Maori Religion and Mythology
Chapter I. Aryans And Polynesians
Chapter I. Aryans And Polynesians.
Nóμiζ∊ σαυτῳ̑ τoυ̑ς γονει̑ς ἒιναι Θεούσ.
The religious feeling may be traced to the natural veneration of the child for the parent, joined to an innate belief in the immortality of the soul. What we know of the primitive religion of Aryans and Polynesians points to this source. They both venerated the spirits of deceased ancestors, believing that these spirits took an interest in their living descendants: moreover, they feared them, and were careful to observe the precepts handed down by tradition, as having been delivered by them while alive.
The souls of men deified by death were by the Latins called “Lares” or “Mânes,” by the Greeks “Demons” or “Heroes.” Their tombs were the temples of these divinities, and bore the inscription “Dîs manibus,” “Θεοὶς Χθόνιοις;” and before the tomb was an altar for sacrifice. The term used by the Greeks and Romans to signify the worship of the dead is significant. The former used the word page 2 “πατριάζειν,” the latter “parentare,” showing that the prayers were addressed to forefathers. “I prevail over my enemies,” says the Brahmin, “by the incantations which my ancestors and my father have handed down to me.”*
Similar to this was the common belief of the Maori of Polynesia, and still exists. A Maori of New Zealand writes thus: “The origin of knowledge of our native customs was from Tiki (the progenitor of the human race). Tiki taught laws to regulate work, slaying, man-eating: from him men first learnt to observe laws for this thing, and for that thing, the rites to be used for the dead, the invocation for the new-born child, for battle in the field, for the assault of fortified places, and other invocations very numerous. Tiki was the first instructor, and from him descended his instructions to our forefathers, and have abided to the present time. For this reason they have power. Thus says the song:—
E tama, tapu-nui, tapu-whakaharahara,
He mauri wehewehe na o tupuna,
Na Tiki, na Rangi, na Papa.
O child, very sacred—very, very sacred,
Shrine set apart by your ancestors,
By Tiki, by Rangi, by Papa.
* La Cité Antique par De Coulange.
When we consider the great remoteness of time at which it is possible that a connection between Aryans and Polynesians could have existed, we are carried back to the contemplation of a very primitive condition of the human race. In the Polynesian family we can still discover traces of this primitive condition. We can also observe a similarity between the more antient form of religious belief and mythological tradition of the Aryans and that still existing among Polynesians; for which reason we think it allowable to apply to the interpretation of old Aryan myths the principle we discover to guide us as to the signification of Polynesian Mythology.
It was a favourite opinion with Christian apologists, Eusebius and others, that the Pagan deities represented deified men. Others consider them to signify page 4 the powers of external nature personified. For others they are, in many cases, impersonations of human passions and propensities reflected back from the mind of man. A fourth mode of interpretation would treat them as copies distorted and depraved of a primitive system of religion given by God to man.*
The writer does not give any opinion as to which of these theories he would give a preference. If, however, we look at the mythology of Greek and Latin Aryans from the Maori point of view the explanation of their myths is simple.
This mythology personified and deified the Powers of Nature, and represented them as the ancestors of all mankind; so these personified Powers of Nature were worshipped as deified ancestors. There is no authority for any other supposition. With regard to the two latter theories above referred to it may be remarked that fiction is always liable to be interpreted in a manner conformable to the ideas prevailing at any particular time, so that there would be a natural tendency, in modern times, to apply meanings never originally thought of to the interpretation of mythology. Man in early days, ignorant of the causes of natural phenomena, yet having a mind curious to inquire and trace observed effects to some cause, formulated his conceptions on imaginary grounds, which, although now manifestly false and absurd, yet were probably sufficiently credible in the infancy of knowledge.
* Juventus mundi, p. 203.
I have seen it stated in print that the New Zealander has no sentiment of gratitude; in proof of which it was mentioned that he has no word in his language to express gratitude. This is true; but the reason is that gratitude is an abstract word, and that Maori is deficient in abstract terms. It is an error to infer that he is ignorant of the sentiment of gratitude, or that he is unable to express that sentiment in appropriate and intelligible words.
Hesiod in his Theogony relates that the first parent of all was Chaos.
From Chaos sprung Gaia (=Earth), Tartarus, Eros (=Love), Erebus, a dark son, Night, a dark daughter, and lastly, Day.
From Gaia alone sprung Ouranos (=Heaven), Hills, Groves, and Thalassa (=Sea).
From Heaven and Earth sprung Okeanos (=Ocean), Japetus, Kronos (=Saturn), Titans.
Hesiod also relates how Heaven confined his children in the dark caverns of Earth, and how Kronos avenged himself.
In the “Works and Days” Hesiod gives an account of the formation of the first human female out of Earth, from the union of whom, with Epimetheus, son of the Titan Japetus, sprung the human race.
So far Hesiod's account may be derived from Aryan myths. The latter and greater part, however, of Hesiod's Theogony cannot be accepted as a purely Aryan tradition; for colonists from Egypt and Phœnicia had settled in Greece, at an early period, and had brought with them alien mythical fables which were adopted in a modified form, in addition to the antient family religion of worship of ancestors.
Herodotus asserts that Homer and Hesiod made the Theogony of the Greeks; and to a certain extent this may be true, for the bard was then invested with a kind of sacredness, and what he sung was held to be the page 7 effect of an inspiration. When he invoked the Muses his invocation was not a mere formal set of words introduced for the sake of ornament, but an act of homage due to the Divinities addressed, whose aid he solicited.*
The traditions prevalent in Bœotia would naturally be strongly imbued with fables of foreign origin; and Hesiod, who was a Bœotian by birth, by collecting these local traditions and presenting them to the public in an attractive form, no doubt contributed, as well as Homer, to establish a national form of religion, made up of old Aryan tradition and what had been imported by Phœnician and Egyptian colonists.
Thus Zeus and the other Olympian deities formed the centre of a national religious system; but at the same time the old Aryan religion of worship of ancestors maintained a paramount influence, and every tribe and every family had its separate form of worship of its own ancestors. The prayer of the son of Achilles, when in the act of sacrificing Polyxena to the manes of his father, is a striking instance of the prevalent belief that the deified spirits of ancestors had power to influence the destinies of the living.
Tell me now, O Muses, ye who dwell in Olympus;
For ye are goddesses, and are present, and know all things,
But we hear only rumour, and know not anything.
Comparing the Greek mythological traditions, such as they have come down to us, with those of the Maori, some striking resemblance is to be observed. First, there is the fact that both treat the elements of nature, and abstract notions as persons capable of propagating from each other by generation. In both Light springs out of Darkness. The sons of Heaven and Earth in both accounts conspire against their father for the same reason—that their father had confined them in darkness. And lastly the first human female, in both, is said to have been formed out of earth. The first woman, in the Maori Mythology, drags down her offspring to Po (=Night), meaning to death. And the first woman of the Greek Mythology, Pendora [sic: Pandora], introduces all kinds of afflictions as an heritage for hers.
* Hecuba, 1. 533-9.