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The Maori: Yesterday and To-day

Io and the Twelve Heavens

Io and the Twelve Heavens.

An aged wise man of the Upper Whanganui people, Te Haupapa-o-Tané, of Orongonui, Tuhua Country, wrote this statement of ancient religion for Mr. S. Percy Smith, President of the Polynesian Society, in 1908:

“The great god of all in our belief—that is the Maori people—above all gods, was this, Io-matua, the meaning of which is, that he was the parent of all things; in the heavens or in the worlds. His second name was Io-mata-ngaro [Io-the-hidden-face], which name means that he is never seen by man. His third name is Io-mata-aho [Io-seen-in-a-flash], so called because he is never seen except as in a flash of light or lightning. A fourth name is Io-tikitiki-o-rangi [Io-exalted-of-heaven], called so because he dwells in the highest and last of the heavens. A fifth name is Io-nui [Io-the-great-god], because he is greater than all the other gods that are known as dwelling in the heavens or the earth.

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“The heavens above us are twelve in number, and their names are:

Rangi-tikitiki Rangi-tauru
Kirikiri-o-matangi Rangi-te-mata-waiwai
Rangi-aoao-ariki Rangi-mairehau
Rangi-tu-te-wawana Rangi-paraparawai
Rangi-nui-ka-taki Rangi-tamakumaku
Rangi-mata-uraura Rangi-whakataka

“These are the names of the heavens as described in the recitations of the learned men of old.

“The following are the Apa of those heavens. [The Apa are messengers, ambassadors, companions]:—

Te Apa-whawha-kura Te Apa-kaukau
Te Apa-whatu-kura Te Apa-tahu-rangi
Te Apa-rauao Te Apa-tahu-maero
Te Apa-rahui-kura Te Apa-tahu-whakaaweawe
Te Apa-matangi-hau Te Apa-tahu-para
Te Apa-mata-wai Te Apa-tahu-mahaka

“Besides these there are many other Apa-atua [? celestial messengers], but the above are the companions of the god Io.

“The offspring of Rangi-takataka and of his wife Papatiraharaha [the earth] number seventy, all of whom are males.

“Now, it was related by the Ruanuku [wise-men, learned-men] of old, and so came to my father, that some of the offspring of Rangi-takataka and Papa-tiraharaha separated their parents [the sky and the earth] and hence this saying:—

Rangi dwells apart,
Papa dwells apart,
Behold Rangi stands up above
Papa lies here below.

“It was also narrated by those old men that the separation of the sky and the earth was the work of Tane, Paihau, Tu-matauenga, Tu-mata-kaka and others by propping up the sky. It was told, too, by those old men that Rangi had great love for his wife Papa-tiraharaha, and he called down to her, ‘O old woman! I will send down to you the wai-tangotango-uri [ice and snow] as greetings to you.’ The wife [the earth] replied, ‘It is well; I will send up to you the wai-tau [mists and fogs] of my body as greetings to you.’ In consequence of the strength of their mutual love they clung to one another; at which Tu-mata-uenga [god of war] and Tu-mata-kaka seized upon the axes named ‘Te Awhiorangi’ and ‘Te Whiro-nui,’ and with them cut off the arms of their parents, and thus separated them. It is from this cutting, that the horu, kokowai, pukepoto and tahurangi [red and blue coloured clays used for paints] are used by man to paint their dwellings, and the same [red colour] is seen in the skies denoting their blood, as a sign to their offspring.”

Nature-worshipper as the Maori was, everything was personified—the trees, the streams, the rain and page 57 dew, the mist and sunshine. He had deep respect for the forest of tall timbers—the “Vast and Holy Woods of Tané.” In the fogs that rose like fleecy wraiths from the rivers and the swamps were the Hau-Maringiringi, the dewy children of Rangi and Papa. These, too, were the divine offspring of the Sky-Father and Earth-Mother: Hau-nui and Tomairangi the dew; Tane-uarangi, the heavy rain; Hau-maroroto, rain in big drops; and the grateful warmth of midsummer days was the Tou-a-Rangi.

Greenstone tiki

Greenstone tiki

There are numerous legends describing in great detail the formation by Tane-nui-a-Rangi of a woman from the earth, named Hine-ahu-one, the “Earth-formed Maid.” Into her he breathed life, and when she became a living being, he took her to page 58 wife, and their son was Tiki, the parent of mankind. One of Tane's daughters was named Tikikapakapa, which seems to be an allegorical name for the birds of the forest, sometimes spoken of by the Maoris as “Nga aitanga kapakapa a Tane” (“Tane's wing-flapping children”). It was Tane's daughter Hine-a-Tauira who descended to the Po, the Underworld, and took the name of Hine-nui-te-Po, the Great-Woman-of-Night. She is the personification of Death. Human beings are spoken of as “Nga Aitanga a Tiki”, the begotten of Tiki.

The Maori greenstone neck-pendant, carved in grotesque resemblance to a human form, and called tiki, is probably a representation of Tiki, the father of mankind.

The Maori strongly believed in his divine descent. His genealogies all go back to the gods. The following is a translation of an oriori, or chief's lullaby to his little son, frequently sung at the present day in the Wairarapa and along the East Coast by the people of Takitimu descent:

From heaven's pinnacle thou comest,
O my son,
Born of the very Sky,
Of Heaven-that-Stands-Above.
Yes, from the Sky-God thou art,
From the vast and lofty Rangi;
From Tane, too, and Paia,
Who raised on high the firmament
At the separation of Heaven and Earth.
From the very elements, the Winds,
The whistling, swirling Winds of Heaven,
The brightly flashing Lightning,
And the rumbling, loudly crashing Thunder.

