Volume 1 1892 > Volume 1, No. 1, 1892 > The Tahitian hymn of creation, by S. Percy Smith, p31-32
THE TAHITIAN “HYMN OF CREATION.”
MOERENHOUT, in his “Voyage aux îsles du Grand Océan,” vol. II., p. 419, gives the hymn below and his translation of it, and Fornander, in the appendix to “The Polynesians,” vol. I., also gives the first two parts with his own translation, and remarks: “The third portion of this Chant, as arranged and published by Mr. Moerenhout, which treats of the genesis of the Tahitian gods, is evidently a separate poem, and of very much later date; in short, a local theogony, not even fully recognised on the Society group, and unknown in the neighbouring group.”
The first two parts of the “hymn” are of a very elevated character, not often found in Polynesian poems, though the translation published lately by the Rev. G. Pratt and Dr. Fraser, of the “Song about Strife” and the “Samoan Story of Creation,” from the original Samoan of the Rev. Mr. Powell (see Transactions Royal Society, Sydney, 1890, p. 207, and also the volume for 1891), partakes somewhat of the same class of ideas characterising the first.1 Fornander has corrected in his version of the first two parts some obvious errors of spelling in the original Tahitian, and consequently his translation seems to be more faithful than that of Moerenhout.
Whether or not Fornander is correct in his supposition as to the more modern date of the third part, remains to be proved, and as there are—it appears to the writer—some mistakes in Moerenhout's version, it has been reprinted here, with the hope that some of our Tahitian members will verify the wording, and furnish us with a translation, and any notes that may be obtainable as to the history of the Chant. It is as follows:—
Moerenhout here interpolates—“The legend speaks here of the birth of Ro'o, and of his condition at that time, but in terms which cannot be translated. It enters into long details about his infancy, and up to the time that he could walk and run,” and then continues the account of the birth of other gods:—
The above is a literal transcript from Moerenhout, with the exception that the French “ou” has been converted into Polynesian “u.” It is full of inaccuracies, most probably of the printers; proper names are spelt without capitals, and Moerenhout has sometimes mistaken such names and translated them; for instance, line 2: hina tua tai, should no doubt be Hina-tua-tai; in line 22, fanau uporu cannot be translated;—“du sein de sa mère,” for evidently uporu is the island Upolu of the Samoa group. It is clear from Moerenhout's remarks on the part omitted that the composer held the belief that Ro'o, or Rongo, or Lono, was the offspring of Taaroa, or Tangaroa, or Tangaloa, which is not the usual belief of many of the Polynesians, and it would, therefore, be of interest if some of our Tahitian members would supply the missing part and translate the whole, for no doubt the poem, or chant, contains an essential part of Polynesian belief—at any rate such as obtained in the Society Islands at the date of its composition. It is to be hoped that the publication of this poem will elicit from members of the Society in other parts the fact of the existence of similar traditions elsewhere outside Tahiti.
S. Percy Smith.
1 See also “Te Vanana na Tanaoa”—“The Polynesian Race,’ vol. I. p. 214.