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The Coming of the Maori

5 — The Creation of Creators

page 526

The Creation of Creators

The discovery of a supreme god named 10 in new zealand was a surprise to Maori and pakeha alike. For years we had accepted the pattern of a number of co-equal gods, each attending to his own department. Though references to Io had been made in the literature, the extent of his claims was not fully realized until an extraordinary amount of detail was furnished by Percy Smith (80) and Elsdon Best (15) through the publication of copious extracts from the Matorohanga manuscript. Both Smith and Best were enthusiastic in their acceptance of the Io material, but many others were doubtful because the Io version of the separation of light from darkness, the division of the waters, and the creation of the earth were too reminiscent of similar episodes in the first chapter of Genesis. The doubt grew when it was considered that both Te Matorohanga and his scribe Te Whatahoro had been converted to Christianity before the detailed story of Io was committed to manuscript. The New Zealand discovery of a supreme creator led to a search for the same or similar creators in Polynesia, and it is amazing what a mass of secret information was alleged to have been locked away in the minds of cautious Christians who but awaited the inquiry of sympathetic seekers to unloose the floodgates of memory.

It was found that the concept of a supreme god was not confined to New Zealand. In the Society Islands, Ta'aroa had been elevated to a similar supreme position as that of Io in New Zealand. However, the elevation of Ta'aroa appears to have followed a process which can be readily understood. In human affairs, the temporal chiefs were forever engaged in a struggle to add to their power and prestige by force of arms. The supremacy of a conquering tribe was shared by the god of that tribe. In central Polynesia, the gods Tane, Tu, Rongo, and Tangaroa occupied the status of major gods with a distribution of authority somewhat similar to that which they held in New Zealand. Unlike New Zealand, however, page 527there was a tendency to elevate one of the four above the others. Such a policy, if pursued, could end in the successful god becoming the principal god and even a supreme creator. The status of these four gods throughout Polynesia reveals the variations which took place in the development of local pantheons.

In the Cook Islands, all four gods were present as the sons of Vatea and Papa, but their status varied. In Aitutaki and Atiu, Tangaroa appears to have been regarded as the principal god. In Rarotonga, though Tangaroa has been credited with the principal position, the story of the deification of Tangiia indicates that Rongo, under the name of Rongomatane, had greater prestige, for he commanded Tangaroa and Tonga'iti to carry out his order of providing a human medium for the newly deified Tangiia. In Mangaia, Tangaroa was practically evicted and Rongo was definitely the principal god of the island. In Mangaia, each tribe consulted its tribal god on its own marae regarding tribal affairs; but in national affairs, such as a change of government due to war, the new military dictator and his office bearers were ritually installed with human sacrifice on the two maraes of Rongo.

In the scattered Tuamotu atolls, Tangaroa and Tane had status superior to that of Rongo and Tu.

In Mangareva, Tangaroa was one of four primary gods in myth; Tane was an ancestor whose daughter became Tangaroa's second wife; Rongo was the god of rain and turmeric; and Tu was introduced later from Iva (Marquesas). The first marae was built to Tu and others were established on all the islands so that Tu became the principal active god of the group.

In the Marquesas, Tane and 'Onotapu (Rongotapu) were not important, Tu was associated with war, and Tana'oa (Tangaroa) was god of the sea and winds.

For the Austral Islands, information is scanty, but Tangaroa appears to have been important and Rongo, as "Rooteabu", (Ro'o-te-apu or Ro'o-tapu) was present.

In the Tongareva atoll, the four gods Tane, Tu, Rongo, and Tangaroa were present, but there appears to have been no struggle for supremacy among them.

In Hawaii, all four were present as major gods and of these, Ku (Tu), as a war god, had the greatest prestige as human sacrifices were offered on his temples (heiau). Lono (Rongo) was important in connection with food and the Makahiki ceremony of paying the annual taxes, but he was content with sacrifices of pigs, dogs, and fowls. Kane (Tane) was very important in ritual observances and chants. Kanaloa (Tangaroa) was the least important of the four, but he was often paired with Kane in chants. The later Hawaiian historians, influenced no doubt by their acceptance of page 528Christian teaching, grouped Kane, Ku, and Lono into a trinity and relegated the spare but unoffending Kanaloa to the nether regions.

