Volume 32 1923 > Volume 32, No. 127 > Maori personifications. Anthropogeny, solar myths and phallic symbolism: as exemplified in the demiurgic concepts of Tane and Tiki, by Elsdon Best, p 53-69
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(Continued from Vol. XXXII. page 69.)


ONE of the most important of the subsequent acts of Tane was his ascent to the uppermost of the twelve heavens, in order to obtain from Io, the Supreme Being, the three baskets of knowledge. Whiro objected to this arrangement, as he wished to obtain these three tapu receptacles of knowledge for himself, hence he essayed to ascend to the heavens by means of climbing up the sides thereof. He was unable to do so and was forced to descend.

The story of the ascent of Tane is a long one, but he succeeded in his task, being borne upwards by the offspring of Tawhirimatea, that is by the winds. He obtained from great Io of the Hidden Face the three famed kete or baskets of knowledge, which contain the knowledge of good and evil, and of sacerdotal matters connected with Rangi and Papa. He also obtained two sacred and marvellous whatu or stones, one of which, styled the Whatu kura a Tane, he retained, and the other, the Whatu kura a Tangaroa, passed to Kiwa and Tangaroa, the guardians of the ocean and the denizens thereof. During his ascent Tane was attacked by the Multitude of Peketua, that is by birds, reptiles and insects, that had been despatched by Whiro to prevent Tane reaching the realm of Io in the Toi o nga rangi, the uppermost of the twelve bespaced heavens. It was then that the offspring of Tawhirimatea and Huru-te-arangi (winds) attacked and dispersed the Multitude of Peketua, and saved Tane. In this fable we see that Whiro, who represents Darkness, attacked Tane, who represents Light, as he was ascending the heavens, but Darkness was overcome by Light, the latter being assisted by the winds of space. The emissaries of Whiro were apparently night moving creatures.

Prior to being admitted into the presence of Io the Great, Io of the many names, Tane was conducted to the Moana o Rongo and there immersed in the waters, while being subjected to the pure rite. - 104 Later on he again had this ritual performed over him at a second place known as an ahumairangi or ahurewa. It was then that he received his many names. The following names of Tane have appeared in published works:—

Tane nui a rangi Great Tane, offspring of Rangi.
Tane matua Tane the Parent.
Tane te waiora Tane as Light and Life Giver.
Tane te wananga Tane as source of knowledge.
Tane torokaha Virile Tane.
Tane ue tika  
Tane tahurangi  
Tane tuturi  
Tane pepeke  
Tane te waotu Tane as the forest.
Tane puhau rangi  
Tane turere  
Tane whiri kaha  
Tane maikiroa  
Tane ueha  
Tane kunawhea  
Tane wheo  
Tane te whiringa, or hiringa  
Tane mahuta Tane as origin of trees.
Tane mataahi Tane as origin of birds.
Tane te po tiwha  
Tane tikitiki  
Tane toko rangi Tane as the sky propper.
Tane ruanuku Etc., etc. Tane the Wise.

Tane received all these names (which differ somewhat in different versions) because he alone acquired the occult knowledge and lore concerning the twelve heavens and the suns, moon and stars of each division of the heavens.


The word waiora, as it occurs in vernacular speech implies physical welfare, health, vigour. As one of the titles of Tane it appears to convey the sense of vitality as caused by Light, or by the sun. Hence Tane te waiora, if this view be correct, should be rendered as Tane the Vitaliser, on the basis of the old Maori teaching that warmth is the geatest essential in growth and welfare. This is why, in Maori myth, it is Tane that fertilizes the Earth Mother and produces vegetation as well as animal life, including man. Indeed native myth goes still further, and makes Tane the progenitor of the mineral - 105 kingdom. This latter teaching may be connected with the belief that all matter called by us inanimate, is, in Maori myth, endowed with a life principle. Tane received the name of Te Waiora because he brought Light and fresh air to this world and its denizens, and on account of his fertilizing and vitalising powers. The Ngati-Hau folk of Whanga-nui, said the late Mr. John White, explain that Tane-te-waiora was so named because he is the cause of the life of the moon being preserved. We shall explain anon the meaning of this remark.


Here we have another aspect of the matter, and a long study of the subject has led the writer to conclude that this waiora of Tane is an expression applied to light, sunlight. It is generally written as two words, and translated as “waters of life,” as life giving waters, or as “living waters.” The term waiora, as employed in connection with Tane, is, we believe, a concrete word, even as waimate is. In neither case has the wai any connection with wai=water, but is a prefix noted in some other words. It is not clear that this prefix has any effect on the word it is attached to, as ora or mate, and we have another illustration in waimarie, which seems to carry the same meaning as does marie. Huka waitara seems to be equivalent to huka a tara, and waihoe practically the same as hoe. In Tahitian we find vai=to exist, and in the Paumotu dialect vai=to exist, and also vaiora=to survive. In Maori waiora is given in Williams' Dictionary as denoting health or soundness. Some further definitions might be added. At Tikopia Island, ora is a spirit or ghost.

