Some Maori Myths and Legends
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1. Gender and Duality in Myth and Ritual
2. Volcanoes in Legend
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Gender and Duality in Rangitane Myth and Ritual

The Polynesians who became New Zealand Maori are thought to have started arriving here around the 14th century CE. From that time, until the coming of European settlers in the 19th century, the Maori lived as hunter-gatherers without pottery, metal working, mining, or written language. Their religion that was significantly animist but with elements of a true polytheism emerging. Although the known Maori Iwi [tibal groups] have a common origin (probably in what is now the Cook Islands), and although it has become politically fashionable to lump them together as single people, the pre-European Maori did not think like that. Each tribal group was a sovereign Iwi with its own lands and identity. I have studied in detail only the myths and rituals of the pre-European Rangitane and Ngati Kahungunu Iwi from the lower North Island of New Zealand. Some of these myths were common to many Iwi, but it should not be assumed that Rangitane myths and rituals can simply be generalised as 'Maori myth and ritual.' The legends associated with New Zealand volcanoes are more widely sourced.

In common with other Iwi, traditional Rangitane morality was based on, and driven by, the telling of stories (particularly myths, legends and the proverbs they yielded). This is in contrast to the more familiar propositional ethics; such as the collection of precepts (e.g.; the Ten Commandments) or the formalisation of normative theory (e.g., Utilitarianism or, say, Marxist ethics). This is not to say that the narration of stories plays no role in propositional ethics - obviously they do - but in narrative ethics the narration of stories is central and primary to the ethic in that the stories carry all the ethical weight. The task of myth and legend, in narrative ethics, is to provide a range of possible ways of being a person that are thought to be models of appropriate responses to life situations (cf. Nussbaum, 1988). As with other known Stone Age ethics, Maori narratives are aimed more at illustrating the kinds of persons we ought to be, rather than merely the kinds of acts we are meant to do. The narrating of these myths, legends, and/or tribal stories plays a constant and crucial role in all pre-European Maori engagements with reality. In this engagement the world view which animates it is not directly articulated. It operates more like the suppressed premises we need to uncover when understanding the arguments of a philosopher writing in a tradition with which we are not familiar. Uncovering the ‘suppressed premises’ of pre-European Maori myth and ritual is very much what I am trying to achieve through my study. It follows, from the very nature of this attempt, that much in this paper remains speculative.

The philosophical context, for my reading of Rangitane myth, is best summed up by Robert Johnson thus,

Myths are a special kind of literature not written or created by a single individual, but produced by the imagination and experience of an entire age and culture and can be seen as the distillation of the dreams and experiences of a whole culture. They seem to develop gradually as certain motifs emerge, are elaborated, and finally rounded out as people tell and retell stories that catch and hold their interest. Thus themes that are accurate and universal are kept alive, while those elements peculiar to single individuals or a particular era drop away....The details of the story may by unverifiable or even fantastic, but actually a myth is profoundly...true. (Johnson 1989:x)

It seems evident, from a reading of the various Maori primal myths, that everything in the traditional Maori cosmogony was ultimately a person in one guise or another. The organic nature of the Maori cosmos is evident from the beginning. The seven nights, which precede the mating of Rangi (the sky animus/god) and Papa (the earth animus/god), evolve from potentiality to actuality in a growth process similar to that by which Tane will subsequently separate mother earth and father sky.1 Then from the nothing the begetting - and procreation between persons becomes the means of all possibility. The Maori cosmos, in other words, is fundamentally organic and conceptually seamless - and the distinctions between animate and inanimate, objects and forces, humans and other living entities, etc, (while still there) are subsumed by a unity of all being persons procreatively involved in the processes of the cosmos.
          It is also apparent that surviving, especially surviving well, was something to be negotiated or coerced from the other persons in the cosmos. Moreover, it is apparent that surviving well was not something easily achieved. The persons in the Maori cosmos, be they animate or inanimate, objects or forces, gave up the means to the good life reluctantly. Thriving had to be wrested from them - if not by ritual then by courage, cunning or deceit. Thus just to win space, in which human beings had a chance to contend for survival, meant tearing earth and sky apart by the sheer force of a will to live.2 It is within this space, this alienation, that human beings are created. Tane, as a kind of husbandman of humanity, creates Hine ahu one (the Earth-formed Maid) from the blood-stained earth of Papa after he has torn her and Rangi apart. Tane mates with Hine ahu one. She has a daughter, Hine titama (the Dawn Maid). Tane then mates with Hine titama - and we may note here the common mythological theme of a male god mating with a female human, as with Leda or the Virgin Mary. Hine titama bears several children, all female, before discovering that her husband is also her father. It is the shame of this discovery which creates the path of death, founds the guilt-born human race which will tread that path, and establishes a bond between death and sex (qv, below). Hine titama becomes Hine nui te Po (the Great girl of the Night) and the animus of death.

A number of inferences follow from the fact that everything in the cosmos was a person subject to organic and procreative processes. In the first place, all objects and forces in the cosmos had gender which tended to pair them off into dualities (cf. Jay, 1981). The prototypical duality was that of papa (female/earth) and rangi (male/sky), who existed in a state of enforced alienation which allowed growth (which is a procreative diversity within the ultimate unity of the cosmos). Because of this alienation Rangi (the sky father) grieved for Papa (the earth mother), and rain was often said to be Rangi’s tears. In common with the Hebraic myth, a great flood is said to have subsequently overwhelmed the earth (Apers p.25). This was, moreover, a result of a similar offense to that of the Genesis story. In Genesis 3:6-7, Adam and Eve lost their innocence and became fully human by eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In doing this they asserted their essential independence from all other forms of natural and supernatural being in a way that established an alienation of which the separation of Rangi and Papa is a kind. It was when the fruits of this alienation too radically upset the cosmic balance that God cleansed the world with a great flood (ibid 6:5-7). In the Maori myth Tane similarly asserts himself (again by identification with a tree, in this case a Kauri) and creates an independent space for human growth by means of an alienation within the cosmos. In the Maori myth, however, the rejection of innocence (the 'Fall') is collective rather than individual as the children of Rangi and Papa conspire deliberately against their parents. And the flood is a natural result of Rangi’s grief rather than divine punishment for breaching a moral code. The upset in the cosmic balance, in other words, is psychological rather than moral. Moreover, the end of the Rangi flood is a result of further human cruelty rather than any kind of repentance or covenant between God and people. The children turn their earth mother over so that she and Rangi no longer face each other and Rangi won’t weep so much. It was in this cruel and grief-stricken cosmos that the Maori lived, breathed and had their being (among other things, 'mother nature' has her back to them). Thus for the Maori, in common with other mythologies (such as in the Greek, Norse, or Roman, myths of the overthrow of old gods) violence is a necessary condition of being fully human, and to live is to forego innocence. But, in contrast to the Judaeo-Christian myths, this is not a moral or spiritual disaster so much as a tragic necessity of moral adulthood.

