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The Coming of the Maori

Phallic Worship

Phallic Worship

A number of material objects and certain observances have been regarded as evidence of the former existence of phallic worship in New Zealand and Polynesia. Before accepting such as evidence, we should inquire into what constitutes a normal attitude towards sex and reproduction in the particular culture under study. In Maori society, where leadership was based on male succession, the importance of providing an heir entered largely into the arrangements made for marriage. When an heir was not forthcoming, it seems but natural that both husband and wife should have sought some other means, such as magic, by which the barren woman might become pregnant. The wish was met by endowing certain trees and rocks with fertilising power. Tregear (102, p. 484) has enumerated a number of trees in various places which were credited as fertilising agents. Barren women embraced the tree, uttered some verbal formula, and hoped for the best. Sometimes a priest supervised the ceremony. The rock named Uenukutuwhatu at Kawhia was also credited with fertilising power.

Another wish projection was materialised by attributing fertilising properties to the tiki neck ornament made of jade. The tiki was valuable in itself because of the jade material; and it was made in human form because the human motif was common in Maori art. Its small size suggested the foetus, which, in tarn, suggested the idea that it might exercise some magic charm in rendering its wearer fertile, so that a living foetus would result from the acts of coitus with her husband. The fertilising trees and rocks and the fertilising influence attributed to the tikiornament were all the result of the natural desire to beget children, and page 510I cannot see that they were in any way connected with the abnormal worship of the phallus which existed in some of the older civilizations.

Frequent references to the sex organs occur in myths, legends, and chants. The male organ was referred to as the tawhito (ancient one) in sacerdotal chants, and the term tiki was used to denote the procreating organ of Tane in the human creation myths. The male organ was figuratively regarded as the symbol of virility and courage. If the leader of a war party awoke with an erection on the morning before battle, it showed that his courage ran high and hence was regarded as an omen of success. The Ngati Raukawa taunted their enemy in the opening lines of their war dance:

Awhea to ure ka riri, When will your penis become enraged,
Awhea to ure ka tora? When will your penis become erect?

Such omens and expressions were based on a practical knowledge of physiology and psychology. No one who was afraid could have the reaction indicated.

The concept that the penis was the symbol of virility and life is also indicated by the following ritual to ward off a suspected attack by a sorcerer. The person who suspected such an attack held his penis and recited the following karakia:

Kai ure! Attack the penis!
Kuruki, whakataha te mate! Death weaken and pass by!
Tau a patu ai Let what you attack
Ko taku ure. Be my penis.

The attack was thus diverted towards a guarded part of the body, and it may be assumed that confidence in the protective ritual made the attack abortive.

The female organ has also attracted much figurative attention. Man's divine or spiritual essence was derived from the male element, as personified by Tane, and his material part, which dies, came down from the female element, as personified by Hineahuone, the first woman made of earth. It was the female organ of Hinenuitepo which strangled Maui on his quest for immortality and so brought death into the world. In sex matters, it is the female organ which figuratively kills its male antagonist. Hence the female organ was referred to as "te whare o Aitu" (the house of death). However, references to sex matters, whether in the figurative language of the classics or in ordinary conversation, were considered normal and hence were devoid of that coarseness and vulgarity which seems inseparable when expressed in English. The fact that people discussed the sex organs does not necessarily mean that they worshipped them.

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The myth of an eel (tuna) tickling a woman with its tail while she was bathing has also been regarded as evidence of phallic worship. In the eel myths, extending from Samoa to Mangareva, the main theme is mat the eel was killed and its head, when planted, grew up into a coconut palm to provide food and drink for mankind. In Mangareva, where eels are scarce owing to the lack of sizable fresh water streams, the eel was so unimportant that the name tuna evidently went out of current use, as indicated by its absence from the published Mangarevan dictionaries. However, there is a song concerning a man named Tunamairaro whose head, when planted, grew into a coconut palm. In a Maori story, an eel monster (tuna) was killed by Maui after having been lured ashore by a human decoy and a magic chant; but, naturally, there was no growth of a coconut. In Easter Island, where there were neither fresh water eels nor coconuts, the story is not present. It is a long stretch from the phallic serpent of western lands to the coconut eel of Polynesia, and independent origins for the two stories appear likely. The eel myth may be useful in indicating the distribution of eels, but I doubt its value as evidence of phallic worship.

The frequent occurrence of the sex organs in Maori carvings is the natural accompaniment of the human body which is the common motif in Maori art It is curious, however, how they are treated with suspicion by the general public which accepts as natural the similar treatment of marble statues. If, in some carvings, the carver has made the phallus unusually large, the suspicion becomes a conviction unless it is realized that the artist was influenced by a bizarre sense of humour. Maori art is profane and not religious.

In Hawaii, certain rocks have been described as phallic because of their shape and some ritual connected with them. In Mangaia and Atiu, certain neck ornaments resembled the testes in shape, and the missionary W. W. Gill stopped the native dances in Mangaia, not because they were erotic, but because people wore the ornaments at them. In Easter Island, elliptical figures representing the vulva were incised on rocks. Such phallic objects were possibly connected with fertility rites of some kind. However, the use of the adjective "phallic" to denote form is not proof of a regular system of phallic worship. The essentials to a system of phallic worship are a specific god, a human medium, a set of religious chants, and a group of worshippers. This essential complex does not occur in Polynesia or in New Zealand.