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Legends of the Maori

The Polynesians’ Spiritland

The Polynesians’ Spiritland.

In “Myths and Songs from the South Pacific” (1876), the Rev.W. Wyatt Gill beautifully described the beliefs of the natives of Mangaia Island, Cook Group,—one of New Zealand’s South Sea possessions—concerning the departure of the souls of the dead for the mystical regions of Avaiki (Hawaiki). The ghosts of the departed followed in the path of the setting sun. The vaerua of the many dead assembled at the western side of the island, at “Rongo’s sacred stream.” The congregated throng, whose eyes are fixed upon the setting sun, feel that the moment has come when they must for ever depart from the cherished scenes of earth, despite the tears and solicitations of relatives, who are frequently represented as chasing their loved ones over rocks and across fearful precipices, round half the island. The sun now sinks in the ocean, leaving a golden track; page 57 the entire band of ghosts take a last farewell, and following their earthly leader flit over the ocean in the train of the Sun-God Ra, but not like him destined to reappear on the morrow. The ghostly train enters Avaiki through the very aperture by which the Sun-God descends in order to lighten up for a time those dark subterranean regions. The point of departure for spiritland is called a reinga vaerua There are three on Mangaia, all facing the setting sun.

At Rarotonga the great reinga, or rereanga vaerua (Maori, Rerenga Wairua), was at Tuoro, on the west of the island. In Samoa, too, the point of departure is at the extreme western end of Savaii Island.

This is a poetical reference from Mangaia Island to the souls of warriors slain in battle:

“Spirits wandering towards the sea;
At Rangikapua they are assembled in their hosts,
A throng divine.

* * *

Whither goest thou, friend?
From the leaping-place of souls
I go to dance at Tiairi,
Arrayed in fragrant flowers.”

The Polynesians of the Society Islands (Tahiti and other Islands) had a belief in a future life in a heaven which they called Miru, according to Ellis’ “Polynesian Researches.” There was another place in the South Sea paradise which they called Rohutu Noanoa (Rohutu the fragrant). It was in among the mountains of Raiatea (our Maori Rangiatea) Island, a place of many delights, with ever-blooming flowers.

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Maori artifact

page 59