In Tane’s creation of, and mating with, the Earth-formed Maid, a development of the archetypal male/female duality is established which, in Western terms, could be called ontologically Platonic. The body comes from the earth, is female and carnal [noa], the spirit, which is male and from the gods, is tapu (Grey, 1853). It is the fusion of these elements which make a human person. Men naturally have more of the male spirit than women and can also claim Tu (the god of war) as their ancestor. Thus they are intrinsically more tapu than women (Best, 1924:252). We should be careful, however, of importing the Platonic ethic into this ontology. There is little evidence that being more tapu implies any moral superiority. Indeed, many rituals especially seem to imply that being more tapu actually makes men less spiritually robust than women (Johansen 1954:222).

Tu’s ancestry to men, given in the primal myth, is particularly important because to win the contention for survival was a considerable, and often violent, achievement. An achievement acknowledged and measured by the mana that accrued to the victor in the contention. Mana is the Maori version of the life-force; the power to survive and flourish. It is, moreover, a force taken by people from other persons in the cosmos (an activity most notably exemplified by Tane’s separation of earth and sky, and in the Maui cycle). There is a balance in nature (a balance to be maintained by ritual or utu), but this balance has an inertia away from human welfare and must be actively maintained or enhanced. Thus it is the acquisition of mana, rather than its mere possession, which most strongly motivated the ethics of all Maori Iwi. In this struggle for survival and mana, ritual was an essential element. It is in understanding ritual that the essentially organic, procreative and totally integrated nature of the Rangitane cosmos becomes singularly important. In particular it needs to be stressed that the distinction between persons and non-persons (usually drawn between humans and non-humans in Western thought) is quite absent in Maori cosmogony. There is a hierarchy of beings, but this is a hierarchy within the cosmic family (no Jahweh, for example, transcends the cosmos). Thus the differences between gods, humans, insects and rocks is one of degree rather than one of principle. And relationships with gods, or other supernatural forces, are like those with an older, and often touchy, brother.

Finding our Standing Place in such a world (a prerequisite both for finding our virtue and for enhancing our standing) is thus first a matter of establishing the relationships between ourselves and all the other persons of the cosmos with whom we must then relate (cf: al.24). One function, of both myth and ritual, is to help people do just that.

As you would expect from an animist world view, Rangitane ritual was a kind of good manners elevated to ceremony. The connection, between ritual and Maori animism, can be seen in processes such as the cultivation of kumara (Kapiti, 1913:36f).3 This project was one in which the earth (which is female) was thought to give birth to kumara, which were the children of her and Rongo ma tane (the god and father of cultivated food). It is also a process which is connected with several myths. Most notably, among the tribes of the lower North Island, the legend of Kae and Tinirau - a legend in which the sexual aggressiveness of women plays a central role (Johansen 1958:151-157).
         The kumara were planted in prepared puke (hummocks of tilled earth that were considered to be mons veneris of Papa). These puke were impregnated with seed kumara as the tohunga [experts at getting along with the various animi that Maori folk engaged with] chanted a wedding karakia [prayer chant] which began ‘Be Pregnant, be pregnant’(ibid:147). The seed-Bed here is Pani, who (in the wars which followed the separation of Rangi and Papa) hid kumara in her belly when Tu attacked Rongo ma tane with a weapon (the digging stick) and desanctified his children by cooking and eating them. In the kumara planting ritual Pani is (literally) wedded to, and fertilised by, Rongo ma tane. The wedding karakia, however, contains allusions to Kae who, in a later legend, upset the balance of mana between Tinirau and himself by repaying Tinirau’s kindness with the theft and eating of his pet whale Tutunui. That this apparently unrelated legend should suddenly intrude in the kumara ritual is evidence of just how thoroughly all aspects of Rangitane life and belief were interrelated. The link here is mediated by what we would probably (and inadequately) call puns. Kae had gaps in his teeth. ‘Tooth’, in Maori is niho whereas ‘sprout’ is nihoniho (Williams p.221). Thus Pani’s pubic mounds become Kae’s teeth when the kumara seedlings begin to sprout.
          In the Kae/Tutunui legend Tinirau gains utu (restores the balance of mana upset by Kae) by sending a canoe-load of women to identify and kidnap him. The women are to do this by means of making him laugh so as to reveal his distinctively gappy teeth. Kae proves as difficult to arouse as is the fertility of the cultivated earth. After a number of unsuccessful attempts the device which finally works is an hilariously erotic dance (Johansen 1958:155) in which the women perform an extravagant parody of the sex act which includes exposing and opening their genitals in a grotesque erotic display while singing a song which plays on the word tinaku which, in the song, means ‘to conceive’ and, in other contexts, ‘seed kumara’ (Williams p.419). The song works, Kae is aroused to laughter, identified, kidnapped (harvested), taken back to Tinirau in a basket, cooked and eaten.

