AS THE matter contained in this volume is almost entirely new, and hitherto unknown to Europeans, it is necessary to explain the source from which it was derived. It is in fact the teachings of some of the old Tohungas (or priests, teachers, &c.) as taught in the Whare-wānanga, or Maori College, for such that ancient institution was in reality. In the late fifties of last century there was a large gathering of Maoris in the Wairarapa District, East Coast of New Zealand, the object being to discuss some political affairs; and on the conclusion of the business it was suggested by some of the people that the learned men there present should explain to the assembled tribes how and when New Zealand was first peopled by the Maori race. After three of the priests had consented to do so, one —Te Matorohanga—was appointed to lecture on the subject, the other two to assist by recalling matters that the lecturer might omit, and also to supplement the story from their own knowledge. It was also decided that the lectures should be written down, a work that was undertaken by two young men named H. T. Whatahoro* and Aporo Te Kumeroa,† who had been educuted at the Mission schools.
Much matter was written down at that time; but it was amplified subsequently by the old priest named above, and by one of his confrères named Nepia Pohuhu, when H. T. Whatahoro spent some years, off and on, in recording to the dictation of these old men, the ancient beliefs and the history of their branch of the Maori people. The instruction given by the priests was in every respect on the same lines, and dealt with the same matter, as had been taught in the Maori College; that is, the Scribe was subjected to all the ancient forms and rituals accompanying the teaching, such as is described in Chapter I. hereof. A special building was erected in which the teaching took place, and where the matter taught was written down.
The old priest Te Matorohanga died in 1884, and Nepia Pohuhu in 1882,‡ both being at the time of their deaths about eighty years old. It will thus be seen that they had been taught in the Maori College long before the influences of Christianity reached their tribe—indeed, it was not till about the end of the thirties of last century, that the tribes of Wairarapa had Christian teachers amongst them, though Christianity had been introduced in the north in 1814, but little of its doctrines understood till many years afterwards.
The matter written down by H. T. Whatahoro during those years has remained in his possession for over fifty years; it is contained in several volumes of folio size, much of which has recently been copied under the auspices of the tribal Committee known as ‘Tāne-nui-a-rangi,’ and the copies deposited in the Dominion Museum, Wellington. The matter in this volume, however, was copied by myself from the original documents which were lent me for the purpose, and the whole of them bear the seal of the ‘Tāne-nui-a-rangi’ Committee, and therefore shew that the matter contained therein has the approval of that body, consisting of the most learned men left of the Ngati-Kahu-ngunu tribe.
It is strange that this valuable information should have remained in their owners’ hands for so long a period without becoming known to the many collectors who have been at work for years past. As a matter of fact the existence of the documents was known, but not the high value attaching to them; and, therefore, the Polynesian Society is to be congratulated on having obtained access to them. These ancient traditions have, until lately, been considered by the tribe to be of too sacred a nature to be disclosed to Europeans. But the advance of civilization amongst the people, and the knowledge of the risk the papers ran of being destroyed by fire or other accident, at last induced their owner to allow them to be copied and be preserved in print.
As explained in Chapter I., those old traditions were divided into two distinct parts. The first dealing with ‘Things Celestial’—Te Kauwae-runga—(the supreme god Io; the birth of the minor gods through the parentage of Heaven and Earth; the wars of the gods; creation of Man, &c., &c.), and the second with ‘Things Terrestrial’—Te Kauwae-raro-(the more particularly historical parts dealing with the history, migrations, &c., of the people). This volume will treat of the first part only; the second will occupy another volume when funds allow of its publication. Both parts will modify somewhat our present knowledge of ancient Polynesian beliefs, and the history of the people; for, hitherto, we have had to trust largely to the traditions collected by Sir George Grey, Mr. John White, members of the Polynesian p. iii Society, and others; but none of those collectors ever obtained such valuable information as is herein given for the first time; for instance, such as relates to the god Io and many other things, nor, so far as is known, has any other branch of the Polynesian race preserved the ancient beliefs in so complete a form as these East Coast tribes of New Zealand.
The transcription and translation of the matter contained in this volume has occupied the writer some eighteen months. Luckily they were clearly written and required no help from the original scribe on that score. But when it came to the translation, the number of obsolete words would have proved a serious embarrassment, had not the Scribe willingly assisted in their elucidation. In the numerous interviews I had with him he was able from his full knowledge to supply a large number of meanings and of illustrative notes, which are now embodied in the text, or given as foot-notes. Having been a student of the Polynesian languages and traditions for over fifty years, during which time some of the most learned men in this country have personally contributed to my collections, I can say with certainty that H. T. Whatahoro is the most learned man on these subjects it has ever been my lot to meet. And, moreover, if he could not answer any of my questions—and they were very numerous—he had the honesty to say so.