In Samoa, Tangaloa was the principal god and created the islands. The legends concerning Tangaloa are centred on the island of Tau in the Manu'a group, whence his worship evidently spread to the rest of the Samoan group and on to Tonga. In Tonga, Tangaloa was the principal god, but the islands were fished up by Maui. Tane, Rongo, and Tu were not included in the local pantheons of either of these important western groups.

Of the smaller western islands, Tangaloa was the principal god in Niue, Uvea, and Rotuma; but in Futuna, he occurs only in songs. In Pukapuka, references to Tane and Tangaroa appear in chants, but Rongo and Tu are not mentioned. Though Tangaloa has been stated to be present in the Tokelau atolls, Macgregor (53) fails to mention him or the other three gods of the big four.

Turning back to the Society Islands, traditions state that Tane, Tu, and Ro'o (Rongo) were the gods of the early Manahune inhabitants of Tahiti. Tane was also the most important god in Huahine, Taha'a, and Porapora. Ro'o was important in Mo'orea and Ta'aroa (Tangaroa) was supreme in Ra'iatea. From the distribution, it is evident that, in early times, Tane was more widely worshipped than Ta'aroa in the Society Islands.

The western distribution of Tangaroa indicates that an early contact appears to have taken place between Ra'iatea in the Society Islands and Manu'a in Samoa. Either Tangaroa was carried from Ra'iatea to Manu'a or from Manu'a to Ra'iatea. However, there is the possibility that Tangaroa was deified somewhere along the route of migration into Polynesia and some canoes carried him into Manu'a direct while others carried him to Ra'iatea without touching at Samoa. Apart from Samoa, Tonga, and Ra'iatea, there is no evidence that Tangaroa ever occupied the status of a supreme god. On the contrary, he was inferior to his brothers in many island groups. The absence of Tane, Tu, and Rongo in western Polynesia indicates that they were deified either in the Society Islands or along the Polynesian route, whence they were carried direct to the Society Islands without touching at Samoa.

From a study of the myths and legends, it is evident that the groups of settlers on each island in the Society group had their own principal gods. A good deal of development and change took place as the population continued to increase. At some period before dispersal took place, the priests began to systematize the theology of the group. Though they maintained their allegiance to their own particular god, they paid due respect to the gods of others by eventually grouping them together as members of one family and allocating various powers to them so that each had his own department. At the same time, a story was composed to page 529provide the divine family with supernatural parents. The earth, perhaps from older myths, provided the lower recumbent female partner, and the space above extending to the sky supplied the upper male partner. The earth was personified as the female Papa and the upper space as the male Atea and Vatea. A ready-made family was supplied to them, of which the principal four were Tane, Tu, Rongo, and Tangaroa.

Before the divine family group had become firmly systematized, however, various groups of people moved out to seek new homes. The settlers of Hawaii carried with them the concept of space as the male Vatea, which in their dialect became Wakea, and the female land stratum as Papa. But this mythical couple were made the parents of islands instead of gods. After Papa had given birth to some of the Hawaiian islands, Wakea mated with Ho'ohoku (Tahitian, Fa'ahotu) who gave birth to other islands. The four gods under the dialectal forms of Kane (Tane), Ku (Tu), Lono (Rongo), and Kanaloa (Tangaroa), having been deprived of their legitimate parents, were placed in the local pantheon without any clear explanation of their origin.

The settlers of the Marquesas took the concept of the two personified layers but, while they rightly termed the lower earth layer as Papa-'a'o (Papa-raro), they used the descriptive term "upper layer" in the name Papa-'una (Papa-runga), which displaced Atea. However, Atea was placed among the progeny which issued from between Papa-'a'o and Papa-'una and was made the procreator of man. Tane, 'Ono (Rongo), and Tu were included in the family with diminished status, though Tu retained a connection with war. Tana'oa was omitted from the family list, but he was retained as the god of the sea, to which was added the winds.