In this ritual the tohunga is performing two related actions. In the first place he is literally performing a wedding. Pani (the mother of kumara) must be wed to Rongo ma tane (the father of kumara) who must, in his turn, be aroused to mate with Pani and make her fruitful. At the same time the tohunga is directing, or steering, mana down the appropriate channels by alluding to events which created the channels in the first place. And the more events or precedents he can allude to the more numerous and open the channels become. We may see this kind of directedness in the original separation of Rangi and Papa. No growth was possible while earth and sky remained wrapped in nuptial embrace. Tu could weaken the embrace by assaulting it, but it was Tane who finally succeeded by directing the potential for growth in a particular actuality. He braced his shoulders firmly on the earth, planted his feet against the sky, and slowly asserted his creative potential for growth (his animus) in a single direction.
          If this view of ritual is correct then the life-force (mana) can be pictured in terms of analogy with water. Directing the flow not only accesses the power that would otherwise be diffuse, largely useless and probably destructive, it actually enhances the power in the way a hydro station gets far more power from controlling a river than would ever be possible by merely immersing a turbine in its natural current. The water analogy falls down, however, because it fails utterly to capture the implications of a river being a person (i.e., not something to be mechanically dammed or diverted by coercive magic, but someone to be motivated, persuaded, tricked, or bullied, into behaving as needed). Thus the kumara ritual does not manipulate mana by throwing switches at some supernatural substation. It is rather, equivalent to the way myths, legends and other stories were used on the marae (outdoor meeting area) to build a consensus for action among the people there. Ritual is, in other words, an ethical activity. Ethics arise from the need of one person to negotiate with another and, in the Maori cosmos (where every force or object is ultimately a person), similar constraints apply regardless of what [ontological] form of existence the other person takes. If the tohunga offended the kumara, or any other relevant animus such as the soil or weather, they would respond as would any other offended person - either sulking and refusing to grow or by taking utu to restore the balance of mana at his tribe’s expense. If he failed to perform the wedding ceremony properly then Pani and Rongo ma tane could not mate properly and would be infertile. If he failed to direct the mana as needed then there would be no power for the desired abundance. So, in the ritual, the tohunga tells the persons on the ‘kumara marae’ a story - just as the people would when settling courses of action among themselves. This is a story with the authority of precedent to put the persons on the ‘kumara marae’ in their proper relationships and direct their behaviour towards specific ends. It is a story with erotic content to arouse them. A story in which women model the virtues of sexual aggressiveness which Pani will have to show if the kumara crop is to be abundant. And a story with humour to celebrate the triumph of growth and the appropriate actions to dramatise the tale, stimulate attention and direct mana where it is needed. Ritual is, thus, simply narrative ethics in action.

Ritual, however, was just one way of relating to, and wresting the good life from, the persons of the cosmos. And the myths show that the Maori was very well aware that life itself is an act of violence. Freedom is cruelty, and just to have freedom, just to assert the right to be and to acquire mana, is often to offend the status quo as did Adam, Tane or Prometheus. This is most vividly asserted in the Maui legends where there is a strong validation of violence and trickery in the pursuit of mana (Alpers pp.28-70).

The prominence, and precision, of karakia (prayer chants) in the myths shows that ritual was a necessary ingredient (and preferred option) of all endeavour. And it should be noted that, in the beginning, it was the creative Tane, and not the warrior Tu, who won space for human endeavour. This was still an act of great violence and cruelty but it makes an important point that, in the war for survival, while winning is everything - winning is not always (or even primarily) a matter of brute force. Nevertheless, if karakia and ritual were not enough, then anything that worked was good, as long as it successfully asserted an individual or collective triumph over life and death. And this, of course, is the whole ethical thrust of the Maui cycle (below).

In the fight for survival (which, in Maori terms, is the struggle for mana) the fighter, the warrior, is naturally pre-eminent. And violence, especially male violence, is ever close to the core of human survival in the Maori cosmos. A great deal of this violence is legitimised in the myths as directed against women (Alpers p.42, see also pp.32, 43-44 and 58-62).
          In the first place, women were essentially, although not totally, noa - and a threat to male potency and tapu (Johansen 1954:214-216). In the male psyche sexual potency, and potency in the competition to live well (whether as a 13th Century hunter-gatherer or a 20th Century accountant) are linked - and often seen as antagonistic. Most patriarchal mythologies are subsequently redolent with male unease about women. Western myths, for example, are full of stories about women like Eve, Delilah, Iseult or Guinevere, whose sexual allure diverted strong men from their pure destinies. And the Maori had, in common with other patriarchal warrior societies, prohibitions such as those on sexual contact with women for warriors preparing for blood vengeance (Taylor, 1870:189).
          It can also be noted that all the children of Hine titama and Tane were all female. And a great deal of the earliest myths are taken up with tales of Maui (the preeminent male role-model), wresting power, over the likes of fire, agriculture and weapons, from the women who originally held it. My own suspicion is that, with the Maori as with other human societies, the earliest communities were matriarchal. However, as men developed skills and weapons for hunting (in competition with other predators, including other men) they turned their skills and their weapons against women to establish the patriarchal society. Support for this view can be found in the myths when it is seen that tapu (the mana/life-force of the animi/gods) came to the Maori race via a woman (the Earth-formed Maid) and that a lot of Maui’s activities involved taking this power from his female ancestors. This is especially seen in the significance of Maui being formed from the topknot of his mother (Alpers pp.28-30, 38-39). The head is the most tapu part of the body, and the top of the head the most tapu part of that. This symbolises the life-force (mana) that was originally held by women but was taken by men who henceforth wore the sacred topknot (hence Maui’s surprise at his mother having one). Maui also took other mana from his mother, his grandmother, and his ancestress Mahuika (the animus of fire). And we may note, in this regard, Maui’s taking of his mother’s clothes (Alpers p.35), which had both her mana and their own. In this Maui takes on the mana of her mantle. These precedents not only reinforce the validation of male violence against women, they also make it ethically proper for women to surrender their power to men as Maui’s mother did in the highly tapu act of cutting her own hair and his grandmother did in surrendering her jawbone (Alpers pp.42-45. Note the phrase ‘it has been kept for you’ on p.43) By such acts the mana/knowledge of weapon and agricultural technology passed from women to men.


If we leave the myths there then we have a fairly well-developed patriarchal ethic. And I suspect that it is no accident that popularisations of the myths do tend to stop there. The ethic, after all, urges its adherents to do what is summed up (in a Scottish proverb) as to,

          Get power and place.
          If possible by grace.
          But, if not, then by any means,
          get power and place.

One way of doing that is to control which stories will dominate social consciousness. Thus if men talk to men about what matters in Maori reality then the Maui legends will be given prominence. And, historically, that is very much what has happened in New Zealand.

