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Maori Religion and Mythology

Chapter II. Maori Cosmogony and Mythology

page 10

Chapter II. Maori Cosmogony and Mythology.

An quoquam genitos nisi Cœlo credere fas est Esse homines.Manilius.

The Maori had no tradition of the Creation. The great mysterious Cause of all things existing in the Cosmos was, as he conceived it, the generative Power. Commencing with a primitive state of Darkness, he conceived Po (=Night) as a person capable of begetting a race of beings resembling itself. After a succession of several generations of the race of Po, Te Ata (=Morn) was given birth to. Then followed certain beings existing when Cosmos was without form, and void. Afterwards came Rangi (=Heaven), Papa (=Earth), the Winds, and other Sky-powers, as are recorded in the genealogical traditions preserved to the present time.

We have reason to consider the mythological traditions of the Maori as dating from a very antient period. They are held to be very sacred, and not to be repeated except in places set apart as sacred.

The Genealogies recorded hereafter are divisible into three distinct epochs:—

1. That comprising the personified Powers of Nature preceding the existence of man, which Powers are regarded by the Maori as their own primitive ancestors, and are invoked in their karakia by all the Maori race; page 11 for we find the names of Rangi, Rongo, Tangaroa, &c., mentioned as Atua or Gods of the Maori of the Sandwich Islands and other Islands of the Pacific inhabited by the same race. The common worship of these primitive Atua constituted the National religion of the Maori.

2. In addition to this the Maori had a religious worship peculiar to each tribe and to each family, in forms of karakia or invocation addressed to the spirits of dead ancestors of their own proper line of descent.

Ancestral spirits who had lived in the flesh before the migration to New Zealand would be invoked by all the tribes in New Zealand, so far as their names had been preserved, in their traditional records as mighty spirits.

3. From the time of the migration to New Zealand each tribe and each family would in addition address their invocations to their own proper line of ancestors,— thus giving rise to a family religious worship in addition to the national religion.

The cause of the preservation of their Genealogies becomes intelligible when we consider that they often formed the ground-work of their religious formulas, and that to make an error or even hesitation in repeating a karakia was deemed fatal to its efficacy.

In the forms of karakia addressed to the spirits of ancestors, the concluding words are generally a petition to the Atua invoked to give force or effect to the karakia as being derived through the Tipua, the Pukenga, and the Whananga [sic: Wananga], and so descending to the living Tauira.

page 12

Maori Cosmogony.

A series of lists naming the powers of Night and Darkness, powers of Light and the powers of Cosmos without form and void.

From the union of Te Mangu with Mahorahoranui-a-Rangi (=The great expanse of Rangi) came four children:—

1. Toko-mua (=elder prop).

2. Toko-roto (=middle prop).

3. Toko-pa (=last prop).

4. Rangi-potiki (=child Rangi).

page 13

Genealogical Descent From Toko-Mua.

A series of lists detailing the whakapapa from Toko-mua, from Tu-awhio-nuku to Rutana.

page 14

A continuation of the description of whakapapa from Toko-mua, from Whatonga to Nga-tokowaru.

page 15

A continuation of the description of whakapapa from Toko-mua, from Huia to Hinematioro and Te Ngarara.

Genealogical Descent from Toko-Roto.

A list naming the powers of the Heavens.

After the birth of Rauru, the son of Toi-te-huatahi and Kuraemonoa, while Toi was absent from home fishing, Puhaorangi came down from Heaven, and page 16 carried off Kuraemonoa to be his own wife. She bore four children from this union:—


From Ohomairangi descended:—

A list detailing the whakapapa from Ohomairangi to Te Ngahara, Taraia and Te Hira from the time of migration from Hawaiki.

page 17

Genealogical Descent From Toko-Pa.

Kohu (=Mist) was the child of Tokopa.

Kohu married Te Ika-roa (=The Milky-way), and gave birth to Nga Whetu (=The Stars).

Genealogical Descent From Rangi-Potiki.

Rangi-potiki had three wives, the first of which was Hine-ahu-papa; from her descended:—

Sky Powers. Tu-nuku.

Haronga took to wife Tongo-tongo. Their children were a son and daughter, Te Ra (=The Sun) and Marama (=The Moon). Haronga perceiving that there was no light for his daughter Marama, gave Te Kohu in marriage to Te Ikaroa, and the Stars were born to give light for the sister of Te Ra, for the child of Tongo-tongo.” Nga tokorua a Tongo-tongo “(=the two children of Tongotongo) is a proverbial term for the Sun and Moon at the present day.

Rangi-potiki's second wife was Papatuanuku. She gave birth to the following children:—

  • Rehua (a star).
  • Rongo.
  • Tangaroa.
  • Tahu.
  • Punga and Here, twins.
  • Hua and Ari, do.
page 18

A partial list continuing the list of children born to Rangi-potiki's second wife, Papatuanuku.