I have endeavoured to make the translation follow the originals as closely as the difference between English and Maori idioms admit of—sometimes, perhaps, to the sacrifice of clearness. But it was deemed better to do so, and to follow closely the original text, rather than to write an essay on Maori Beliefs and Religion, which may possibly be accomplished later on, when freedom from the limitations attaching to a word to word translation will allow of a clearer exposition of such beliefs. A frequent difficulty has met the translator in finding concise English equivalents to the many obsolete words in the Maori text; the Scribe informs me the frequency of these unknown words was pointed out to the Sages, and their reply was that it was not proper to use ordinary words for matters referred to in their teaching.
The numerous notes that accompany the English Text will tend to a better understanding of the subjects dealt with; but it is exceedingly difficult for the European mind to occupy the same stand-point as that of the Polynesian, and thus many things that are to the latter people quite clear are to us very obscure. This is illustrated by the Sage’s description of the Pō—the æons of darkness preceding the birth of the gods—the Pō, or ages of Hades, and their connection with the pō, or night when the Sun is below the horizon, all apparently p. iv clearly understood by the teachers of the race, and yet to us presenting infinite difficulties of apprehension.
Assuredly these ancient beliefs of a people that was less than a hundred years ago in the stone-age, will offer to the student of Comparative Mythology, an additional light on the working of the mind of primitive man, in his efforts to account for the phenomena of nature. And from the mere fact that these people have been isolated for, probably, over two thousand years and having no contact with other races of a higher culture, we have in their beliefs a practically unworked field of inquiry dating from a very early period of the stone-age.
The Polynesian people, from the beginning of the Christian era when they left Indonesia, have been ‘sidetracked’ as it were, and completely isolated from contact with all other races of a higher civilization than themselves, and have thus preserved a Mythology and Philosophy unique in its nature, and perhaps purer and more free from outside influences than that of most other races. At the same time there are many points of contact with the beliefs of other peoples. Probably the identities or similarities in belief are immensely ancient, and carry us back to a period when one original cult was the common possession of the primitive race from which the Polynesians sprang, subsequently modified and added to according to the environment in which each branch found itself.
This is not the place to dwell on the question as to where the Polynesian race originally came from prior to its entrance into the Pacific, though the writer believes that they can be traced back to India, where at the present day, possibly, the Angami tribes of Assam represent a belated branch, driven to the hills when the ancestors of the Polynesians were expelled, and in those hills have been subjected to many waves of Mongolian influence that have modified their race and their language. But it may be suggested as a tentative theory that these Caucasian Polynesians are an early branch of the Proto-Aryan migration into India, and, it is thought, the matter in this volume, and in that to follow, will afford support to that theory.* It is certain that many of the Polynesian Myths and Traditions find their counterpart in those of the Scandinavian, Celtic, Indian, and other branches of the Aryan race; and it is suggested that in the Polynesian versions we are frequently nearer to the originals as they obtained in primitive times than in any other branch of the Caucasian race, because of the long isolation of the people in their island homes—just as so many of the northern myths have been preserved in their greatest purity by the Icelanders, and from the same cause.
In connection with this question of the origin of the people, it is desirable to impress on the mind of the reader that so far as the historical matter which is to follow this volume shews, the strong probability is, that the ancestors of the Maori tribes, to whom is due the preservation of these particular records, formed a later and separate migration into the Pacific, the date of which cannot at present be stated until a fuller and more complete study of the historical part of the papers has been made. The early migrations of the Polynesians seem to have made their first permanent home in the western portion of the Southern Ocean—in the Fijian and Samoan Archipelagos—from whence they spread to the east. But it is tolerably clear, that the East Coast tribes of New Zealand, on leaving Indonesia, struck boldly across the North Pacific and made the Hawaiian Islands where they settled for some generations, and then, from causes which are not yet clear, departed due south to Tahiti, where, after dwelling several generations, and during which New Zealand was discovered by the navigator Kupe (a full history of whose voyage is amongst the ‘historical records,’ to follow), the people departed again for the newly discovered land, and settled down on the East Coast of New Zealand in the middle of the fourteenth century. The evidence of this cannot be given here; but if it is true that the East Coast tribes were a separate and later migration into the Pacific, some matters in which their history and traditions differ from those of other tribes of New Zealand may be accounted for.