An important aspect of a well-developed narrative ethic, however, is that it provides a growing and changing range of ethical models. Formal consistency is not as important for narrative ethics as it is for theory-driven ethics. There is a story for every situation, and the ethic works through the selection and narration of stories according to second-order ethical principles of balance and appropriateness. This is, after all, an oral tradition. And the way a narration fits a situation, and impacts on it emotionally and aesthetically, as well as ethically, is what carries the motivational weight. Thus, while it may be appropriate, in terms of the ethic, to stop with the Maui legends; to do so would be to misrepresent the very balance which was so important in the Maori cosmology. And, in fact, as the Maui legend is epistemically sequential to the primal myth, so is the legend of Hinauri sequential to the Maui cycle.4

Hinauri is Maui’s sister and, to the extent to which Maui’s provides the Maori male role model, so Hinauri provides the preeminent female role model. Further, as Maui mainly provides paradigms of relationships with the natural world, so Hinauri primarily provides paradigms of relationships between men and women. And, in this regard, it may be noted that Hinauri offers one of the most psychologically healthy paradigms of femineity, and morally robust paradigms of a love relationship, in any mythology of which I know. As will be seen, she uncompromisingly demands from the man she loves, three things: sexual fulfilment, companionship and respect. And she repeatedly refuses to accept from him the implicit disrespect of his denying her either of the first two.

Both sets of stories (Maui and Hinauri) also show the profound importance of karakia in human action for both men and women. Hinauri has her own, and very pro-active, magic. Not as much as Maui but still a magic which demands respect and which she uses often and well in establishing her mana as a woman. And all this magic hinges on the proper ‘plugging in’ to what we would call the supernatural relationships permeating the cosmos.

Hinauri’s story begins with her as a victim of her brother’s political violence when Maui turns her husband into a dog out of envy at his fishing prowess.  Hinauri grieves extravagantly and casts herself adrift on the sea of her sorrow. Not, however, before protecting her self with a magic girdle. Magic girdles are frequently associated with women in mythology - as in the cases of Cestus or Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The girdle seems to represent feminine integrity in that it encloses, or encircles, the female pelvis, has considerable power, and is under the wearer’s control.
          The sea is also a common motif in mythology. It is often associated with death and alienation and we may note here a profound change in Hinauri - almost a death and resurrection motif. Before being some months in the ocean she is a sister and a wife - and someone who does not assert her own magic. In the sea she virtually dies to her people and her past. Once she regains land, however, she does so as her own self - asserting her right to be herself through the exercise of her own power and choice. She uses her magic, both constructively, to get food and clothing, and destructively, to eliminate other competitors for Tinirau’s respect and procreative animus.

Once Hinauri is back on land two profound dualities come into play. First are two men with whom Hinauri has a polyandrous relationship. These are Handsome-nose and Stupid-nose. Second are two owls with the man (Tinirau) is related. These are Thoughtful-owl and Stupid-owl. From these two sets of relationships we get two definitions of stupidity. Stupid-nose boasts of his beautiful wife on Motutapu ('Tapu Island' - Tinirau’s home). This leads to his losing her, by her initiative, to a better man. Stupid-owl tells lies. These model indiscretion and dishonesty as being tactically stupid (counterproductive life strategies). They also provoke two responses. Although Hinauri lives with both men it is to Handsome-nose that she bears a child - a wise woman will not be fertile ground for a stupid man. On Tinirau’s part, owls were often considered omens. But omens are ambiguous, as too are the reports of others about what any given situation is. A wise man checks the veracity of the omens and reports for himself. In both cases the virtue of wisdom is defined in terms of Hinauri and Tinirau taking mana by actively taking responsibility. Neither gives anything away to ‘fate’. In this ethic we may be defeated by circumstance, but we never surrender to it.

When Hinauri and Tinirau find out about each other she is attracted to his power, he is attracted to her beauty - these seem to be commensurate assets in men and women. It is Hinauri, however, who initiates the action. She goes to Tinirau’s home (Motutapu). Before engineering a meeting, however, Hinauri is careful to establish Tinirau’s mana. She knows he has sea creatures as pets and, on her way, meets: first, a stranded shark; second, a stranded whale; and third, a stingray. These can be read as representing three kinds of man that Tinirau could be - the shark is a jerk, the whale is a wimp and the stingray (whose phallic barb is specifically mentioned) is a lover. The first two are stranded and unworthy. But the stingray is acceptable and, after covering his barb with her skirt (i.e., both netting his generative animus, and making herself naked) she is ready to met Tinirau.

We may note here a similar kind of sexual aggressiveness to that which informs the Kae/Tutunui legend, and this is not the only time Hinauri shows a primary interest in Tinirau’s sexual ability. In a cosmogony where procreation is the fundamental mechanism of possibility, she is best committed to a man whose sexual life-force can match her own. Thus, once she and Tinirau have met, she flirts with him - and her flirtatious double entendre is specifically (if obliquely) aimed at assuring herself of his mana. Again the link is in the words of the narrative. The key word here is 'karihi', a word with two meanings. Karihi are both sinkers, used in fishing, and gonads. And, under the playful guise of asking Tinirau how the fishing’s been going, Hinauri makes sure that the man’s playing with a baited hook and not just dangled his line in the water.

Tinirau is vain and keeps certain pools of water as mirrors. These are guarded by the owls and closed-in by fences. What is at stake here is Tinirau’s image or reflection of himself. This self-image, and the mana associated with it, is what omens and information guard. Hinauri brings herself to his attention by breaking down his fences and disturbing his reflection of himself; confronting a sterile introverted self-absorption with the untidy fecundity of a man-woman relationship. This works, but when he, later, tries to fence her into his world, she rebels. In this, and in her treatment of his wives, Hinauri stubbornly and repeatedly refuses to be treated as a possession (i.e., as merely a reflection of the male). Just by being the woman she is she destroys Tinirau’s fences, both around his self image and around his image of herself. He, in his vanity, would like to be autonomous and possessive. But this is not tenable and, as the bringer of life into the world, the woman can not allow this sterile autonomy to exist.

Having met, and made love with, Tinirau, Hinauri keeps him to herself, and away from his kin, by asserting her magic as a provider. First of food and then of shelter - two female responsibilities by this paradigm. Again it is notable how essential, and how precise, are her use of karakia (Alpers p.74).