Mangaia in the Cook Islands preserved the typical family with Vatea marrying Papa and producing a family of six sons, among whom were Tangaroa, Rongo, and Tanepapakai. Tu was somehow omitted from the family, but he was made a denizen of the Underworld who visited the upper world to establish the pattern of fighting with weapons.

A substitution for Papa in the form of Fakahotu took place in the Tuamotu. Here, Atea married Fakahotu and produced Tane, Tangaroa, and Rongo. A similar change occurred in the Tongareva atoll, where Atea married Hakahotu and produced a family of 11 children, among whom were Tane, Tangaroa, and Rongonui. The term hakahotu means to grow up like a coral growth, hence it was an appropriate atoll term to substitute for papa or earth stratum. However, this alternate form must be old, for it occurs in Tahiti as Fa'ahotu and in Hawaii as Ho'ohoku.

Another change occurred in the personification of the term tumu (foundation, cause) as a useful ancestral name at the beginning of genealogical tables. Its substitution for Atea belongs to a later period when further revision was taking place at Ra'iatea. Part of the revised scheme page 530reached the Cook Islands and, whereas Mangaia retained the older pattern of Vatea, Rarotonga changed over to Te Tumu. Thus, Te Tumu as a male married Papa and produced a family of five gods including Rongo, Tane, Tu, and Tangaroa. The displacement of Atea was compensated by making him one of a later family of five ariki chiefs.

The priests of Ta'aroa in Ra'iatea were seized at some time with the ambition to elevate their god above all others to the position of a supreme god and creator. In doing this, they gave out that Ta'aroa had no father or mother and thus discarded the earlier concept that Atea and Papa were his parents, Ta'aroa was elevated into space where he dwelt in a shell shaped like an egg. He developed himself in solitude, having no parents. He broke out of the old shell named Rumia and retired into an inner shell. Finally he turned the inner shell into the stratum rock and soil for the earth and opened out the outer shell, Rumia, into the dome of the sky. The storm, rain, sea, and all things existed through Ta'aroa. He created the great foundation of the earth, Tumunui, to be the husband and the stratum rock, Paparaharaha, to be the wife. However, when Ta'aroa called upon them to approach each other to mate, they refused to move on the grounds that they were fixed in their respective positions. Thus, by substituting Tumunui for Atea as the husband of Papa and making them refuse to budge, the earlier family, of which Ta'aroa was one, was effectively removed from the picture. However, the members of the earlier family were too well remembered to be dropped and were therefore retained in such a way as to demonstrate Ta'aroa's newly acquired creative power.

Ta'aroa conjured forth Tu to serve as an artisan to assist him in various tasks. Living creatures filled the land and sea and various natural features were personified. Atea was rather shabbily treated, being born a female in the space above within the dome of Rumia. Then Atea married Papa-tu-'oi and gave birth to Tane as a shapeless mass. Note that Atea and Papa produce Tane as in the earlier story, but their sexes are reversed. The artisans of various gods came with their baskets of tools to try plastic surgery on Tane, but overcome by awe of Atea, they left without operating. Eventually Ta'aroa took charge of the case and by various operations Tane was converted to normal form and eventually became the god of beauty. Mother Atea applied some of the finishing touches; with a basket of gimlet shells, she bored the holes for the ears, nose, mouth, and throat of Tane. The operations performed on Tane are reminiscent of those performed by Tane in another story wherein he and his colleagues made the first woman. Later Ro'o (Rongo) was conjured forth by Ta'aroa and thus he completed the creation of his three former brothers.

The consciences of the priests may have pricked them for having changed Atea from the father of Tane to his mother. Having made Atea page 531suffer labour pains, they decided to restore his rightful sex by exchanging with Fa'ahotu, who was conveniently introduced at this juncture as a male. However, instead of Atea and Fa'ahotu marrying, as they had done in Tuamotu, Tongareva, and Hawaii, another mix-up occurred. In spite of their early refusal to come together, Tumunui and Paparaharaha produced a son named Te Fatu, and he it was who married Fa'ahotu. However, the much abused Atea was at last married to a female named Hotu (the last part of Fa'ahotu) and became the father of the well-known god, Roro'o, who must not be confused with Ro'o.

