Volume 84 1975 > Memoir No. 40: Tapu removal in Maori religion, by Jean Smith, p 43-96
                                                                                             Previous | Next   

- i
Memoir No. 40
Supplement to The Journal of the Polynesian Society

PART 2: PAGES 43—58


- ii
  • Chapter 3 The Creation of Life — and Death 43
  • Chapter 4 The Pani Myth, or the Birth of the Kumara 53
- 43

In tapu removal rituals, man creates light and life out of the darkness of a tapu. In doing this, he repeats the primal creation of light and life out of darkness, which was achieved through acts which can be directly correlated with those of ritual tapu removal. In analysing the Creation myth, I will concentrate on the structure which it has in common with tapu removal rites.

Myths such as the Creation myth reveal clearly the meaning which acts of tapu removal had for the Maori. For example, the Creation myth confirms the Maori association of pollution and subjugation which was described in the previous chapter. By studying the Creation myth, and a complementary myth, the Maaui myth, we shall be able to discuss more fully two important themes which have already been briefly mentioned: the relationship of pure and polluting separation from a tapu, and the relationship of life and death.

The Creation Myth 1

Rangi and Papa, or Heaven and Earth, were the source from which in the beginning all things originated. Darkness then rested upon heaven and earth, for they still clave together. At last, the children of Rangi and Papa, worn out by the continued darkness, consulted among themselves as to whether to slay or separate their parents. Tuu-matauenga (man), the fiercest of the children, wanted to slay them, but the rest of the brothers, excluding Taawhiri-maatea (winds), agreed with Taane-mahuta (forests, birds, insects) to separate them: “Let the sky become as a stranger to us, but the earth remain close to us as a nursing mother”.

“This is the reason for these words: ‘Night, Night, Day, Day, there is seeking, there is search in the void, in the void’. For it is their search for an idea as regards their parents, in order that man can be created and flourish. Behold! There are these words: ‘The duration, the greatness’. It is the greatness of their idea of hurting their parents, in order that man can live, it is their signification”. 2

- 44

The brothers tried to separate their parents, but none succeeded except Taane, who, by setting his head below and his legs in the air, pushed Rangi up. Therefore there is this proverb: “It was Taane who set poles; Rangi and Papa were separated, it was he who separated them, Night and Day were separated.”

But Taawhiri-maatea had not agreed to the separation. He joined his father, Rangi, and decided to wage war on his brothers. He broke down Taane's trees, and stirred up the ocean. The grandchildren of Tangaroa, Ika-tere (the father of fish) and Tuu-te-wehiwehi (the father of reptiles) consulted with each other on how to escape the storms. They quarrelled, and while Tuu-te-wehiwehi fled inland and was sheltered by Taane, Ika-tere went to the sea. Tangaroa, enraged by the desertion of some of his children, has ever since waged war on Taane.

Taawhiri-maatea next rushed on to attack his brothers Rongo-ma-taane (cultivated food) and Haumia-tikitiki (uncultivated food), but Papa, to save these for her other children, hid them.

But when Taawhiri-maatea rushed against Tuu-matauenga, he could not vanquish him. “What did Tuu-matauenga care for his brother's wrath? He was the only one of the whole party of brothers who had planned the destruction of their parents, and had shown himself brave and fierce in war; his brothers had yielded at once before the tremendous assaults of Taawhiri-maatea and his progeny . . . but Tuu-matauenga, or man, still stood erect and unshaken upon the breast of his mother Earth.”

Tuu-matauenga then turned against his brothers because they had not fought bravely against Taawhiri-maatea. As yet death had no power over man. It was not until the birth of Maaui, who tried to deceive Hine-nuite-poo, that death had power over man.

Tuu made nooses and caught the children of Taane (birds); he caught the children of Tangaroa with nets of flax, and dug up Rongo-ma-taane and Haumia-tikitiki. Thus Tuu-matauenga devoured all his brothers in revenge. But Taawhiri-maatea he could not vanquish, or make common by eating for food, and so Taawhiri-maatea continues to attack man in storms.

“Four of his brothers having been made common (noa), or articles of food by Tuu-matauenga he assigned for each of them fitting incantations that they might be abundant and that he might easily obtain them. . . . The reason that he sought these incantations was that his brothers might be made common by him and serve for his food . . . there were also many prayers and incantations composed for man, suited to the different times and circumstances of his life.”

The children of Tuu-matauenga were begotten on this earth, and continued to multiply until the Maaui brothers were born.

The most common sequence of acts in tapu removal ritual was: 1. Pure separation from tapu, frequently in the form of the separation of night and day. 3 2. Pollution of the gods by man. The two most important events in the Creation myth are: 1. The separation of night and day by Taane. 2. The eating of the gods by Tuu (man). It is clear from this that - 45 ritual tapu removal and the Creation myth have an identical structure. Sometimes the relationship is even closer. The separation of night and day in tapu removal rituals was frequently achieved through the agency of poles or wands, just as Taane props up the heavens with poles; 4and in a ritual to remove Taane's tapu at the beginning of the egg collecting season, the karakia includes the words “Now Tuu is great. Now Tuu can eat.” 5

Let us look at the above sequence more closely. Rangi and Papa are the source of all things, but they lie so close together that they stifle their children, who therefore decide to separate them in order that they may have light and that “man can be created and flourish”. Similarly, in reality, tapus were the source of life; but once life had been achieved, for example a child born, the tapu became oppressive and had to be removed. In the case of a child, this was done through the severing of its umbilical cord and its birth in water to the world of light. This separation is equivalent to that of Taane. Indeed, there is a lullaby which includes the words:

[Your ancestor] was he who set poles under heaven above us,
You were born to the world of light. 6

In inverting himself, Taane not only separates heaven from earth; he also pollutes his head on the earth, and weakens himself in relation to man. After his inversion, Taane becomes associated with the weak, organic aspect of tapu. “Whilst Taawhiri-maatea was consulting with heaven, four of the other five had assumed different natures and become part of the earth. Taane-mahuta had transformed himself into a tree and become the father and propagator of trees and birds; Tangaroa had become a fish, and the god and propagator of fish; Rongo-ma-taane a kumara; and Haumia a fernroot. But Tuu-matauenga still retained his divine nature.” 7 In Grey's version, Tuu “still stood erect and unshaken upon the breast of his mother earth.” 8 Thus the positions of man and god were transposed. Although Tuu was unable to separate heaven and earth, Taane by separating heaven and earth actually weakened himself in relation to Tuu, and placed himself in a position where he was edible. 9

Taane's inversion can be seen to be equivalent to the separation from tapu achieved in the act of propitiation (See pp. 31-3). In one sense, propitiation separated the gods from man purely, just as Taane separates heaven from earth. But just as Taane's act of separation involves his pollution, so the propitiatory offering of cooked food in tapu removal rituals also polluted the gods.

It becomes possible, therefore, to suggest that one purpose of pure separation in tapu removal rites was to persuade the gods to invert the relationship between themselves and man in order that, no longer more powerful than man as heavenly ancestors, they should be less powerful as - 46 food. Through this demotion of the gods from heaven to earth, man was promoted from the darkness of his tapu into light.

Once the gods had been weakened through acts of pure separation in ritual, they could then be eaten; and as we have seen, the act of eating was an act of triumphant subjugation. Similarly, in the myth, once Taane has weakened himself, and proved his weakness by his cowardice before the onslaught of Taawhiri, Tuu, who is of superior courage, devours him in revenge.

In the previous chapter, I described how pollution was dangerous and could result in death as well as life. When Tuu pollutes his brothers, his act results in life; but there is another myth, the Maaui myth, which counterbalances this by showing that pollution can also result in death. The Creation myth summarised here contains two references to Maaui; also, in the version of the myth given by Taylor, when Tuu stood firm against Taawhiri, “Heaven and Taawhiri were very angry: let us wait, said they, till the children of Taranga and Makeatutara are born, Maaui-taha, Maaui-roto, Maaui-pae, Maaui-waho and Maaui-tikitiki-o-Taranga, who tried to deceive Hine-nui-te-poo, and thus brought death on man”. 10

Like Tuu, Maaui, 11 a trickster hero, gained life for man by subduing his relations; his achievements include the tricking of fire from his ancestress, Mahuika, and the pulling of Papa (land) from the ocean. But unlike Tuu and like Taane, Maaui also separated light and darkness: Raa, the sun, used to move so fast that the period of daylight was short and man had to eat at night. So Maaui and his brothers captured their ancestor in a rope noose, and Maaui beat him with the jawbone he had got from his ancestress, Muri-ranga-whenua, until the sun was so badly wounded that he could only creep slowly along his course.

For the Maori, the concept of an honourable defeat would have been a contradiction in terms. Life and honour were one. 12 Conquest involved not just the death or weakening of a man's physical life, but that of his honour (tupu) and tapu. Maaui's conquest of Raa (and other gods) was thus as ignominious and polluting as Tuu's conquest of his brothers. But whereas Tuu's pollution of his brothers followed Taane's separation of light and darkness, Maaui's pollution of Raa resulted in the separation of light and darkness. Similarly, in tapu removal rituals although the final act of pollution usually follows after some pure act of separation, it is the act of pollution which achieves the complete and final separation of a man from his tapu. This can be illustrated by the ritual performed over the first bird caught in the bird snaring season, in which the karakia recited appositely features Maaui's snaring of the sun. The bird was cooked on the ahi taitai, part was buried and part was eaten by the priest. If - 47 there were no important priest present, it was put in a tree for Taane to eat. The karakia that was recited on this occasion begins:

Tis the binding of darkness, the binding of the light
Pull earth, pull heaven, pull the land
By a complete convulsion, exhaustive effort
Bind my snare firmly
To the great lighting of the Heavens
Tis a sacred Heaven suspended
Drag away to the lashing
To the great snare of Maaui. Ah! 13

Pure separation cannot by itself remove a tapu entirely. It mediates a tapu but does not abolish it. It is significant that Tuu, in the manner of Maaui, would have preferred to slay his parents rather than separate them. Taane's mediation meant that night could never be wholly escaped. By eating food, which separates life and death, man can, like Taane, separate light and darkness; but the fact that it is a mediator which is eaten provides not only a method of avoiding death, but also a means of explaining the inevitability of death.

Maaui achieves both life and death. Just as Tuu revenges himself on his brothers for their weakness, so the gods revenge their defeat by Maaui by killing him. 14 The reason for Tuu's success in polluting the gods compared with Maaui's ultimate failure is their different relationship with ritual. Tuu's act of pollution was preceded by an act of pure separation, and was also the occasion of the composition of many karakia. In contrast, Maaui did not separate himself purely from the tapus he polluted, and he dies because his father left out a part of his baptism (tohi) karakia.

Maaui dies in an attempt to end death by entering Hine-nui-te-poo through her vagina. In order to do this he turns into a moko huruhuru (a caterpillar or a hairy lizard). When he enters Hine, however, his bird companions laugh, 15 thereby awakening Hine, who closes her legs and kills - 48 him. The nature of his death is appropriate considering that it was because his father failed to remove the impurity of his birth that his death became inevitable. This shows that if one fails to remove a tapu ritually it will turn upon and destroy one.

It is clear that the relationship of pure separation and subjugation to polluting subjugation is an important one in the Creation and Maaui myths. The relationship is a confusing one; for although pure separation and pollution are theoretically opposite, in practice they are very close. The following is an outline of the paradox underlying this relationship.

The gods, for example Taane, are more powerful than man, but they are also man's food; and when man eats, he either pollutes something more powerful than himself and dies, or he subjugates something less powerful than himself and lives. It is important, therefore, to ensure that the gods remove themselves from their powerful (heavenly) position before they are eaten, in order that they should be weaker (as food) than man. They can then be eaten safely, for, as in the case of Tuu's eating of Taane, the eating will be an act of subjugation of an inferior rather than an insult to a superior. This is the aim of pure separation in tapu removal ritual. For example, when the superior power of the gods is acknowledged in propitiation, they are placed in a weaker position where they can be eaten.

This solution is, however, tautologous, because subjugation and separation can only be effectively achieved through pollution, and pollution is death. This is the message of the Maaui myth. Similarly, it is pollution, not pure separation, which is the effective core of ritual tapu removal. It is not merely that man propitiates the gods and then pollutes them, but that the act of propitiation pollutes.

Thus, although the purpose of tapu removal rituals is to separate man from the gods so that it is safe for him to pollute them, man can only separate himself from the gods by polluting them. Consequently, the ritual pollution of the gods resulting in life (as accomplished by Tuu) is close to the non-ritual pollution of the gods resulting in death (as accomplished by Maaui).

There is another aspect of the relationship of pure separation and pollution which I wish to consider by comparing the nature of Taane's and Hine's mediation. Taane mediates night and day, Tuu eats him and lives. Hine mediates night and day, Maaui enters her and dies. Taane's mediation is a pure one between heaven and earth. Hine's mediation is an impure, organic one between earth, or womb, and life. I believe this relationship can be correlated with Maori beliefs concerning the relationship between pure impregnation and impure birth.

“The seed of life is with Taane and with man, with woman is the receptacle that shelters and nourishes it. The seed of the spiritual god 16 is with the male for he is a descendant of gods. Woman emanates from Papa the Earth.” 17

- 49

Taane is the progenitor of the human race. 18 He created a woman out of earth and impregnated her. His daughter, Hine-tiitama (dawn maid) was the first-born woman, whom he married. But when Hine discovered that her husband was also her father she fled to the underworld, thus opening the path of death, and changed her name from dawn maid to night maid (Hine-nui-te-poo). 19 Thus pure male impregnation is followed by polluting female mediation which is responsible for both human life and death:


It will immediately be seen that this sequence is very similar to that of the Creation and Maaui myths: Taane separates heaven and earth, and becomes associated with the earth; this enables man to be born and food to be eaten. Finally, man is killed by the vagina.

Impregnation and birth feature more overtly in the Pani myth which is to be considered subsequently than they do in this myth, but as the structure of both myths is similar, and as there is undoubtedly sexual symbolism in this myth, I shall explore it briefly.

The phallic aspect of Taane as tree and pole is confirmed by a myth in which Taane places the iho (severed umbilical cord) of his child on a tree known as Te Iho O Kataka which, ever since, childness women have clasped in order to conceive. 20 This myth is interesting as it connects together phallus and post-natal separation in a manner which is analogous to their connection in the Creation myth, where the phallic Taane achieves post-natal separation.

However, it is not the upright Taane which achieves separation. Although the inverted Taane is able to hold up heaven, in connection with Papa he is, as we have already seen, weak. The obvious sexual corollary for Taane's inversion is detumescence. The Maori attach great significance to detumescence; the penis is “beaten” and “dies” (mate) in the female organ. 21 The image of detumescence is important because it is one which simultaneously involves separation and subjugation or weakening, an association which, as I have shown, is of great importance in tapu removal rites. Equivalent images include the felling of a tree, cooking, and hair cutting. 22 The imagery of the tira ora rite (see p. 12) also echoes that in the myth. The tira mate (pole or wand of death), like Taane, stands on the pukenui-a-Papa (the mons veneris of Earth) and is thrown down, leaving the tira ora (pole or wand of life), like Tuu, standing erect.

- 50

Thus the process of impregnation and birth has much in common with that of tapu removal. A tapu, before it is finally removed, must first be weakened, just as the penis is weakened in the vagina in intercourse, or as Taane is weakened on Papa. Then, through the polluting process of birth or eating, man can return to life.

It is quite clear from this and from other myths that there is a significant relationship between the processes relating to food and birth. It is not possible, however, to produce a model which would fit all the equivalences between food and sex which the Maori make in different contexts. Of the four processes which relate to the passage of man and food between the ultrahuman and human worlds, there is evidence for the following equivalences.

  • cooking — detumescence
  • eating — detumescence
  • cooking — birth
  • eating — birth

I suggest tentatively that the correlation which would appear to be implicit in this myth is:

Pure and hard Impure softening Life
Raw food Cooking in earth oven Eating
Erect penis Detumescence in womb Birth

In this myth, the main sequence is detumescence followed by eating. In the Tura myth, we find the opposite sequence: cooking, followed by, and associated with, birth. Tura visited a strange land where the people ate raw food. He said to himself, “these people are not human, they are gods and they live on raw food”. He taught them how to cook food, and when his wife was about to be cut open to give birth to his child he taught them the proper method of childbirth. 23 But in both myths, the payment for life is death. By teaching the ultrahumans the human method of birth, Tura prevented the dead mothers from renewing their lives in the Wai ora a Taane (Taane's water of life), and so introduced decay. 24 Similarly, the Maaui myth reverses creation. In the Creation myth, a god in the position of a detumescent penis is eaten by man. In the Maaui myth, man in the position of a detumescent penis is “eaten” by the vagina of a goddess.