Hinauri finally only goes to Tinirau’s village to give birth to Handsome-nose’s baby. Tinirau’s wives are jealous of her hold over their man and seek to do her harm. She warns them (with a saying that has the ideal form of a proverb) "If they come in anger it will be evil". When they do come in anger she [again] utters an incantation and uses the birth-tapu obsidian (used for severing the umbilical cord) to kill them both. The two wives turn into greenstone from which Hinauri fashions two ‘sinkers’ apparently in reference to the banter by which she assured herself of Tinirau’s prowess when they met.
          Having eliminated her rivals, broken up Tinirau’s preoccupation with himself, and symbolically restored his manhood, she is now ready for a proper loving relationship with her chosen man. The problem, however, is that no children are born of this love - and procreation, as we have already seen, is an absolutely essential power. Hinauri will not accept this and returns to her kin (i.e., she withdraws her love from Tinirau’s sterile pre-occupation with himself and returns to the network of relationships which undergirds her place in the world). He (typically!) realises his loss in her absence. He misses her and follows her back to her roots. Once there, however, he must demonstrate his magic as a provider before they are reunited back on his home ground. In other words, Hinauri is expected to exert her magic as a provider only so long as Tinirau is meeting his obligations of sexual fulfilment, friendship and respect. The relationship is dynamic - and there is no settled, or overriding, surrender of mana by the woman to men. Under the ethic there is a virtue in men trying for such a surrender, but there is no commensurate virtue in women accepting a surrender. And the main, repeated, ethical point of the Hinauri legend lies in her almost confrontational insistence that Tinirau recognise, and actively respond to, the mana of her sexuality and personhood. On this point Hinauri does not compromise for anything - not for his love, not for his power, not for his maleness or his social context, not even for the child she ultimately bears from him.
          In the end Hinauri does become pregnant by Tinirau. But when that happens Tinirau immediately loses interest in her as a person and again reduces her to the status of an object - in this case to that of the male’s child-bearer. Hinauri grieves and asks him to again use his magic to meet her needs. He refuses and fences her in, again trying to possess her merely as an extension of himself. When Tinirau’s son is born he does repent. But it is too late, Hinauri has turned against him and called on her brother Rupe. Relationships between persons, as we have seen, are the ultimate ground of all power and virtue in the Maori cosmos. Rupe is Hinauri’s birth kin and, as such, is expected to be looking for her - even to the extent of ascending to the heavens to gain news of her. By means of his own magic Rupe hears her call and, together, they ascend back to the heaven of Rehua. The latter part of Hinauri’s story is about the re-establishment of her kinship ties. These are the ties which matter most, they have precedence and give Hinauri the security she needs to maintain her integrity. She never forgets the child which she has left with its father. She does not, however, go back to Tinirau until their son’s needs reunite them.

To my mind the Hinauri legend presents us with the most robust and well-rounded female character of any mythology. Myths, as I have said, embody what is important to a people. It is not surprising, therefore, to find female/male relationships pervading mythology. Hinauri, however, is unusual (and perhaps even unique) in not being idealised to typify either virtue or vice - she is a strong, integrated and believable character. In part I believe that this is due to the honesty with which the Maori myths have Hinauri confront the ambivalent human fascination with the duality of sex and death, particularly as it animates the male characters of Maui and Tinirau. Both Maui and Tinirau are powerful figures, both are men, both are violent, both identify women with the sexual life-force of the life/death duality. Both, moreover, are profoundly uneasy about that power and both would disempower that identity at Hinauri’s expense if she let them (as, for example, Maui does in gaining fire from his ancestress,and Tinirau tries to do by fencing Hinauri in). The reality of Hinauri’s situation, therefore, is that she must assert her mana most immediately in the face of asserted male mana. It is the skill and honesty with which she does this that makes her such a powerful and vivid personality.

As with other dualities of the Maori cosmos, life and death (ora and mate) were exquisitely balanced (we may think here, for example, of the famous ka mate haka). Death is literally unbirth. We enter this world through a vagina and leave it the same way via a path ‘laid down for all time’ through the vagina of Hine nui te Po('Big girl of the Night' [; i.e., death] or 'Girl of the Big Night'). Thus life (which is male and tapu) both enters and leaves this world via conduits which are female and noa. As Johansen puts it, ‘man possesses life, and woman multiplies it, but at the same time she also introduces death into it’ (Johansen 1954:223).

It is interesting to note, in this regard, a distinct difference between traditional Maori ethics and modern philosophical ethics. In the pursuit of objectivity and universalizability, modern philosophical ethics tend to down-play, or ignore outright, the fact that all human moral agents are corporeal and sexual beings. Feminist criticism of philosophical ethics, based on this observation, is that such ethics do not succeed in attaining gender neutrality. Instead they merely attain covert phallocentricity in that the feminine is suppressed in favour of an implicitly phallocentric universal. In Maori ethics, however, virtue, in an organic and procreative cosmos, remains tied closely to its physiological roots (Johansen 1954:235). Thus, in the male battle to survive by procreation, the erect penis is a warrior. And the sex act re-enacts the mythical battle between Tiki (the male) and Karihi (the female) each time it takes place (ibid:221). And that battle always ends with the death of Tiki in what we would call the refractory phase following orgasm (which, it could be noted, the French call ‘le petite morte’ - the little death). I also find it interesting to note that one of the English euphemisms for the sex act is ‘carnal knowledge’ - a phrase which is singularly appropriate in a Maori cosmogony if ‘carnal’ is translated ‘noa’.

But you can see here a problem for men in a warrior society. The duality of life and death cannot be escaped and must be preserved - birth and unbirth are part of the same principle (which is female). If this duality is to be preserved in favour of survival, then the tapu of men needs to be protected within it.  Thus with a male child, for example, (and especially a high-born male child) the birth tapu (which is the female power to multiply life) must be absorbed by a woman before a sacral tapu (which is the male power to preserve life successfully) is implanted by a man (Shortland, 1882:144f). It was when Maui’s father failed to do this latter ritual properly that the power over death (given to him in the prophecy of his mother) failed so that he died as Maui dies in the vagina of Hine nui te Po.5