In Maori myth it is in connection with the moon that we usually hear of the Waiora a Tane. One version is that the moon dies, or becomes enfeebled, whereupon it bathes (kau) in the Waiora of Tane and so recovers youth, or strength and life. Another version is that Rona assails and consumes the moon, and causes it to seek the Waiora. Herein we see that the enfeebled moon bathes in the Waiora a Tane, i.e., in sunlight, and is rejuvenated, which is a scientific fact. It is a curious thing that the Maori should teach that the moon is not in itself a luminous body, but shines by reflected light. Absence of heat may have led to this conclusion.

The following is a Maori charm recited over a sick person in order to expel the demon supposed to be afflicting him:—

“Ngau atu ki te rangi
Ki nga pokeao
Ki te rangi tuatahi Etc., etc.
Ki te rangi tuangahuru
Ki te Waiora a Tane.”
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Te Vaiora a Tane is the name of a spring of water on the island of Porapora, Society Group. Te Waiora a Tane is said to be the name of a stream some distance south of Te Reinga in New Zealand. Spirits of the dead faring on to the Reinga on their way to the spirit world, once they cross this stream, cannot return to this life, to this world. Some are said to return to the physical basis ere crossing the stream, in which case they re-enter their bodies and the sick persons recover.

At Futuna, or Horne Island, these waters of life appear as Vaiola, and are situated in the spirit world. Here the spirits of the dead come to restore youth and beauty. See “Journal of the Polynesian Society,” Volume I., p. 39.

We meet with this expression, the Waiora in native songs occasionally, as witness:—

“Kia whitirere ake au
Me ko te ata i marama
Marama te ata i Hotunuku
Ko Tane-te-waiora e i.”
(“Fair dawned the morn at Hotunuku.
Behold, it is Tane-te-waiora.”)

Among the old traditions of the Hawaiian Isles, collected by the late Judge Fornander, is an ancient myth concerning one Aukelenniaitu (perhaps Kautere-nui-aitu in New Zealand Maori). This hero went forth in search of Ka waiola loa a Kane (Te Waiora roa a Tane). In order to obtain it, he was instructed to proceed straight to the rising sun. He secured some of the “water of everlasting life of Tane,” as the translation puts it, and therewith restored his dead brother to life. The wife of Aukele was Namakaokahai (? Nga Mata o Tawhaki), and Kane-makua (Tane matua) is also mentioned.

In Hawaiian myths Tane is clearly shown as representing the sun, as shown in Fornander's work. The east is called Ke ala ula a Kane, or as a New Zealand Maori would put it, Te ara kura a Tane (The red path of Tane) even as they styled the rising sun Te Ra Kura. Another Hawaiian name for the East is “The Great Highway of Tane.” The West is termed Ke ala nui o ka make (Te Ara nui o te mate), or the Great Path of Death. “The Resting Place of Tane is another name for the West.”

In W. D. Westervelt's “Legends of Old Honolulu” is one entitled “The Water of Life of Kane,” in which it is shown that the bulk of the Hawaiian folk believed Ka Wai ola a Kane to be real waters that existed in the form of a lake situated in some far off land. These waters restored the dead to life, but were most difficult to procure. “If any person secured this water, the power of the god went with it,” i.e., the powers of Tane.

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Upright stones found at various places in the Hawaiian Isles are known as Pohaku a Kane (Stones of Tane). These were anointed with coconut oil, and had their upper parts covered with black tapa cloth, reminding us of the “Black cloaked Priapus” of Greece. They were sacred phallic emblems. Fornander says that the Polynesians must at some former period have practised sun worship, and the above shows that the Hawaiians recognised the sun as the Fertilizer. He also states that the three gods Kane, Ku and Lono (Tane, Tu and Rongo in Maori myth) possessed distinct attributes, but were all manifestations of one god. Of these three Kane was the most important, and Fornander compares his name to the Sanscrit Kan=to shine. Ra=sun was known in Babylonia as well as in Egypt.

In pursuance of the fact that Tane represented Light, and that he is the personified form of the sun, it is as well to remark here that Whiro was ever hostile to Tane, and that Whiro represents Darkness. After a long contest Whiro was driven down to the underworld, hence he is called Whiro ki te Po, and thus Light was triumphant in this world. Tane conquered Darkness.

Oriental scholars may yet throw some light on Maori myths and tell us more concerning the three “baskets” of knowledge of Hindoo mythology, the exact expression employed in Maori myth, and whether the name of Tane is, or is not, connected with the Sanscrit kan or dahn or danh=to shine. Tu in Babylonian myth represented the setting sun and death, according to Fenton, while the Tu of Maori myth is god of war. In Egypt Ra-tum or Tum represented the setting sun and death; in the Paumotu dialect of Eastern Polynesia ra tumu denotes the setting sun. In Assyrian myth Rono is said to have represented the moon (given by Fenton), but throughout Polynesia Hina and Sina are the female personified forms of that orb. But at Hawaii Sina (Hina) is said to have taken the name of Lono (Rono: Rongo) when transferred to the heavens, so that Sina and Rongo of Polynesia are connected with the moon as are Sin and Rono of Babylonia.