The preceding short account of the elevation of Ta'aroa illustrates what confusion may arise as a result of pouring new wine into old bottles. It was easy enough to confer various powers upon Ta'aroa, but when it came to recasting the parts for the characters from the older version, complications were bound to arise. Thus, contradictions in sex were afterwards righted by changing sexes, which does not seem to be an old technique. It is possible that some simple concept, such as that of creating islands, may have existed in connection with Ta'aroa in Ra'iatea from very early times as it continued to do in Samoa. However, the development of the theme to include the creation of the universe and the gods took place in Ra'iatea some time after the Maori left the group, in approximately 1350.

An additional feature was the development of the cult of 'Oro. Ta'aroa, after his elevation, overshadowed a woman in Ra'iatea and she gave birth to 'Oro. The priests evidently retired Ta'aroa on the laurels created for him and installed 'Oro as their active deity. The Ra'iateans proseletyzed Tahiti by force, defeated the followers of Tane, and established 'Oro as the principal functioning god of the Society Islands. Except for a reference in Rarotonga, 'Oro, or Koro, as a son of Ta'aroa, was unknown outside of the Society group. Thus, the addition of 'Oro to the pantheon was a local event in Ra'iatea, occurring long after the dispersal of people to the other groups.

The Maori story of Io was elaborated by a different process from that by which Ta'aroa was elevated to the supreme position in the Society Islands. The Maori theologians were wise in selecting a totally new character, in the person of Io, who had no family connection with the already established gods. Thus, instead of wrecking the family of the Sky-father and the Earth-mother as the Ra'iateans had done for Ta'aroa, they incorporated the earlier story in their later composition as a framework to which additions were readily made.

Io was personified as a primary core, heart, essence, who existed in space. He had no parents and was self created. He was credited as being the creator of all things, and it is evidently assumed that he was responsible for the primary parents Rangi and Papa. Rangi is the same concept as Atea of central Polynesia and the name probably went through the stages page 532of Atea, Rangiatea, and finally Rangi. Rangi and Papa produced the primary gods according to the pattern brought from central Polynesia, but the family was increased from six to 70. Further details were added concerning Tane's marriages, the assembling of the anatomical parts of the first woman, the addition of two extra skies, Tane's expedition to obtain the baskets of knowledge, and various other elaborations.

Changes from the simpler version occur in the introduction of Whiro as the bitter enemy of Tane and the conversion of the wind god, Tawhirimatea, as an ally of Tane. Invention is present in the creation of the offices of whatukura, mareikura, and apa as guardians of each floor of the twelve skies. Though classed as divine, the caretakers were purely academic and were not worshipped. Io and his personal staff remained aloof from the mass of the people. The reason given for the general ignorance concerning Io was that the cult was too sacred for the priests to divulge even to their own people. Like the secret societies of civilized races, the candidates had to be approved beforehand, regularly initiated, and taught within the closed lodge formed by a properly constituted house of learning. The cult of Io did not interfere in any way with the popular system of worshipping departmental, tribal, and family gods.

The only complete story concerning Io was derived from the Matorohanga manuscript, which recorded the teaching of the Ngati Kahungunu houses of learning. It is interesting to note what support may be obtained from other sources.

John White (104, vol. 2, p. 2), without any knowledge of the Matorohanga manuscript, recorded four pages of text concerning Io. The first page deals with a quotation from a Whanganui lament which refers to the god Io. The following pages deal with the Ngati Ruanui interpretations as omens of muscular twitches in various parts of the body. The muscular twitches are termed io, but the pages are headed "The God Io" and every time a twitch occurs in the text, it is spelt with a capital letter (Io). Thus, White supported a page of a god Io with three pages of twitches (io), but capitalization does not convert a muscular twitch into a god.