We can see this tension in the ritual by which a tohunga would prepare a group of warriors for blood vengeance. He would start by preparing two mounds of earth. As with the kumara planting, these puke represent the mons veneris and are made from the earth of Papa (Best, 1924:75, 1925:1073). One hill was the hill of life (birth) and named for Rangi (the male principle), the other was the hill of death (unbirth) and named for Papa (the female principle). In each an erect stick was placed. Tira ora (the wand of life) was placed in Tuaha a te Rangi (the sacred place of the sky animus). Tira mate (the wand of death) was placed in Puke nui te Papa (Papa’s big mound). The tohunga would chant a karakia before overturning the stick on the hill of death (Johansen 1954:220). In doing this the tohunga re-enacts the myth of Tiki creating Kurawaka who, in the Tiki myth, is the mons veneris of Papa from which earth was taken to form the first woman. In this myth Tiki overturns the phallic pole, with which he had created Kurawaka, and Roiho says to him, "See, Tiki, you have overthrown woman" (ibid:221). In ritually overthrowing the female principle (of birth and death) the tohunga preserves the male principle (of life) at a time when death is most likely to have the upper hand. And the ritual, of course, must be undone after the expedition to restore the balance which makes life fecund enough to overcome the inertia away from birth towards unbirth.
          In this rite we see the same kind of concerns which motivate both Maui and Tinirau. We also see the same kind of mana focusing as in the kumara ritual (although in this case the mana is tapu - the mana of the gods). Furthermore, in the related dualities of this ritual (life and death, male and female, tapu and noa), we can see links between the fall from innocence, death and sex which are not that dissimilar from those embodied in the Judaeo-Christian tradition. In the Genesis myth, however, the life-force of people (which is female in relation to the maleness of God) is fundamentally perverted by the Fall. The souls that sin must die in the alienation created by Adam and Eve (Ezekiel 18:4). That souls do sin is inevitable from the visitation of the sins of the fathers on all those born of woman. Under such a scenario playing god is the first and greatest sin of humanity. Under Maori mythology however the Fall (if it can be called a ‘fall’) is a fall upwards - into life and personhood. Playing god, after the manner of Tane, is a necessity of survival. And the dualities that exist, within the alienation of Rangi and Papa, are fully reciprocal in a way unthinkable in the Biblical tradition. In Maori tradition life and death, tapu and noa, are complementary. The tohunga actually creates life and death in the wands by re-enacting the precedent of Tiki (i.e., by literally playing god). The wand of death absorbs noa or carnality from the warriors and penetrates Hine nui te Po without taking the men with it. Consequently there is no repentance, no healing of divine alienation, within the Maori cosmogony - only an aggressive determination to get mana, and live well. It is this determination which is equally shared by Hinauri and her brother.

North Island Volcanoes in Maori Mythology

Aotearoa (New Zealand) is a land of earthquakes, with places of steaming hot springs, geysers, bubbling hot pools, and a number of active volcanoes. The ancient Maori,arriving here from Pacific islands, must have been fascinated with the wild bush covered landscape. They wove myths and legends around all of its features.

Myths are the stories that people tell each other to explain why the world is as it is. In pre-scientific days, most folk believed that the forces of nature were persons with thoughts and feelings not unlike our own. They explained nature in terms of activities by these persons. Volcanoes, for example, take their name from Vulcan, the blacksmith god of the Romans. To Iron Age folk, like the Romans, the blacksmith’s forge, with its glowing coals, heat and noise, turning rock into iron and iron into tools or weapons, was an exciting and magical place. The Romans lived in Italy, in the Mediterranean Sea, and it took little imagination for them to picture giant blacksmiths at work under the many volcanoes around the Mediterranean where smoke issued constantly, rumblings could be heard deep in the ground, and there were occasional outpourings of hot coals and lava. The Romans borrowed their blacksmith god from the Greeks, who knew him as Hephaestus. It was said that, like Ruaumako (the Maori animus/god of volcanoes), Vulcan was a son of Heaven [Jupiter, his father] and Earth [Juno, his mother]. His story goes like this;

When Vulcan was born he was such an ugly baby, and so strong, that his mother didn’t want him and his father became scared of his strength. So one day, after interfering in a quarrel between his parents, Vulcan was thrown out of heaven. It took him nine days to fall to earth and he was hurt in one leg when he landed, making him lame. Two goddesses of the sea took pity on him and gave him a workshop where he soon learned to make such wonderful jewellery out of coral and precious stones that his parents invited him back home to make beauty in heaven as well as on earth. He was made the god of natural fire (both volcanoes and forest fires) and soon became the blacksmith of the gods. His workshops are under volcanoes all over the earth. There, with the help of servants called Cyclopes he makes beautiful jewellery, armour which makes the wearer invincible, and the divine thunderbolts of Jupiter. Vulcan can be very destructive, as when he buried the Roman city of Pompeii under ash from Mt. Vesuvius in 79AD, and he is also feared for the terrible fires that he can begin in the dry forests around southern Europe. Vulcan is also known as Mulciber, ‘the softener’, for his power with metals; he is the god of all metalworkers and his home was under Mt. Etna, a still active volcano in Sicily.

The Story of Ruaumoko

At the beginning of creation, after the seven long nights of Nothingness had seen the dawn of the first day, Rangi nui (the Sky Father) lived so close to Papa tu a nuku (the Earth Mother) that their children couldn’t grow. So Tane mahuta, the son of Rangi and Papa who was the forests and all that live in them, made himself into a giant Kauri tree. He placed his shoulders on the earth (Papa), his feet against the sky (Rangi) and grew. As he grew, Tane slowly pushed his parents apart until the light appeared between them, and all their children, who had been children of darkness, became the children of light.
         Rangi and Papa loved each other very much and were not happy at being separated. Rangi, in particular, cried so much that his tears threatened to drown the land. So some of the sons of Rangi and Papa, under the direction of Mataaho, decided to turn their mother over so that she and Rangi would no longer be always looking at each other’s grief and making it worse. This was done and is called Te hurihanga a Mataaho (the overturning of Mataaho). Now the grief of Rangi was lessened and his tears less than they were when the whole world was flooded. They are now the dew drops that form on Papa’s back at night. The morning mists, that form in the valleys, are her answering sighs.
         At the time of overturning Papa her youngest child, Ruaumoko, was still being suckled. He remained there and was carried, now underneath his mother, to the underworld where it was cold and dark. His brothers gave him fire to keep him warm and he became the life-force [animus] of volcanoes, underground fire, geysers and hot pools. He is also the life-force of earthquakes, and the rumblings that disturb Aotearoa are made by him as he walks about beneath his mother. Some say he is the husband of Hine nui te Po (Big Hine of the Night), who is the goddess of death. Ruaumoko, however, is still angry at being buried in the darkness beneath the earth and sometimes attacks his brothers on the surface with the fires that erupt through the skin of Papa tu a nuku.
    Thus it is that Tawhiri, the life-force of winds who stayed with his father in the sky, and Rauamoko, the god of volcanoes who stayed with his mother beneath the earth, can both be enemies of those who live between earth and sky - attacking them with earthquakes, volcanoes and fierce storms.