Rongo was atua of the kumara.

Tangaroa was ancestor of Fish and the Pounamu, which is classed with fish by the Maori. Tangaroa took to wife Te Anu-matao (=the chilly cold): from which union descended.

All of the Fish Class. Te Whata-uira-a-tangaroa.
Te Whatukura.
Te Pounamu.

Tahu was atua presiding over peace and feasts.

Punga was ancestor of the lizard, shark, and ill-favoured creatures: hence the proverb “aitanga-a-Punga” (=child of Punga) to denote an ugly fellow.

TU-Matauenga was the Maori war God.

Rangi-potiki's third wife was Papa (=Earth). Tangaroa was accused of having committed adultery with Papa, and Rangipotiki, armed with his spear, went to obtain satisfaction. He found Tangaroa seated by the door of his house, who, when he saw Rangi thus coming towards him, began the following karakia, at the same time striking his right shoulder with his left hand:—

Tangaroa, Tangaroa,
Tangaroa, unravel;
Unravel the tangle,
Unravel, untwist.

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Though Rangi is distant,
He is to be reached.
Some darkness for above,
Some light for below
Freely give
For bright Day1

This invocation of Tangaroa was scarce ended when Rangi made a thrust at him. Tangaroa warded it off, and it missed him. Then Tangaroa made a thrust at Rangi, and pierced him quite through the thigh, and he fell.

While Rangi lay wounded he begat his child Kueo (=Moist). The cause of this name was Rangi's wetting his couch while he lay ill of his wound. After Kueo, he begat Mimi-ahi, so-called from his making water by the fireside. Next he begat Tane-tuturi (=straight-leg-Tane), so-called because Rangi could now stretch his legs. Afterwards he begat Tane-pepeki (=bent-leg-Tane), so-called because Rangi could sit with his knees bent. The next child was Tane-ua-tika (=straight-neck Tane), for Rangi's neck was now straight, and he could hold up his head. The next child born was called Tane-ua-ha2 (=strong-neck-Tane), for Rangi's neck was strong. Then was born Tane-te-waiora (=lively Tane), so called because Rangi was quite recovered. Then was born Tane-nui-a-Rangi (=Tane great son of Rangi). And last of all was born Paea, a daughter. She was the last

1 This karakia is the most antient example of the kind. It is now applied as suggestive of a peaceable settlement of a quarrel.

2 Ha=kaha.

page 20 of Rangi's children. With Paea they came to an end, so she was named Paea, which signifies ‘closed.’

Some time after the birth of these children the thought came to Tane-nui-a-Rangi to separate their father from them. Tane had seen the light of the Sun shining under the armpit of Rangi; so he consulted with his elder brothers what they should do. They all said, “Let us kill our father, because he has shut us up in darkness, and let us leave our mother for our parent. “But Tane advised, “Do not let us kill our father, but rather let us raise him up above, so that there may be light. “To this they consented; so they prepared ropes, and when Rangi was sound asleep they rolled him over on the ropes, and Paea took him on her back. Two props were also placed under Rangi. The names of the props were Tokohurunuku, and Tokohururangi. Then lifting him with the aid of these two props, they shoved him upwards. Then Papa thus uttered her farewell to Rangi.

“Haera ra, e Rangi, ē! ko te wehenga taua i a Rangi.”
“Go, O Rangi, alas! for my separation from Rangi.”

And Rangi answered from above:

“Heikona ra, e Papa, ē! ko te wehenga taua i a Papa.”
“Remain there, O Papa. Alas! for my separation from Papa.”

So Rangi dwelt above, and Tane and his brothers dwelt below with their mother, Papa.