The other theme I wish to consider is the relationship of life and death. In the previous chapter we saw that the pollution of eating and the vagina could result both in life, in ritual tapu removal, and in death, in acts of hara. Similarly, the Maaui myth, the Tura myth, the myth of Hine (p. 50) and the myth about the moon (footnote 15) all illustrate that pollution is the source of both life and death. The association of the vagina with death is seen even more clearly in the following description of Taane's quest for the female element (uha): “it was the quest of Taane that was the means of introducing death into the world”. “Man is born into the world from the whare o aituaa (house of misfortune). His lot is tribulation and death. . . . According to the knowledge of the Maori people the whare - 51 o aituaa is the cause of death.” 25 The Maori observed that everything which sexually reproduced itself died, whereas the heavenly bodies, which kept themselves separate, lived for ever. According to one Tuuhoe source, it was Taane's interference with the whare o te ora (houses of life)—the ears, mouth, eyes, nostrils and armpits—and the various discharges which resulted from this, which prevented man from sharing the immortality of the stars. 26 One Maori connected the immortality of the stars with their great affection for one another, whereas “the people of this world who live in strife are like unto perishable sap wood, they decay”. 27 The insoluble problem facing the Maori, therefore, was that ideally if man could keep himself pure, separate from food, women and other sources of pollution, he would live for ever, whereas naturally if he did this he would die.

Life is not something which is normal, any more than death is; both are achieved. Life and death could be conceived of as the two ends of a continuum along which man moves either away from death and toward life, or vice versa. The method of achieving life is to remove death in tapu removal rites. If one fails to remove death, or pollutes life, one returns to death. Thus between the two poles of experience there is a unitary subject of both, namely man, and a unitary means of achieving both. The means of life, passage through the vagina, is mythically the means of death, while the means of death, decomposition into the earth, is mythically the means of life (the creation of the first human being out of earth). This identification, therefore, provides man both with an active means of achieving life (ritual tapu removal) and a cognitive means of explaining lapses into death (hara).

What I describe as a continuum could, however, be described in terms more nearly resembling the Maori idea as being the minimal units of a hierarchy, an above and a below. When man eats food, either he is truly the eater of the food, or else the food eats him. It is significant in this context that the word kai means both “food” and “to eat”. The identification of man the eater and man the eaten is illustrated by the myth of Kaitangata, which puns on the double meaning of his name—which can be translated either as “man eater” or as “human food”. 28 Whaitiri came down from heaven because she thought that Kaitangata was a man eater, but he was not; and in another myth, Kaitangata died by falling over a latrine beam, thus justifying the interpretation of his name as human food. 29 There are other myths also which indicate that the transposition of eater into eaten is a crucial Maori nightmare. 30

- 52

There is another word which is similar to kai. Ika means “fish” and according to Best, “Both tried warriors and the enemy they slay in battle are termed ika”. 31 Thus the word has polar connotations; it can be used to refer to a victim or corpse, or, as Taylor said, it could be used to describe a chief “celebrated for his strength and courage”. 32 Behind this semantic identification of opposites we perceive the particular mode of perception which I have already described as being that of mutual consumption (see p. 36). A chief in battle is like some mighty fish: at one moment he is killing other fish and winning life and honour; the next moment he has himself become prey to some bigger fish. The gap between these two poles of experience is infinitesimal. Maaui had almost conquered death when the laughter of a little bird reversed his conquest. The identification of polar opposites both semantically, and in Maori ideas about the vagina and food, is by no means a confusion of opposites, but reveals a definite emphasis on their tragic proximity.

- 53

The Pani myth has a similar structure to the Creation and Maaui myths and it explores the same problem, that pollution is necessary for life but results also in death. But whereas the Creation myth involved many different themes and topics, the Pani myth has but one theme, the growth and production of food, and consequently the meaning of the myth is more clearly apparent. By studying it here, it is possible to confirm and elaborate the analysis of the Creation myth, and to investigate further the interplay of purity and impurity in the achievement of life and the explanation of death.

The Pani myth 33

Pani looked after her brother Tangaroa's orphan children, the Maaui brothers. One day Maaui taunted Pani's husband, Rongo-maaui, by telling him he did not go fishing. Thus shamed, Rongo-maaui visited his elder brother Whaanui, a star, to obtain some of his offspring, the kumara children.

On his arrival Whaanui asked him where he came from, and Rongomaaui replied, “I come from Mataora”. Whaanui remarked, “It is not Mata-ora (ora = life), it is Mata-oneone (oneone = earth)”. Hence the death that man dies, to be buried in the earth. Again Whaanui remarked, “The pit of death is below with Papa, the pit of life is above”.

Whaanui refused to give Rongo-maaui any of his children, so Rongomaaui stole them. He put them in his penis, returned to Mataora and impregnated Pani. 34 When she was about to give birth Rongo told her to go to the waters of Mona-ariki, which Pani did, and her kumara children were born as she stood in the waters reciting her charm. Then Rongo told Pani to prepare the sacred food ovens, the imu pootaka, the imu kirihau, the imu kohukohu and the imu waharoa. 35 “And this was the origin of the knowledge possessed by the Maori people of carefully preparing and cooking food. . . Had it not been for Rongo-maaui, men would be like birds, reptiles, dogs and other creatures who eat raw food.”

“Even so was the sacred food cooked and the ceremony of thanksgiving performed. Then the tapu was lifted from the proceedings; and Panitinaku now produced abundance of food, of sweet potatoes, which were cooked for her brother's children.”

- 54

Maaui asked Pani where she got her food from, but she would not tell him. In order to find out, he hid Pani's lying-in girdle and did not return it to her until dawn. Pani hurried off to the waters to produce kumara, and Maaui watched her. He then hurried back to his brothers and said, “We are being fed on the impurities (parapara, paraheka) of Pani.” Maaui and his companions were so dismayed that they left their home and scattered all over the world. Some of them came to New Zealand.

Pani herself was so overcome that she fled down to Mataora (that is, into the earth). 36 Maaui and his companions sought Pani and eventually Maaui saw her, transformed himself into a pigeon and flew down to where she was working in a kumara plantation.

Here, according to Best, the story becomes the same as that recorded by Gray where Maaui was baptised by his father; prayers were offered to make him sacred and clean from all impurities. But his father left out part of the prayers, and knew therefore that the gods would punish the fault by causing Maaui to die.

The kumara has a pure origin, and it is dangerous to pollute what is pure. I consider, therefore, that an important purpose of this myth is to establish the pollution of the kumara before it is cooked and eaten. As in the Creation myth, the first passage from the ultrahuman world toward the human world is a pure one. Rongo heroically steals the kumara from his elder relative in the heavens, and brings it down in his penis to the earth. But just as Taane's inversion involved his pollution, so in this myth it is Pani's womb which receives the kumara. Moreover, Whaanui tells Rongo that the earth is not a place of life (Mataora) but a place where the dead are buried (Mata-oneone). 37

The ambivalent nature of the earth is reflected in the ambivalent nature of the kumara born from it. Maaui calls the kumara a superior food until he finds it is parapara (defilement) coming from Pani's womb. It may also be that the word parapara is equivocal in this context, for it can be applied not only to defilements but also to certain first fruits (first-born were particularly pure in Maori society). After the kumara had been born they were cooked in sacred ovens. It is significant that two of these ovens, the imu kohukohu and the imu waharoa, were used in rituals to remove the tapu of death. Thus the pollution of the kumara in the earth and the polluting removal of its tapu in cooking are directly related.

I think that this material suggests that the nature of a tapu can be seen to be relative to tapu removal. It appears logical to argue that because of the impurity of death, tapu removal must be polluting in order to counter its impurity. But not all the impurities removed in tapu removal rites are as impure as death, and it does not make sense to say that food is cooked and eaten because it is polluting. On the contrary, I believe that this myth establishes the pollution of food in order that it can be polluted safely, in much the same way as the cowardice and pollution of Taane is establi- - 55 shed before he is eaten. If the earth is a place of death, then the birth of the kumara, its cooking and eating, will be a removal from death to life rather than from life to death, as in hara. 38 Another example of the transformation of a pure tapu into a polluting tapu in the context of tapu removal is that of the ritual tapu removal of war, when the Maori referred to the tapu which had brought them success as the “afflictions of Tuu”. 39 Similarly, after Rongomai and Ihenga have got Miru's lore her appearance changes. 40 In all these cases the tapu is pure when it is needed, but when it is no longer needed and must be removed, its aspect changes. I suggest that similarly the tapu of growth, which in one aspect is pure, must in the context of the necessity for polluting passage be seen to be polluting.

The ambivalence of the Maori attitude to the earth and growth which is seen in this myth can also be seen from a study of actual practice. Planting practices varied among the different tribes. Generally, planting was done by men. According to Hara Wahanui, women were not allowed to plant lest their menstrual blood should defile the gardens. 41 But on the other hand it was this same defiling power which constituted the female power of growth, and according to Hammond's informants women were employed as planters because they possessed ringa mana (hand mana), and any seed planted by them would thrive. 42 I think these different attitudes to growth can be seen as the reflection of two different problems. The growing plant has a sacred origin, and requires protection against defilement during the period of growth if the help of the gods is wanted. But growth is also a defiling process: the plant is buried in a place of death, or womb, out of which food is born only to be cooked and eaten. Accordingly, in so far as the tapu is capable of defilement, women can defile it; but in so far as it is itself defiled, women share the defiling power of growth and can thus aid fertility.

There is a similar difference in the ideas about the nature of the earth's tapu. In the myth, the earth as a place of growth is associated with the earth as a place of death (mataora/mataoneone), and I have suggested that these ideas are part of the logic of tapu removal. But the logic of protecting growth is different. For example, Ngaai Tama placed the bodies of their dead up in trees because they considered that it was not right to bury the dead in the earth, where food was produced. 43

To conclude this part of the discussion, I suggest that the pure aspect of a tapu can be seen as the measure of a man's need for ultrahuman protection, and the impure aspect of a tapu as a measure of man's need to pollute or remove himself from the ultrahuman. Where a man has both to co-operate with the ultrahuman and pollute it, as in the processes of - 56 agriculture, this changing aspect of a man's relationship with it is obviously of great importance in the understanding of the different aspects of a tapu. The material given in support of this hypothesis has not, however, been particularly conclusive so far, and clearer illustration of it will be given in chapter six.

So far, the myth has established the pollution of the kumara in order that it can be polluted. But the next problem considered in the myth is the impossibility of removing the pollution of the kumara through pollution. When the kumara have been born, Rongo instructs Pani to cook them. Like birth, cooking constitutes a polluting passage between ultra-human and human worlds. Birth and cooking are associated together in the Tura myth (p. 77). Moreover, waharoa (from imu waharoa) also means “entrance to a pa” and is probably connected with the word waha meaning “mouth”, “entrance”, and “pudenda muliebria”. Thus despite the removal of tapu from the kumara, and the fact that man has eaten and enjoyed it, Maaui announces that they are being fed on parapara (defilements).

The myth has reached the curious situation in which the pollution of the kumara's birth is removed by the polluting power of cooking, which, being itself polluting, ensures that the kumara remains polluted. The dialectical spiralling of the myth states a problem which is insoluble. The kumara comes from the ultrahuman world, therefore it must be removed from the ultrahuman world by female birth and cooking which mediate the human and ultrahuman worlds. Because of this mediation, however, the kumara remains impure.

Thus there is such a thing as a tapu resulting from tapu removal. For example, Tregear records that when a woman had stepped over a nervous man to remove his tapu, the tapu of his having been stepped over by a woman then had to be removed by a priest's incantations. 44 I think the problem in the Pani myth is similar: the tapu of female tapu removal must be removed, but this time by a male.

Maaui forces Pani to give birth in the morning. Daylight is a complete and drastic method of tapu removal. Frequently in Maori myth ultra-humans are either killed or forced to flee when they are persuaded by stratagem that it is still night when it is morning. In this myth too, Pani's exposure causes her to flee into the earth (“down to Mataora”).

In another myth, when Pani was discovered giving birth, she fled and the kumara was thus secured for man. 45 This was therefore a successful removal of the kumara from its polluting origin. In this myth, however, the kumara and its pollution are seen to be inseparable. Thus Maaui, having forced Pani underground and fled from her pollution, finds that he has also separated himself from her as the source of food. Consequently he goes to look for her. This ambivalence in Maaui's relationship with Pani is one which is very apparent in the attitude of the Maori to their food. Their fear of it as concept, contrasts strongly with their obvious fondness for it as substance.

- 57

Far from removing the kumara from its pollution, the male is actually responsible for transferring it into the polluting earth. This removal, unlike that of the female, should be pure and heroic. Rongo steals the kumara from heaven and impregnates Pani. Maaui, too, in acting as a pure tapu remover forces the kumara into the earth and is connected with planting. 46 But male passage is no more pure than female passage. Instead of bringing life out of death as the female does, the male removes life into death. Thus Rongo brings the kumara down from heaven to a place of death and Pani's womb. In Maaui the emphasis is more firmly placed on the collapse of purity into impurity.

In removing Pani as death, Maaui finds that he has separated himself from life. In chasing Pani as life, he moves a step closer to death. It is in the underworld that his father makes the mistake in his birth ritual which is responsible for his death. The mode of Maaui's death is significant, as it fulfils the implications of the first passage away from the purity of heaven. Just as the kumara in Rongo's penis are planted in Pani's womb of death, so Maaui, in entering Hine in the position of a penis, meets his own death. As in the Creation myth, we perceive in both instances the image of the heroic penis falling victim to detumescence. Thus Maaui fails to remove life from the pollution of Hine's womb, just as he fails to remove the kumara from the pollution of its birth and as his father fails to remove the impurity of his own birth.

The moral of the Pani myth is that life is an impurity and cannot ultimately be separated from its impurity. To achieve life it is necessary to bring it out of death; but when it comes, it comes trailing death with it. Man attempts to escape from life's pollution in acts of tapu removal, but these themselves involve the polluting mediation of life and death and cannot therefore release life from its proximity to death. Finally, a small slip is enough to convert the one to the other.

- 58

Diagrammatically, the above is what the myth says about the impurity of life:

Finally, the structure of this myth can be compared to that of the Creation myth in the following way:

  • 1. The pure source of life must be polluted. The heavenly gods must become earthly food. In the Creation myth, Taane, in turning himself upside down, places himself in the position of food. In the Pani myth, Rongo brings the kumara from Heaven to Earth, a place of death and Pani's womb.
  • 2. Once the gods have undergone this polluting transformation, it is safe for man to pollute them. In the Creation myth, Tuu, the warrior, eats his coward brothers. In the Pani myth, the kumara is born, cooked, and eaten successfully.
  • 3. Pollution results in death as well as life. The gods avenge man's insult to them. The sequel to both the Creation and the Pani myths is the death of Maaui.

(to be concluded in June 1975 issue)

- iii
Memoir No. 40
Supplement to The Journal of the Polynesian Society

PART 3: PAGES 59—96


- iv
  • Chapter 5 The Breaking of Tapu 59
  • Chapter 6 The Relationship of Elder and Younger Brother 65
  • Final Remarks 89
  • References 93
- 59

In this chapter, I attempt to find out whether the purposeful pollution of the gods described in myth has any parallel in reality — although what I describe as “reality” is largely that of historical incident and legend, which could not therefore be regarded as typical. I shall describe cases in which tapu rules, sanctioned either by the gods, by society or by both, were purposefully and non-ritually broken by the Maori, and shall show that like the acts of Maaui these could be acts of power and life as well as of death.

The fact that most misfortunes were believed to be caused by violations of tapu makes purposeful tapu breaking seem particularly surprising. But when it is considered how numerous and inconvenient tapus were, and how the Maori regarded the power of the ultrahuman world with antagonism, the willingness to deceive or defy the gods which is displayed in the following examples can be better understood.

The following is an interesting case of tapu breaking, from an account of the war against Heke told by an old chief of the Ngaapuhi tribe.