Te Ika a Maui

Although earthquakes and thermal hot pools occur all over New Zealand, our volcanoes are mostly clustered in the North Island - with the active ones clustered in a line from the Bay of Plenty to just south of Lake Taupo (itself formed by a truly massive eruption around 200 years ago). The Maori name for the North Island is te Ika a Maui (the Fish of Maui). Of all the ancient Maori myths, the story of how the demi-god Maui 'fished' the North Island out of the Pacific remains a favourite. The story, although typically, far-fetched, does have an element of truth about it. The Maori of olden days will have seen the fossil seashells that are still found in the rocks of our mountains. They will have realised that the mountain ranges must have been lifted up from the sea floor. What kinds of spectacular forces would be needed to wrench whole mountain ranges off the ocean? To animists, all great natural forces are of divine origin. So the legend of Te Ika a Maui came about, and made sense.

Maui tikitiki a Taranga was the youngest son of Taranga and Makea tutara, who lived in Hawaiiki6 in the days before Aoteroa (New Zealand) came to be. Maui and his sister, Hinauri, had great magic. But Maui also had the old and powerful magic of his ancestress, Muri ranga whenua, who had given him her own sacred jawbone. Maui is credited with slowing the sun down using this jawbone, as well as giving both fire and death to humans, and with making the first dog.

One day Maui and his brothers went fishing far to the south of Hawaiiki. The brothers soon caught many fish until their canoe was full, but they gave Maui no hook and he did not fish until the brothers were ready to turn for home. When Maui demanded that he be allowed his turn, his brothers asked him where he would get a hook for his line. Maui then produced a magnificent, flashing hook from beneath his cloak; the shank was made of paua shell that glistened in the sunlight, at one end, the shank was ornamented with the hair of a dog, at the other it was tipped with the magic jawbone of his ancestress. Maui tied his hook to the line and asked his brothers for some bait, they would give him none so Maui punched himself on his nose and used his own blood as bait.
          Maui let down his line, down and down it went until the magic hook caught something that pulled very hard. Maui hauled on his line. The quivering cord hummed with the strain. Then Maui chanted the song called Hiki, that makes heavy weights, light. His arm muscles stood out like tree roots. Driving their paddles deep in the water to control the canoe, his brothers cried out in fear and wonder. But Maui would not let go. By his enchantments he had brought his brothers far south and his magic hook had caught in the doorway of the house of Tonganui (son of the sea animus Tangaroa) whose name means Great [nui] South [tonga - as in Tongariro] and who lived on the sea floor in these waters. As Maui heaved on his line, the water boiled and his brothers trembled, he chanted,

    O Tonganui,
    why do you hold so stubbornly there below?
    The power of Muri’s jawbone is at work on you,
    you are coming.
    you are caught now,
    you are coming up,
    appear, appear.
    Shake yourself,
    grandson of Tangaroa the little.

Slowly the huge catch came to the surface, then it dived and again Maui had to haul at the line while his brothers bailed for their lives to stop the foaming sea swamping their canoe. Then something broke the surface next to the canoe. It was the tekoteko (carved wooden figure) on the roof of the house of Tonganui.
          Little by little the Tekoteko rose up out of the sea. Then came the land beneath. It lay on the water like a giant shining stingray with its tail stretching far off into the distance. Te Ika a Maui! (The fish of Maui.) The North Island of New Zealand! This was the land that had lain beneath the sea ever since the great rains were sent by Rangi nui in his grief at the loss of Papa tu a nuku.

Maui left his brothers to guard the great fish while he went to make peace with the sea animus whose house he had ripped up, he told them neither to eat nor to start cutting up the fish. But the brothers were greedy and did not wait. They ran about the beautiful smooth land, slashing it with their weapons as they claimed pieces for themselves. This made the sea animus very angry.
          That is the reason why this land is now so rough and mountainous that much of it cannot be used by humans. Had the brothers done as Maui told them, it would have lain flat and smooth, an example to the world of what good land should be. But as it was, te Ika a Maui tossed and twisted on the water like any other fish.  Its smooth surface became rough and wrinkled. So were formed the mountains and the valleys, and the rough and rocky coastlines found in parts of the North Island. As soon as the sun rose above the horizon the writhing fish of Maui became solid underfoot, and could not be smoothed out again. Maui’s magic fishhook remained caught in the fish’s mouth and formed the cape at Heretaunga which we know as Cape Kidnappers but which was once known as Te matau a Maui - Maui’s fishhook. This act of Maui’s, that gave our people the land on which we live, was an event next in greatness to the separation of Sky and Earth. According to some folk of Te Waipounamu (the land of Greenstone Waters or South Island) their land is the canoe that Maui left behind after he caught the North Island.

The Boundary Line Volcanoes

New Zealand’s volcanoes form part of a ring of volcanoes surrounding the Pacific - a ‘ring of fire’. Part of this ‘ring’ is a line of volcanoes along the boundary where the Pacific plate meets, and is sliding under, the huge Indo-Australian plate. This line includes Ruapehu, Tongariro/Ngauruhoe and Putuaki (Mt.Edgcombe) in the North Island, Whakaari (White Island) in the Bay of Plenty, the sea mounts of the Kermadec Islands, and the volcanoes of Tonga and Samoa. The ancient Maori people did not know about plate boundaries but, during their voyages of migration throughout the Pacific, they probably noted the line of volcanoes along the plate boundary. The fact that they saw these volcanoes as being connected in some way is part of the legend of Ngatoro-i-rangi, navigator of the largest migratory canoe, Arawa.