In considering the teachings of the Ruanukus, or learned men, as detailed in the following pages, the reader must ever bear in mind the particular stand-point from which they were dictated—we must not lose sight of the fact that the oriental plane of thought differs materially from the occidental, as already pointed out. The gods were ever at hand, continually interfering in the affairs of mankind, even becoming the fathers of offspring by human women—not, however, that this is peculiarly Polynesian. The spiritual enters into all relations of life, whilst the gods are always, as is only to be expected, of an anthropomorphic nature. There are many things related herein which we unbelieving white people cannot give our assent to, but they were firmly believed in by the old-time Maori, and probably in many such cases the incidents, or the words used, had, to the old teachers an esoteric meaning, most of which are now lost—see what the Sage says as to the story of the ‘fishing up’ of lands in Chapter VI., it is according p. vi to him a ‘winter night’s tale,’ the esoteric meaning of which has reference to the great catastrophe—the Polynesian Ragnarok—that upset the world. Again, we have in part of the Sage’s teaching a story so full of obsolete words and names that the Scribe could not help in the translation, but explained that it was a recitation intended to be delivered to the common people, whilst its true meaning was known only to the priests of old.
It may be explained just here that the larger part of the teaching of the Whare-wānanga (or College, house of learning) was never known to the common people—it was too sacred. Especially was the name and all connected with the supreme god Io, particularly sacred. His name was never mentioned in the haunts of man.
On the few occasions when he was invoked the priests hied them away to the innermost recesses of the forests and there invoked the all powerful supreme god-creator. So that the common people never even heard his name except on some very rare occasions when it entered into one of the invocations—and how rare this was is proved by the absence of the name in the hundreds of karakias (prayers, invocations, incantations, etc., etc.) that have been collected and printed. In the same manner the genealogies from the gods down to the Māui family were specially sacred, and never recited outside the Whare-wānanga except on rare occasions; though from that period onwards, i.e., from about fifty generations ago, these pedigrees were the property of all. It is believed that the few prayers to Io, herein incorporated, are the only ones in existence; they differ a good deal in the form of composition from ordinary karakias, and are certainly of a higher order than usual, though the translation is sadly lacking in the power of the originals.
It will be observed how frequently the number twelve enters into these myths; there are twelve heavens*, seventy gods (there are indications that the number was seventy-two originally), the offspring of Heaven and Earth, and in many other cases also this appears to be a favourite or sacred number. When we consider also the thread of Astronomical and Meteorological ideas that permeate much of the Sage’s teaching, we can scarce avoid a suspicion that the whole philosophy was based largely and originally on Astronomy. It is certain that that Polynesians were accurate observers of celestial phenomena; as even the slight notices in Chapter V. hereof will show. They gave a name to the celestial equator, and every prominent star, and were fully aware of the rotundity of the earth as proved by the fact of finding new stars p. vii as they went further north or south. It may be that the number (twelve) of the Heavens is connected with the twelve months and the twelve signs of the Zodiac, and that this is the origin of their cosmogony. Had someone with a knowledge of Astronomy been enabled to question these old Sages, I feel persuaded a great deal of information on that subject might have been obtained, but now, alas! it is too late. It will be remembered that the myths of northern Europe are in like manner interwoven with Astronomical and Meteorological threads. Like the northern myths also we have in these Polynesian beliefs, the same ideas of the descent of natural phenomena and objects from the gods in genealogical sequence; in other words the many gods—offsprings of Heaven and Earth—were the creators of and ruled over many natural objects—the waters, rocks, different species of animals, the elements, etc.—but all acting as agents of the supreme god Io, who dwelt in the twelfth Heaven, the final abode of those human spirits whose belief in and love towards Io, entitled them to the entry into that heaven of everlasting rest.
It will possibly be thought that the idea of Io as the one supreme god creator of all things, is derived from the Christian teachers of the Maori people, and that it has been engrafted on to Maori beliefs in modern times since Christianity was introduced. But I am assured not only by the positive statement of the Scribe, but by internal evidence—more particularly perhaps by the prayers to Io, which contain so many obsolete words, and differ a good deal in form of composition from ordinary karakias—that there is no foundation for such an idea.
The doctrine of Io is evidently a bona-fide relic of very ancient times, handed down with scrupulous care generation after generation, as the centre and core of the esoteric teaching of the Whare-wānanga. Had this grand old legend been derived from European sources, there can be no reasonable doubt that the theory and doings of Jesus Christ would also have been incorporated. But there is nothing like it; not the slightest hint of it.