Heke in the heat of battle tore a cartridge box from a dead man. When the priest saw that there was blood on the box he said, “The Maori atua are arrayed against us, the spirits of the dead are now angry; we are lost; and you Heke are now no longer invulnerable.” Then Heke roared out, “What care I for either men or spirits? I fear not. Let the fellow in heaven look for it. Have I not prayed to him for years? It is for him to look to me this day.” And Heke's eyes rolled towards heaven and he ground his teeth. 47

Maning has an interesting footnote here: “The native priests prescribe many rules and observances to the people and prophesy good fortune provided none of these rules be broken, well knowing that some of them will to a certainty be broken by the careless and incorrigible Maori. In case of the failure of any of their predictions, they have the excuse that some sacred rule had been broken. In this particular instance the priest, Te Atua Wera, seeing the battle going against Heke took advantage of his having handled the bloody cartridge box”. 48

It was thus when misfortune occurred that the breaking of certain tapu rules was regarded as a fault. Otherwise, there is evidence that the successful breaking of rules was regarded as proof of a man's power and bravery and led to fame. For example, a legendary chief of the Ngaati - 60 Whatua, a man of immense size, made himself into a ladder so that his men might ascend over his sacred back into the enemy pa (fortress); his descendents were very proud of this feat. 49 Another example, occurring in historical times, is that of Papaka, the younger brother of a seer, 50 Te Heuheu, who left for battle before the war ritual was finished. Te Heuheu told him to come back, but he did not, and he died in the subsequent battle. A Maori, commenting, said, “Papaka often ignored the advice of Te Heuheu and it was in this wise that his fame as a warrior spread about. But on this occasion he met his death.” 51

A tapu man was not supposed to carry food on his back. But to break one's tapu purposefully could be a test of one's courage. For example, when a certain chief asked Te Putu to be his ally Te Putu decided to test him, and did this by subjecting him to all manner of unpleasant tasks, including the carrying of a bundle of eels on his back, an insulting task for a person of rank. 52 It is also significant that an expression used about courageous warriors was he tangata kai tuutae, “a man who would eat excrement”. 53

The Maori had a horror of lizards, which, as the arias (forms of incarnation) of many atuas, were the cause of disease. To eat a lizard required enormous courage, and, according to Stack, individuals were able to obtain notoriety in their tribe by eating lizards, which they turned to their own advantage in other ways. 54

One of the few other instances in which lizards were eaten was by pupils of maakutu (sorcery). Their initiation also included other inversions. For example, in one case a tohunga wrapped up “something very filthy and disgusting in a cabbage leaf” and told his pupil to place it on his head and then to touch it to his teeth. 55

Maakutu is the most obvious example of power being obtained by breaking tapus. 56 Indeed, the type of mana associated with maakutu is defined by its inversion of social and prestigious tapus. In this way it is similar to the power of the female, and as will be seen later it is no coincidence that maaui means both “left” and “maakutu”.

After the pupil of maakutu had learnt his karakia, he had to prove and fix his new power in a tapu removal rite which involved the inversion of both human and natural laws. This can be illustrated by the legend of Taewha and his pupil Mahu. Taewha told Mahu to blast the first green tree, the first near relative, the first bird and the first stone that he saw. Mahu hesitated to kill his sister (the wife of Taewha) or her children, but Taewha said, “Consign to death the offspring of Taane, that you may obtain such powers as were known when the first winds were subdued by - 61 Tama-kaka and Taane at Rangi-tamaku; hence sky and earth were separated and yet are”. 57 This reference to the separation of heaven and earth is significant, for this too was a removal of tapu achieved through the inversion of kinship relations.

This type of tapu breaking is quite different from that exemplified by Heke and Papaka. Tapu breaking is comprised of two conflicting elements: (1) The assertion of man's superiority over the gods (such as that claimed by Heke), which is prestigious. (2) The polluting means whereby this superiority is achieved (such as that of maakutu, the female, and cooking), which is unprestigious. The relationship between the two is analogous to the relationship between Tuu and Maaui. Both polluted the gods, but in the case of Tuu the emphasis was on the prestigious power of the warrior over cowardly gods, whereas in the case of Maaui the emphasis was more on the unprestigious aspects of his acts of pollution.

All these cases may seem to contradict accounts of the power and prestige which result from keeping tapus and the danger and shame of tapu breaking. The contradiction reflects a difference between two codes of behaviour each having its own type of prestige and power but being, theoretically at least, diametrically opposed to one another. The two poles of these modes of power can be described in this way:

  • 1. Tapu → Mana (or Ascription → Achievement)
  • 2. Mana → Tapu (or Achievement → Ascription)

In the course of this and the next chapter I shall elaborate on this formulation.

If a man maintained his power by defending his ascribed status, he had every reason for keeping the tapus of the gods from whom his status was derived. But if a man's status was based on achievement, he was independent of the status ascribed to him by birth and was analogously less dependent on the gods. It is significant, therefore, that the examples of tapu breaking considered above have been from warfare and maakutu, both fields where status depended on achievement rather than on birth. It is also significant that while an ariki's status was expressed through the maintenance of his tapu, in some of the examples described above achievement appeared to be expressed through the breaking of tapu.

These differences can be further illustrated by the Maori attitude to strangers. On the one hand the Maori say, “Have people who have become tramps a tapu?” And, “A dog and an itinerant man have no tikanga (rightness, normality, authority).” 58 The meaning of this is that a man separated from the people from whom he derives his status and power can have neither. On the other hand there is the familiar power of the stranger outsider. This is well illustrated by the myth of Tinirau and Hine-te-iwaiwa. While Hine-te-iwaiwa is a stranger in the home of Tinirau - 62 she chants for food and it comes down, but when Tinirau visits his wife's relatives it is he who obtains food magically from the heavens. 59

The legend of Paoa, a traveller, illustrates the way in which a man who was “outside” society might define his status by opposition to its rules. 60 The behaviour of a man was expected to accord with his status. Thus words which denote low status, such as ware, tautauwhea, mookai and taureka, also have meanings such as “ignorant”, “careless”, “cowardly”, “foolish”, “provoking” and “scoundrel”. Similarly, noblemen should behave nobly and this includes eating well, dressing well and dancing well. 61 Thus when Paoa, who was a nobleman, pushed aside the beautiful fish offered to him and instead ate up all the refuse, the people of the village said, “After all he's a low fellow, see what stuff he eats”, but the old men of the village said, “That man is a chief, he is only trying to appear to be a person of no importance”. In another village, Paoa was recognised by people despite the old clothes he wore because his appearance was so much superior to that of his companions.

Paoa's behaviour can be seen from two different angles. He is a stranger and is thus outside the rules of normal social status, and he is also a superman (he is handsome, tall, and famous even before he sets out on his travels) and, like some warriors, might therefore feel himself to be above the normal rules. As a superman, Paoa capitalizes on his asocial position as a stranger. Throughout the story he frequently behaves antisocially, and seems thereby to add to his fame rather than detract from it. Paoa, like other Maori heroes, is saying that he is not a function of his social status, of his dress, but that he rises above it, a noble individual out of a slave's clothes.

In breaking tapus, therefore, Paoa is expressing the dominance of his individual over his divinely sanctioned social personality. The warrior, too, might see his mana as mana tangata (human power) rather than as mana atua (divine power). This is made clear not only by the examples of tapu breaking by warriors already given, but also by the following description of mana by Gudgeon.

“When a man frequently undertakes daring deeds, which ought under ordinary circumstances to fail but nonetheless prove successful, he is said to possess mana and thereafter is regarded as one peculiarly favoured by the gods, and in such cases it is held that he can only be overcome by some default, such as disregard or neglect of some religious or warlike observance, which has been shown by experience to be essential to success in war; but which our warrior, spoiled by a long career of good fortune, had come to regard as necessary to ordinary mortals only and of but little consequence to men of mana.” 62

This reveals a difference of opinion concerning the source of a warrior's mana. The social and religious explanation of a man's success was the good will of the gods, just as it was their ill will which would be called upon to explain his defeat. The warrior, however, took a more common- - 63 sensical view. He saw himself as the primary factor, and considered that the good will of the gods was secondary to the strength of his arm, just as their ill will would be secondary to its weakness. Moreover, many tapu rules, such as the rule against handling bloody cartridge boxes, obviously ran counter to good military sense. Maning implies that many rules were necessarily broken, thus providing explanation if the battle was lost. 63 If however it was won, the successfully broken rules would presumably suggest the idea that the gods were ineffective, irrelevant or of inferior power, an impression given by many of the examples described here.

In view of the divergence between society and the individual, between tradition and innovation, 64 which is revealed by cases of tapu breaking, it is not surprising that in many of the cases when a tapu is broken it is broken through an individual following the dictates of his emotional state. When Heke lost his battle the old Ngaapuhi chief commented, “There is nothing in this world so deaf to reason or so disobedient as a warrior when he is enraged — he only listens to his own courage and being led away by it, dies.” 65 Then again, a lament for Papaka, another tapu breaker mentioned earlier in the chapter, begins:

  • It was the lure of death, indeed
  • It was the spirit of Tiki and the urge of the brave . . . 66

This emphasis on emotion gives a clue to the reason why tapu breakers were so often regarded with approbation. I have already described how important it was that a man should resolve his emotions if they were disturbed. If he did not, he was mate, a word which means “dead” but also “suffering”, “lacking”, “overcome with any emotion”, “deeply in love”, “caught”, “defeat”, “desire”, and, according to Johansen, “insulted”, “frightened” and “ashamed”. 67 I believe that the resolution of such emotion, not just the emotions of shame but also those of anger and love, can frequently be identified with the pursuit of honour, and that the pursuit of honour justifies the breaking of tapu rules. This can be illustrated by a description of cases in which lovers broke tapus.

Love, like warfare, was a field where the will of the individual on occasions ran counter to the rules of the society, but where if the individual broke the rules successfully, thereby proving his mana, he was regarded not as a rule-breaker but as a hero or heroine.

There are many stories of heroic love affairs between puhis (high ranking and beautiful virgins who were set up as tribal prestige symbols), and relatively low-ranking men. 68 The justification of such irregular marriages was that the Maori rated the honour of the individual and the fulfilment of his will higher than spiritless obedience to the rules. Thus in White's novel, Revenge, an old priest says to Ata, who is dying of love, “If I were a girl and loved anyone all the gods and monsters could not make me take the man I might have been betrothed to as an infant if I did - 64 not care for him. Let your spirit rule you.” 69 Similarly, in the legend of Ponga and Puhihuia, Ponga's slave companion encourages Ponga to propose to Puhihuia by saying, “I always say that a tapu is a tapu but one does not regard the tapu as tapu when one is wooing women.” 70 When Ponga says that such freedom would be allowed at home but not abroad, the slave says “. . . you are descended from the great of ancient days and cannot be taught how a warrior should act, nor can you be schooled into the art of how to satisfy the palpitating one”. 71

Moreover, as in the case of warriors, not only did the courage of the individual bring him into conflict with the rules, but the courage of the individual was proved by the breaking of rules. Thus Tregear writes, “A girl might test her lover's courage by running into all sorts of dangerous and forbidden places, even into a priest's house to see if the lover dared to follow. This was the solitary instance in which the awful laws of tapu might be broken.” 72

Best wrote: “The fear of divine punishment was the very strongest deterrent force, and the key of social discipline. It was the power that held society together and curbed a naturally strong-minded and somewhat turbulent people.” 73 In this chapter we have looked at the other side of this picture and seen how tapu rules did not always curb the turbulence of the individual, and how the power of the individual could be proved through the breaking of tapu rules.

However, the nature of the material used is such that it would be difficult to say how important or common tapu breaking was in Maori society. Indeed, it might be argued that some of the historical instances of tapu breaking described in this chapter might reflect the declining power of tapu rules and rituals in the years following European contact. Whether or not this is so, the frequency with which rule breaking occurs in legend and story indicates that this was a mode of behaviour acknowledged by tradition. In the next chapter I shall describe a sphere in which the rebellious individual plays a particularly prominent role — that of hierarchy.

- 65

In the first part of this chapter I continue my investigation into tapu breaking by describing the relationship of tapu breaking by achievement oriented individuals to tapu maintenance by men of high ascribed status as it is expressed in stories about the relationship of elder and younger brother. The special significance of the relationship of elder and younger brother is that it bridges the relationships of man : man and man : god. In the second part of the chapter, therefore, I show how the relationships elder brother : younger brother and god : man are analogous. Finally, I consider the way in which elder and younger brother represent different aspects of man's relationship with the gods.

Although Maori society was hierarchically organised, and placed great emphasis on the importance of rank, the chief of a tribe or hapuu (section of a tribe) did not have any authority over its members, his immediate family and slaves excepted. White said that “any influence that may be exercised by an ariki or chief is allowed by the people and not assumed by birth”, 74 and Maning pointed out that many warriors counted themselves to be very much as good as the chief. 75

The degree of influence exerted by an ariki did not depend so much on his birth as on his achievements. A leader had to have a decisive character, initiative, ability, intelligence, generosity and a good memory for tradition. If the highest ranking candidate for the leadership of the tribe did not have these qualities, the leadership passed to someone of lower rank who did. 76

In Maori society, therefore, leadership was determined neither entirely by criteria of ascription nor entirely by those of achievement. Although we do not have detailed or systematic information about the interplay of ascription and achievement, the possible divergence of these must have been a problem in Maori society. This is indicated by the many stories about the divergence of ascription and achievement in the relationship of elder and younger brother. However, it is necessary to stress that these stories convey Maori ideas about the relationship of ascription and achievement, and are unlikely to be a direct reflection of reality. Only one of the examples to be given here comes from recent history, and it is not necessarily typical; the rest are from traditional history and myth.

What I here translate as elder and younger brother are the words tuakana and taina. These terms distinguish superordinate and subordinate - 66 status of siblings of the same sex within the nuclear family, and also of members of the different branches of whaanau (extended families) and hapuu. Thus B, although taina to A, is tuakana to C and D.


In many cases it is not clear which of these usages is the one meant, but as most of the examples I have selected deal with the tuakana and taina within the nuclear family I shall continue to translate these terms as elder and younger brother.

In Maori stories about elder and younger brother, high ascription and achievement are not only shown to be potentially divergent, they are frequently shown to be incompatible. A man whose status and power depended primarily on the maintenance of his tapus was in a defensive position, for unlike the man of lesser tapu he had something to lose. It is possible, therefore, that when faced by an urgent situation his first reaction was to act according to the rules of his status rather than to the demands of the situation. An extreme example of this is a tuumuu-whakarae, who is said to have been one so sacred that he could not do anything at all, and whose next younger brother took the office of ariki. 77

The following are further examples of the relationship of elder and younger brother in which high ascription and achievement are shown to be incompatible.

1. The great-grandson of the hero Tamatekapua of the Arawa canoe possessed all the sacred power of his ancestors. When he died, his elder sons lacked the moral courage or confidence to bind up the corpse and utter the necessary incantations, any mistake in which would have been fatal to them. So Apa-moana, the youngest, performed the rites, and the mana of his father passed to him. 78

2. Hape took the mauri (life principle) of the kumara to another country, where he died. When the kumara did not thrive, his sons, Rawaho, the elder, and Tamarau, the younger, went in search of him. When they reached the hut where his corpse lay, Rawaho halted in order to repeat charms and prepare himself for the sacred task before him. But Tamarau advanced and recited a charm to open the door, then bit Hape's ear and at once became an atua. Rawaho was a tohunga who possessed the knowledge of the gods and other ritual, but now the godship (atuatanga) had passed to Tamarau, who possessed himself of the mauri of the kumara Hape's wairua (spirit), and the manea (talisman). When he came out of the hut, Rawaho was still reciting charms. The two brothers then returned - 67 home. Tamarau carried the food, but when they were free from tapu and had eaten, Tamarau told Rawaho to carry the food. Rawaho replied, “Let me be the sacred person and you carry the food.” Tamarau said “Very well. Go on”. 79 Rawaho went on, and then Tamarau said, “Farewell O Rawaho, carry your tapu as food for yourself”, and flew off. But he left the mauri of the kumara to Rawaho. 80

3. Whao-roa addressed his ohaakii (desire expressed before death) to his sons, saying, “Oh sons, prepare a canoe for us to go and see our relatives at Moehau.” The elder brothers did not reply, for they were silently preparing speeches. These, however, were intercepted by the action of their youngest brother Rauiti, who said, “Thy sons will fulfil thy desires . . . This is the word of Rauiti thy son who speaks in decision.” Because of their delay, therefore, the mana of the elder brothers passed to Rauiti. 81

4. Kapi-horo-maunga owned a rock which was coveted by his younger brother Tautini, who took possession of it and began to fish. When Kapi saw that it was his brother on the rock he hesitated to kill him, for like all weak men he began to conjure up possibilities, and it occurred to him that perhaps their father had instigated Tautini to take this action in order to deprive Kapi of his mana. So he went to his father to ask him this. His father said, “As you have not killed your brother and avenged his trespass and insult, you had better remain here and grow food for him.” From that time forth Tautini took the position of elder brother and governed the tribe, the elder brother having shown that he lacked the decision of character which would alone enable the tribe to hold its own in troublous times. Kapi's duty was quite clear: he should have killed his brother first and asked for information afterwards. 82

In all these cases, the younger brother feels himself free to act as he pleases, and does so more promptly than his elder brother, whose behaviour is determined by ritual considerations (examples 1 and 2) and by etiquette and kinship obligations (examples 3 and 4). In all four cases, the elder brother fails because he lacks decision. His indecision can be correlated with his overgrown social and ritual conscience, and the decision of the younger brother with his freedom from these restraints.

One of the most detailed and historical examples of the succession to power of a younger brother is that of Te Rauparaha. When Hape-ki-Taurangi was dying, he asked the assembled chiefs who was to succeed him and uphold the tribal status of Ngaati Raukawa, but none of them replied. According to Graham, this was “due not so much to unwillingness as to their diffidence arising from intricate Maori etiquette . . . rank, precedence by birth and many other such considerations were involved”. Now Te Rauparaha was the youngest of his brothers and many cousins present there, and he belonged only to the female line of descent; but he - 68 had already distinguished himself in war, and when his seniors did not reply, he did so. 83 Here again, therefore, the individual who was subject to formal status considerations was, through his indecision, overruled by the decision of an individual whose claim to power was based on achievement.

