Sei sulla pagina 1di 5


The Maori view of creation in which all nature was seen as a great kinship tracing its origins
back to a single pair, the Sky Father and the Earth Mother, was a conception which they
brought with them when they came from Central Polynesia about 1,000 A.D. Furthermore this
belief in a primal pair, as well as the metaphysical idea of an original Void or Darkness, seems
to be part of the stock of ideas which the ancestors of the Polynesians brought with them from
the west, from the Asian mainland, and which they carry with them as they disperse into
marginal Polynesia. The resultant shift in names and attributes, and the elaboration of themes
which occurred throughout the area cannot obscure this underlying unity of ideas.

Maui, the most celebrated of all

The Maoris say that Rua was Polynesian heroes. This panel from a
the first wood carver. Maori meeting house is concerned with
his fishing exploits.
About the middle of the last century certain Maori priests of some of the east coast tribes were
consecrating classes in their school of sacred learning with prayers to Io-the-self-creative, a
god unknown elsewhere in Polynesia. His presence at the head of the hierarchy of Maori gods
was unknown until the 1870's when the first European reference to him was published. Most
of our knowledge about him comes from "The Lore of the Whare Wananga" which was the
Maori's first attempt to write down and preserve their beliefs. Although this was not translated
and published until this century, it was formulated during the 1860's from the teachings of two
Maori priests Te Matorohanga and Nepia Pohuhu. Not only was it written down by Maori
"scribes", but the finer doctrinal points were thrashed out by a committee by Maori priests and
elders. The lore explicitly stated that "...the priests alone had complete knowledge of Io and
that ordinary people knew nothing".

Maori gods were sometimes represented by carved godsticks bound with cord.
A godstick was frequently used in the ritual acts sanctifying the planting, tending
and harvesting of sweet potato. The godstick on the left represents
Rongo while the one on the right is thought to represent Tangaroa.

This could mean either that the inner knowledge had been deliberately withheld, or that the
cult of Io represented a reorganisation of Maori sacred lore under the impact of European
contact. Some of Io's names certainly seems to be derived from Christianity for as well as
being Io-of-the-hidden-face, that is, not manifested in material form, he was also called Io-
eternal and Io-god-of-love. Moreover, he created all things by "The Word". Yet, the doctrine
of Io was much more than an attempt to amalgamate Christian and Maori beliefs. Whatever,
its source of information its creators regarded it as the revelation of an inner truth.
But although the priest had revived the esoteric lore to establish Io in a position of supremacy,
he was not made a solitary deity. Two more heavens were added to the ten of earlier creation
stories, and Io was accommodated in the highest. Tane was assigned a new task; after
separating Rangi and Papa, he ascended to Io and asked him for the three baskets which
contained all knowledge, especially that "pertaining to the Sky Father and the Earth Mother".
It is not surprising that Io manifested himself at a time when the Maori's awareness of their
own identity as a people was beginning to assert itself. For the function of this, Io-of-all-
knowledge was to re-enforce the old beliefs with the sanction of a supreme deity who would
match the Christian gods.

The entrance to a Maori assembly house.


In the eastern islands of Polynesia, it was believed that man came into being by continuation
of the process of creation, or rather procreation, which had begun with Atea and Papa. The
god Tane was most often considered to be the actual generative agent who impregnated a
woman he formed from earth. In Maori lore, Tane procreative power and organ was called
A rare free-standing Maori
A Maori Tiki or ancestor image. Human hair is
figure. attached to the figure's
What follows is the old story of Tane's search for a wife. First he turned to his mother, Papa,
who rejected him. Then he united with several different beings, but each time their offspring
were things like mountain streams, reptiles and stones. This did not satisfy Tane, who bore the
likeness of a man and he longed to have a partner to match himself. At last he took his
mother's advice and formed the shape of a woman out of the soft red sand on the sea shore of
Hawaiki. He breathed life into her nostrils, ears, mouth and eyes. Hot breath burst from her
mouth and she sneezed. She opened her eyes and she saw Tane. Her name was Hine-hau-one,
the Earth-formed-maiden. Their first child was called Hine-titama, the Dawn maiden. After a
while Tane took the Dawn maiden as his wife. The girl did not know that Tane was her father
as well as her husband. When she asked who her father was, she was told to "...ask that
question of the pillars of the house". Hine did so but the housepost did not answer nor did the
side panel. Then the Dawn maiden realised the truth. She fled in shame from Hawaiki to the
darkness of Po, the underworld. When Tane tried to follow her, she cried out to him that she
had "...cut the cord of this world" and that he must return to look after their children in the
world of light while she remained in the world of darkness to drag their children down. This
was the origin of death. Hine-titama, Dawn maiden became Hine-nui-te-po, great-goddess-of-
darkness. In this story, Hine, or Hina as she is called in other places, has a dual nature. She is
presented at both the first woman and as a goddess who is guardian of the land of the dead.
She is both a life-giver and a destroyer of life.
The superb skill of the Maori wood carvers
is seen in the above prow of a Maori war canoe.
The prow shown here is over four feet high.

Amongst the Maoris the planting and cultivating of the kumara (sweet potato) was
accompanied by considerable ritual which culminated in the lifting of the crop by the priest
when the appearance of the star called Whanui gave the signal for the harvest to begin. In the
explanatory myth, Rongo-Maui went to heaven to steal kumara from his brother Whanui.
Concealing in his loin cloth, he returned to earth and impregnated his wife Pani. She went to
the stream and gave birth to kumara in the water. One day she was disturbed by her sons and
fled to the underworld where she continued to cultivate the kumara patch.