Even the two incidents in Polynesian traditions which at first sight might support the idea of a knowledge of our Lord’s life—those of Tawhaki and Māui—can be shown to have nothing to do with it; the first named hero (who is not a god) can be identified with the Greek hero Peleus, and Māui’s visit to Hades (Māui was not a god, but a hero) to destroy death in mankind is older than the commencement of the Christian era, and probably also has its analogue in old world myths.
The European knowledge of the god Io, dates from the early fifties of last century, and is due to the late C. O. Davis, the well-known Government Interpreter and Maori linguist. In his little book “The p. viii Life and Times of Patuone,” Auckland, 1876, p. 13, Mr. Davis says, . . . . “while travelling with a distinguished Maori chieftain some years ago, he inadvertently revealed the fact the Maoris in olden times worshipped a Supreme Being whose name was held to be so sacred that none but a priest might utter it at certain times and places. The name was Io, perhaps an abbreviation of Io-uru. Witnessing my anxiety to obtain further information on the subject, he refused to disclose any more Maori secrets as he called them, and politely referred me to an old priest who resided about one hundred miles off.” Mr. Davis’ Maori chieftain was one of the Nga-Puhi tribe of the Bay of Islands, north New Zealand.
Mr. John White, also one of the Government Interpreters, was acquainted with the fact of the Maoris having a supreme god Io, but he has left little on record about him.
Mr. C. E. Nelson, a very learned Maori scholar, gathered from the Ngati-whatua ariki, or head chief and priest, Te Otene-kikokiko, that there was such a god, and he gave me the following names, or attributes of the god Io:—Io-mua, Io-moa, Io-hunga, Io-uru, Io-hawai and Io-hana. Mr. Nelson’s informant would not mention these names near his village, but took his friend away into the open land far from any buildings or other contaminating object, and there disclosed these names. All of this information comes from the north of New Zealand.
There is little doubt that the late Judge F. E. Maning, author of that charming book “Old New Zealand” was acquainted with the name of Io, and much of the ritual pertaining to his cult. All these old settlers, and excellent Maori scholars, knew a great deal more about the god Io then they ever disclosed, I feel persuaded.
They all had a sympathetic loyalty to their old teachers and refrained from imparting what was considered sacred knowledge. Times have, however, now changed and the necessity for this reticence no longer exists.
In addition to the knowledge of the East Coast Maoris, of the god Io, I have in my possession an account of him and of the other minor gods written for me by an old Ruanuku of the Tuhua country, on the branches of the Upper Whanganui river, which, though much briefer than the account herein given, is essentially the same, and goes to prove that the idea of the supreme god was not derived from Christian sources.
Whilst many of the chief gods of the ‘Whanau-rangi,’ or offspring of the Sky father and Earth mother, were occasionally represented by wooden figures, I have never heard the slightest indication that Io was ever so materialized in the same manner. And here let it be said that these wooden or stone figures were by no means idols; they were p. ix simply the temporary resting places of the spiritual gods, when the priests found occasion to call on them as oracles.
The Translator has been tempted to render into English many of the proper names in the following chapters, hoping thereby to throw some light on the origin of the myths—if they are true myths—and many names are so obvious in meaning that there is no difficulty in translating them, and are therefore given. Others present great difficulties, and come within Max Muller’s definition: “It is the essential character of the true myth that it should no longer be intelligible by a reference to a spoken language.” (‘Comparative Mythology,’ p. 91, Routledge edition.) Again he says, page 87: “It is in vain to attempt to solve the secret of every name (in Aryan and other Mythologies); and no one has expressed this with greater modesty than he who laid the most lasting foundation of Comparative Mythology,” viz: Grimm. There is always the doubt whether the meanings of the names are correctly rendered by those of their component parts as used in the ordinary and existing language.
Since the matter contained herein was originally composed, the Polynesian, like all other languages, has been subject to secular changes, and therefore the apparent meanings of words may not represent the original ideas intended to be conveyed. It is only necessary to compare the various dialects of Polynesian with Maori of the present day to understand what changes may occur in even so short a period as 500 years, when the latter people separated from the other branches of the race.