There was a special code of behaviour prescribed for the nobly born. They were expected to be modest, quiet and undemanding. As in the above example, this type of behaviour based on tradition rather than on initiative was not the kind which was likely to lead to great achievements. A vivid picture of these two codes of behaviour is given by Wakefield's comparison of Te Rauparaha with the nobly born Hiko. Te Rauparaha is described as noisy, demanding, cruel and treacherous, while Hiko impressed the Europeans with his chieftainlike demeanour. He was sparing of his words, mild of speech, kind to his slaves, and was said to have carefully treasured up his father's instructions. When Wakefield made a distribution of goods, “Te Rauparaha and the other warlike chiefs rushed at them in the wildest manner,” while when Hiko saw them he left for the shore in “high dudgeon”. 84

The Maori attitude to these two codes of behaviour was ambivalent. Cunning and cleverness, although an effective mode of action, do not appear to have been entirely moral or prestigious. This is clearly shown by the Maori attitude to Maaui, whose names include Maaui-nukurau (Maaui the deceiver), Maaui-whare-kino (Maaui of the evil house) and also Maaui-i-atamai. The meanings of atamai are 1. Knowing, quick witted, ready; 2. Behave contemptuously; 3. Despised object.

The choice facing the younger brother — that between submission to his status, and the pursuit of honour — was a very significant one. A man's low status placed him in a position where he was liable to be insulted; and if he decided to avenge the insult, to opt out of his ascribed status and aim for an achieved one, he would find himself opposed to all his superiors in status. His decision was thus a heroic one. In contrast, the elder brother, in defending his honour, was defending the honour of his family or tribe. He therefore had far more support and less need of the qualities, typically associated with the younger brother, of cunning and cleverness.

An example of this is Ruatapu, who was told he could not use his elder brother's comb because he was the son of a slave wife and inferior in birth to his elder brothers. Ruatapu was filled with shame, and planned revenge. He obtained a canoe and invited one hundred and forty first-born sons of senior families, but no one from junior families, to go with him in it. Then he cut a hole in the canoe and plugged it. When they were out at sea he removed the plug, and as the men were struggling in the sea he killed all of them except one, Paikea. 85

The legends of Hatupatu 86 and Hauiti 87 are similar. The story of - 69 Hauiti illustrates the way in which the Maori were able quite literally to shut off the values of kinship when honour was at stake. Hauiti's elder brothers repeatedly stole his fish, so Hauiti went to a priest and asked how he could kill or discomfort a relative. The priest answered, “Shut your eyes close, and when you open them to see, he will be prostrate on the ground. Another mode of killing is by fire” (that is, the smoke-caused smarting of the eyes prevents one from seeing that one is killing a relative). Hauiti then returned to his followers, and said, “Be courageous, be brave and daring. Do not consider relationship of the elder brother, or of the younger or of the father. Let the eyes be firmly closed.”

To conclude. For the Maori, fasting, although pure, was sterile, whereas eating, although impure, was essential to life. The relationship between ascription-based behaviour and achievement-based behaviour is similar. In myths and stories, high ascribed status is frequently associated with low achievement, and low ascribed status with high achievement. Consequently, the less pure but more effective younger brother must supersede his purer but less effective elder brother.

I will now return to the religious dimension of tapu removal by comparing the supersession of elder by younger brother with that of the gods by man in tapu removal. Both acts of supersession are similar in nature, for they are acts of pollution and aggression. Both acts of supersession are necessary for similar reasons, namely greater social and vital effectiveness. Finally, the high ascribed status of the elder brother in relation to his younger brother is equivalent to that of the gods in relation to man. It is this equivalence of the distance between high-ranking man and low-ranking man, and god and man, which explains why ariki were often called atua. It is not particularly surprising, therefore, that in many myths, such as those listed below, the relationships elder brother: younger brother, and god: man are equivalent:

elder brother: younger brother::god:man
Elder brother = God (nature) Younger brother = Man
Taane (trees, birds, insects) Tuu
Whaanui (Star) Rongo
Rongo (kumara) Tuu
Punga and Karihi (Progenitors of lizard, shark and dogfish) Hema
Paikea (whale) Ruatapu
Elder children of Taane atua (tipua) Younger children 88 of Taane atua.
- 70

The inversion of the natural hierarchy by man is equivalent to the inversion of the social hierarchy by younger brother in the following way:

  mediated by  
Gods, raw, pure and powerful Pollution by man (cooking, and contact with the female) Gods, cooked, impure and powerless
Elder brother, pure and powerful Younger brother Elder brother, impure and powerless.

Hence, while younger brother or man is connected with pollution as the agent of pollution, elder brother or nature is connected with pollution as the victim of pollution.

Before substantiating these propositions by considering the myths listed above, I shall look briefly at linguistic evidence. The elder and younger brother are connected with the dichotomy of purity and pollution through their names muanga and muringa; mua means “the front” and is also applied to sacred places, while muri means “behind” and is also applied to noa places such as cooking sheds. It should be remembered in this context that Rongo as younger brother of Whaanui was the origin of the knowledge of cooking. The elder and younger brother are also connected with the upper and lower parts of the body; the elder brother could be called upoko ariki (head ariki), while in the expression taamanga kootore the younger brother is connected with the buttocks. One word for the youngest is kauaeraro, raro meaning “underside”. Another word is mookai, which also means “slave” and “foolish”. The younger brother is also called waewae, a word derived from the root wae, meaning “to divide or separate”. In view of his dividing function as a polluting tapu remover, this may possibly be significant. 89

I shall now consider some of the myths in which elder brother : younger brother :: god (nature) : man.

In the Creation myth, Taane, as nature, is both more powerful and less powerful than man, his younger brother Tuu. When he is pure and powerful, he helps man be separating night and day. When he is impure and weak, he is eaten by man.

The following Ngaati Porou myth about Rongo and Tuu is similar. Rongo quarrelled with his younger brother, Tuu, on account of the kumara plantation, Pohutukawa. Tuu (man) was assisted by Teakarautangi (digging stick), and killed Rongo and his people (kumara). Tuu then baked his elder brother in an oven and ate him. 90 But Rongo is not only man's food; like Taane, he is also more powerful than man. His powerful and pure aspect is displayed in his helpfulness to those that respect him, and his wrath toward those that defile him. For example, a member of the Ngaati Porou said that “Rongo was placed as an atua, superior to Tuu, so that in case a foe should come against man, the kumara was - 71 ceremoniously carried and laid in the road by which the war party might come and rites were performed over it. Thus the kumara would be sure to defeat the enemy through his having sacrilegiously trampled on the sacred kumara”. 91

It may seem odd that in this myth about Rongo and Tuu, Rongo is an elder brother and a kumara, whereas in the Pani myth he is a younger brother and a man. But changes of status are a very frequent occurrence in Maori myth, and can be easily understood if it is remembered that we are dealing not so much with entities as with relationships, and that the nature of an entity is relative to the particular relationship in which it is found. Thus, this change of status strengthens rather than weakens the hypothesis; for Rongo as elder brother represents kumaras, which are killed and eaten by his younger brother, man, while as younger brother he is man, and wins a victory of cunning over his elder brother Whaanui, a star.

Taane and Rongo in their relationship with their younger brother, man, change their status from one of manlike divinity to nature. When Ruatapu conquers his elder brothers, one of them, Paikea, escapes and undergoes a similar transformation. In some versions he rides to shore on his ancestors (porpoise and whale), but in another version it is he himself who “by his priestly power transformed himself into a fish”. 92

The Tainui myth 93 also describes the transformation of a first-born son into nature. But the great interest of this myth is that it shows that this transformation and the emphasis placed on the polluted nature of the first-born must be understood in the context of tapu removal.

Tainui, the first-born son of Hinekura, was an abortion who was without waist and legs. In the place where he was buried a tree grew up, and it was from this tree that the ancestral canoe, Tainui, was constructed in later times by the descendants of Tainui, Hinekura's second son. As has already been noted, when the tree was cut down it was returned to its position by birds. So in order to fix the work of felling, the tapu was polluted (a woman's menses was placed on the trunk). Part of the tapu removal karakia was:

  • I am serving
  • The sinews of Papatuanuku
  • The obstructions of Tainui [i.e. the stillborn child].

Like the Pani and Taane myths, therefore, this myth establishes the pollution of the pure object which must be brought into the human world through pollution. As the upper part of an eldest child, the first Tainui was pure, and he was also transformed into a particularly prestigious canoe. But this process of transformation involved pollution, and in order to pollute him it was his polluted aspect as foetus which had to be emphasised.

The myth of Rehua and Taane 94 provides another example of the way - 72 in which a prestigious and pure elder brother (god) is in the context of tapu removal transformed into something unprestigious and impure.

Taane went in search of his elder brother, Rehua, who dwelt in the tenth heaven. 95 He was told that he could not ascend into the heavens because they were divided by Taane, but he pushed aside all impediments and reached Rehua. The two greeted each other. Rehua shook from his hair some birds that had been feeding off his lice, then cooked them and offered them to Taane. But Taane refused to eat them, saying, “Who shall eat that which has bitten your head?” Then Taane asked if he could have some of the birds, and Rehua gave some to him and told him how to catch them. Taane then went to Tamateakaiwhakapua. There some women cooked rats for him, but he told them to give them to their husbands. The next day the husbands gave Taane rats, but he said that he had no desire for them because they might have eaten human excrement, and being a person of supreme rank (tangata o mua) he was afraid to eat them. So he said, “This food must be given to your supreme lord” (Rehua).

This myth can be correlated with the ritual removal of tapu from the first fruits and the events leading up to it in the following way:

Myth Reality
Taane goes to heaven Man places himself under a tapu
Taane refuses to eat birds which have fed from Rehua's head because he is inferior to him Man respects the tapus of the gods to whom he is inferior
Rehua gives Taane birds Man with the co-operation of the gods effects a passage from the nonhuman to the human world, e.g. he catches birds.

At this point the gods are no longer necessary, and their continued presence near man would be dangerous. The relationship between them and man is inverted in the following way:

Taane, who is a tangata o mua, instructs women to give rats which may have fed on human excrement to Rehua. A high-ranking person (an ariki or tohunga) indirectly (through an offering involving the pollution of the gods) asserts his superiority over them. 96

The head-nourished birds and the excrement-fed rats signify the two poles of tapu, to which Taane, or man, stands in a relationship of inferiority before tapu removal and superiority in tapu removal respectively. But - 73 these opposites have features in common: vermin are refuse as well as excrement, and in both cases Taane, by fasting, places himself in a position of power. Thus Taane's declaration of inferiority veils an assertion of superiority. Similarly, when men went bird snaring they respected Taane's tapu (for example they did not carry cooked food into the forest). It was this respect for tapu which enabled them to achieve a vital passage between ultrahuman and human worlds, whereas an infringement of tapu before this was effected would have placed the gods in control.

Taane's discrimination is balanced by Rehua's lack of discrimination. The significance of this contrast is seen even more clearly in another myth, in which Rongo and Tuu offer Taane's birds to Rehua as a sacred sacrifice. Rehua, not knowing what they are, eats them, and so man becomes free to eat. 97 Just as Taane's expression of inferiority enables him to gain superiority, so an offering made to a superior in a tapu removal rite is really in the nature of a gift placing the recipient in an inferior position. 98 Considered together, the two myths thus portray a typical tapu removal sequence:

Myth Reality
1. Taane refuses to eat birds Man fasts Man subordinate → superordinate
2. Rehua eats birds Gods eat Gods superordinate → subordinate
3. Man is free to eat Man is free to eat

There is another myth 99 which is very similar to the Taane Rehua myth:

Rupe sorrowed for his lost sister, Hinauri, who was the wife of Tinirau, and he set out to find her. He forced his way through the heavens to consult his ancestor, Rehua. Rehua cooked some of the birds that were in his hair and offered them to Rupe, but Rupe refused them, saying, “Who would dare to eat birds that had fed upon insects in thy sacred head?” Rehua then told Rupe where to find his sister, and Rupe changed himself into a pigeon and flew there. Tinirau's people tried to spear and noose him, but with no success. Then Hinauri knew that he was her brother. On the same day, Hinauri's daughter was born, and Rupe caught them both up and ascended to Rehua. When they arrived, Rupe remarked on the filth of Rehua's courtyard. Then he cleaned the filth and built a latrine, but he fixed one of the beams so badly that Rehua's son Kaitangata was killed when it gave way.

In another version of this myth which is given by Best, 100 Rehua performed the tohi rite over Hinauri's child before Rupe remarked on the filth of Rehua's place. Like Taane, therefore, Rupe first respects Rehua and then, after the passage from the nonhuman to the human world (the tohi rite) has been achieved, despises him and removes his tapu. The aspects of Rehua's tapu which correlate with these two attitudes are his - 74 head and his excrement. Other descriptions of Rehua also illustrate the ambivalence of his tapu. For example, he is called the “Lord of kindness who disperses gloom and sorrow from the minds of men”, 101 but he is also a lizard god. 102

Once the filth aspect of tapu has been established, the tapu can be removed. This is done in this myth in a prototype of the ngau paepae tapu removal rite described on p. 29. The beam (paepae) separates life and death, and the tapu in the shape of Kaitangata 103 is tricked on to the side of death. As has been seen, Kaitangata can mean either man eater or human food. Thus the word sums up the ambivalence of tapu and its transformation in the course of tapu removal. When man is under a tapu, the gods are in the position of “man eater”, hence Rupe's respect for Rehua. When man no longer needs the tapu, it is “human food” or excrement, and as such is to be despised and dropped over the latrine.

I think that these three myths, the Tainui myth and the two Rehua myths, illustrate clearly what I suggested in the course of my analysis of the Pani myth: namely, that the pure aspect of a tapu can be seen as the measure of a man's need for ultrahuman protection (or for objects deriving from the ultrahuman world), and the impure aspect of a tapu as the measure of a man's need to pollute or remove himself from the ultra-human after the achievement requiring the maintenance of a tapu has been accomplished.

At the beginning of this part of the chapter I aimed to describe the pollution of the gods as elder brothers by the polluting power of younger brother or man. But the myths given have been various. Some, for example the Rongo and Tuu myth, have been simply about pollution. Others, such as the two Rehua myths, could be correlated with ritual tapu removal. Moreover, in the two Rehua myths the status of the tapu removers Taane and Rupe is very different from that of — for example — Ruatapu, who, like Maaui, is an unprestigious younger brother. Both Taane and Rupe have high status; indeed, Rupe is not a younger brother at all, but an elder brother. Thus instead of the familiar pattern of younger brother, man, opposed to elder brother, god, we have elder brother, man, opposed to god. In order to construct a hypothesis which might explain these variations in pattern, and particularly why sometimes the elder brother and sometimes the younger brother is responsible for tapu removal, I will begin by reviewing some relevant material.

The younger brother supersedes his elder brother. Man supersedes the gods. But in tapu removal rituals it is an ariki, not a man of low status, who is responsible for the removal of tapu. Although it is not surprising that men of high rank should conduct the most important rituals and be responsible for the prestigious subordination of the gods, this constitutes an ideological problem. The prestigious subordination of the gods is - 75 achieved through the unprestigious means of pollution; the gods which are polluted are those from whom the men of highest status derive their tapu. I believe this is the reason why pollution is given such different emphasis in relation to different people. The effective burden of pollution is borne by the female and cooked food, while the ariki associates himself with the prestigious end product of pollution, the subordination of the gods, safely achieved through the power of his ritual. In the Creation myth we found a similar segregation of the relatively impure and unprestigious from the relatively pure and prestigious aspects of pollution, Maaui being associated with the former and Tuu with the latter.

I think these two aspects of pollution explain why it is sometimes an elder brother and sometimes a younger brother who is responsible for tapu removal in myths. The younger brother, in accordance with his low but powerful status is (like the female in tapu removal ritual) the ideal agent of pollution; the elder brother, in accordance with his high status, is (like the ariki) the ideal agent of ritual subordination.

I believe that the myths which are here considered dissociate, to a greater or lesser extent, these two aspects of pollution, and that the theoretical poles of the dissociation are:

  • 1. Prestigious, but not vitally effective, ritual subordination by elder brother.
  • 2. Unprestigious, but vitally effective, non-ritual pollution by younger brother.

These two poles can be illustrated by a comparison of the Rupe and Maaui myths. Whereas many of the other actors in Maori myth are just elder or younger brothers, and are intermediate too in their attributes, Rupe and Maaui are eldest and youngest sons. Rupe is the eldest of the Maaui brothers (before he turned himself into a pigeon he was called Maaui mua), while Maaui, the trickster hero, is his youngest brother.