Hare Hongi states that Tane had twelve names, including that of Hot-faced Tane, which correspond to the twelve months of the year; they culminate in Tane te waiora. Also that Tane poled or propped up the heavens with his long pillars or shafts of light, hence his name of Tane toko rangi. The word toko denotes a pole or prop, also “to prop up,” also a ray of light.

We have seen that Tama nui te ra is a personified form of the sun. An old saying was, “When Tama-nui te ra rises, the heavens are light.” When the ancestors of the Maori left the homeland of Irihia to seek a new home across the ocean, their leader said—“Me whai tatou i a Tama nui te ra.” (“Let us follow the sun”), meaning the rising sun. This name is not applied to the setting sun.

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When Roiho, one of the celestial beings, announced that the heavenly bodies were about to be placed in position, he said:—“Light is coming in the form of Tama-nui-te-ra and the Marama-taiahoaho (refulgent moon), and the breast of our father will be dotted with the ‘little sun’ progeny.”

When the Takitimu canoe sailed from Eastern Polynesia for the shores of New Zealand, their sailing instructions were, “Carefully keep the bow of the vessel on Kopu (Venus) during the night; in the day time follow behind Tama-nui-te-ra.”


A few brief allusions to this name are met with in Maori myth, as also in the saying:—“Hoatu! Tenei ano to taua tupuna, a Te Manu i te ra, e tu iho nei.” (“Move on! Here is our ancestor, Te Manu i te ra, high in the heavens.”) Apparently this name, the Bird in the sun, is applied to the sun, but we have gained no explanation of it. Another note says:—“Te Manu i te ra lived on Mount Hikurangi; which death cannot reach.” Hikurangi and Aorangi were two renowned mountains in the homeland of the Maori, and mountains and hills in New Zealand, Rarotonga, and Tahiti bear these names. Possibly Hikurangi is the Maunga-nui on which the sun abode until set in the heavens.


We now come to a most interesting part of the myth of Tane, the long contest between him and Whiro. Whiro is often styled Whiro te tupua, the word tupua meaning demon, object of terror, or anything endowed with supernatural powers, thus a tree or stone may be looked upon as a tupua (of which tipua is a variant form). Now it is fairly clear that Whiro represents Darkness, and, in one way, Death, and his contest with Tane seems to have been a struggle between Light and Darkness. This struggle led to the defeat of Whiro, who descended to the Po or underworld, the so-called realm of Night or gloom. In the vernacular po signifies night. Whiro is also described as being the personified form of Evil, and thus a malignant atua (god, demon) is described as an atua whiro. Also, when a priest was enquiring into the character of a person over whom he was asked to perform a certain curious lustral rite that included immersion in water and the recital of extremely tapu ritual, he would ask him the question:—“Are you a whiro or an ahurangi?” (“Are you an evil person, or of good character.”)

The enmity between Whiro and Tane seems to have begun at birth. Whiro was angry because Tane led the newly born children of Rangi and Papa out into the cold world, the chilly realm of space. - 109 He objected to the separation of those parents, and the forcible turning over of the Earth Mother so that she faced downwards. He objected to Tane ascending to the realm of Io in the uppermost heaven, and to the acquisition by him of the three baskets of knowledge and the sacred stones; to the insertion of the name of Tane in ritual; to the elevation of the heavenly bodies; to the many names of Tane; to the ceremonies performed over Tane, and his assumption of power. Twelve reasons are given for the enmity of Whiro against Tane; twelve is a number that frequently enters into these myths.

The war between Whiro and Tane commenced in the night of time and continues to the present day; it never ceases, peace has never been made by that twain. Hence the appearance of Maiki-roa, of Maiki-nui, and of Maiki-kunawhea (personified forms of disease) among the offspring of Tane. Hence Tahekeroa, the path of death that descends to the Po kerekere, the realm of Rarohenga (under-world), that consumes man, and trees, and all things of this world; hence the evil conditions of all things in this world. This is why Whiro is styled the Thief, and is looked upon as the patron deity of thieves. For Whiro it is who steals the offspring of Tane, i.e., man, and draws them down on the current of death to the underworld. For further light on the Tane—Whiro myth, see “Journal of the Polynesian Society,” Vol. XXVI., p. 88.

It was Whiro who appointed the Maiki clan, he who brought disease into the world. (Cf. mai a Tahitian term of disease.) 1 Of him it was said of old:—“The work of Whiro is the breeding of all types of disease that carry off man to the Po.” Again, we are told in the myth of Tane and the Earth-formed Maid, that when the pure rite was about to be performed over her, Tu said:—“Let it be so performed that man may possess courage.” But Rongo said:—“Let man be endowed with two qualities, ihi and mārū.” (Courage, ability and benevolence, including hospitality and industry). Then Whiro spoke:—“Very well; then for me the poautinitini.” (An expression implying death, and disease, and afflictions.) Hence we die, on account of that contention. Such were the three qualities given to man, ihi, maru and poautinitini; all phases of action and thought, all human activites spring from them.

