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The Coming of the Maori

[Sun worship]

page 508

When maui laid rope snares around the opening through which the sun emerged for the daily round, he instructed his brothers not to pull on the ropes until the sun's head and shoulders were above the noose. Thus, when he gave the signal, the sun was rendered helpless because his arms were pinioned to his sides. Maui beat the sun with a club formed of the lower jaw-bone of his grandmother, Murirangawhenua, whereat the sun cried out in pain, "Why are you beating Tamanuitera" (Great-son-the-sun)? Thus, the personal name of the sun became known for the first time. As a result of his beating, the sun moved more slowly across the sky and man had more ample time to procure food. Maui was the first to introduce daylight saving for the benefit of man. The myth shows that the sun was personified and was given a personal name, but it is devoid of that respect and awe which would lead to his being worshipped as a god.

In spite of this bad beginning, statements have been made that sun worship existed among the Maori. Best (15, p. 213) states that direct evidence is almost non-existent and cites but two references. In one from John White, he confesses he could detect no evidence of sun worship. The other information, collected by Charles Nelson concerning a ritual feast, was recorded by Tregear (102, p. 467), with an accompanying diagram. Long piles of food were arranged to form a seven-sided figure with flags and fires at the seven points and a large fire with other flags in the centre. Tregear states that the central fire, termed here, represented the sun and that the feast was held at an annual sun festival. The sun festival requires confirmation from other sources, both as to fact and interpretation, before it can be accepted as evidence of sun worship.

However, Best held that the sun was undoubtedly deified as Tane and, hence, worshipped indirectly as Tane. He states that this personification has been amply proved, but I have failed to find any satisfactory page 509proof of it. In the other myths, Tane is the procreator of human life, trees, and birds, and the procurer of knowledge. It is in connection with some of these activities that he was made a departmental god and it is not apparent how any of Tane's powers as a god can be associated with the sun. The myth of Tane pursuing Hinetitama towards the entrance to Rarohenga has been regarded as an allegory in which the sun pursues the dawn across the world to the portal of night. It is a charming picture, but is this a Maori interpretation derived from a knowledge that Tane was the sun and that titama meant dawn? Evidently no Maori could give a satisfactory meaning to titama, for Williams's Dictionary merely quotes the passage in which it occurs and gives no meaning of the word. Stronger proof is necessary before the identification of the sun with Tane can be accepted. The fact remains that Tane was worshipped for attributes which the sun could not confer or share. Hence, Tane was worshipped for himself alone and the worship of Tane should not be identified with sun worship.