Rupe and Maaui each have those characteristics which are frequently associated with elder and younger brothers. For example, Rupe is more socially oriented than Maaui. This is reflected in their very different relationships with their sister, Hinauri. Maaui, out of pique, changed his sister's husband into a dog, thus causing his sister to throw herself into the sea in despair. But after some adventures she is rescued by her loving brother Rupe. No other Maori hero, and certainly not Rupe, has such a strongly portrayed character as Maaui. This is not surprising, for Maaui, like other younger brothers, is an individualist. His characteristics such as his impetuosity, daring, lack of scruple, initiative, curiosity, pertness, and mischievousness are qualities commonly associated with a youngest child.

While Rupe travels between heaven and earth, most of Maaui's adventures are liminal, and take place on the horizontal plane (sea and land) or in the underworld. I suggest that while the vertical structure of the Rupe myth can be correlated with ritual tapu removal (as has been done on p. 72), the horizontal and liminal elements of the Maaui myth can be correlated with non-ritual tapu removal or pollution. For example, Maaui's birth is liminal, polluting and potent. His mother aborted him beside the - 76 sea, wrapped him in her tikitiki (which can mean hair or girdle) and threw him into the water. Eventually he was cast on to the shore, where he was rescued from pecking birds by his ancestor Tama-nui-ki-te-rangi, who hung him up in the roof so that he might feel the warm smoke and heat of the fire. 104 Maaui's death is also marginal and polluting. His father tells him that he will be overcome by Hine-nui-te-poo, “who if you look you may see flashing and as it were opening and shutting there where the horizon meets the sky”. 105 As has already been described, he is killed by Hine's vagina.

Maaui's achievements, too, are accomplished through pollution and aggression on the horizontal plane. He beats and pollutes the sun as it rises above the horizon. He pulls up land with a fish hook baited with his blood, and he tricks fire. 106 Significantly, he has a very close relationship with his mother, and some of his power is derived from her. For example, his mother's apron enabled him to change into a bird, and it is she who taught him the use of barbs.

Maaui excels in the technique of food collecting. He uses snares in his crayfish pots, ties up the bottom of his fishing nets, and barbs his fish hooks (by fashioning a bone in the shape of his mother's clitoris). 107 In this way he is a very successful food collector, unlike his brothers who do not use snares or barbs or tie up the bottom of their nets, and hence catch nothing. Maaui's life thus emphasises the polluting aspect of man's manipulation of the ultrahuman world, whereas Rupe and Taane in the Rehua myths represent ritual man. Contrast, for example, Maaui with Taane: Maaui by using barbed spears kills hundreds of birds, whereas Taane respects Rehua, is given birds, and then pollutes Rehua.

Although Maaui uses karakia, he is associated with maakutu rather than with the more prestigious and social type of ritual. 108 It is his failure in this type of ritual which accounts for his death. There are two notable ritual failures in his life. His father makes a mistake in his tohi ritual, and his brothers cut up his fish (land) before he reaches the sacred place where he had intended to make an offering to the gods and to purify them. This latter failure is the reverse situation of that in the Rupe myth where Rupe reached heaven (a sacred place) before attempting tapu removal.

Rupe's relationship with the gods is in many ways directly contrary to that of Maaui's. Rupe begins by respecting Rehua: it is his expression of inferiority in fasting which enables him subsequently to gain superiority. In contrast, Maaui never shows respect for the gods. Rupe derives what he wants from the gods with their co-operation. This, again, is something which Maaui rarely does. On the other hand, while Maaui's achievements are of vital importance, Rupe's are only of ritual and social importance (his sister's whereabouts, and his sister's child's tohi rite). Rupe's successful achievement of the tohi rite contrasts with the failure of Maaui's - 77 tohi rite. Finally, Rupe removes the gods in an act of pollution which, like propitiation, appears to be an act of co-operation rather than aggression (that is, his building of the latrine in which Kaitangata is killed). In contrast, Maaui's acts of pollution have none of this ritual cover. Thus:

Rupe: Ritual pollution Maaui: Non-ritual pollution
1. Respect 1. No respect
2. Pure, non-vital achievement gained through co-operation with the gods 2. Vital achievement gained through aggressive pollution of gods
3. Pollution veiled as co-operation 3. Failure to remove tapu

Rupe represents the veiled and ritual way in which pollution is achieved safely in tapu removal rituals. Just as Taane weakens himself before he is eaten, so Rehua is dirty, and in contrast to some of the gods which Maaui conquers, he is also weak. Moreover, Kaitangata, being human food and not man eater, is easily disposed of. Thus Rupe's pollution of the gods is not so much his means of gaining superiority as his means of expressing his superiority. Moreover, he achieves what he wants, and pollutes the gods with their co-operation. In contrast, in the non-ritual version of pollution man does not gain superiority through safe ritual, but fights a far more dangerous and equal battle with the ultrahuman environment. If the Rupe myth can be seen like this:


the Maaui myth can be seen like this:

  • God → ← Man.

The Rupe myth says that one should derive what one wants from the gods respectfully, and then ritually pollute and subordinate them, while the Maaui myth says that the gods can only be subordinated for man's benefit through pollution. The Maaui myth thus embodies the effective and dangerous reality behind the Rupe myth's ritual veneer. However much the Maori seek to gain the co-operation of the gods for their own removal, the removal is ultimately an act of polluting aggression. As such, the paepae (threshold, beam) of Rupe's heketua (latrine) which gives way and kills the gods (Kaitangata), thus finalising birth (the tohi rite of Hinauri's child), is not so very different from Hine's paepae o Tiki (threshold of the penis, or vagina) which does not give way, and kills man (Maaui), this finalising death.

The Rupe and Maaui myths are as close to the two theoretical poles I have described on p. 75 as it is possible to get. In actuality, however, it is not possible to segregate pollution and subordination to any great extent because, as I have shown, pollution involves subordination and subordination is achieved through pollution. It follows that if there really is a close link between pollution and the younger brother, and subordination and the elder brother, man should be as a younger brother when he - 78 pollutes the ultrahuman but as an elder brother when he has achieved superordinate status. Such a change of status often does occur in Maori myth. For example, Taane is a younger brother to Rehua. and derives a vital achievement from him (birds); he then expresses his superordinate status by calling himself tangata-o-mua. Again, it is as a younger brother that Tamarau defeats his elder brother Rawaho, but when he has done so the godship (atuatanga) passes to him. In a Tuuhoe legend, Taane-moe-ahi and Tuuhoe-pootiki kill their eldest brother Ueimua, and Tuuhoe then calls him not Ue-i-mua (Ue the first) but Ue-i-muri (Ue the last). In the tapu removal ritual he performs to avert the evil consequences of his act, he kindles a fire on which to roast his brother's heart and recites a karakia in which he asks to be given the tapu of the heavens and of the first-born. 109 Finally, in a first fruits ritual at the beginning of the egg-collecting season in which Tuu (man) removes the tapu of his elder brother Taane through acts of lustration, propitiation and pollution, in the final karakia the tohunga announces that “The younger owns/The elder's power”. 110

So far we have only studied in detail Rupe and Maaui, who are unambiguously elder and younger brothers. But I believe that as in the above cases, man in his relationship with the gods should have both types of status. The hero Taawhaki is one figure who in different versions of his myth has such a dual status. Taawhaki is commonly compared with Maaui as a prestigious elder brother to an unprestigious younger brother, and the Taawhaki myths are structured vertically and can be used therefore to compare ritual pollution with Maaui's non-ritual pollution of the gods. But Taawhaki is by no means entirely an elder brother. Of the ten variants in White where it is stated whether Taawhaki is an elder or a younger relative, two have him as an elder brother, and in eight he is either a younger brother or the child of a youngest child. I believe that this variation in Taawhaki's status can be related to the gods in the following way:

  • He is a younger brother in his opposition to the unprestigious gods, his elder relatives.
  • He is an elder brother in his ritual subordination of the gods.

In each of the two variants I shall consider, Taawhaki possesses characteristics typically associated with both elder and younger brother, although it is the characteristics of elder brother which predominate. But the correlation suggested above holds good, in that the myth where Taawhaki is a younger relative lays more emphasis on his opposition to unprestigious gods than does the myth where he is an elder brother. In this latter case, it is his superordinate status which receives most stress.

In my analysis of two versions of the Taawhaki myth, therefore, I shall continue my study of the relationship of a man's status to the nature of his relationship with the gods. I shall elaborate further the vertical or ritual method of pollution as compared with Maaui's non-ritual pollution, and in doing this I shall emphasise the change of status incurred by both man and god in tapu removal. The first myth to be considered is one in which Taawhaki is a younger relative.

- 79
T 1 Taawhaki, the Younger Relative 111

Whaitiri left heaven to go to Kaitangata, who she thought was a man eater; but he was not, and he refused her offering of a slave's heart. However, she became his wife, and they had three children, Punga, Karihi and Hema. Kaitangata remarked on the filth of the children, and Whaitiri was ashamed. While Kaitangata was fishing, she built a latrine, and placed there Tuu-tangata-kino, a lizard god. Then before she returned to heaven, she told her children that the children of her last born, whom she had named after her shame (whakamaakanga), should follow her.

The offspring of Punga and Karihi were lizards and sharks, while one of Hema's offspring was Taawhaki. Punga and Karihi's children could not get wives because they were ugly and filthy, but all the females liked Taawhaki, who was beautiful and had nice houses. So they attacked Taawhaki while he was combing his hair beside a pool, and they left him for dead. But he was only wounded, and when he had chanted a karakia in which he identified his blood with that of the stars, sun, moon and sky, he became strong again.

Then he went out on the sea and slept there. When he woke he was almost killed by a wave, but one of his ancestors, a sparrow-hawk, warned him. He made a blow at the wave, then returned to the mainland, where he was welcomed by Karihi.

Taawhaki and Karihi went on a journey; Karihi tried to climb up the palisades of a fort, but Taawhaki chanted a karakia about Tuu severing the heavens and Karihi slid back to earth. Taawhaki then chanted a karakia and climbed up to the tenth heaven. He cut the path by which he had ascended, and told Karihi that he would not help him because of his and his relatives' attempted murder.

Taawhaki arrived in the settlement of Whaitiri, who was blind, and sat counting her baskets of food. Taawhaki took all ten away, one at a time. Whaitiri had been blinded by the thousands of bird-like people who filled her house at night. She filled up the chinks in the house, and so tricked them into staying until the sun rose, when Taawhaki killed them. He then cured Whaitiri's eyes.

Taawhaki then trod on his ancestors, and they fled crying to the sea. This was Taawhaki's revenge on them for having made him go out on the ocean. 112

Taawhaki slept with Maikuku-makaka, who, although a very terrible woman, was afraid of Taawhaki's sanctity. When her husband, Ururangi, returned and took her away, Taawhaki went to his ancestor Maru, a war god, in order to obtain help to punish Ururangi. When he reached Maru's settlement he chanted a war song. He then ate oil and fat from Maru's storehouse, at the same time chanting a karakia in an undertone. Taawhaki and Maru then cut off their hair and as they cut it they chanted a karakia. - 80 They then offered it to the gods. On the following day a priest caught two eels on different spears. One was offered to the gods, but Maru, Tuu-te-nganahau and Rehua quarrelled over the other one, and Maru took it.

Finally, Taawhaki and Maru led out two war parties. Taawhaki's was successful, but Maru's party mistook the god Rongomai for a whale and was preparing to cook him when the god arose, caught them, and cooked them in their own ovens.

The opening sequence of this myth is fairly similar in structure to that of the two Rehua myths. First, contact is made between man and god — Whaitiri comes down from heaven to Kaitangata. Man fasts — Kaitangata refuses Whaitiri's offering, just as Taane and Rupe refuse Rehua's offering. Following this, a passage from the non-human to the human world is effected — children are born, and Whaitiri builds a latrine for men.

However, that which comes from the ultrahuman to the human world retains connection with the ultrahuman world, and in relation to man it has a dual aspect: it can be either life-giving or death-dealing, pure or impure. Both Whaitiri and the latrine she builds for men are ambiguous in nature. Whaitiri is the Maori word for thunder, which is supposed to sound not only on the violation of tapu but also at some important tapu removal rites. 113 In another myth, Whaitiri causes food to be scarce, then teaches her co-wife the incantations to make food plentiful. 114 Likewise, the latrine she builds can remove not only dirt but also life (she leaves Tuu-tangata-kino, a lizard god, on the latrine). When Kaitangata remarks on the filth of her children, Whaitiri calls her child Hema after her shame, whakamaakanga. This name may also be equivocal, for whakamaa means not only “shame” but also “to whiten”, and is derived from maa, meaning “white”, “clean”, “freed from tapu”. Thus Hema may signify both shame and the removal of shame, as exemplified by her son Taawhaki, who is not only clean but also an avenger of shame.

The first part of the myth might thus be said to present the ambiguous advantage to man arising from the advent of a goddess to earth, and from her gift to him. In the second part of the myth this ambiguity is resolved. When man has got what he wants from the gods, it is on their ugly, unwanted, impure aspect that he focuses in removing them. Here lies the central opposition of the myth, and one in which all the other oppositions — pure: impure, life-directed: death-directed, prestige: shame — are combined: the opposition man: god (nature). The elder grandchildren of Whaitiri are dirty, ugly sharks and lizards; the younger grandchild, Taawhaki, is clean, beautiful and manlike. The two join together in a struggle for life and status.

This struggle takes place on two planes. The most obvious comparison between the Taawhaki and Maaui myths is that while Maaui is successful mainly on the horizontal plane, Taawhaki on the horizontal plane suffers great indignity, which he does not attempt to revenge until he is on the - 81 vertical plane in a vertically superordinate position. For example, Taawhaki does not revenge the attacks against him by his elder relatives and by the sea until he is on his way to, and in, heaven. In contrast, Maaui, when he feels himself to be insulted by his brother-in-law, Irawaru, immediately turns him into a dog. Thus Taawhaki is only a younger relative in his opposition to the gods, his elder relatives; in his method of supersession he has a closer resemblance to an elder brother than to Maaui, and he is actually described as an ariki.

Tapu removal rites frequently begin with acts of separation from an unwanted polluting tapu in which the gods co-operate, and end with the triumphant pollution and subordination of the gods. Similarly, Taawhaki separates himself from dirt (his cleanness perhaps implies that unlike his animal relatives he has used Whaitiri's latrine); from death, by identifying himself with the pure, heavenly aspect of tapu; from the sea, through an ancestor's warning; and from earth, by going up to heaven. Once in heaven he triumphs not only over the unprestigious, earthly gods but also over heavenly gods. Thus he shows himself superior to Whaitiri, and he triumphs over a terrible woman, her husband, and his ancestor the war god Maru. In eating from Maru's storehouse, Taawhaki probably pollutes his tapu. He then cuts his hair, and he and Maru chant a karakia which includes the words:

  • Come you and be
  • The younger last-born child
  • That I may be
  • The elder and first-born.

This sums up what I said on pp. 77-8 about the transformation of status resulting from the inversion of tapu removal. It is very significant that, following this karakia, Maru is defeated by a sea god (Rongomai), just as Taawhaki was almost killed by sea gods when he washed and combed his hair on earth. Thus the relationship between Taawhaki and the sea gods is completely inverted. On earth, Taawhaki is subject to sea gods; in heaven, the sea gods become subject to him, he takes the place of a prestigious god, and a prestigious god (Maru) is defeated by a sea god.

This inversion and the correlating transformations of status is therefore analogous to the inversion of tapu removal and the resultant differentiation of a tapu into polar opposites. In removing the gods, the emphasis is placed not on their power but on their potential weakness (as fishes) and on their pollution (as dirty fishes); but in subordinating the gods and replacing them with himself, man takes upon himself, not these qualities, but the prestigious and superordinate characteristics of the gods.


The difference between Taawhaki's vertically inverting relationship and Maaui's aggressive horizontal and polluting relationship with the gods is well illustrated by their respective relationships with Tuna, an eel deity. Tuna has intercourse with Mauai's wife, and Maaui kills him by calling down a flood which sweeps Tuna into an eel pot. In contrast, in several versions of the Taawhaki myth Taawhaki meets Tuna going down to - 82 earth while he is going up to heaven, and in some versions they greet each other affectionately; Tuna says he is going down because heaven is too dry. 116 The difference between Taawhaki's and Maaui's relationship with Tuna seems to sum up the two main elements of tapu removal: horizontally, man with the aid of polluting power kills the gods or nature; vertically, with the aid of ritual power he exchanges his position with theirs.

However, although T 1 is primarily a vertical myth, Taawhaki, being a younger relative, has a more direct relationship of aggression with unprestigious gods than he does in T 2, where he is an elder brother.

T 2 Taawhaki, the Elder Brother 117

Taawhaki was the son of Hema, and he had a younger brother called Karihi. His brothers-in-law tried to murder him. When he recovered, he built a fortified village on the top of a lofty mountain and called on the gods, his ancestors, for revenge: they let the floods of heaven descend, and everyone died.