The Maiki clan that afflicts mankind dwells in the “house” called Tai-whetuki, a term sometimes employed as a sort of antithesis to Taiao. This house belongs to Whiro and Tangaroa. It is the abode of evil, for it destroys man, animals, gods, birds, fish, food, and all other things. It was also the origin of black magic, the dread arts of the wizard. As the men of yore said:—“Ko Whiro te putake o te kino o te ao.” (“Whiro was the origin of the evils of the world.”) - 110 He was a thief, and all his descendants are thieves; he stole the fire generating stick of Rangi, known as the Ra kura, he was guilty of the first act of puremu.

Now, the creature that represents Whiro in this world is the lizard, hence the lizard represents Death, and that is why it is such an evil omen to encounter a lizard during one's walks. It is the emissary of Whiro and the harbinger of death. This applies specially to the green lizard called moko kaka-riki, and not to the tuatara, which is allied to birds. The moko kaka-riki was one of the party of night moving creatures sent by Whiro to attack Tane.


We have now to speak of Tane as the Fertilizer, as the procreative power, as the progenitor of vegetation and of man. In Westropps' “Primitive Symbolism” occurs the following passage:—“In Egypt the Deity or principle of generation was Khem …. The office of Khem was not confined to the procreation and continuation of the human species, but extended even to the vegetable world, over which he presided …. Khem was styled Ammon generator, and was represented ithyphallic.” Herein we have a description ef Tane, as the following notes will show.

We have already seen that the whole of the seventy offspring of Rangi and Papa were of the male sex, and that all were supernatural beings, atua or gods. Now, the time came when these gods foregathered and decided that the female element must be sought, in order that a race might be generated to inhabit the world. It was proposed that the female element be sought in the heavens, where dwell the marei kura and many other female beings. But Uru said:—“Not so; for those are supernatural beings, and their offspring would also be supernatural. The female element must be obtained from the Earth Mother, in order to produce a race to dwell in the world as our descendants, but yet different from us.”

Then Tane sought the various female beings, but these brought forth trees and plants of all species, which same is a long story. He then took Parauri, who brought forth birds, the komako, patahoro, kokako and koko. These were fed on the parasites of the heads of Rehna and Tunuku, but did not flourish, hence they were fed on those of the heads of the younger folk, of Tutu, and Mako, and Toro, and Maire, and Miro, and Kahika, who dwell in the forest of Tane (these are names of trees, the berries of which are eaten by birds). Even so Tane long sought the uha or female element among things formed by the gods. He took to wife Apunga, who produced plants and small birds. He took Mumuhanga, who brought forth the totara tree. He took Te Pu-whakahara, who brought forth the maire and puriri - 111 trees. He took Rerenoa, who produced epiphytic plants. He took Tutoro-whenua, and produced Haumia (fern root, pteris). He took Hine-tu-pari-maunga, the Mountain Maid, who brought forth Para-whenuamea (personified form of water), and so on, a long list of failures.

Tane now concluded that it was a vain thing to seek the ira tangata (human life) among the ira atua (supernatural life). Long was the search for the uha (female) of the ira tangata, but in vain. Then was it said:—“There is no being to take the form of our mother, she is in danger of being forgotten. Let us never forget the ‘night feeding breast’ (u kai po) of our mother.” Such were the words of Uru.

Then the mareikura, denizens of the uppermost heaven, told Tane that he must go to the Earth Mother, to the One i Kurawaka, and there form a mound, and produce Woman.


Tane proceeded to the puke (Mons veneris) of Papa, and there he fashioned in human form a figure of earth. His next task was to endow that figure with life, with human life, life as known to human beings, and it is worthy of note that, in the account of this act, he is spoken of as Tane te waiora. It was the sun light fertilizing the Earth Mother. Implanted in the lifeless image were the wairua (spirit) and manawa ora (breath of life), obtained from Io, the Supreme Being. The breath of Tane was directed upon the image, and his warmth affected it. That figure absorbed life, a faint life sigh was heard, the life spirit manifested itself, and Hine-ahu-one, the Earth Formed Maid, sneezed, opened her eyes, and rose—a woman.

Such was the Origin of Woman, formed from the substance of the Earth Mother, but animated by the divine spirit that emanated from the Supreme Being, Io the Great, Io of the Hidden Face, Io the Parent, and Io the Parentless.