There are some things in this series of religious traditions that causes one to speculate as to whether, mixed up with them, there are not some faint indications of a truly historical nature; such as stories of very ancient migrations of the people related in the form of myth. Take Tāne’s visit to the uppermost Heaven to obtain ‘the three baskets of knowledge and the two sacred stones.’ Can this not be rendered as the return of some leading chief to an ancient Fatherland to procure the knowledge of ritual and laws lost, or becoming corrupted, by a migrant people? Possibly some support is given to this idea by another tradition, which relates that Tāne went to some foreign country named Taranga (the Kalana of Hawaiian story), and brought back from there some trees, plants and fruits which he planted in his own country. Again, the story of Mataora’s visit to Hades (Chapter VI.), where he found a white race whose customs differed from his own, and from whence he brought the knowledge of tattooing and carving—is this not the account of a visit to some country adjacent to the Fatherland, more advanced in civilization, than his own? It is difficult, however, to point to a white or fair people with flaxen hair, who practised p. x tattooing. The only fair people that might possibly answer the description were the colonists left in Bactria and Parthia, and even in the Punjab, by Alexander the Great in the fourth century before Christ, but whether they were ‘flaxen haired’ or used tattoo, the absence of books of reference precludes me from ascertaining. The Rarotongan genealogies which are probably more extensive (and at the same time accurate) than those of most branches of the race, carry their history back to the fourth century before Christ, when they were living in a country which so many things seem to indicate as India, and therefore the ancestors of Polynesians might have known Alexander’s fair Greek colonists. All this, however, is mere speculation; but still, the white race known to Polynesian traditions has to be accounted for, and the above may serve some future investigator as an indication where to look for it.
Again, another subject for speculation arises in ‘the sanctification of Tāne’ prior to his ascent of Maunga-nui (the great mountain) where he received the command of the supreme god Io to visit him in order to obtain the ‘three branches of knowledge and the two sacred stones’ (see Chapter III.). One cannot help seeing in this incident a certain similarity to the visit of Moses to Mount Sinai to receive the ‘tables of the law.’ In connection with the sacred stones acquired by Tāne, there are not wanting some indications, faint though they be, that they were inscribed, as were those of Holy writ, but what the nature of the inscription was is utterly lost. There are a few indications in Maori lore to the effect that in very ancient times the people were acquainted with some kind of script, though of what nature is now entirely lost. The Easter Island inscriptions are perhaps a degenerate recollection of this old script; that is—which remains to be proved—if those tablets are really of Polynesian origin. In suggesting a coincidence between the stories of Moses and Tāne, in this particular instance, it must not be supposed that the writer would derive the one incident from the other. To do so would only add to the more than once suggested idea that the Polynesians are one of the ‘lost tribes of Israel,’ for which there is, we think, no real foundation, notwithstanding many similarities between Polynesian and Semitic customs, and some affinities perhaps in the structure of their two languages. Most things seem to point to an Aryan rather than a Semitic connection; and perhaps this acquisition of the wānanga (knowledge) by Tāne may have its analogue in the records of other ancient nations, to ascertain which requires access to libraries of reference not open to the writer. I content myself, therefore, with merely indicating the apparent coincidence, leaving it to the future student of the Polynesian race to explain it.
In the account of the “Overturning of the Earth” (Chapter III. and VI.) we have also the idea of a general dispersion of mankind to the four quarters of the earth, after the cataclysm, which in Holy Writ took place after the building of the Tower of Babel, a very ancient story, originating, it is said, from early Babylonia. The account given by our Sage of this event is very brief and only used by him as an illustration, but in the other legends it is described much more fully, and is therein closely akin to the Biblical and Babylonian story of the Deluge; whilst another account appears to assign a mental rather than a physical character to this ‘overturning.’ Whether the Polynesian accounts are derived from the Babylonian (or visa versa) is open to discussion; but in both there is the same idea of a great catastrophe followed by the dispersal of mankind to the four quarters of the earth. This great cataclysm is of course known to other races than the two mentioned above, and in some form or other appear to be of world-wide extent. We shall return to this question of a Polynesian knowledge of Babylonians, when dealing in the ‘Historical records’ with the people who came from ‘the Land of the Uru’ (Maspero’s rendering of ‘the Ur of the Chaldees’), and which people expelled the Polynesians from their Fatherland, which we hold to be India.
