of Raiatea superseded him. Many of the Tahitian followers of Tane fled to the Cook Islands where they established themselves in Mangaia.

Tu was the principal god of war though some tribes elevated local gods to that position, probably in the hope of obtaining closer co-operation on active service in the field. In the early conflict between the children of Rangi and Papa, Tumatauenga proved himself to be the best fighter, for he successfully resisted the attacks of Tawhirimatea, and he defeated his brothers Tane, Tangaroa, Rongo, and Haumia. By means of snares, nets, and a digging stick, he captured members of their families and ate them to establish his prestige over his brothers. Though stated to represent unborn man at that early period, he did not become the creator of man. In some way, however, man has inherited the courage and fighting qualities of Tumatauenga. Also, by using the techniques ascribed to Tu, man has continued to capture and eat the edible members of the families of the other gods.

Tu was of great importance in New Zealand because of the frequent tribal wars and the prestige acquired by successful warriors. Shortly after birth, children were dedicated to Tu for the arts of war or to Rongo for the arts of peace. Tribes in exile who were building up their military strength for a future attempt to regain lost territory dedicated all their male children to Tu. War parties were placed under the tapu of Tu before setting out, and the tapu was removed before entering their village on their return. War parties were accompanied by a priest of Tu who acted as chaplain to the forces.

The early title applied to Tu was Tumatauenga, and other titles were Tumatawhaid, Tutawake, Tukaitaua (Tu-consumer-of-war-parties), Tukariri (Tu-the-angry), and Tukanguha (Tu-the-enraged). He was also known as Tu-whakaheke-tangata-ki-te-po (Tu-who-causes-man-to-descend-to-the-underworld).

Tu was known in Mauke and Atiu in the Cook Islands as the god of war (te atua o te puruki). In Mangaia, he was omitted from the divine sons of the Earth-mother but Tukaitaua and Tutavake came up from the Underworld to fight a battle and it was from them that the Mangaians of that age learned the use of weapons. Tu was known in Tahiti, and was very important in Hawaii (Ku). He was present in the Tuamotu as Tunui and present in genealogies in the Marquesas, where he was not important. In Mangareva, however, he was the principal god but was held to have been introduced from Iva (the Marquesas).

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Rongo was a very important god, for he controlled two departments, peace and agriculture. Warring tribes which conducted their operations under Tu, terminated hostilities under Rongo. Envoys passed between the two tribes with the correct ceremonial and peace chants. The peace which was established was known as a maunga a rongo. Probably it was originally phrased as maunga a Rongo (settlement-by-Rongo) but, in the course of time, the current word rongo meaning to hear and to feel (passive), came to have the added meaning of peace from its association with the god Rongo.

Boys who had been dedicated to Rongo, instead of to Tu, by the tohi ceremony were taught the ritual and observances pertaining to Rongo as god of agriculture. The products in Rongo's department were the cultivated foods: sweet potato, taro, yam, and gourd. Best (15, p. 110) also mentions the ari and korau, but no actual specimens have been available for botanical identification. These tropical plants were brought to a temperate climate and great care and labour had to be expended on their cultivation in the severer climate. These extra difficulties led to the development of an elaborate religious ritual and the placing of material symbols of Rongo in the cultivations to ward off adverse conditions and promote the fertility of the crops. The workers in the cultivations were placed under the tapu of Rongo during planting, weeding, and harvesting. Agriculture needed more assistance from the gods than any other branch of industry and it was this need which probably led to the continued use and survival of images or symbols representing Rongo.

Rongo represented peace and plenty which led to his being associated with the qualities of hospitality and generosity. He did not have many titles, but his name, Rongomaraeroa (Rongo-of-the-long-courtyard), pictures a long pile of food set out on the village plaza for feeding the people and their guests. The compound name of Rongomatane (Rongo-and-Tane) suggests some past co-operation between the two gods.

In Tahiti, as Ro'o, he was of no special importance. He has been confused with the important Tahitian god 'Oro, but evidence shows that 'Oro in other dialects is Koro. He appears in Rarotonga as Rongomatane, so the compound name is old. In Mangaia, Rongo was the principal god, and in Mangareva, he was the god of turmeric, rain, and the production of food. In Hawaii, as Lono, he was the god of harvest and fertility, and the first fruits were offered to him at the great Makahiki festival. It is thus evident that Rongo's function as a harvest god is ancient and that his additional duties as a peacemaker were probably of more recent date.

Tangaroa, in the creation myth was given control of the sea and the fish therein. In the period of long ocean voyages Tangaroa may have been of greater importance, but he ranks after his three preceding brothers page 458in New Zealand. However, he is classed with them as the big four in the Maori pantheon.

Tangaroa was recognized as the controller of the tides in the title Tangaroa-whakamautai. In the popular myth of Tawhirimatea's attack against Tangaroa, one of his grandchildren named Ikatere fled to the sea and became the ancestor of fish. Fish are referred to as te aitanga a Tangaroa (the progeny of Tangaroa). Whales are referred to poetically as te ika pipiha nui a Tangaroa (the great spouting fish of Tangaroa). Another grandchild of Tangaroa named Tutewehiwehi fled inland and became the ancestor of reptiles in the form of lizards. Tane was also credited with being the progenitor of reptiles. However, reptiles were of no economic value though they came in useful as symbols (aria) for some of the lesser gods.

Tangaroa was the god of seafarers and fishermen. They probably had their ritual and tapu observances. The fishing grounds at sea were subject to certain restrictions and, right down to recent times, cooked food was not allowed to be taken out in the fishing canoes. Off the Taranaki coast, the head of the first fish caught was tapped (pōpō) against the gunwale of the canoe and then the fish was dropped back into the sea as an offering to Tangaroa. It was thus termed "e ika pōpō kia Tangaroa".

