Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (digital text)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The Ancient History of the Maori, His Mythology and Traditions: Horo-Uta or Taki-Tumu Migration. [Vol. I]


page break


The New Zealander shall speak for himself. Unacquainted with letters, and living in the Stone Age of the world, he shall relate the history of a people isolated for ages from the civilized nations of the world, and shall tell how his race for ages lived, loved, worshipped, worked, and warred.

His traditions, preserved with the most austere religious care, and rehearsed from age to age in the presence of the most select circles of youths by high priests of most ascetic life, who had received their knowledge from the gods, have preserved for him a history reliable as the histories of tribes sharpened by continual contact, and ripened by emulation in the art of literature.

His atuas, or divinities—

Tu, god of war;
Ta-whiri-ma-tea, god of the sky;
Rongo, god of the kumara;
Tanga-roa, god of the sea;
Hau-mia, god of the fern-root—

had each his course of priests, through whom he communicated with the people in benevolence and love, or in dreadful majesty, and by whom only he was invoked, in solemn and awe-inspiring ceremonies—commanded the reverence of all classes of the people in every action of their lives.

No undertaking of any kind was commenced without propitiating and invoking the aid of the particular divinity within whose province it lay. Thus the services of the priests were in continual demand, and their influence was unbounded in their respective tribes.

page 2

The office of the priesthood was hereditary; but birth and intellect alone would not qualify—the evidence of undaunted courage and unlimited hospitality was essential also. The priests were the educators of the people. Their schools of astronomy, mythology, pharmacy, and history were open to the eldest sons of the high priests only. Sometimes the second sons were admitted if they exhibited remarkable promise of excellence.

To the schools of agriculture, manufacture, fishing, and hunting, all classes were admitted. A symbol of its presiding god was kept in each school. These symbols were sticks of equal length, with a knob at one end of each; but there the resemblance ceased. That of Tumata-uenga was perfectly straight, and stood erect, as Tu did at the deluge. That of Ta-whiri-ma-tea was in form not unlike a corkscrew, to represent the whirling of the winds and clouds when Rangi attacked Tu at the time of the deluge. That of Tane had a semicircular bend at half its length, on either side of which it was straight. This bend represented the swelling and growth of bulbs, shrubs, and trees. The toko of Tanga-roa was of a zigzag form, not unlike the teeth of a saw, to represent the waves of the sea. That of Rongo was in rounded wave-lines along its whole length, to represent the growth of the tuberous kumara as it raised the earth in little mounds. The toko of Hau-mia had three half-circles bending in one direction, equi-distant from each other. These were to represent the irregular and twisted form of the fern-root when newly dug up.

page break
Tu-mata-uenga. Tawhiri-matea. Tane. Tanga-roa. Rongo. Haumia. Symbols of Gods.

Tu-mata-uenga. Tawhiri-matea. Tane. Tanga-roa. Rongo. Haumia.
Symbols of Gods.

page 3

Besides these divinities there were malignant spirits who became agents for evil for those who possessed the power for exorcising them. This art of witchcraft was known to a few only of the high priests. Its ceremonies and incantations were of the most aweinspiring character, and those supposed to possess a knowledge of it were looked upon with the utmost dread. This knowledge came direct from the spirits themselves.

The task our Maori has undertaken is no less than to give the traditions of his race as they relate to the creation of the world, the origin of its animal and vegetable life, the ancient wars in the home of his progenitors, the migrations and perils and arrivals of the several canoes in New Zealand, the people they found here, and the territory they respectively occupied; the names given to the mountains, rivers, headlands, and their meaning; the tales of folk-lore, of fairies, ghosts, and spirits, of monsters of the earth and sky; his traditions relating to the art of tattooing, and the ceremonies connected with births, marriages, deaths, and tapu; and the songs and proverbs of his people.

As this will be all told in the language of the historian, the translator has resolved to add to his part of the work a glossary and appendix, which will elucidate and explain ambiguities, and give illustrations of the affinity of the Maori language with the languages of several of the islands of the Pacific Ocean.

He acknowledges with thanks the valuable contributions he has already received from enthusiastic friends, whose names will be published hereafter.