In considering this series of religious beliefs a question arises as to whether, in very ancient days, there has not been an amalgamation of two separate beliefs—whether, in fact, it is not the case that the doctrine of Io, the one supreme god, has not been superposed on that of the doctrine of Rangi and Papa (the Sky-father and Earth-mother), or visa versa. The extreme sacredness of all connected with the name of Io, the much higher plane of thought which is embodied in and his attributes, the fact that his name was practically known to none but the few innitiates, seems to point to a much higher degree of culture than the doctrines of Rangi and Papa, the knowledge of whose doings was the property of all, high and low. This, it is suggested, is a matter worthy of further consideration by those who have the time to study the question with the light that other ancient beliefs may throw on it.*
It will be noticed in what follows that the souls, or spirits, of the dead on their arrival at Hawaiki, the temple situated in the Fatherland, were divided into two classes—those who ‘shewed love for’ Io; ascended after purification to the twelfth Heaven to live in everlasting peace with p. xii the supreme god; whilst those who ‘shewed love to’ Whiro, the evil spirit, descended to Hades to dwell there with him and the other god and goddess of that realm. There is nothing to indicate that any system of judgment was applied to these spirits; it was a matter of choice, of free will, as to which should be their future home. It is true the Scribe informs me that those spirits that in their human form had been guilty of the two heinous sins of treachery and murder, perforce were relegated to Hades. But I am doubtful if his knowledge of Christian doctrines has not here coloured his statement, for it is not supported by anything in the teaching of the Sages. This belief in the free will of the spirits seems to be derived from the incidents connected with the ‘wars of the gods’ (see Chapter III.), where some of the gods elected to support the side of Tāne, others that of Whiro, and as “gods are immortal men,” according to Max Muller, it was a natural deduction that men should possess this freedom of choice exercised by the gods.
We have referred above to the ‘three baskets of knowledge and the two stones’ brought down from Heaven by the god Tāne—for particulars of which see Chapter III. The word used is kete, which is the common term for a basket; but the Scribe tells me it is so used emblematically for a ‘repository,’ and in the description of the contents of the ‘baskets’ given in Chapter III., we there learn that these were the three main divisions of knowledge as taught in the Whare-wānanga. Each ‘basket’ may be roughly described as a syllabus pertaining to these ‘baskets’ was also the knowledge of the karakias, or invocation, etc., necessary to the ritual of the Whare-wānanga, some of which are given in Chapters I. and III. It is these latter, no doubt, Whiro, the evil spirit, was so anxious to obtain from Tāne on his return from Heaven, for without these karakias the teaching lost its character of permanancy and its măna, or power, prestige, etc.
The Whatu-kura, or stones brought down by Tāne, are described as like huka-a-tai and rehu-tai, sea-foam and sea-spray, evidently brilliantly white in colour; and these particular ‘heavenly stones’ have become the forerunners of all such stones right through the ages when used in the ceremonies of the Whare-wānanga, even from the Fatherland down to the time when the ‘house of learning’ ceased as an institution. The probability is that these white whatu-kura were large crystals as first used in the original homes of the people; and on their migrations they would be carried with them and used as links connecting each new Wharewānanga with those of old in other lands. The use of sacred stones is characteristic of the Polynesians as we may learn from many things. So far as their use in the Whare-wānanga is concerned p. xiii they were considered to give authority to those who taught, and permanency in the matters taught, on the part of the pupils. They were talismanic in nature. Of course the belief in the sacredness, power, and măna of similar stones is not confined to the Polynesians. Do we not place great faith in the virtues of the stone that underlies the Coronation Throne of our Sovereigns?
The reader must not confuse the name for these stones, whatu-kura, with the similar one for a certain class of gods, called also Whatu-kura. The heavenly origin and sacred character of these whatu-kura (which, by the way, means ‘stone of knowledge,’ or ‘precious stone’—for kura is knowledge of a high order, and equally means precious), is also ascribed to the two famous toki, or axes, ‘Te Awhio-rangi’ and ‘Te Whiro-nui,’ both used by the god Tāne when he severed the limbs of the Sky-father and Earth-mother as they clung to one another at the time the gods separated them. The second of these axes was left behind in Tahiti when Tamatea-ariki-nui and his followers departed from that island in the ‘Taki-timu’ canoe for New Zealand in the middle of the fourteenth century. The first one—’Te Awhio-rangi’ was brought with the migration, and evidently, at that period had come to be looked on much as a god. It is said that by its aid the storms encountered on the voyage were ‘felled’—for such is the term used. It is difficult for the occidental mind to understand any process by which an axe, however gifted with măna, could effectually oppose the elements in their might. But such is the Maori belief; and their explanation to the effect that it was the măna of the axe, i.e. its supernatural power, scarcely seems to us a sufficient one. This celebrated axe was given as a marriage dower by its then owners to Tāneroroa, daughter of Turi, captain of the ‘Aotea’ canoe, some time after the great migration to New Zealand circa 1350, and still remains a venerated and sacred property of the Nga-Rauru tribe of the West Coast.
No white man has been allowed to see it—it is far too sacred—but it is known by description to differ much in shape and material from the ordinary axe.* The ‘heavenly origin’ of these sacred axes may possibly be translated as expressing the fact that they were brought away from the Fatherland when the people first migrated from there, and have accompanied them on their wanderings for many centuries, until the one found a final resting place (traditionally) in Tahiti, the other in New Zealand.