Another example of pseudo-evidence was given by Davis (26, p. 132), who, after stating that the oldest Maori prayers were those addressed to the sacred Io, quoted and translated the following lines as referring to the god Io:

1. Nekea e Whakatau Move on, O Whakatau
2. Ki runga o Hawaiki, Move to Hawaiki,
3. Whakaturia to whare, Establish there thy house (temple),
4. Me ko te maru a Io. As though it were (beneath) the maru (shadow, or shelter, or sacred headship, or protecting care) of Io.
page 533

Many old songs referring to mythical and historical events mention the building and naming of a historic house, as in lines 3 and 4 above. Line 4, which gives the name of the house should have been written:

4. Me ko Te Maru-aio

The word aio means calm or peace, maru means shelter, and Te Maru-aio meant The Shelter-of-peace. Davis, by breaking up the name into "te maru a Io", committed a serious mistake which eliminates the poem as evidence in support of Io. Davis' error is confirmed by similar lines in the classic song of Turaukawa of the Ngati Ruanui tribe. Davis did not give the author of the song which he quoted, but it is evident from the context that the two songs refer to the same house. The lines in Turaukawa's song, as recorded by White (104, vol. 1, preface quotation), are as follows:

Whakaturia tana whare Erected his house
Ko Te-rangi-aio. Named Te Rangi-aio.

The house is given as Te Rangi-aio (Day-of-peace) instead of Te Maru-aio, but the use and meaning of aio is the same in both quotations.

A definite reference to Io was contained in a document given to Colonel Gudgeon by Tiwai Paraone of the Marutuahu tribes of Hauraki some years before its publication in 1907 with a translation by Hare Hongi (101, p. 109). It commenced with the lines:

I noho a Io i roto Io dwelt within
i te aha o te ao, breathing space of immensity,
He pouri te ao, The universe was in darkness,
he wai katoa. with water everywhere.

Io then separated darkness from light, divided the waters, suspended the sky and formed mother earth. The document appears to have been the transcription of an address, for it goes on to apologise for the fragmentary information about Io, disclaims knowledge as to whether or not Io had a wife, and excuses the lack of details by stating that the Maori "who therefore speaketh thus spasmodically" had no committee (komiti) to straighten matters out and no recording ink. The document then proceeds to enumerate the children of Rangi and Papa according to the popular version in which Tawhirimatea fights with his brothers. Whiro is omitted from the family of the Sky-father, and there is no mention of the 12 skies, the three baskets of knowledge, or Io's staff of whatukura, mareikura, and apa. The mention of the committee and recording in ink in connection with Io would seem to indicate that Tiwai Paraone, or whoever gave the address, knew of the steps taken by the Ngati Kahungunu tribe to preserve their ancient lore which included their version of Io. However, his own contribution regarding Io is confined to page 534the name and the acts which could have been borrowed from Genesis. The rest of the document is the widely spread popular version of Rangi and Papa with their children. The omission of the Matorohanga version subsequent to the cosmogony shows that it was not known to the Hauraki tribes.

Authentic evidence in support of Io is contained in a long poem attributed to Tuhotoariki (103, p. 43). It describes Tane's ascent through twelve skies, the entrance, named Te Pumotomoto, to the topmost sky of Tikitiki o rangi, the three baskets of knowledge, the support given to Tane by Tawbirimatea with his wind family including Titiparauri, Titimatanginui, and Titimatakaka, the defeat of Whiro at Paerangi and his descent to Rarohenga. The altered translation of the following interesting lines is mine.

Whakarongo mai e Tama! Listen O my Son!
Kotahi tonu te hiringa One only was the incentive
I kake ai Tane ki Why Tane ascended to
Tikitiki-o-Rangi, the Topmost-sky,
Ko te hiringa i te mahara It was the incentive of the thought
Ka kitea i reira ko That there he would behold
Io-matua-te-kore-anake, Io-the-parentless,
I a ia te Toi-ariki, With whom was source of regal might,
Te Toi-urutapu, te Toi-ururangi, Of sacred and divine control,
Te Toi-uru-ora, And power over life itself.

