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Maori and Polynesian: their origin, history and culture



(1) We saw in the last article how many of the Maori heroes and demigods resemble the Aryan demigods of the sun-myths, and how these sun-myths look to the cold north. And we saw in the warmer climate of India the gods of the storm and rain had displaced the old sun-gods. So in Polynesia Rangi was dethroned by Pane and Rongo and Tu, the gods of the forest, cultivated food, and war; his cult had already obscured the still more ancient worships of Ra, the sun, and Io, the Supreme, and Tangaroa, the god of the sea; and it was overshadowed in turn by that of Tawhaki and Kahukura, and a multitude of other gods. It is quite clear that sun-worship, though relics of it continued obscurely in unobserved corners of Polynesia, was, in India, a primitive phase of religion that had belonged to other lands and zones of climate.

(2) But here the subject is made difficult by the probability of two routes of sun-worship from the north, one from the Baltic zone though the Caspian steppes and South Asia, the other from the same region through Southern Siberia and the Japanese Archipelago. Thus it is that in the Maori gods and myths we get a far greater complication of sun-gods and light-gods and fire-gods than in Teutonic or Greek or Hindoo, or in fact any, mythology. Besides the Maui series of stories, page 128which has for nucleus a sun-myth, there are three or four strata of sun-incarnations. Rangi is the shining heaven, like Varuna and Zeus and Jupiter, and Tyr of the Icelandic Eddas. He takes a larger place in New Zealand mythology than in any of the tropical islands; in some the word implies nothing but heaven; in one or two Vatea, the daylight, takes his place. His name in the form Raki means North, and this seems to indicate the primeval route of the people that deified him.

(3) Of his rebel children, who divide him from Papa, his wife, Tu is the boldest leader, and, as the architect and builder of the heavens in the eastern groups, reveals his origin as a sun-god too. Even in New Zealand he lets in light upon existence by dividing the heaven from the earth. Amongst the Samoans and the Maoris he becomes the god of war, and amongst the latter is one of the most feared and worshipped of all the deities. The evolution of the Teutonic Ziu or Tiw, whence our Tuesday gets its name, from a sun-god, in origin the same as the Greek Zeus and the Sanskrit Dyaus, into a god of war is a very striking coincidence. Rongo, though originally by his name the god of Sound or Fame, was sometimes in New Zealand identified with the rainbow, in Hawaii often took the place of Tane as the god of light, and in the Marquesas was evolved from light after it was born from darkness. In New Zealand he was driven with Haumia into Hades by Tane, for the part they took against their father Rangi; and he and Tu brought evil into the world. He is ultimately the god of the kumara and all foods that are cultivated in the soil. Tawhiri is the god of storms, who punishes the other children of Rangi for impiety; he combines the powers of Woden and Thor or Thunor, originally storm-gods in Teutonic myth. And Papa, or Mother Earth, has her Teutonic counterpart in Herthus, a name that, according to Tacitus, was given by the German tribes to Terra Mater.

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(4) Tangaroa, like Neptune, whom the Romans probably adopted from the maritime Etruscans, and the Greek Poseidon, is god of the ocean; and in Mangaia, as yellow-haired and the patron of the fair-haired, he is evidently a dethroned god of the fair Caucasian aborigines from the north; whilst in the eastern groups he has suffered the ultimate fate of the gods of a conquered people, and is thrust into the night of the under-world; he is the god of Darkness, and, along with Silence, is mastered by Atea (Light) and Rongo (Sound). He is an evil god, and in the struggle with him Dawn is born, and, as wife of the conqueror, Light, brings forth the lesser gods and also men. In the western groups he reveals his origin as a sun-god; in New Zealand he is the Son of Heaven, and marries Te Anumatao, or Bitter Cold, thus pointing again to the north; in Samoa he is the son of cloudless heavens, and yet he made the heavens; in Manahiki he is the fire-god, from whom Maui snatches the secret of fire; in Tonga he is the lord of thunder and lightning, and also the god of the arts and of foreigners; and in Tahiti he is the creator of gods and men, and he is the Light; he dwells in space, uncreated. In fact, all these gods are in one group or another anterior to creation, uncreated.

(5) His dethronement in the east, and his confusion with Maui in the west, along with his being the god of foreigners and the god of the fair-haired, clearly makes him one of the great deities of the Caucasians from the north. One curious invention attributed to Maui, that of the barb for the hook, Ratzel homes to the North Pacific, and this would make him a northward-pointing deity. And Judge Wilson gives names of tribes that "claim to be descended from Maui, and not from the Hawaiki Maoris," that is, the South Asiatic immigrants.

(6) There is a later stratum of fire-deities, who take charge of the zones of heaven. Rehua, the name of a star, rules page 130the four upper circles as the Ancient One; he was the son of Rangi, and, according to one legend, the first who kindled fire. Tawhaki, and Apollo or Baldur of Polynesia, rules the three next circles, and Maru, to whom the planet Mars is sacred, the three lowest.