Then Taawhaki and his younger brother went to seek revenge for the death of their father, who was slain by the Ponaturi, a race who lived under the sea but slept on the land at night. While Karihi deliberated with his captive mother as to how to kill the Ponaturi, Taawhaki sat quite silent. Before dawn, they stopped up all the chinks in the Ponaturi's house and so tricked them into staying there until after the sun had risen. Then they removed the stoppings, and the Ponaturi were killed by the sun.

Drawn by the fame of Taawhaki, Tangotango, a young girl of the heavenly race, visited him every night. But when she found she had conceived, she stayed with Taawhaki on earth. When a girl was born to her, Taawhaki, as prearranged, had to wash it. But when he remarked that it smelt, Tangotango wept and returned to heaven with it. Before she went, she told Taawhaki not to hold the loose creepers but only the firm ones.

Taawhaki and Karihi set out to follow her. At the spot where the heavenly tendrils touched the earth, they found a blind old ancestress of theirs called Matakerepo. 118 Taawhaki quietly slipped away two of the taro roots which she was counting. Matakerepo struck out blindly at them with her weapon. Then Karihi struck her and Taawhaki touched her eyes and her sight was restored.

The next morning Taawhaki gave her his slave, and she instructed him on how to climb up the tendrils. At that moment Karihi sprang up and caught hold of one of the loose tendrils. The winds swept him all around, so Taawhaki told him to let go, and to return to their village and look after their families.

Then Taawhaki climbed up, chanting karakia as he went. When he - 83 reached the heavens, he disguised himself as an ugly old man, and was taken as a slave by his brothers-in-law. His brothers-in-law were making a canoe, and after they had finished he stayed behind and adzed a whole side of it. The next day the same thing happened. The brothers decided to hide and see who had finished off the canoe. Then Taawhaki put off his disguise, and took again his own noble and handsome appearance. His brothers-in-law, when they saw him, said, “This must be an atua!” The next morning Taawhaki baptised his child, and lightning flashed from his armpits.

As in T 1, there is an enormous difference in this myth between Taawhaki on the horizontal plane and Taawhaki on the vertical plane. The myth introduces itself with the theme of this difference when Taawhaki's brothers-in-law try to kill him, and he goes up to the top of a mountain and calls on his ancestors for revenge.

In Taawhaki's and Karihi's expedition against the Ponaturi, it is Karihi who is the more active of the two brothers in planning the revenge. This bears out my thesis that it is man in his character of younger brother who fights the unprestigious gods on the horizontal plane. Once on a vertical plane, however, Karihi gives way to Taawhaki, whose relationship from that time on is solely with prestigious gods.

There are other inversions. For example, while Taawhaki is on earth, Tangotango requires him to clean his child; in heaven, he baptises the child with lightning flashing from his armpits. Moreover, while his earthly brothers-in-law try to kill him, his heavenly brothers-in-law say he is a god.

The difference between the Maaui myth and these two Taawhaki myths is that Maaui is both strong and weak on the horizontal plane, or in non ritual reality, whereas Taawhaki is weak on earth and strong in heaven, or in ritual reality. Maaui is associated with pollution and aggression, Taawhaki with purity and superordination. But in practice, as I have shown, the subordination of the gods is achieved through pollution. When the ariki subordinates the gods, he has to act in conjunction with a female and cooked food. Analogously, it is not only Maaui who has to mediate a female in order to subordinate the gods, but also Taawhaki. I wish, therefore, to compare Maaui's and Taawhaki's methods of mediation.

Maaui attempts to mediate life and death through Hine, and he fails. Taawhaki attempts to mediate heaven and earth through Whaitiri, and he succeeds. Briefly, this difference can be explained in the same way as can many of the other differences between the two heroes: Taawhaki is a ritual expert, Maaui is not; the one succeeds vertically, the other fails horizontally. This difference is clearly depicted in one version of the Taawhaki myth, where Karihi—analogously to Maui—falls from heaven because he does not use incantations, and is killed by Whaitiri. 119 But in detail the difference is, of course, more complex than this.

Taawhaki is able to steal food from Whaitiri because she is blind. - 84 Similarly, Maaui would have succeeded in stealing life for man if Hine had continued sleeping, but she awakes and kills him. It appears surprising, therefore, that Taawhaki should cure Whaitiri's blindness, thus placing her in a position where she is able to kill him—which attempt she makes in several versions. The difference between T 1 and the Maaui myth is as follows:

Hine asleep Birds laugh Hine awakes, and kills Maaui.
Whaitiri blind Birds killed Whaitiri sees, but is subject to Taawhaki. 120

As has been seen, the Maaui myth abounds with medial objects; his use of these is here symbolised by his friendship with the birds. Maaui is a mediator who mediates. In contrast, although Taawhaki is in a similarly medial position, he gets past Whaitiri, just as he gets past Tuna, vertically: through an act of co-operation involving opposition to the use of mediation. This is symbolised by his killing of the birds.

Moreover, if Taawhaki had not cured Whaitiri's sight, she would not have shown him the way to heaven. While the gods are blind, man can steal things from them, but he cannot separate himself from the concomitant tapu without their co-operation. The curing of Whaitiri's sight has an analogy in such tapu removal karakia as this: “Go to your origin/Saved spirit. To the day/To the world of light”. 121 In other tapu removal karakia, however, the tapu is sent to darkness and to light. For example, “Darkness for the tipua, darkness/. . . Some light above/Some light below/Light for the tipua, light”. 122 This uncertainty might be explained in the following way. In one sense, if man is to be born to light, the gods must be banished to darkness. It is in this sense, but conversely, that the awakening of Hine to light plunges Maaui into darkness. But in another sense, tapu removal is achieved through the mutual separation of gods and men into worlds of light, and it is light that kills the tapu of darkness (for example, the birds and the Ponaturi in the Taawhaki myths). Thus the curing of Whaitiri's eyes may remove her tapu.

Taawhaki's mediation, unlike that of Maaui, is achieved through an act of subjugation veiled as an act of co-operation. Whaitiri is “saved” (as in the above karakia) but is subjected, just as Tuna is saved by going down to earth because there is drought in heaven. The curing of Whaitiri's eyes is also analogous to Rupe's building of a latrine and to Taane's offering to Rehua; and it is possible that in T 2, Taawhaki's offering of a slave to Whaitiri is — like Taane's offering, and the offerings made in tapu removal rites — also an act of subjugation.

So far, I have attempted to reveal the tapu removal structure of the Taawhaki myths, and have discussed tapu removal in a general sense. I now intend to consider the particular nature of the tapu removal passage achieved by Taawhaki.

Maaui mediates life and death, Hine awakes and Maaui is precipitated into death. Taawhaki mediates earth and heaven, he cures Whaitiri's eyes and the way to heaven is open to him. Looked at in this way, the two - 85 myths have a similar structure, and differ only in content: Taawhaki goes to heaven, Maaui to death. Or is this content so very different? One Maori belief is that a man, on death, ascends to heaven up Taawhaki's path. Similarly, Taawhaki's ascent to heaven after his relatives' attack on him can also be seen as an ascent made after death. 123 The kind of death which this represents, however, is entirely different from that of Maaui. Taawhaki's death is analogous to the transference of a dead man to the place of his ancestors, whereas Maaui's death is analogous to the physical fact of decomposition into earth and darkness (that is, into Hine-nui-te-poo, great woman of the night). 124 This difference correlates with Taawhaki's prestige and Maaui's lack of prestige. It explains why Taawhaki is considered to be a god (having gone to heaven), and Maaui a man (having died). It also correlates with the difference between Taawhaki's and Maaui's achievements: Maaui's achievements, like his death, are vital. Taawhaki's are social and ritual; in heaven he accomplishes revenge (the Maori dead are expected to help their relatives revenge their death), he performs a tohi rite, and in some versions he gains incantations. Another rite which is connected with Taawhaki is the ohorangi rite; for Whaitiri, who is vertically mediated by Taawhaki, is the Maori word for the thunder which is ritually raised by a tohunga in the ohorangi rite.

The ohorangi rite illustrates much of what I have said about the effectiveness of pollution as compared with the prestige of subordination. Oho rangi means “sky waking”. In the ohorangi rite, the heavens were caused to give sound through the power of the tohunga's incantations. The purpose of the rite was to impart mana to tapu removal rituals. 125 Although mana could in this context be translated as force or efficacy, it is very significant that the ohorangi was the final part of a tapu removal ritual. For example, it was performed after a person had recovered from illness, 126 and after the pupils of the Whare Waananga had undergone the ngau paepae rite and had bathed. 127 Moreover, Best said that the rite was performed when a ruahine removed a tapu by eating sacred food. 128 It seems probable, therefore, that the ohorangi is not itself the effective agent of tapu removal, but that it imparts mana in the sense of prestige, rather than force, to tapu removal rites. Thus while the female or other polluting agent removes an unprestigious tapu, the ariki expresses his ritual power over the heavens. In the Taawhaki myth, Taawhaki has to get past Whaitiri, just as a person wanting to remove his tapu has to bite the paepae-o-Whaitiri (latrine beam). Whaitiri is the necessary polluting female medium; Taawhaki is the prestigious ritual expert who “awakes” her.

In order to correlate this act of tapu removal with the passage of death, it must be remembered how close ritual tapu removal is to hara; how close the manipulation of polluting power is to pollution; in short, how close - 86 the vagina as the ritual passage of death → life is to the vagina as the passage of life → death. Whaitiri sounds not only when a tapu is removed, but also when a tapu is infringed. 129 The difference between Taawhaki's and Maaui's mediation of the female should now be clear. Horizontally, man dies in an absolute sense, just as Maaui is swallowed up by Hine-nui-te-poo. But vertically, this passage life → female → death is transformed by Taawhaki into the tapu removal sequence death → female → life. The tapu removal which Taawhaki achieves in his passage from earth to heaven is the separation of the dead from the living through their transfiguration from a world of dirt, suffering and ignominy to a world of light and power. Similarly, in the tapu removal rites which occur after death and at exhumation, the decoration of the corpse or bones, and the praising of the dead, could also be interpreted as the achievement of separation through transfiguration. Finally, once they are in heaven the dead constitute a source of ritual power for their descendants to use in achieving similar inversions of life → death into death → life, as in the ohorangi and tohi rites. It is in this sense that we must understand the karakia on p. 14 in which the dead man's spirit is required first to ascend, and then to descend on Taawhaki's path.

I have attempted, principally, to do two things in this chapter. Firstly, I have continued to reveal and emphasise what I have described as the tapu removal structure of Maori myth. The following is a summary of the tapu removal sequences of the myths which have been considered in this and previous chapters:

The Demotion of the Gods   The Promotion of Man
Pure heavenly aspect of tapu Polluting earthly aspect of tapu Tapu removal: The pollution and subordination of the gods
(Ultrahuman benefits for man)    
Taane is stronger than Tuu and separates night and day. Taane in inverting himself becomes polluted. Tuu conquers and eats Taane.
Rongo takes kumara from heaven. Kumara grows in polluting earth and is born defiled. Kumara is cooked and eaten.
Taane respects Rehua and gets birds.   Rehua is given polluting offering.
Rupe respects Rehua. Rehua performs tohi rite. Rehua is dirty. Rehua is despised and his son falls over latrine beam.
Tainui is a first-born. Tainui is an abortion. Woman's menses placed on trunk.
Whaitiri comes down from heaven. Children born. Latrine built. Children are dirty. Taawhaki is endangered by pollution. Female mediated. Gods subordinated.
Tangotango comes from heaven. Children born. Children are dirty. Female mediated. Taawhaki is a god.
- 87

Secondly, starting from the opposition of younger and elder brother, I have tried to reveal the Maori opposition of two distinct life styles or complexes, and the relationship of these complexes to different aspects of tapu removal. In the table below, in a summary of some of the most important features of these complexes, I have labelled them “vertical” and “horizontal”: planes which, as we have seen, distinguish “ritual” myths from “non-ritual” myths. The vertical plane provides a spatial metaphor to link together such prestigious features as hierarchy, ritual subordination, the heaven earth dimension, the erect penis, genealogical connection, and the poles which play such an important part in Maori ritual; the horizontal plane links together unprestigious and earthly things, especially liminal and aggressive relationships, on the earth sea level. 130 A passage from Best confirms the significance of these planes: “Should a Maori wish to give you an idea of the height of, say a dog, he would hold his hand in a horizontal position as we do. But to show the height of a child he always held his hand in a vertical position, the reason being some prejudice connected with tapu”. 131

My distinction of these two complexes is based mainly on the myths considered in this chapter, particularly the Maaui, Rupe and Taawhaki myths, but it is also applicable to earlier parts of the book, for example the pure and impure aspects of ritual tapu removal. To differentiate them rigidly is difficult, for in many aspects they represent theoretical poles which in practice are identical, or verge towards one another. As elder brother, man is pure but sterile; as younger brother, he is impure but effective. Hence the necessity for compromise.

The following, therefore, is my summary of these two complexes:

Vertical Horizontal
Elder brother Younger brother
Hierarchy Inversion of social order
Social Antisocial and individual
Status oriented Achievement oriented
Cultured Uncultured
Ritual Vital
Male Female
Gods: Gods:
pure ancestors when wanted, polluting when not wanted. nature.
Power: Power:
derived from gods, gods conciliated, tapus kept. power as human, gods coerced, tapus broken.
- 88
Vertical Horizontal
Tapu removal: Tapu removal:
Ritual, in heaven. Non-ritual, on earth.
Aggression frequently indirect. Aggression direct.
Emphasis on separation, subordination and purity. Emphasis on liminal mediation and pollution.
Fasting Eating
Fixed Fickle
Sky-Earth Earth-Sea
Death as transference to ancestors Death as decomposition (that is, transformation into earth)
Prestigious Unprestigious
- 89

The most interesting and stimulating work on pollution ideology in recent years has been that of Mary Douglas. I should like here to relate some of the implications arising from this study of pollution to Mary Douglas' ideas, particularly to those contained in the last chapter of Purity and Danger, where she considers a problem — how can dirt, which is normally destructive, sometimes become creative? — which is comparable to one considered in this thesis.

Mary Douglas' approach to dirt as anomaly involves contrasting as mutually exclusive possibilities that which is “in place” to that which is “out of place”. Dirt as matter out of place “implies two conditions: a set of ordered relations and a contravention of that order”. 132 And, “Each culture must have its own notions of dirt and defilement which are contrasted with its notions of the positive structure which must not be negated.” 133

Elsewhere, however, she writes, “Purity is the enemy of change, of ambiguity, and compromise”. And, “When purity is not a symbol but something lived it must be poor and barren”. 134

These two sets of statements appear to be contradictory. On the one hand, purity must not be negated, and “A polluting person is always in the wrong”. 135 On the other hand, it is impossible not to negate purity. However, Mary Douglas illustrates these statements with different kinds of impurity. An example she gives of dirt as anomaly is shoes on the dining-table. An example she gives of the kind of impurity which it is impossible to avoid in any absolute sense is sexual intercourse. I think that it may be useful to distinguish these two kinds of impurity, and that if, as Mary Douglas says, the former kind of impurity is to be viewed as that which defies established lines of classification, the latter kind of impurity could be seen as the act of crossing over lines of classification. This latter would thus include all the types of passage involving transition or transformation — birth, death, sexual intercourse, eating — which cannot be avoided, but can only be ritually circumscribed.

The necessity for some such distinction may be seen from comparing Mary Douglas' description of Lele ideas of purity and impurity with those of the Maori. It would seem that the Lele consider that life can be kept pure through the avoidance of dirty anomalies. In contrast, the Maori were not particularly concerned with avoiding particular kinds of food. For them, it was the act of eating itself which was potentially dangerous and polluting, and they considered that it was as difficult to achieve complete purity as it was to be a star. Pollution, such as cooking and - 90 birth, was conceptually marginal, yet in actuality it was central to life; it was what was most human. I think that in approaching dirt from the angle of its marginality, Mary Douglas may have overlooked the implications which arise when it is also central to life. The interplay of the centrality and the marginality of pollution in both religious and social dimensions of Maori culture has been one of the principal themes of this book. It can be summarised in the following way:

In so far as tapus are necessary, pollution is marginal. To cook and eat food, for example, is a potentially dangerous pollution of the gods from whom the purest men derive their status and power. When the gods are polluted, this is done with great ritual circumscription. But in so far as the pollution of tapus is necessary, the attitude to pollution is different. The gods that the Maori pollute are not only pure and protective, they are also polluting and malevolent. In tapu removal rituals, the Maori not only propitiate the gods, they also emphasise the act of pollution which they commit. They turn what from one angle could be seen as an act of wrongful pollution into an act of triumphant subordination. The words “Bite the head of the atua” from a tapu removal karakia exemplify this attitude.

