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The Coming of the Maori

Culture Heroes

Culture Heroes

A number of ancient characters figure in myth and legend, and as they were credited with magical powers, they have been regarded sometimes as gods. The most prominent of these was Mauitikitiki a Taranga, or Mauipotiki, who occurs in legends throughout Polynesia including Samoa and Tonga. He obtained fire from the Underworld, fished up various islands, and snared the sun; and in the Maori version, he was slain by Hinenuitepo while seeking immortality for man. In spite of his marvellous feats he was not deified and worshipped, except, evidently, in Tonga.

Tawhaki was a legendary character of wide distribution. He married a woman from an upper world, restored sight to an old blind woman named Kui, and ascended to the upper skies by means of a vine which reached upwards to those mythical regions. There he found his runaway wife and his child and evidently they lived happily ever after. In Hawaii, he occurred as Kaha'i, which is the dialectal form of Tawhaki. In Mangareva, he was credited with a ruddy skin and hence named Tahakikura. In some of his adventures, he was accompanied by a younger brother named Karihi. There is no evidence that Tawhaki was elevated to the rank of god.

Tinirau also has a wide distribution. He lived on the sacred isle of Motutapu which in Mangaian legend had the power of floating off to other parts. In Maori legends, Tinirau was married to Hinauri, the sister of the Maui brothers. He had a pet whale named Tutunui which was treacherously killed by Kae, after it transported him back to his own island. In Samoan story, Tinirau, under the dialectal form of Tingilau, had a pet turtle which was also treacherously slain. Reprisals followed. Tinirau had marvelous fishponds on Motutapu stocked with all kinds of fish. He was regarded in some island stories as a tutelary guardian or lord of fish but, though he possessed magic powers, he evidently remained a culture hero.