Deep in the heart of the Maori-Polynesian was the belief that everything in nature had its mauri or soul-force. “Everything,” said a Ngati-Porou tohunga, “has a mauri: Heavens, Sun, Moon, Stars, Seasons, Lightning, Wind, Rain, Fogs, Winter, Summer, Darkness, and Light—there are religiou page 59 ceremonies appropriate and peculiar to each. Man has a mauri, so also have animals, the earth, mountains, trees, food, birds, rivers, lakes, and the many things of the earth, and there are incantations and ceremonies proper to each.”

The term mauri is a difficult one to explain clearly to the pakeha mind. It can be translated as “soul”, but the Maori does not intend to convey the idea that animals (kararehe) have souls, when he speaks of their mauri. Again forests and cultivation-grounds have their mauri, the intangible quality that makes them fruitful as sources of food supply. When the historic canoes landed in New Zealand, the new arrivals deposited their sacred stones (kura, or mauri-kohatu) in the forests to preserve the hau of the birding-grounds, that is their power of productiveness. The expression hau, as applied to man, is used in the sense of soul or life-essence, but it is not always easy to distinguish between hau and mauri. A man's hau, the intangible embodiment, if the expression is intelligible, of his vital principle, could be taken by an enemy, by means of witchcraft, and unless the spell were counteracted, his mauri-ora would depart from him, and he would die. Man's mauri-ora has been translated as “vital spark.”

Wairua is the common Maori term for man's spirit or soul, which is capable of leaving him at times and communing with other souls. When a person is asleep, the wairua wanders abroad, and visits the Reinga, the underworld, or spirit world; visions in dreams are those which one's wairua sees when temporarily absent in the spirit-land. An often-sung Maori love-ditty begins:

Hokihoki tonu mai te wairua o te tau,
Ki te awhi-Reinga ki tenei kiri e.

(Oft may the spirit of my love return to me,
To embrace in Reinga-land this form of mine).

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The Reinga is here the Land of Dreams.

Besides the great deities, the seven of Rangi and Papa, there were the innumerable lesser deities of the Maori pantheon, a vast company of atua, to whom invocations and propitiatory incantations were addressed; atua of earth and sky, of cultivation and food, of fishing and seafaring, of the forests and waters, and particularly of war. These were in general deified beings of mortal origin. Amongst a people whose great glory was in battle, deities of war held high place. Each tribe had its war-god, and each god had its kaupapa or medium,
A Maori tuahu, at Hauraki, near Puhirua, Rotorua. The stones set in the ground represent the principal gods of the Arawa tribe: Marute-whare-aitu, Rongomai, Ihungaru, and Itupawa. The tuahu was the sacred altar of the priests, and here the gods were placated by karakia and offerings.

A Maori tuahu, at Hauraki, near Puhirua, Rotorua. The stones set in the ground represent the principal gods of the Arawa tribe: Marute-whare-aitu, Rongomai, Ihungaru, and Itupawa. The tuahu was the sacred altar of the priests, and here the gods were placated by karakia and offerings.

page 61 the person into whom the god was supposed to enter, when it was desired to invoke or consult him. Uenuku was the special war-god of several tribes, including those of Waikato and Taranaki; his aria or visible form is the rainbow. The god Maru is the Mars of the Whanganui tribes. Kahukura (synonymous with Uenuku) is the principal god of the Ngai-Tahu tribe. The Arawa tribe recognise Uenuku, Maru, Rongomai, Itupawa, and Makawe as their war-gods. The Urewera people have several who were invoked in time of war; belief in them has not yet disappeared. Eru Tamaikowha, the fierce old fighting chief of the Ngai-Tama and Urewera at Waimana, who died a few years ago, professed to be the medium of the war-gods Te Hukita and Te Rehu-o-Tainui.

Besides the national and tribal deities, each family also had its special atua, its ancestral spirits, the names of chiefs of sacred rank and priestly powers. A person often had—and still has, in Maori belief—a kind of astral guardian. Te Heuheu Tukino, M.L.C., head chief of Ngati-Tuwharetoa, of Taupo, said to me:

“Our tribal gods are Rongomai, Uenuku or Kahukura, Tawhaki, Puhaorangi, and others. Some of these were ancestors. Rongomai is my personal god. I am a Christian, and believe in the pakeha God, nevertheless my own god has not vanished. The saying of my family is ‘Ko Rongomai te Atua, ko Te Heuheu te Tangata,’ (‘Rongomai is the God, Te Heuheu is the Man’), He is our guardian atua, and our god of war. His aria (form) is a star; in the olden days it was a shooting star (whetu-rere). Rongomai still appears on certain occasions. He has accompanied me on my travels at night. I was once riding along the shore of Lake Taupo, when the tohu (sign) of Rongomai appeared to follow me page 62 in the sky as I went on my way. He is my kai-tiaki, my protector.”

There is a remarkable modern instance of this tendency to exalt tribal and national heroes to the rank of gods. Te Kooti, the famous warrior who led his Hauhaus from 1868 to 1872, continually chased by the Government forces but never captured, is regarded as little short of a god by the Urewera people. “For three years he fought your Government troops,” they will tell you, “and yet you never got him. He was a wonderful man, and he had mana-tapu and influence with the gods. Indeed he was a god himself (he atua ano).” Many singular stories are related of Te Kooti's supposed supernatural powers. Since his day another prophet has arisen in the Urewera Country, but Ruatapu-nui of Maungapohatu is not a Te Kooti.

A Tohunga, Werewere te Rangi-pu-mamao, of Taupo (died about 1892).

A Tohunga, Werewere te Rangi-pu-mamao, of Taupo (died about 1892).

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