The social dimension of pollution is similar. Maori hierarchy was expressed and maintained in terms of purity and pollution. To infringe a chief's tapu could result in misfortune and death. But Maori society was not just a hierarchy, it was also a warrior society; it placed value on initiative as well as on birth. The elder brother, like fasting, could be ineffectual, and have to be superseded by his impure younger brother. To break one's own tapu or that of the gods was not necessarily humiliating and dangerous; it could be an expression of human power.

Gods and the elder brother, therefore, are pure in that they ought not to be polluted or superseded, but impure in that they have to be polluted and superseded. Conversely, the younger brother and the pollution of the gods by man are impure in that they ought not to infringe the purity of the gods and the elder brother; but in so far as such infringement is necessary they are, if not entirely pure, at least vital, effective and heroic.

As far as the marginality of dirt is concerned, Maori ideas confirm Mary Douglas' theories and demonstrate the value of her idea of correlating bodily with social powers and dangers. She writes, “I suggest that food is not likely to be polluting at all unless the external boundaries of the social system are under pressure”. 136 If “high-ranking men” is substituted for “social system” this is applicable to Maori society, for we have seen how cooked food and the younger brother constitute analogous dangers to the purity of the elder brother. Because we are talking about parts of a social system and not a whole social system, however, it would be possible to extend Mary Douglas' hypothesis in the following way: pollution is likely to be positively valued in so far as supersession within the society or supersession of gods by men, is considered to be necessary.

I think that as most of Mary Douglas' ideas concerning pollution are based on the marginality of dirt, they should be modified when they are - 91 applied to a society such as that of the Maori where pollution is so central. To consider first the use of pollution in ritual.

Where dirt is an anomaly, its use in ritual can be seen as a “confrontation of categories”, or as “a ploughing back” of what has been rejected. 137 Where, however, pollution is not in any real sense rejected, its use in ritual cannot be understood in this way. When the Maori use polluting agents in their rituals, they are doing what must be done anyway — the polluting transformation of the ultrahuman into the human — in a safe, ritual way. To use a new house built under the aegis of the gods would be an act of pollution. Before it is polluted, therefore, it is polluted ritually by a woman stepping over its threshold. This act of ritual pollution has the opposite effect of an act of non-ritual pollution; it is the subordination of the gods, not by the gods. In the same way must be viewed the nearest Maori equivalent to the Lele pangolin cult. As I have described on pp. 37-8, the lizard, a polluting and dangerous anomaly, was on occasion ceremonially eaten. By eating it the Maori abolished its dangerous ultrahuman influence, they achieved a passage from ultrahuman sickness to human life. They were not affirming dirt or confronting their categories; they were, as they themselves said, confronting the devil, and were thus in a very real sense acting in accordance with their categories.

Mary Douglas shows how dirt affirmation cults must be understood within the context of a people's attitude to death. She describes how for most of the time the Lele reject dirt and death and “Lele diviners seem no better than a lot of Aladdins rubbing their magic lamps and expecting marvels to take shape.” 138 This attitude to ritual, she says, needs protection from scepticism and this is the role that dirt affirmation cults play. In the light of this analysis, it is possible to correlate the absence among the Maori of dirt affirmation cults comparable to those that Mary Douglas describes, with the equally different Maori attitude to death.

Mary Douglas is chiefly concerned with optimistically biased philosophies which put forward as a basic premise the power of their ritual to achieve life, and as it were only then approach the problem of the inevitability of death. The picture is basically one of light and life, but one in which “pollution symbols are as necessary as the use of black in any depiction whatsoever”. 139 The picture we get of Maori philosophy is the reverse of this. A basic premise of Maori philosophy is undoubtedly the inevitability of death. Life began with the Poo and ends with the Poo. Death, being inevitable, must be caused by that which is inevitable — life. Death is latent in all the passages of which life is composed. Life, in short, is polluting. The following passage, which is part of a speech made by an old chief to a girl of high rank who had eloped with a member of his tribe, is a typical example of Maori pessimism:

“Go where you will, death is there. Live where you like, death is there. Plant your crops, death is there. Live in the calm of Summer, sudden death comes on you. From the days of Maaui death has been - 92 everywhere, and still is felt in every place, home, action or food. Now, O my child! you have escaped a death which might have taken place by the hands of the Mount Eden people. Do you think you will not die? There are the evils of Tura which will come on you. Even now there are sitting in silence within you innumerable evils, and by the mistakes you may make in our old customs evil will fall on you. O my child! all is death in this world. Come to our home.” 140

In accordance with their attitude to death, ritual for the Maori was not a magic lamp for gaining power, it was a fragile barrier placed against the pervasive powers of death. Ritual was biased towards separation, not incorporation. I suggest tentatively that in the Maori belief in the power of death, and in the negative orientation of their rituals, there is implicit a belief in the power of man. The power of the gods is as it were necessary to explain why man, who is basically powerful, ever fails. Although the care the Maori take not to infringe tapus could be seen as an indication of man's dependence on the gods, the basic function of tapus is not the explanation of success but the explanation of failure through their violation. A man maintains and increases his mana through his own efforts; in his relationship with the ultrahuman his main concern is not to derive anything from it but, through right behaviour and ritual, to fend off ultrahuman hindrances and threats to his power.

If tapus express the power of the ultrahuman world and the proximity of death, tapu removal rites express man's power and are a negation of death. In this way the Maori present an interesting contrast to the peoples described by Mary Douglas who, according to her, for the most part negate death but then in a few cults affirm it. The picture that the Maori draw of the relationship of life and death is not, therefore, a white one with a few black lines, but a black one with a few white lines. In such a picture as this, dirt affirmation cults would be wholly superfluous.

Another problem which must be approached from a different angle in considering a culture in which pollution is so central is the relationship of holiness and uncleanness. In accordance with her emphasis on dirt as anomaly, Mary Douglas says that dirt and purity cannot be confused. To repeat again a key statement: “Each culture must have its own notions of dirt and defilement which are contrasted with its notions of the positive structure which must not be negated. To talk about a confused blending of the Sacred and the Unclean is outright nonsense.” 141

I agree that it is stupid to talk about a confused blending of poles but I think that the statement as a whole is too great a simplification. The “positive structure” may defend itself from attack, but it may also become “anomalous” and be successfully challenged — its purity is then transformed into impurity. 142 Mary Douglas' ideas are suited to a static structure. She writes, “For us sacred things and places are to be protected from defilement. Holiness and impurity are at opposite poles.” 143 But we do not eat and defile our gods in daily life, the Maori do. I have - 93 described how in order to defile the gods they are transformed from a pure, heavenly state to an impure, earthly state. In this sense the sacred for the Maori is unclean. This is not, however, a condition of confusion but one of ambivalence. On different occasions the Maori hold different attitudes towards the sacred and perceive it to be capable of acting in different ways towards them. 144

For some reason Mary Douglas does not distinguish ambivalence and confusion. She says that Eliade talks about the confusion of the sacred and the unclean when he is actually talking about its ambivalence (“it attracts or repels”) 145 not Frazer's “vaporous solution”. 146 The ambivalence of the sacred is frequently treated as a metaphysical problem. 147 But I have tried to show that for the Maori it can be seen as “a by-product, as it were, of urgent practical concern.”

The ambivalence of the sacred, tapu as pure and impure, is not particularly remarkable. However, Franz Steiner, in his classic book on taboo, describes the lack of polarity in the Polynesian concept as being surprising and unique, and illustrates this by saying that the application of the Polynesian range of taboo to Indian caste society would mean using the same word for Brahmin and for pariah. 148 This would indeed be surprising if it were true, but the nearest Maori equivalent of the pariah, the slave, is noa, “free from tapu”, “of no consequence”, “within one's power”. Any consideration of the difference between Hindu and Polynesian semantic configurations must, therefore, take into account the fact that whereas in caste society purity and impurity relate primarily to status, among the Maori the word “tapu” expresses distance not only in relation to status but also, more basically, in relation to the ultrahuman world whence originate both life and death.


The following abbreviations are used:

  • JPS = Journal of the Polynesian Society
  • JRAI = Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute
  • TPNZI = Transactions and Proceedings of the New Zealand Institute
  • BAUCKE, W., 1928. Where the White Man Treads. Auckland, Wilson & Horton.
  • BEATTIE, J. H., 1939. Tikao Talks. Dunedin, Reed.
  • BEST, E., 1897. “Te Rehu O Tainui.” JPS, 6: 41-66.
  • —— 1898. “The Art of the Whare-Pora.” TPNZI, 31: 625-58.
  • —— 1899. “Notes on Maori Mythology.” JPS, 8: 93-121.
  • —— 1900. “Spiritual Concepts of the Maori.” JPS, 9: 173-99.
- 94
  • —— 1902a. “Notes on the Art of War.” JPS, 11 passim.
  • —— 1902b. “Maori Nomenclature.” JRAI, 32: 182-201.
  • —— 1920c. “Maori Magic.” TPNZI, 34: 69-98.
  • —— 1903. “Notes on the Art of War.” JPS, 12 passim.
  • —— 1904a. “Notes on the Art of War.” JPS, 13 passim.
  • —— 1904b. “Maori Medical Lore.” JPS, 13: 213-37.
  • —— 1904c. “Maori Marriage Customs.” TPNZI, 36: 14-67.
  • —— 1905. “Maori Eschatology.” TPNZI, 38: 148-239.
  • —— 1906. “The Lore of the Whare Kohanga.” JPS, 15: 1-26, 147-62, 183-92.
  • —— 1907. “Maori Forest Lore.” TPNZI, 40: 185-254.
  • —— 1922. Spiritual and Mental Concepts of the Maori. Wellington, Dominion Museum Bulletin No. 2.
  • —— 1923. “Maori Personifications.” JPS, 32: 53-69, 103-26.
  • —— 1924a. The Maori. 2 vols. Wellington, Polynesian Society Memoir No. 5.
  • —— 1924b. Maori Religion and Mythology. Wellington, Dominion Museum Bulletin No. 10.
  • —— 1924c. The Maori As He Was. Wellington, Dominion Museum.
  • —— 1925a. Maori Agriculture. Wellington, Dominion Museum Bulletin No. 9.
  • —— 1925b. The Maori Canoe. Wellington, Dominion Museum Bulletin No. 7.
  • —— 1925c. Tuhoe, the Children of the Mist. 2 vols. New Plymouth, Polynesian Society Memoir No. 6.
  • —— 1926. “The Legend of Mahu and Taewha.” JPS, 35: 73-110.
  • —— 1927. The Pa Maori. Wellington, Dominion Museum Bulletin No. 6.
  • —— 1929a. Fishing Methods and Devices of the Maori. Wellington, Dominion Museum Bulletin No. 12.
  • —— 1929b. The Whare Kohanga (Nest House) and Its Lore. Wellington, Dominion Museum Bulletin No. 13.
  • BIGGS, B., 1952. “The Translation and Publishing of Maori Material in the Auckland Public Library.” JPS, 61: 177-91.
  • —— 1960. Maori Marriage: An Essay in Reconstruction. Wellington, Polynesian Society Maori Monograph No. 1.
  • BROUGHAM, A. E. and A. W. REED 1963. Maori Proverbs. Wellington, Reed.
  • BUCK, Sir Peter (Te Rangihiroa), 1950. The Coming of the Maori. Wellington, Maori Purposes Fund Board.
  • BURDON, R. M., 1941. New Zealand Notables. Christchurch, Caxton Press.
  • CASSIRER, E., 1944. An Essay on Man. New Haven, Yale University Press.
  • COWAN, J., 1910. The Maoris of New Zealand. Christchurch, Whitcombe & Tombs.
  • CRAIG, E. W. G., 1964. Man of the Mist. Wellington, Reed.
  • DOUGLAS, M., 1966. Purity and Danger. London, Routledge & Kegan Paul.
  • —— 1970. “The Healing Rite.” (Review article) Man, 5: 302-8.
  • DOWNES, T. W., 1937. “Maori Mentality Regarding the Lizard and Taniwha in the Whanganui River Area.” JPS, 46: 206-24.
  • DUMONT D'URVILLE, J. C., 1835. Voyage pittoresque autour du Monde. Paris, Tenré.
  • DUMONT, L. and D. POCOCK, 1959. Contributions to Indian Sociology. Vol. 3. Paris, The Hague, Mouton and Co.
  • EVANS-PRITCHARD, E. E., 1937. Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic among the Azande. Oxford, Clarendon Press.
  • —— 1956. Nuer Religion. Oxford, Clarendon Press.
- 95
  • FIRTH, R., 1929. Primitive Economics of the New Zealand Maori. London, Routledge.
  • —— 1963. “Offering and Sacrifice.” JRAI, 93: 12-23.
  • —— 1967. Tikopia Ritual and Belief. London, Allen and Unwin.
  • FLETCHER, H. J., (trans.) 1916. “The Ngati-Tuwharetoa Occupation of Tauponui-a-tia.” JPS, 25: 104-16, 150-62.
  • GLUCKMAN, M., 1962. “Les Rites de Passage,” in M. Gluckman (ed.), Essays on the Ritual of Social Relations. Manchester, Manchester University Press.
  • GRACE, J. Te H., 1959. Tuwharetoa. Wellington, Reed.
  • GRAHAM, G., (trans.) 1921. “A Legend of Te Tatua Pa.” JPS, 30: 164-70.
  • —— (trans.) 1941. “Hape-ki-tuarangi.” JPS, 50: 114-19.
  • —— 1946. “Some Taniwha and Tupua.” JPS, 55: 26-39.
  • GREY, Sir George, 1885. Polynesian Mythology. Auckland, Brett. 2nd ed.
  • GUDGEON, W. E., 1905a. “Mana Tangata.” JPS, 14: 49-66.
  • —— 1905b. “Maori Religion.” JPS, 14: 107-30.
  • —— 1906. “Whaka-Momore.” JPS, 15: 163-74.
  • —— 1907. “Maori Wars.” JPS, 16: 13-42.
  • HAMMOND, T. G., 1899. “Atua Maori.” JPS, 8: 89-92.
  • —— 1924. The Story of Aotea. Christchurch, Lyttelton Times.
  • HANDY, E. S. C., 1927. Polynesian Religion. Honolulu, Bishop Museum Bulletin, 34.
  • HOCHSTETTER, F. von, 1867. New Zealand. Stuttgart, Cotta.
  • HOPA, N. K., 1966. The Rangatira: Chieftainship in Traditional Maori Society. B.Litt. thesis, University of Oxford.
  • HORTON, R., 1968. “Neo-Tylorianism.” Man, 3: 625-33.
  • JOHANSEN, J. Prytz, 1954. The Maori and His Religion in its Non-Ritualistic Aspects. Copenhagen, Munksgaard.
  • —— 1958. Studies in Maori Rites and Myths. Copenhagen, Munksgaard.
  • JOHNSTONE, J. C., 1874. Maoria. London, Chapman.
  • KARAREHE, Te Kahui, 1898. “Te Tatau o te Po: The Door of Death.” (trans. by S. P. Smith) JPS, 7: 55-63.
  • —— 1921. “The Evils of Makutu.” (trans. and annotated by S. P. Smith) JPS, 30: 172-84.
  • KELLY, L. G., 1940. “Taupiri Pa.” JPS, 49: 148-59.
  • —— 1949. Tainui. Wellington, Polynesian Society. Memoir, vol. 25.
  • LÉVY-BRUHL, L., 1936. Primitives and the Supernatural. (trans. by Clare) London, Allen and Unwin.
  • McDONNELL, T., 1887. “A Maori History, Being a Native Account of the Pakeha-Maori Wars in New Zealand.” In The Defenders of New Zealand by T. W. Gudgeon, Auckland, Brett.
  • MANING, F. E., 1893. Old New Zealand. London, Bentley and Son.
  • MARSDEN, S., 1932. The Letters and Journals of Samuel Marsden 1765-1838. (J. R. Elder, ed.) Wellington, Reed.
  • NGATA, A. T., (ed.), 1961. Nga Moteatea, (Part 2). Wellington, Polynesian Society.
  • ORBELL, M., 1968. Maori Folktales. Auckland, Paul.
  • —— 1970. “Two Letters from Hari Heemara Wahanui to Elsdon Best: June 1917.” Dominion Museum Records in Ethnology, 2: 39-55.
  • POLACK, J. S., 1838. New Zealand. 2 Vols. London, Bentley.
  • —— 1840. Manners and Customs of the New Zealanders 2 vols. London, Madden.
  • SCHWIMMER, E., 1963. “Guardian Animals of the Maori.” JPS, 72: 397-410.
- 96
  • SHORTLAND, E., 1851. The Southern Districts of New Zealand. London, Longman Brown.
  • —— 1856. Traditions and Superstitions of the New Zealanders. London, Longmans.
  • —— 1882. Maori Religion and Mythology. London, Longmans Green.
  • SIMMONS, D., 1966. “The Sources of Sir George Grey's Nga Mahi A Nga Tupuna.” JPS, 75: 117-188.
  • SMITH, S. P., 1897. “The Peopling of the North.” JPS, 6 Supplement.
  • —— 1899. “The Tohunga Maori: a Sketch.” TPNZI, 32: 253-70.
  • —— 1910. Maori Wars of the Nineteenth Century. Christchurch, Whitcombe & Tombs.
  • —— 1913-15. The Lore of the Whare Wananga or Teachings of the Maori College on Religion, Cosmogony and History. 2 vols. Polynesian Society Memoirs 3 & 4. New Plymouth.
  • STACK, J. W., 1874. “On the Disappearance of the Larger Kings of Lizard from North Canterbury.” TPNZI, 7: 295-7.
  • —— 1893. Kaiapohia. Christchurch, Whitcombe & Tombs.
  • STEINER, F., 1967. Taboo. Harmondsworth, Penguin Books.
  • TAYLOR, R., 1855. Te Ika a Maui. London, MacIntosh. 1st. ed.
  • —— 1870. Te Ika a Maui. London, Macintosh, 2nd ed.
  • TE HURINUI, Pei, 1955-7. Nga Moteatea. (Part 1) Supplement to JPS, 64-66. Also issued separately without title page.
  • TREGEAR, E., 1891. Maori-Polynesian Comparative Dictionary. Wellington, Lyon & Blair.
  • —— 1904. The Maori Race. Wanganui, Willis.
  • TURNER, V. W., 1969. The Ritual Process. London, Routledge and Kegan Paul.
  • VAN GENNEP, A., 1960. The Rites of Passage. (English translation) London, Routledge and Kegan Paul.
  • VAYDA, A. P., 1960. Maori Warfare. Wellington, Polynesian Society Maori Monograph, No. 2.
  • WAKEFIELD, E. J., 1908. Adventure in New Zealand. Christchurch, Whitcombe & Tombs.
  • WALSH, Archdeacon, 1902. “The Cultivation and Treatment of the Kumara.” TPNZI, 35: 12-24.
  • WHITE, John, 1874. Te Rou. London, Low.
  • —— 1885. “Maori Customs and Superstitions.” In The History and Doings of the Maori by T. W. Gudgeon. Auckland, Brett.
  • —— 1887-90. Ancient History of the Maoris. 6 vols. Wellington, Government Printer.
  • —— 1940. Revenge. Wellington, Reed.
  • WILLIAMS, H. W., 1957. A Dictionary of the Maori Language. Wellington, Government Printer. 6th ed.
  • WILSON, C. A., 1932. Legends and Mysteries of the Maori. London, Harrap.
  • WOHLERS, J. F. H., 1874. “Mythology and Traditions of the Maori in New Zealand.” TPNZI, 7: 3-53.
  • YATE, W., 1835. An Account of New Zealand. London, Seeley & Burnside.
1   Grey 1885:1-9. This is a translation of a manuscript by Te Rangikaheke of Te Arawa, who was a chief and son of a celebrated priest. It was written between 1849-1853. Its reliability is also substantiated by the existence of very similar versions of the myth given by Taylor and White. Taylor 1870:118-123; White 1885:97-101. In the case of this and other myths I have partly summarised, partly quoted the source given. See also the following footnote.
2   This paragraph is from a translation by Johansen 1958:85.
3   Note particularly the birth ritual on p. 9 and the pure ritual on p. 15-6.
4   See pp. 12 and 14.
5   White 1940:185.
6   A Maori text from Grey translated in Johansen 1958:88.
7   White 1885:98.
8   The word Tuu means “erect”. Thus the Maori text reads “ko Tuu-matauenga i tuu tonu”.
9   An equivalent image from reality is the felling of a tree. Once the tree has been separated from its position of power—“Taane stood erect but now he has fallen” (Cowan 1910:174)—it can be used.
10   Taylor 1870:122-3.
11   The name Maaui, without epithets, refers to the youngest of the five Maaui brothers, Maaui-tiki-tiki-o-Taranga. Except where otherwise stated, the versions of the Maaui myth used in this study is that in Grey 1885:10-35. Grey's sources were Te Rangikaheke of Te Arawa and Matene Te Whiwhi of Ngaati Toa. There are numerous other versions of the Maaui myth, but unlike myths about other Maori heroes, such as Taawhaki, these vary only slightly.
12   Johansen 1954:Chapter 2.
13   Best 1897:49-50.
14   Best 1925c:944.
15   Laughter is frequently associated with the reversal of a death→life movement into a life→death movement. Te Rarawa have a myth which is similar to that of Maaui: “The moon was a female and a source of death, her principal desire was to extend her limbs so that day should be perpetual and night should not be. Monoa, the attendant of Maaui-mua, seeing the limbs of the moon wide apart, laughed; and the moon closed her limbs together and thus made night.” (White 1887-90:2, 87, and for Te Aupoouri version, ibid., p. 90). It is significant in this context that if a man laughs while passing through the legs of a priest or a woman in a tapu removal rite he will die (Best 1902a:51). For other cases where men are warned not to laugh lest misfortune occur, see Fletcher 1916:109; Kelly 1949:249; White 1887-90:2, 31. Further, in the Tinirau myth, Hine-te-iwaiwa and her friends wanted to make Kae laugh so that they could see the broken teeth which identified him. They did this by exposing their genitals and thus they trapped him into death. If a Maori hears the kaakaariki lizard laugh it is a sure sign of death (Taylor 1870:621; Downes 1937:218). Another sound which is connected with hara and ritual tapu removal, and is also associated with laughter is thunder. (Best 1925c:921 and 872-881). As in many of the above cases, these sounds are connected with the opening and closing of the female organ. For example, Maaui hears Hine's puapua (pudenda muliebria) murmuring (Best 1925c:947), while according to Grey's informant he sees Hine “flashing and as it were opening and shutting there, where the horizon meets the sky” (Grey 1885:33). Similarly, the noise of Whaitiri's thighs is thunder (White 1887-90:1, 126).
16   This may be the wairua which the Maori believed was implanted in the womb during coition. Best 1906:3.
17   Best 1923:111.
18   In some myths it is Tuu who created man.
19   Best 1924b:78-80; Best 1925c:767-8; White 1887-90:1, 131 and 145-7.
20   Best 1924a:1, 297.
21   See Johansen 1954:235.
22   The word whakaiho means both “cut the hair” and “charm or rite to weaken enemy”. In tapu removal rites hair cutting achieves both the separation of a man from his tapu and the weakening of it in him.
23   White 1887-90:2, 9.
24   Ibid., 13.
25   Best 1925c:757. For the attribution of misfortunes to marriage and procreation see White 1874:169, White 1887-90:4, 167.
26   Best 1925c:767.
27   Ibid., 800.
28   Johansen 1958:107.
29   See Chapter 6. A common subject in Maori carving is a lizard entering a man's mouth. It is not clear whether the man is the eater of the lizard or is himself about to be eaten. As we know that the Maori both ate lizards on certain ritual occasions and also believed themselves to be eaten by them, these carvings may have comparable significance to the pun on Kaitangata. In the absence of native exegesis on these carvings, however, this is no more than speculation.
30   See in Chapter 6, the incident concerning Maru; also Grey 1885:107.
31   Best 1925c:1059.
32   Taylor 1870:351.
33   Best 1925c:827-31.
34   Best, quoting from White's notes, states that the first four tubers to be planted in a field were pushed into the loose soil of the kumara mound (puke) with the big toe of the left foot (Best 1925a:93). One word for big toe is koromatua, which also means “penis”, while puke also means “mons veneris”.
35   Names of ovens in which food was cooked for ritual feasts.
36   See footnote 14, below.
37   It may also be significant that when Rongo impregnates Pani the Maori word is moe, which in this context means “beget” but which can also mean “die”. See also Johansen, who has analysed a myth which suggests that the seed kumara is tricked into death. Johansen 1958:145-158.
38   A comparable point has been made by Johansen. Commenting on the tira ora rite (see p. 12) he said, “It is characteristic of the ritual train of thought of the Maori to create ‘death’ in order to isolate and control it”. Johansen 1954:221.
39   See p. 13.
40   See p. 41.
41   Orbell 1970:49.
42   Best 1925a:80. It may be significant that the word kahu can mean either “membrane enveloping a foetus” or a “young shoot”. Both of these meanings are probably related to a central meaning of the word as “covering”.
43   Best 1925c:86.
44   Tregear 1904:336.
45   White 1887-90:3, 114.
46   In one version of the Maaui myth, Maaui perched on a digging stick and sang a planting song which has ever since been used by those engaged in planting (Best 1925c:937-8). Thus Maaui's function is in one aspect very similar to that of Rongo's. This explains why after Rongo had brought the kumara down to Mataora, Pani instead of going down from Mataora goes down to Mataora. It may also be significant in this context that Rongo's name in this myth is Rongo-Maaui. Thus although the story of the myth progresses, its content (the planting cycle) repeats itself.
47   Maning 1893:302-4.
48   Maning 1893:303.
49   Smith 1897:67.
50   Presumably a matakite. Divination was an important part of war rituals.
51   Te Hurinui 1955-7:213-5.
52   Kelly 1940:154.
53   Smith 1913-15:1, 98.
54   Stack 1874:297.
55   Stack 1893:49-50.
56   Maakutu could be seen as ritual rather than non-ritual tapu breaking but it is considered here because its inversions are so much more pronounced than those in the rites considered earlier, where pollution was veiled by propitiation or was effected by a female.
57   Best 1926:84. This description, like that on p. 42, is a description of the departure from the Whare Maire (House of Learning). But whereas the above comes from a Kahungunu source (Te Matorohanga), the one on p. 42 is from Tuuhoe. It is in a field like maakutu that our ignorance about the social context of Maori religious practice is most acutely apparent. One would like to know, for example, who the practitioners of maakutu were, and what the situations were in which it was practised or in which its practice was feared.
58   See Johansen 1954:24-5.
59   White 1887-90:2, 134 & 140.
60   Grey 1885:194-222.
61   White 1887-90:4, 214. See also Johansen 1954:182-3.
62   Gudgeon 1905a:62.
63   See p. 59.
64   cf. Cassirer 1944:224.
65   Maning 1893:307.
66   Te Hurinui 1955-7:213.
67   Johansen 1954:48 et seq.
68   See for example Kelly 1949:208; Grey 1885:146-152; Best 1924a:1, 453.
69   White 1940:21. In the preface to his earlier novel, Te Rou, published during his lifetime, White stressed that it was not fiction but was true to life. The same could probably be said of this novel.
70   White 1887-90:4, 120. Translated by Johansen 1954:185.
71   White 1887-90:4, 126. This and the preceding quotation do not occur in Grey's version of the story, although the closeness of the two versions in parts indicates that Grey and White must have had a source in common. Unless White combined two different sources or unless Grey abbreviated his text, there is a possibility that the conversation quoted here was inserted by White (see p. 3). However even if this is so the passages conform so closely to the Maori ideas described above with the help of more reliable sources that it seems highly unlikely that they were pure invention on the part of White. They were more likely to have been based on speeches he had heard.
72   Tregear 1904:292. As we have seen, Tregear's final sentence is not strictly correct.
73   Best 1924a:1, 358.
74   White 1885:221.
75   Maning 1893:37; See also Marsden 1932:334-5.
76   White 1885:220 et seq; Firth 1929:92-3.
77   Tregear, 1904:147.
78   Ibid., 149.
79   This compares with the situation in real life where even if power passed to a younger member of the family there remained many sacred and ceremonial duties which only the eldest could perform. See Firth 1929:93; White 1885:223-4.
80   Best 1925c:952-6.
81   Graham 1921:165.
82   Gudgeon 1905a:61-2.
83   Graham 1941:115.
84   Wakefield 1908:88-95.
85   White 1887-90:3, 9, 23.
86   Grey 1885:114 et seq.
87   White 1887-90:3, 132-3.
88   Best 1925c:235-7. References to the other examples listed above are given in the course of their analysis.
89   Another meaning of waewae not given in Williams' dictionary but in one of White's Maori texts is “vagina” (White 1887-90:1, 96).
90   White 1887-90:3, 113-5.
91   Ibid., 115.
92   White 1887-90:3, 29.
93   Kelly 1949:5.
94   White 1887-901, 134-6; Wohlers 1874:8.
95   Unlike the Taane of the Creation myth, the Taane of this myth is a younger brother. This change of status is parallel to that already described for Rongo. As elder brother (nature) Taane is defeated by Tuu, younger brother (man), but as younger brother (man) Taane asserts his superiority over Rehua, elder brother (god).
96   See for example the karakia recited over the first bird offered to the gods, p. 33:
. . . Yield to the thanksgiving (taumaha)
Be extinguished by the thanksgiving.
97   White 1887-90:1, 36-7 & 39.
98   See p. 33.
99   Grey 1885: 50-4 (from Wi Tako Ngatata of Te Ati Awa).
100   Best 1925c:817-8.
101   Tregear 1891:407.
102   See Johansen 1958:105.
103   One of Rehua's titles is Rehua kai tangata (Best 1925c:822). Thus father and son are very closely identified. A very similar relationship has already been described in the footnote on p.57 between Rongo-maaui and Maaui. Rongo like Rehua gave life to man, and Maaui like Kaitangata paid for it. In these two myths, therefore, the pure and impure aspects of tapu are both segregated and allied.
104   Grey 1885: 11-2.
105   Ibid., 33.
106   It is significant that Maaui by trying to kill fire only succeeds in introducing it, just as by trying to end death he succeeds in introducing that also.
107   Tregear 1891:474.
108   Maaui means maakutu. See also Grey 1885:20.
109   Best 1903:145 et seq; Best 1925c:243-5.
110   White 1940:180-6.
111   A Ngaati Hau myth. White 1887-90:1, 95-108.
112   The version of this myth given by Taylor is so close to White's that the two must have had a common source. However at this point of the story the two versions differ in that Taylor says that Taawhaki avenged himself on his relatives by driving the shark and dog-fish from the land and compelling them henceforth to live in the sea. Taylor 1855:40.
113   Best 1925c:872.
114   White 1887-90:1, 88.
115   Taawhaki's cleanness contrasts with Maaui's use of dirt to further his ends (Best 1925c:937).
116   The inversion of the relationship between Tuna and Taawhaki is analogous to that between Taane and Tuu when Taane separates heaven and earth. In both cases a phallic deity inverts and weakens himself in relation to man.
117   Grey 1885:36-48. This myth is an amalgamation of two sources. Except for three short interpolations, most of the myth comes from Te Whiwhi of Ngaati Toa. The interpolations, and also the account of Taawhaki's adventures in the heavens, are from Hohepa Paraeone of Te Arawa. Despite the unsatisfactory nature of the recording of this myth, it can be used to compare the nature of Taawhaki as elder brother on earth and in heaven.
118   Another name for Whaitiri.
119   White 1887-90:1, 123.
120   Ibid., 102-3.
121   Best 1904b:231. Translated by Johansen 1954:191.
122   See pp. 15-6.
123   Translations of the variants of the Taawhaki myth differ as to whether Taawhaki was killed or merely wounded by his relatives; the Maori word for “dead”, mate, can also mean “wounded”.
124   Hine represents the death of man's physical basis (Best 1923:114).
125   Best 1925c:878-880.
126   Best 1924a:2, 42.
127   Smith 1913-15: 1, 90.
128   Best 1925c:879-880.
129   Best 1925c:872.
130   The Maori words which most clearly embody the idea of the horizontal are pae and paepae. Pae includes among its meanings “horizon”, “transverse beam”, “stranded”, “be thrown down”, “kill or snare birds”. Pae mate is an expression for those standing round a corpse. Paepae means “beam”, “bar”, or “threshold”, for example those of the latrine and of the vagina. It is also a piece of wood placed across the path of anyone for the purpose of maakutu.
131   Best 1924a:1, 439.
132   Douglas 1966:35.
133   Ibid., 159.
134   Ibid., 161-2.
135   Ibid., 113.
136   Douglas 1966:126-7.
137   These are phrases used by Mary Douglas in her analysis of the Lele pangolin cult. Douglas 1966:166-170.
138   Douglas 1966:172.
139   Ibid., 179.
140   White 1887-90:4, 145.
141   Douglas 1966:159.
142   Mary Douglas herself cites some examples of this happening. Ibid., 106-7.
143   Ibid., 7.
144   It is possible that the ambivalent attitude of the Maori toward their gods was echoed in that of the common people towards their chiefs, figurative names for whom included not only Rehua and other laudatory ones but also tuatara (a species of large lizard). Chiefs on account of their high status and kinship with the gods could endanger men of low rank in the same way that lizards could.
145   See Douglas 1966:8-9.
146   Cited ibid., 10.
147   For an exception to this see Dumont's analysis of the god Aiyanar, whose contradictory attributes he explains in relation to the social order. Dumond and Pocock 1959:75-87.
148   Steiner 1967:35.