We may witness in these ancient myths the effort of primitive man to get behind the veil of nature and adduce therefrom a sufficient cause for all phenomena, and an endeavour also to deduce from them an authority and a precedent for many of their (lately) existing customs. In this manner they have produced a system of philosophy that to their minds furnished a sufficient explanation of all things, the why and the wherefore thereof, and their origin. That the generative principle acting through the male and female sexes (a principle with which all things are imbued) permeates their whole philosophy, is, perhaps, only to be expected; for after all that is the most natural cause tending to production that would first present itself to the primitive mind of mankind from daily observations of nature around him. But although the above is generally true, an exception must be made as to one of their customs—that of the tapu—for neither in these traditions, nor any others from any part of Polynesia, is any explanation of its origin given. We are, therefore, reduced to surmise as to the origin of the custom, and it is perhaps a fair inference to deduce it from the strict prohibition at the command of the supreme god Io, to the effect that neither god, nor spirit, nor man, might enter his presence without due command. His realm was most strictly tapu. It is obvious that such an origin of the tapu could only be assigned after the whole system of belief had taken due form.
It is probable a little difficulty will be experienced by the reader who goes through this volume for the first time, in understanding the positions and functions of the various classes of gods mentioned. In order to render the task easier, and to bring these classes into one purview for reference, the divisions are given as follows, such classes being, however, merely for the convenience of the reader, and are not described as classes by the Sage.
1. Io—the supreme god, creator of all things, dwelling in the twelfth, or uppermost Heaven, where no man or god might enter except by command.
2. The Whatu-kura, the male gods, or spirits, dwelling in the eleven Heavens, beneath the uppermost, who frequently acted as the means of communication between Io and the gods in the sixth class. Of these gods there were a few who were allowed to dwell in the uppermost Heaven as guardians of the 'Heavenly treasures’; their names were Rehua, Aitu-pawa, Rua-matua (or Rua-tau), Puhao-rangi and Tau-o-Rongo.
They were used by Io as special messengers on special occasions to communicate his commands to the gods of class six. There is nothing to indicate that these four had wives, though the others had.
3. The Mareikura, tho female gods of the eleven Heavens; they were the wives of the Whatu-kura. Both these gods and goddesses are sometimes called Apa-Whatu-kura and Apa-Mareikura.
4. The Apa, or messengers, and servitors of the Whatu-kura; these were both male and female; they are sometimes symbolically represented by whirlwinds.
5. The Pou-tiri-ao, the guardian spirits; all things in Heaven and Earth had their guardian spirits. They were appointed to their duties by Io through Tāne, the most famous of the sixth class and one of the offspring of Heaven and Earth. All Pou-tiri-ao were subservient to the Whatu-kuras whose duty it was to oversee and regulate their operations.
6. The Whanau-a-Rangi. The seventy gods (or atua) offspring of the Sky-father (Rangi-nui) and Earthmother (Papa-tua-nuku) who after coming forth from within the embrace of their parents, dwelt on earth and the space between Earth and Heaven, making occasional visits to the other Heavens on command of Io, the Supreme God. Their names will be found in Chapter III.
The word Atua (god, spirit) is applied to all the above beings. There is another class of gods in the Maori Pantheon, none of which find mention in the doctrines of the ‘Kauwae-runga,’ or ‘Things Celestial.’ These latter gods are the war and tribal gods, who, so far as can be made out, were always men deified for their valour, knowledge, or other quality appealing to the Maori. Max Muller says, “Men are mortal gods, and gods are immortal men.”
Of the offspring of Heaven and Earth in class six above, there were a few who took a very prominent part in the proceedings of those gods when they once had forced ther way into the Ao-marama, or World of Light, and this they continued to do down to the introduction of Christianity. Of these Tāne, or Tāne-matua (Tāne the-parent) or Tāne-nui-a-rangi (Great-Tāne-of-Heaven) occupied the foremost place notwithstanding that he was the sixty-eighth son of his parents. After Tāne (which means ‘male of mankind,’ not of animals—as we shall see), it was he who made the first human woman, and hence is he called Tāne-matua (Tāne-the-parent) came Tangaroa-a-mua, eighth son of his parents, who, on being appointed a god of ocean, together with Kiwa, took the name of Tangaroa-a-tai (Tangaroa-of-the-sea). Then p. xvi came Tu-mata-uenga (Tu-of-the-angryface) with many other sobriquets, eleventh son, the powerful and dreaded god of war. After Tu came Tamakaka, and then Rongo-marae-roa, fourteenth son, the god of peace and all agricultural pursuits. These were the principal gods of the ‘world of light,’ whilst Whiro-te-tipua, sixth son, was a god of the Pō, of darkness, of Hades, and representative of all evil in this world, the under-world and the heavens above. With Whiro in his function of god of Hades, was associated Whakaru-au-moko, the seventieth and youngest son of the Sky-father and Earth-mother, who was god of volcanic force, eruptions, earthquakes,* etc.; and as goddess of those regions was Hine-nui-te-Pō—Great-lady-of-night—(the daughter of the god Tāne), who ‘drags men down to death.’ The functions of the other gods forming the Whanau-a-Rangi (the family of the Sky-father) will be learned from Chapters III. and IV.