Thus Woman came into the world, and it is from this maid, named Hine-ahu-one on account of the manner in which she had been created, that man derives his earthly nature. For she was half of the earth and half supernatural, and she was the first being of the race of man. Here began the blending of the spirit of supernatural beings with that of man, which has continued until the present time. The seed of life is with Tane, and with man, with woman is the receptacle that shelters and nourishes it. The seed of the spiritual god is with the male, for he is a descendant of gods. Woman emanates from Papa, the Earth, and with her is the conserved water (that protects the embryo); she is the shelterer and nurturer, by whom all creatures acquire growth. Woman is a copy of the male, and the seed of life - 112 emanated from Io mata ngaro, Io of the Hidden Face. The ira tangata (human life, life as known to man) pertains to the kauwae raro (a term denoting the earth and all things connected with it), but the kauwae runga (upper jaw, the heavens, celestial spheres) knows only the ira atua (supernatural life, as enjoyed by gods). In Hine-ahu-one and her descendants (man) we see the blending of the two.

In these interesting remarks, rendered as given by an old native, we see the Maori anthropogenic myth. The Sun fertilizes the Earth Mother, and, having produced water and vegetation, then begets man. But man must be something more than of the earth, and, though formed from earth, must be vitalised by means of certain potentiœ obtained from the gods and the God. These furnish the wairua (spirit), the manawa ora (breath of life), the toto (blood), and the hau (personality or personal aura. The union of heaven and earth, of ira atua and ira tangata in now complete; Man is the result.

In his cosmogonic myths the Maori first brought in Space, Chaos, Darkness, then Heaven and Earth, then the Heavenly Bodies, Light and Warmth, then Water, Soil and Rock, then Reptiles, Birds, Fish, Shell-fish, etc., and then Man. This is a fairly intelligible scheme of Creation, and betokens the exercise of a certain amount of thought. It is superior to the account given us in Genesis, which is jumbled as follows, if I remember aright:—

  • 1st Day—Light. Night and Day.
  • 2nd Day—Water.
  • 3rd Day—Land. Vegetation.
  • 4th Day—Heavenly Bodies.
  • 5th Day—Fish and Birds.
  • 6th Day—Animals. Man.

Here we have light and day and night, as also vegetation, before the sun existed, which seems to be a poor arrangement, to use a mild expression.

It is from the earthly origin of Hine-ahu-one that came about the belief in the inferiority of the female sex, notwithstanding its importance in ritualistic matters, and indispensability in other ways.

Schoolcraft tells us that the Indians of Virginia believed in one chief god, who is eternal, and creator of the world. He created an order of inferior gods to carry out his government, among whom were the sun, moon and stars. One of these minor gods begat man. Here we have a parallel belief to that of the Maori, who says that Io was the original god, that all minor gods emanated from him, or that he manifests himself in them, or caused them to exist.

Tane had seven children by Hine-ahu-one, all of them being females, and the eldest was Hine-titama.

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Tane then took his eldest daughter to wife, and by her had Hine-rau-wharangi and other females. When Hine-titama found that Tane was her own father, she fled from him and descended to the underworld. She is said to have taken refuge with Tane te po tiwha (Tane of the Dark Night), a name of singular interest, for it looks as if Tane represented both Light and Darkness. Tane te po tiwha probably represents the setting sun, or the sun during its passage through the underworld.

The guardian of the underworld strove to prevent Hine descending thereto, saying—“The world of life is behind you, return to it.” But Hine passed downward, wailing as she went, her tears flowing. Her reply was:—“Let me pass; I am undone. Who said that the fire generating stick should be used as a firebrand.” The guardian said:—“Beware! Behind my back is the Po.”

Now Tane appeared, for he had pursued Hine, and strove to persuade her to return to the world of light. But Hine said:—“Return, O Tane! Yours be the task of fostering the growth and welfare of our children in the Ao marama. I shall descend to Rarohenga, there to receive the souls of our children.” Even so Hine passed down to the underworld, where her task is to await the spirits of her children who have died on earth, to tend and protect them in the spirit world, where Whiro ever strives to defeat her. and destroy the spirits under her care.

The last words of Hine, on leaving this world, were:—“I have been Hine-titama in the world; henceforward I shall be known as Hine-nui-te-Po.”

Knowing as we do that the Maori of yore strove to fathom the origin of the universe and of man, that he personified all natural phenomena; also that he clothed his quaint concepts in mythopoetic imagery, and so passed them on to succeeding generations, it behoves us to make some attempt to read the riddle of these myths.

Does Hine-titama, daughter of Tane, the Sun, represent the Dawn. Does her flight from Tane the Parent to Tane te po tiwha represent her passage to the setting sun, where, naturally, she passes into or becomes Night, Hine nui te Po, the Great Dame of the unknown realm, ever ready to receive the souls of other dying dawns; dawns that pass to evening and to night.

It is probable that light would be cast on this matter by the meaning of the archaic word titama, did we but know it. The names of these personifications in many cases explain themselves, as Hine-te-uira, Hine-repo, Hine-pukohu-rangi, etc. The drawing down of the spirits of the dead to the underworld is personified or symbolised in Rua-toia and Rua-kumea, whose names are undoubtedly most suitable.

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It was now, continues the myth, that the path of the dead was laid down to the underworld, through the instrumentality of Hine-titama, and that descending path is known as Tahekeroa. We now see the reason why that path of the spirits is called Hawaiki, because it is the place where man is ikia (consumed, devoured, perhaps engulfed in this case) into the po tiwhatiwha (realm of darkness).