There can be no doubt that the composer of this poem was acquainted with the Io complex from after the creation periods. Tuhotoariki, the composer, is placed genealogically in the fourth generation from Whatonga of the first Kurahaupo canoe which is credited with arriving in approximately AD. 1150. However, Tuhotoariki was an ancestor of the Ngati Kahungunu tribe, which explains why the details in the song fit in so exactly with the Matorohanga account. There is a strong possibility that the song was composed at a much later period and its authorship projected back to Tuhotoariki.

The interest aroused in Io led Handy (49, p. 134) to investigate the occurrence of the name Io in some of the Hawaiian chants. He pointed out that the name Io was applied to the Hawaiian hawk (Buteo solitarius) because of its cry of ioio. He concluded that Io worship in Hawaii was specifically a bird cult, primarily for the hawk (io) and secondarily for the owl (pueo). He identified Io with Uli, who was a sorcerer's god and more frequently mentioned in chants. Handy warned against trying to establish Io as the Supreme Being in Hawaii, for the evidence proved only page 535that he was a protective deity in some of the rituals of certain chiefly and priestly lines.

Emory (37, p. 200) stressed the fact that the hawk, which does not occur elsewhere in tropical Polynesia, was named because of its cry and not after a god named Io. He showed that the name should be written with the hamza as 'Io, which in the New Zealand dialect would be Kio. Hence, there was no linguistic connection between the Hawaiian 'Io (=Kio) and the Maori Io.

The Polynesian word kio is an example of onomatopoeia; kio imitates the sound of a screech or a squeak made by a bird or an animal such as a rat. The term was also applied to me sound made by the symbol of the god Tane when it was liberated from a stoppered coconut shell in Mangaia. Thus, the names of the Hawaiian 'Io and the Mangaian form of Tanekio were both derived from squeaks which were used locally as divine names after the primary dispersal from central Polynesia had taken place. Neither in origin nor in function can they be accepted as evidence of the former existence of a Supreme Creator named Io.

A claim for the position of Supreme Creator in the Tuamotu has been advanced by Stimson (83) for a god named Kihotumu. The information was obtained mainly from inhabitants of the Fangatau atoll and from collected chants termed fangu. Emory (36, p. 69), who worked with Stimson in the field with the same informants, has shown that these informants were inconsistent and had altered the fangu chants from their original recording so as to include the name of Kihotumu. It would appear that the Fangatau informants attempted to do for Kihotumu what the Ra'iateans did for Ta'aroa.

In summing up the evidence from Polynesia, there is no authentic proof that the concept of a supreme creator named Io, Kio, Kiho, or Tangaroa existed in central Polynesia before dispersal to the various island groups took place. The elevation of Ta'aroa was a local development in Ra'iatea which spread only to the islands within the Society group. The Samoan version of Tangaloa creating islands is very primitive and it has no affinity with the elaborate Ta'aroa complex of the Society Islands. The Maori concept of Io was also a local development in New Zealand and apparently originated with the Ngati Kahungunu tribe, from which rumours of the cult spread to a few other tribes. I believe that the elaborations on the popular version over the period after the birth of the family of Rangi and Papa were composed in the Ngati Kahungunu houses of learning. These include the enlarged family, the 12 heavens with their names, houses, and guardians, the enmity between Tane and Whiro, the ascent of Tane to the topmost sky, the three baskets of knowledge, the descent of Hinetitama and Whiro to the Underworld of Rarohenga, and the square clearing house of spirits at Hawaikinui. On the other hand, the page 536cosmogony of separating light from darkness, the waters from the dry land, and the suspension of the firmament appear to have been post-European additions made after knowledge was acquired of the Biblical story of the creation. The separation of the spirits at Hawaikinui, so that the righteous went through the east door to ascend to supernal realms and the sinners through the south door to the Underworld, is contrary to the Maori and Polynesian concepts of the future world. It is too closely allied to the Christian teaching of heaven and hell to have originated in an ancient house of learning before European contact.