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Maori and Polynesian: their origin, history and culture

The Maori Myths of a Future Life have Strong — Resemblance to those of Aryan Races

The Maori Myths of a Future Life have Strong
Resemblance to those of Aryan Races

(19) Most primitive peoples, except in parts of Africa and America, have strong belief in the future life, and that a distinctly material one, generally a shadowy counterpart or copy of the life on earth, as it is, as a rule, based on the world of dreams. But it is variously organised, partly ac-page 139cording to the environment, geographical, climatic and faunal, partly according to the culture-stage reached, but very largely according to the racial stem. It has a fundamental likeness all over the world based on the psychological unity of mankind. But in its details it differs strikingly in different races and different stages of civilisation. It is always material, yet shadowy, always reached by the spirits of the dead with difficulty over many obstructions, and commonly a reflex or facsimile of the life just left by the spirit, with a misty atmosphere or features attractive or repulsive added, and it is in all the early stages, those of savagery, barbarism and semi-civilisation, out of all relation to the normal character of the spirit and the life it has led. After thus there is no community of likeness, except that which arises from common racial origin.

(20) But even the differentiating features have to some extent common sources in the attitude assumed to the phenomena of the world, the sky with the heavenly bodies, the earth with its caves and growing things, the sea with its depths. Other differences arise from the migrant or stationary history of the people; if they have come from afar to their actual abode, the world of shadows is dimly created by memory reaching out to the primeval home; if they have been in the land from time immemorial, their under-world has no reference to other parts of the earth. Still more does the existence of a conquered race differentiate the worlds of spirits. Peaceful absorption means the amalgamation of two pantheons. Compulsory absorption precipitates the Olympus of the conquered into Hades, and turns its rites into sorceries of hell.

(21) What classifies the Polynesians again with peoples of Aryan speech is the coexistence of all these differentiating elements in their idea of the life beyond the grave. Their attitude to the phenomena of nature is much the same in page 140their mythology. Rhys, in his Hibbert Lectures on Celtic religion, thus sums up the earliest creed of the Celts: "In the beginning earth and heaven were great world-giants, and they were the parents of a numerous offspring; but the Heaven in those days lay upon the Earth, and their children, crowded between them, were unhappy and without light, as was also their mother. So she and they took counsel against Heaven, and one of the sons, who was bolder than the others, undertook shamefully to mutilate Heaven." "Some of the children of Earth and Heaven were born bright beings or gods, who mostly loved the light and the upper air; and some were Giants or Titans, who were of a darker or gloomier hue. These latter hated the gods and the gods hated them." This "would require scarcely any important modification in order to apply equally to the Aryans in the distant epoch of their pro-ethnic unity."

(22) So would it apply to the Polynesian personification of the sky and the earth and the phenomena of nature. This description of the primal relations of heaven and earth is as true of Rangi and Papa as of the Greek Kronos and Zeus with the Titans, the Norse Thor and Niorthr, the Celtic Fergus and Nemed, and the Indian Varuna and Yama. There are details of the rebellion against Heaven that differ somewhat from the Polynesian myth. But the nucleus is the same, the attitude to the phenomena is the same. They all point back to a period in their prehistoric history when, and to a birthland where, there was a sub-arctic domination of the year by the darkness of the long winter, and the coming of the brief but splendid summer seemed a rending of Heaven from Earth to let the light of the sun shine in on them and their children. There is less made of the subterranean darkness of the under-world by the Northern Aryans than by those of the zone that is nearer the tropics; and this is perhaps due to the Teutons and Celts remaining, according page 141to the now generally accepted theory, in the primal land of the Aryans, the Baltic region; they did not know the oppression and terror of the long darkness till they knew the contrast in the bright summers of the south. The Polynesians lay the same stress on the darkness of the world of the dead as the Greeks and the Asiatic Aryans do.

(23) Not even is the Maori version of this primal nucleus of Aryan mythology unvarying or consistent with itself. One phase of it lays great emphasis on Tane, the lord of the forests, as the leader of the rebellion against Rangi or Heaven; and he in the eastern groups is the lord of light, and is, like Zeus himself, a representation of the shining heaven and of all the sources of light. Another phase makes Tu, the god of war, and Rongo, the god of cultivated food and afterwards god of peace, the great rebels, who are cast into hell for their war against Rangi their father. One version makes Tane, the friend of Heaven, cast his brothers into the depths of darkness. Another makes Tawhirimatea, the lord of storms, the ally of his father and the punisher of his rebellious brothers. In the lower circles of Po or Darkness the evil spirits lie and conspire against the peace of the gods and man. The story has a striking resemblance to the version of the rebellion in heaven and the downfall into hell given by Milton in his "Paradise Lost." Now Milton did not get this from the Judaic Sheol or the Christian hell as hinted at in the Bible; it was the growth of mediaeval times partly from classical story, partly from Scriptural suggestion, but most of all from the Teutonic and Celtic editions of the primal Aryan myth of Heaven and Earth. There is in all of them the germ of that dualism between good and evil, light and darkness, which culminates in the Ormuzd and Ahriman of the ancient religion of Persia.