The current of death was now directed to the underworld, and from that time to the present man has flowed like water down Tahekeroa to Rarohenga. Tane remains in this world to produce and represent Life, while Hine-nui-te-Po remains in the underworld to receive the spirits of the dead, and represents Death, or Life in Death.

Although Hine represents death, yet is it the death of the physical basis alone; she is the preserver of spiritual life; she it is who protects the spirits of the dead in the underworld from the enmity of Whiro. Also these spirits are in an intermediary stage; they are disembodied but still visible, hence we see spirits of the dead abroad in this world; they are seen by the eyes of living man. In the course of time, however, the spirit passes through another change, and becomes more etherealised, so that it cannot be seen. This is the true spirit or soul of man, this is the awe of the wairua, the essence of the spirit.

The spirits of all persons who sympathize with the Earth Mother in her separation from Rangi, or with Hine-titama in her trouble, pass down Tahekeroa to Rarohenga (the underworld), irrespective of their character or acts in this world; there is no distinction. Nor is there any punishment of the human soul in the spirit world.


Those who sympathised with Whiro when he was defeated by Tane in the struggle known as Te Paerangi, and descended with him into the underworld, are known as the Tini o Poheua and the Tini o Potahi. Those who cling to Hine-titama in the underworld are known as the Tini o Puhiata and Parangeki. The realm of the latter is where spirits of the dead are saved and protected by Hine. (Koia te kaupeka nui o Rarohenga i or a ai nga wairua, e kiia nei kua kapua mai e Hine-titama te waiora ki te ao nei, ara ka ora mai nga wairua katoa.) Were it not for the protection of Hine, then Whiro would have consigned all these spirits to Tai-whetuki, the house of death, wherein abide Maikinui, Maikiroa, and other dread creatures. Thus Whiro and his horde ever wage war against Hine, who is the refuge of the souls of our dead.

Herein we see the old Persian beliefs and cult, and, what is of far greater interest, we see the making of religion, the groping of - 115 the human mind seeking to understand the origin of man, the whence of the soul and its ultimate destination.

Such were the inner teachings, as taught to a select few, but never communicated to the people. Their conception of Hine-nui-te-po is as the destroyer, as seen in the saying, “He ai atu ta te tangata, he huna mai ta Hine-nui-te-Po.” Man begets and Hine destroys. Of a dead person it is said, “Kua mau ia i te tari a Hine-nui-te-Po.” He has been caught in the snare of Hine.

It is clear that with Hine, either as Hine-titama or as Hine-nui-te-Po, the idea of beauty is connected, the beauty of the Dawn Maid. One of the old sages of the early part of last century held forth as follows on the subject:—“Now, about Hine-nui-te-Po, she possessed the appearance of a supernatural being, her eyes were as gleaming fire-flame, and her form a beautiful one. When she came forth from her house to remain without, fair beyond measure was the light of her eyes. When she removed her clothing in order to bathe, her skin showed dazzling and beautiful. Her hair extended to her hips, and her general appearance was one of great beauty, hence the saying:—“Ko Hine-titama koe, matawai ana te whatu i te tirohanga.” (“You are like Hine-titama, the eyes glisten on beholding you.”) Her bathing-place was Wai-mahuru, her house was Wharau-rangi; her home was Te Rua-tuwhenua, and her plaza Te Tatau o te Po.

In the well-known myth of Hine-nui-te-Po and Maui, evidently Maui represents Light or Day, and on entering Night of course perishes. Had he won in this contest, presumably darkness would have been abolished and Maui would have gained eternal life, or light.

A Polynesian myth tells us that Maui restored the sight of Hina, who had become blind. Evidently Maui restored light to the moon in this case. Maui was assuredly no man, no historical character, as claimed by some writers; he is a personification, as also are Whaitiri, Tawhaki and Wahieroa. Moui was one of the twelve gods of the second order in Egypt; he represented the splendour and light of the sun. At Niue and Tonga moui means “life” and “alive.” The word is apparently allied to mauri and mouri = the life principle. At Rotuma mauri means “to live.” At Futuna tamauri means “life.” Maui seems to personify Life or Light.


We have seen that the Hawaiians called the West ke ala ula a Kane (Te Ara kura a Tane), the red or gleaming path of Tane. The Maori of these isles tells us of Te Ara whanui a Tane, the Broad Path of Tane, which is the path by which spirits of the dead return to the - 116 original homeland, whence they pass to the underworld. What is this path, where is it situated, and how shall the disembodied spirit seek it? It is the oldest path in the world; as the Maori puts it—e hara i te ara hou—as old as the first days of Tane; it is the trail all men must lift and traverse to its uttermost limit. It is the golden path of the setting sun, by which the spirits pass over the great ocean to the hidden land of Tane, and descend with him into that mysterious realm. Such is the Ara whanui a Tane, to which we farewell the souls of the dead, and which appears in the old, old saying:—“He mata mahora no te Ara whanui a Tane.