In Mangaian myth, Tangaroa was the first-born son of Vatea and Papa, but his younger brother Rongo stole his wife and received a greater quantity of food offerings so that Tangaroa left in a fit of jealousy. In Rarotonga, he was not so important as Rongomatane. He appeared in the Tuamotu and in Mangareva. In the Marquesas, Tana'oa was associated with darkness. In Hawaii, Kanaloa was of so little importance that the later Hawaiians, in arranging their pantheon to conform with the Christian pattern, elevated Kane (Tane), Ku (Tu), and Lono (Rongo) into a Trinity and cast Kanaloa into Hades. In the Society Islands, on the other hand, Ta'aroa was raised to the rank of supreme creator. Samoa and Tonga also regarded Tangaloa as the creator of the islands.

Tawhirimatea was given control of the winds in the creation myth. He objected to the separation of Rangi and Papa and left for space with his father. There he begat and raised the Wind Children and attacked his brothers on earth, as already described. In the Matorohanga account he sided with his brother Tane in the separation of earth and sky and assisted him in gaining the supernal realm of Io by transporting him upwards on the whirlwinds under his command. With his winds, he also dispelled the hosts of Whiro in their attacks against Tane.

Tawhirimatea, as head of the meteorological department, was appealed to by priests for favourable winds, to abate storms and to change unfavourable weather. In the voyaging chant of Kahukoka, Tawhirimatea page 459was asked to close his eye that looked towards an unfavourable quarter and so allow the favourable winds to blow.

Tawhirimatea, under this name, does not figure as a major god in other groups. As Ta'iri (Tahiri) he occurs as a minor god in Aitutaki and in a similar position as Tahiri in Tahiti. In central Polynesia, Rakamaomao is the god of winds, and priests appealed to him to block the holes through which unfavourable winds blew. In Hawaii, La'amaomao (La'a=Raka) was the god of winds. In the Maori list of the 70 children of Rangi, the name of Rakamaomao occurs with the statement that he represented the south (tonga). Tonga also means the south wind. It is, therefore, evident that in New Zealand, some confusion took place over the real status of Rakamaomao and that in transferring his office to Tawhirimatea, the south wind was left with him probably through an oversight Tawhirimatea was thus a local addition to the family of Rangi and Papa. The name of Tawhiri does not need to go back to the minor god, Tahiri, in central Polynesia, for it could be readily suggested by the word tawhiri, which means to create a wind or draught as in fanning with a fire-fan.

Haumiatiketike was placed by birth among the sons of Rangi and Papa and was the personification of the aruhe, popularly spoken of as fern root but botanically the rhizome of the bracken fern (Pteris aquilina) so common in New Zealand. Haumia suffered from the attack of Tawhirimatea and hid in the ground to escape. However, when Tumatauenga also attacked his brothers, Haumia's hiding place was discovered by his hair (leaves). The leaves and stalk of the fern are termed rarauhe, a shortened form of rau aruhe, and Best (15, p. 115) is careful to point out that Haumia refers to the rhizome, aruhe, and not to the plant, rarauhe. If every god had his rights, the rarauhe would belong to Tane. If Haumia was the personification solely of fern root, the term "god of uncultivated food" would be a misnomer, for tree-fern pith, various berries, and other wild vegetable foods would then belong to the" department of Tane. The fern root grew so abundantly in a natural state that there was little necessity to call upon Haumia for aid.

Haumea occurs in Mangareva as the first wife of Tangaroa, by whom she had eight children. In Hawaii, Haumea also occurs as a woman who figured in intrigues with Kane (Tane) and Ki'i (Tiki). Haumea thus figures definitely as a woman in the mythical period of creation. If the name Haumia was derived from the memory of such a character, the Maori version has changed her sex to male and added Haumiatiketike to the family of Rangi and Papa. The importance of fern root as a food probably influenced this step. The functions of Haumia were also new for the rhizome of the bracken fern was not used as a food in any part of Polynesia.

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The six preceding gods form the true departmental gods who complete the list given in the popular version. Of the family of 70 in the Matoro-hanga version, Best selected three as worthy of special mention.

Whiro was the leader of the opposition against Tane. He was credited with control over the various forms of disease grouped together in the Maiki family. After his defeat in the battles against Tane, collectively termed Te Paerangi, he retired to the Underworld where he continued to nurse his animosity against Tane and his descendants. He thus represents darkness and evil, and it would take very little more to elevate him to the European concept of the Devil. In popular versions, he was regarded as the patron of thieves. His symbol or aria was a lizard.

In the Cook, Society and Tuamotu Islands, Hiro or 'Iro (Cook Islands) was a famous voyager living in about the thirteenth century; and the god and the man are often confused in native narratives.

Ruaumoko was the last of the family of 70 and he was still at the breast when the Earth-mother was turned over on her face by her other sons to improve the weather conditions. Ruaumoko was thus carried under but his proximity to the Underworld of Rarohenga gave him the opportunity of wooing and winning Hinenuitepo as his wife. He is stated to be inimical to man, and now and then he sends an earthquake or a volcanic disturbance to destroy him. The term for earthquake is ru (to shake) and hence its personification with additional syllables as Ruaumoko.

The gods of volcanic disturbances in other Polynesian areas are Mahuika (with dialectal variations) and Pele, but Ru seems to have been a Maori personification.

Urutengangana deserves little notice except that he is alleged to be the first-born of the 70 children of Rangi and Papa. For an ariki he appears to have been somewhat vacillating, for he sided first with Whiro and later with Tane. He is said to have been connected with light, but it is not clear what use he was to man. The names Uru and Ngangana occur as separate individuals in some narratives, and it is possible that the Matorohanga school combined the two to form an impressive name for the first-born of their family of 70.