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The Coming of the Maori

Tribal Gods

Tribal Gods

In addition to the departmental gods who were shared by all the Maori tribes, each tribe had gods to whom they had exclusive rights. The fact of having to share the war god Tu, for example, with other hostile tribes may have had a contributing influence in causing tribes to elect war gods who would give them undivided attention. Tu was a remote classical god and the veteran of battles fought in distant lands in ancient times. Though his name continued to be honoured in song, story, and ritual, closer and more active gods were needed for the frequent field campaigns in New page 461Zealand. It must have been somewhat of a divine dilemma for Tu when two opposing forces importuned him for victory at the same time. This type of dilemma was evidently foreseen in Hawaii (54, p. 157), where a man had several gods, "because the god to whom he appealed for help might be giving ear to the prayer of someone else." This was likely to occur in war more than anything else, hence most of the tribal gods in New Zealand were war gods who protected their tribes in defensive measures and assisted them in offensive operations.

Some of the tribal gods were stated to have been brought from Hawaiki, and this is supported by some of the canoe narratives which list the divine passengers. The Takitimu account lists seven; the Aotea, four; and the Kurahaupo, three. In such lists, it is possible that some locally created gods may have been referred back to the canoes to give both the gods and the canoes greater prestige. None of the lists include the departmental gods. The gods likely to have been brought from Hawaiki were Maru, Kahukura, Uenuku, and Rongomai.

Maru, as Marumamao, was an important war god in Rarotonga. He is said to have been brought to New Zealand in the Aotea canoe and it is stated that after landing at Rangiahua in the Kermadecs, a dog was killed and offered in ritual to Maru. His importation is probably correct, for he was the war god of the tribes claiming descent from the Aotea canoe, which includes the Taranaki and Whanganui tribes. In the Whanganui area, the first bird killed in the forest was offered to Maru and not to Tane. Maru is also stated to have been brought in the Kurahaupo canoe.

Kahukura was both a god and an important ancestor in Rarotonga, and it is probable that Kahukura the ancestor was deified in that island. He is stated to have been brought by the Aotea and the Takitimu canoes and he became a war god with the rainbow as his symbol. It is probable that Kahukura was an imported god and not a local personification of the rainbow.

Uenuku was an important ancestor in the Cook Islands and, according to Maori tradition, in Hawaiki. He may have been deified in New Zealand, for there is no record of his having taken passage in any of the canoes. He was a war god, and his symbol was also the rainbow.

Rongomai is an ancestral name in central Polynesia, and in Maori myth, he occurs with five varying titles in the 70 sons of the Sky-father. He was the tribal god of the Ngati Tuwharetoa, and his symbols were shooting stars and comets.

Some tribal gods were deified ancestors whose elevation occurred in New Zealand. Probably there are several but a clear example is provided by Rakeiora.

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Rakeiora was the navigating priest of the Tokomaru canoe, according to the Taranaki account. He lived near the Mohakatino River where the Tokomaru landed. He became a kumara god, but I have no information as to when and how deification was accomplished. The fertility of sweet potatoes in the Mohakatino district increased so that the fame of Rakeiora spread abroad and led to his material symbol being stolen by another tribe.

Ihungaru (ihu, nose; ngaru, wave) was a tribal god in the Rotorua district. He was probably the god whom the Arawa dipped in Lake Rotorua to cause the waves to rise and so hinder the canoe attack by the Ngapuhi against Mokoia Island. The Ngapuhi tribal god proved more powerful and the invading war canoes made a successful landing. The symbol of Ihungaru was a lock of human hair braided with aute bark.

Some family gods were so successful that their influence increased to the extent of their being adopted as tribal gods. Such a promoted god was Te Rehu o Tainui.

Te Rehu o Tainui was a family god who originated from an abortion. His priestly medium (kauwaka) was a man named Uhia. Uhia manipulated his god so successfully that the Tuhoe tribe promoted Te Rehu o Tainui to the position of tribal war god. His symbol was the green lizard.

Personifications were sometimes adopted as tribal gods and their symbols continued to be the natural phenomena which they represented.

Tunui a te ika was a tribal war god in the East Coast and Bay of Plenty areas. He was also an atua toro (toro, to visit) who could be sent on errands to spy out the enemy. His symbol was the comet, which he personified. He was also the guardian of the burial cave named Wharekohu on Kapiti Island; and in this aspect, his symbol was a lizard.