Some time after this Tane desired to have his mother Papa for his wife. But Papa said, “Do not turn your inclination towards me, for evil will come to you. Go to your ancestor Mumuhango.” So Tane took page 21 Mumuhango to wife, who brought forth the totara tree. Tane returned to his mother dissatisfied, and his mother said, “Go to your ancestor Hine-tu-a-maunga (=the mountain maid).” So Tane took Hine-tu-a-maunga to wife, who conceived, but did not bring forth a child. Her offspring was the rusty water of mountains, and the monster reptiles common to mountains. Tane was displeased, and returned to his mother. Papa said to him “Go to your ancestor Rangahore.” So Tane went, and took that female for a wife, who brought forth stone. This greatly displeased Tane, who again went back to Papa. Then Papa said “Go to your ancestor Ngaore (=the tender one). Tane took Ngaore to wife. And Ngaore gave birth to the toetoe (a species of rush-like grass). Tane returned to his mother in displeasure. She next advised him, “Go to your ancestor Pakoti.” Tane did as he was bid, but Pakoti only brought forth harekeke [sic: harakeke] (=phormium tenax). Tane had a great many other wives at his mother's bidding, but none of them pleased him, and his heart was greatly troubled, because no child was born to give birth to Man; so he thus addressed his mother—“Old lady, there will never be any progeny for me.” Thereupon Papa said, “Go to your ancestor, Ocean, who is grumbling there in the distance. When you reach the beach at Kura-waka, gather up the earth in the form of man.” So Tane went and scraped up the earth at Kura-waka. He gathered up the earth, the body was formed, and then the head, and the arms; then he joined on the legs, and patted down the surface of the belly, so as to give the form of man; and when he had done this, he returned to his mother and said, “The page 22 whole body of the man is finished.” Thereupon his mother said, “Go to your ancestor Mauhi, she will give the raho.1 Go to your ancestor Whete, she will give the timutimu.2 Go to your ancestor Taua-ki-te-marangai, she will give the paraheka.3 Go to your ancestor Pungaheko, she has the huruhuru.” So Tane went to these female ancestors, who gave him the things asked for. He then went to Kura-waka. Katahi ka whakanoho ia i nga raho ki roto i nga kuwha o te wahine i hanga ki te one: Ka mau era. Muri atu ka whakanoho ia ko te timutimu na Whete i homai ki waenga i nga raho; muri atu ko te paraheka na Taua-ki-te-marangai i homai ka whakanoho ki te take o te timutimu: muri iho ko te huruhuru na Pungaheko i homai ka whakanoho ki runga i te puke. Ka oti, katahi ka tapa ko Hineahuone. Then he named this female form Hine-ahu-one (=The earth formed maid).

Tane took Hine-ahu-one to wife. She first gave birth to Tiki-tohua—the egg of a bird from which have sprung all the birds of the air. After that, Tiki-kapakapa was born—a female. Then first was born for Tane a human child. Tane took great care of Tiki-kapakapa, and when she grew up he gave her a new name, Hine-a-tauira (=the pattern maid). Then he took her to wife, and she bore a female child who was named Hine-titamauri.

One day Hine-a-tauira said to Tane, “Who is my father?” Tane laughed. A second time Hine-a-tauira asked the same question. Then Tane made a sign:4

1 Quaedam partes corporis genitales.

2 Quaedam partes corporis genitales.

3 Quaedam partes corporis genitales.

4 Katahi ka tohungia e Tane ki tona ure.

page 23 and the woman understood, and her heart was dark, and she gave herself up to mourning, and fled away to Rikiriki, and to Naonao, to Rekoreko, to Waewae-te-Po, and to Po.1 The woman fled away, hanging down her head.2 Then she took the name of Hine-nui-te-Po (=great woman of Night). Her farewell words to Tane were—“Remain, O Tane, to pull up our offspring to Day; while I go below to drag down our offspring to Night.”3

Tane sorrowed for his daughter-wife, and cherished his daughter Hinetitamauri; and when she grew up he gave her to Tiki to be his wife, and their first-born child was Tiki-te-pou-mua.4

The following narrative is a continuation of the history of Hinenuitepo from another source:—After Hinenuitepo fled away to her ancestors in the realms of Night, she gave birth to Te Po-uriuri (=The Dark one), and to Te Po-tangotango (=The very dark), and afterwards to Pare-koritawa, who married Tawaki, one of the race of Rangi. Hence the proverb when the sky is seen covered with small clouds” Parekoritawa is tilling her garden. “When Tawaki climbed to Heaven with Parekoritawa, he repeated this karakia:—

Ascend, O Tawaki, by the narrow path,
By which the path of Rangi was followed;
The path of Tu-kai-te-uru.

1 These were all ancestors of the race of Powers of Night.

2 He oti, ka rere te wahine: ka anga ko te pane ki raro, tuwhera tonu nga kuwha, hamama tonu te puapua.

3 “Heikona, e Tane, hei kukume ake i a taua hua ki te Ao; kia haere au ki raro hei kukume iho i a taua hua ki te Po.”

4 Vid. Genealogical Table.

page 24

The narrow path is climbed,
The broad path is climbed,
The path by which was followed
Your ancestors, Te Aonui,
Te Ao-roa,
Te Ao-whititera.
Now you mount up
To your Ihi,
To your Mana,
To the Thousands above,
To your Ariki,
To your Tapairu,
To your Pukenga,
To your Whananga [sic: Whananga],
To your Tauira.

When Tawaki and Parekoritawa mounted to the Sky, they left behind them a token—a black moth—a token of the mortal body.

Pare gave birth to Uenuku (=Rainbow). Afterwards she brought forth Whatitiri (=Thunder). Hence the rainbow in the sky, and the thunder-clap.