The Broad Way of Tane is the gleaming sun glade, the path laid down by Tane for the souls of his descendants to traverse, to lead them on across vast ocean spaces, back to the homeland of the race and thence to the spirit world. Hence, in these words does a bereaved mother farewell the spirit of her dead daughter:—

“Haere atu ra, e hine, i te ara whanui
A to tipuna a Tane-nui-a-rangi,
I takoto ai Tahekeroa; e hine—e—i.”

(“Fare on, O maid! by the broad path of your ancestor, Tane-nui-a-rangi, whereby Tahekeroa was established, O Maid!”)

Tahekeroa is the descending path to the underworld.

In Rarotongan myth we see that spirits of the dead pass lightly over the vast ocean and sink with the sun into the underworld.

As old as the days of heart sorrow and of human love are the words of the lament:—

“Farewell, O maid! Tread thy path, the Broad Way of Tane that lies before, the path of your forbear, Hine-titama.”

In Bank's Journal we read that, at Tahiti, Tane was much more generally invoked than Tangaroa, as he is supposed to be the more active deity. At Tahiti also occurs the curious double name of Rongomatane, or Rongo-ma-Tane, in the form of Ro'omatane, who was an important atua (god). By the same name was known at Tahiti a stone set up in a marae, and which was adorned with flowers. Rongomatane appears in Maori myth, mentioned as though it was the name of an individual god. Evidence connecting Rongo with the moon accumulates, and the name Rongo-ma-Tane appears to be simply “moon and sun,” when the aspect of personification is considered.

At Mangaia Tane brought sight to the blind Kui, apparently he restored the light of the moon, and took to wife one of her fair daughters, “Hina who rivals the dawn.”

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Tane observed the appearance of nakedness about Rangi, an appearance that was unpleasant. He therefore said to Tawhirimatea (personified form of winds), “Go you and procure the perspiration, the warmth of our mother Papa lying below, bear it upward and arrange it on the person of our father, Rangi, as a warmth giving covering for him.” Then Tawhirimatea went and procured Te Ao tu, Te Ao hore, Te Ao nui, Te Ao roa, Te Ao pouri, and others (all cloud names), all of which are names of the warmth and moisture emanating from Papa on account of her lamentation for her husband from whom she had been separated. Such are the clouds above us.


A famous expert of the Whare-wānanga said to one of his pupils: “Should any person say that my teachings are false, then the sun shall wither him and the moon consign him to the underworld. For that person is not condemning me, but Tane-matua and the origin of such teachings.”


This denotes “the dancing of Tane-rore” an expression applied to the quivering appearance of air seen on a warm summer day. A Matatua myth has it that Tane-rore was the offspring of Ra, the sun, and Raumati (summer). The expression Kua tu te haka a Tane-rore means that summer has come, the dancing of Tane-rore has commenced.

A study of Maori mythology and religion has the effect of directing the attention to the Oriental aspect of Maori mentality, so close a resemblance is there between the concepts of the peoples of southern Asia and those of the Polynesian race. Thus we find in Indian myth the story of the demons of Darkness being vanquished by the Shining Ones and driven down to the underworld, the counterpart of our Maori myth of the contest between Tane and Whiro. The haka of Tane-rore is the “sun dance” of India and Europe. Brahmā, the Creator, was symbolised by the rising sun, even as the demiurge Tane was. The lingam employed as a symbol of the Creator was used in Polynesia to represent Tane, where such symbols were of stone, and to whieh curious honours were paid. Siva represented the setting sun and destructive power, as also did Tu in Maori myth. Vishnu supports the heavens, and his bride is the Dawn Maiden Ushas, while he represents the sun at noon. He recalls Tane the supporter of the heavens, who long sought the uha or female element.

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A curious fragment conserved in the White MSS. is the following:—

“Kotahi tangata ki Hawaiki ko Whakatau anake.
Kotahi tangata ki Aotearoa ko Tama-uawhiti, ara ko Tama-nui-te-ra.”

This looks as if Tama-uawhiti was another name for the sun. The explanation following it fails to make things clear—“Whakatau was a warrior, the equal of Oipiriwhea. Tama-uawhiti equals Whaka-ahu; another of his names is Hiringa, denoting a mind assiduous in the seeking of knowledge, industry in procuring or cultivating sustenance for the body, and other important tasks; the source of knowledge (ko te puna o te matauranga).”

Oipiri, Opipiri, or Oipiriwhea seems to be a term applied to winter (probably a reference to the star Pipiri). Whakaahu is a summer name and a star name. These two and their attendants are ever contending with each other, but neither wins a permanent victory. It seems to express the fact that Hiringa (mental alertness and assiduity) is a name for the sun, which is the source of knowledge. One of the names of Tane is Tane-i-te-hiringa.