To these principal members of the Whanau-a-Rangi—Tāne, Tangaroa, Tu, Rongo and Whiro—the old recitations, karakias, and songs are full of references, and, moreover, the same five gods are known to every branch of the Polynesian people, though not in some cases holding the places of supreme importance assigned them by the Maori branch. We shall see in the chapters that follow what an important rôle Tāne plays in the family of gods; and there are evidence in the traditions of some other branches of the race that he held the same exalted position in former times in their beliefs. But through causes that are not quite clear, he has, in some branches, been superseded by Tangaroa, who indeed, in the cases of Samoa and Tahiti appears to hold the place of the god-creator. In later times the local god Oro (or as the Rarotongans call him, Koro—the Tahitians do not now use the letter ‘K’) seems to have superseded all others in Tahiti. That Oro was not one of the principal gods originally is proved by not finding his name in the Pantheons of any other branch of the race. He was, it is suggested, like many of the tribal gods, a deified man originally, only obtaining eminence after the Maori people left Tahiti in the fourteenth century, otherwise, his name would be found embodied in Maori traditions. Again, Rongo (or to give his full name according to the Maoris—Rongo-marae-roa, which may be translated as Rongo-of-the-far-extending-plaza (or fields), referring to the culturable portions of the earth subject to his domain as god of agriculture), seems to have taken a supreme place in the beliefs of the Mangaia islanders of the Cook group, about whom we know a good p. xvii deal, thanks to Dr. Wyatt Gill’s writings. As to how it comes about that the Maori god of peace and agriculture should develop into the fierce, ‘man-eating’ god of Mangaia, is not yet explained. Whiro, the personification of evil, is known to all branches of the race, generally as the ‘god of thieves,’ originally so called, it is suggested, through his stealing the souls of the dead and placing them in the realms of Hades, over which he presides. Whakaru-au-moko, the second god of Hades is known to other branches of the race as Mauika, Mauiké, Maufuié, etc., and appears to be represented in Hawaii by Pele, or Pele-honua-mea, goddess of volcanoes, which name is in Maori, Parawhenua-mea, a synonym for the overturning of the earth, the deluge, and the effect thereof, and a goddess, offspring of one of the ‘family of the Sky-father.’ In Maori traditions, Mahuika plays a prominent part, and was the father of the great hero Māui, from whom the latter obtained fire in the underworld. In this account of “Things Celestial,” two of the Sages of the Whare-wānanga have been quoted, and principally Nepia Pohuhu. The teaching of the other—Te Matorohanga—are much fuller than those of the former; but financial considerations have obliged us to adopt Pohuhu’s matter because they are briefer, though, at the same time, containing nearly all that is essential; and his teaching has been supplemented occasionally by those of Te Matorohanga where necessary. It is to be hoped that the latter’s teaching may be printed in full some time.
The Translator’s notes of explanation are shown in square brackets—[ ].
*A member of the Polynesian Society. Still hale and hearty at the age of 72.
† A member of the Polynesian Society. Died 1911.
‡ These teachers will be referred to generally in what follows: as ‘the Sage’; and H. T. Whatahoro as ‘the Scribe.’
* See the Translator’s views on this question in “Hawaiki, the original home of the Maori,” 3rd Edition, Whitcombe and Tombs, Christchurch, N.Z., 1910.
* It should be noted that with other tribes of New Zealand and Polynesia the heavens are ten in number.
*In this connection it is worth while studying what Prof. Gustav Oppert says in his work, “The Original Inhabitants of Bharatavarsa or India,” where he deduces the Hindu belief in one Supreme God, from the ancient belief in a large number of gods, all powerful in their periods, but finally superseded by one Supreme God, who is in many of his attributes very similar to Io.
* See ‘Journal Polynesian Society,’ Vol. IX., p. 229, for full account of this axe.
* In one place the Sage includes Mataaho, as a god of the under-world, after whom is named the ‘overturning of the world,’ but he is not one of the ‘family of the Sky-father.’