We have seen that it was Tane who obtained the three baskets of the wananga or esoteric knowledge for the benefit of man. The Maori, like the North American natives, appears to have looked upon the sun as the symbol of intelligence. An old East Coast Maori once remarked to the writer that the West Coast natives could not possibly possess so much knowledge as those of the eastern side of the island because they were further from the sun.

It is a curious fact that the three ordinary names for the sun, ra, komaru and mamaru, are also applied to a canoe sail. It is difficult to see any connection between the two.

The following song is an oriori, a nursing song, composed by one Te Takai for his grand daughter. It is absolutely packed with references to Maori myths, including that of Tane and Hine-titama:—

“Naumai, e hine! Ki te ao tu roa a to tipuna, a Tane-matua
I tiki ai ki roto o Matangi-reia i a Io mata ngaro
I roto o Rangiatea e whata ana
Mauria mai nei ko te kete tuauri, ko te kete tuatea,
Ko te kete aronui, e hine!
I te ara tiatia i he ai Whiro te tipua
Kake noa tera i te ara taepa, te kite, te aha
Koia tarahau o nga puhi o nga rangi, e hine .. e!
Ka kawea mai e Tane-nui-a-rangi, e nga whatu kura
Ki roto o Wharekura nei whata ai te wananga, e hine!
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Ka waiho hei ao marama ki taiao nei, e hine . .e!
Koia i tipu ai te tarahau, te hinana na
Tau ke ati nuku, tau ke ati rangi i konei, e hine . . e!
Ka kutia te po, ka kutia te ao, ko te Paerangi tenei, e hine . . e!
Koia i noho ai Tane i a Hine-titama i konei, e hine . . e!
Ka titamatia te po, ka titamatia te ao
Ka uia i reira e Te Kuwatawata
E haere ana koe ki whea, Tane-te-waiora . . e?
Ka uia, E hine! Haere ana koe ki whea?
Ka mea a Hine—Kei whea toku matua e ngaro nei i au . . e
Ka uia ki nga poupou o te whare, kaore te ki mai te waha
E mate ra i te whakama, ka konau haere i Whiti-a-naunau
Ki marae nui o Poutere-rangi.
E ohomauri ana a Tane, ka atiu i waho ra o Hui-te-ana-nui
E hokai ana koe ki whea, e Tane tikitiki . . e!
Ka pa mai te waha-ki te whai atu i ta taua nei puhi, e hika . . e!
E hoki, tangohia e koe i nga tupuni o Wehi-nui-o-mamao
Ko hihira ki uta, ko hihira ki tai
Ko pari nuku, ko pari rangi
Tikina e koe ki te kahui whatu punga nei . . e
Ko Takurua nei . . e; Meremere nei . . e; Autahi ma Rehua nei . . e
He ariki no te tau ka wehe nei . . e
Ka tau mai ko Whakaneke-pungarehu nei . . e
Ko Uaki-motumotu nei . . e
Hei tupa i a Wero-i-te-ninihi . . e, Wero-i-te-kokota nei . . e
Ka puta i konei o raua tuahine
A Wero-i-te-marie, a Wero-i-te-ahuru . . e
Koia te wero i te mahana . . e
I tataia ki te poho o Rangi-nui
Koia Tama-nui-te-ra, e hine . . e!
Ka haere wareware atu na koe . . e
Koia i tau ai te haere i te ao turoa, e hine . . e . . i!
Ka wehea te po i konei, te ao i konei
E hine aku . . e . . i!”

This song is a good sample of such productions and illustrates a common Maori usage. Songs composed as lullabies and nursing songs often teemed with allusions to incidents in tribal history, myths, etc. This was a form of teaching apparently; it familiarised even very young children with names of tribal heroes, etc. The old grandfather addresses the child thus:—“Welcome! O maid, to the enduring world of thy ancestor Tane, he who entered the sacred places of the uppermost heaven and obtained from Io, of the Hidden Face, the three baskets of sacred knowledge, O maid: brought hither by the - 120 wondrous path where Whiro was foiled; he who sought to ascend by scaling the side of the heavens; who gained nought, and who was assailed by turbulent winds.” He then refers to Tane bringing the baskets of knowledge to earth and depositing them within the sacred place Wharekura, whereby they became a treasure and an enlightening agent in the world. Also to the long contest between Tane and Whiro, the advent of the Dawn Maid, the dividing of night and day, the descent of the Dawn Maid to the underworld, and curious fancies connected with the stars.

It is now high time to conclude these reflections on Maori myths, these peerings into the mind of barbaric man, lest weariness assail the hapless reader, and wait upon excess. These myths and mythopoetical fancies serve to illustrate the peculiar activities of the mind of neolithic man in striving to fathom the origin and meaning of all he saw, and the singular genius for personification that is so marked a characteristic of the Maori race. That strange plane of mentality has been passed by us, and never again shall we see with the eyes of the old myth makers.

As the men of yore said:—

Ka riro he au heke, e kore e hoki ki tona mātāpunu ano.” (“A flowing stream will never return to its source.”)

1   Quite possibly this should be mai'i, as showing the dropped k of Tahiti.