Soon after Te Arawa landed at Maketu (in the Bay of Plenty), Ngatoro set out to explore the new land. He and his companions travelled to inland to Lake Taupo. Everywhere they went, Ngatoro stamped the earth to make water flow, and they left many small lakes and streams between Maketu, Rotorua and Taupo. From the shores of Taupo, Ngatoro saw the summit of Tongariro, which we now know as Ngauruhoe (Ngauruhoe started life as a side-crater of Tongariro). He saw that the summit of the mountain was dazzling white, as white as the surf of the breaker on the beach a Whangaparoa. He decided to climb the mountain and claim it for his people but, before leaving, he told his companions that on no account should they eat food until he returned. He then began to climb the high peak, taking only his personal slave, the maiden Auruhoe, with him.
          As he climbed the mountain, Ngatoro found that the whiteness of the mountain was not surf but was extremely cold, and after a time it began to hurt his feet. He had not quite reached the summit when those he had left behind, disobeyed him and ate. The bitter cold, from which Ngatoro’s mana had protected him and his servant until that moment, seized him in its numbing grip; he was soon weakened and freezing from the cold winds. As his strength failed, Ngatoro stood in the snow and called out a karakia (prayer) to his priestess sisters in Hawaiiki, begging them to send him warmth and save his life. He cried out,

    E Kuiwai e! Haungaroa e!    “0 Kuiwai! 0 Haungaroa!
    Ka riro au i te tonga!            I am borne away (riro) in the cold south (tonga) wind.7
    Haria mai he noku!               Send me fire to warm me!”

As Ngatoro prayed, he could no longer protect himself and his servant from the fierce cold; and so he sacrificed Auruhoe to add mana to his request (see Sacrifice: A Speculation). Back in Hawaiiki, his sisters heard his prayer and begged Ruaumoko to help. Ruaumoko sent fire from under Papa tu a nuku to rescue Ngaroto. The fire came from beneath the ocean of Hawaiiki, travelling under the sea like a whale. Each time it rose to the surface and spouted, it left behind a sulphurous and smoky volcanic island such as Whakaari (White Island) in the Bay of Plenty. When the fire arrived in Aotearoa, it travelled under land by way of Mautohara, Okakaru, Rotoehu and Rotorua, Whakarewarewa, Tarawera, Orakei Korako and Wairakei, spouting up in all these places and leaving the geysers, boiling mud pools, steam-pits, and hot water streams that are still there to this day. When the fire reached Ngatoro it stopped and turned the three cold mountains - Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu - into volcanoes. When the flames burst out of the centre crater, Ngatoro gave Auruhoe’s body to the fire and so Ngauruhoe got its name. Thus was Ngaroto given warmth and, when he revived, he descended the mountain and returned to Maketu.

The Andesite Volcanoes

 Most of New Zealand’s most active volcanoes occur along three lines of activity connected with fault lines caused by the Pacific plate slowly sliding under the huge Indo-Australian plate. These volcanoes are called ‘andesite’ because that is the main kind of rock they throw up (the others are Rhyolite, dalcite and basalt - Karioi, Pirongia and Kakepuku are basalt volcanoes; basalt volcanoes are much older than andesite cones). The andesite volcanoes include Whakaari (White Island), Putuaki (Edgecombe), Pihanga, Tongariro/Ngauruhoe, Ruapehu and Taranaki (Egmont). Of these, White Island, Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu are still active. Taranaki last erupted in 1750, and still shows some signs of activity. This is a legend of how Taranaki (Mt. Egmont) and Putuaki (Mt. Edgecombe) left the group of volcanoes in the centre of the North island.

There was a time when Putuaki (Mt. Edgecombe), Tarawera, Tauhara and Taranaki, all lived together with Pihanga, Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu, in the centre of Te Ika a Maui, just south of Taupo. But Ruapehu (or some say Pihanga) was the only female and very beautiful. The male mountains fought over Ruapehu/Pihanga. Tongariro won and the defeated contestants were given one night to retire from the scene.
          Putuuaki/Edgecombe strode northwards, anxious to put the past behind him and, at dawn, had nearly reached the sea. Tarawera followed but, in his retreat, was attacked by an enemy who almost chopped him in two with a single mighty blow. The scar can be seen to this day, and that is why Tarawera didn’t get quite as far as Putuaki. Tauhara was very sluggish; he was so resultant to lose sight of Ruapehu that he kept looking down and had covered only a short distance when the sun rose. Taranaki, however, had no wish to travel in the same direction as his rivals, so he headed off towards the west coast. He gouged out the gorges of the Manganui o te ao and the Upper Wanganui river as he went and, with one brief pause that left the depression of the Ngaere swamp where it is, he reached his present place at Cape Egmont.
         As with the fish of Maui, which kept its shape once the sun rose, at sunrise all the volcanoes became fixed forever in the places where they are.

Another legend about Putuaki (Mt. Edgecombe) and Tarawera

Many hundreds of years ago Putuaki, a male mountain, fell in love with Tarawera. She was a quiet mountain, who lived beside Putuaki near Rotorua. Around them were pools of boiling water shooting up to geysers and bubbling mud pools. Both Putuaki and Tarawera were volcanoes and enjoyed pouring out clouds of smoke and flames and shaking the earth. A son Ko Putuaki was born to them and the three mountains lived happily together for many years.
          Then things started going wrong. Tarawera became very bad tempered, grumbling and blowing clouds of foul black smoke in Putuaki’s face whenever she didn’t get her own way. Putuaki was annoyed with his wife and became bored with his life. He noticed a beautiful young mountain Whakaari, who lived far away by the by sea. She was a volcanic island and is still there today. (She is also called White Island.) She liked the attentions of Putuaki and blew out white steam to cover her head and shoulders to let him see her love for him.
          Putuaki decided he must leave Tarawera. He crept away towards Whakaari on a very dark night. As moved his heavy weight dug out the Tarawera Valley.
          Putuaki crept slowly and quietly so as not to wake Tarawera, so he was startled to hear his name called behind him. It was his son Ko Putuaki who pleaded ‘Please take me with you father’. Putuaki told him go back to his mother. They spent hours arguing and did not notice the sun rising in the sky. When Tarawera woke up and discovered her husband and son had gone her anger could be seen and heard for many miles. The skies darkened with clouds of black smoke and rumbled with angry thunder. Flames from her mouth burned the forests and earthquakes shook the land.
          Tarawera was finally worn out. She sobbed quietly and her tears formed Lake Tarawera. This overflowed and formed the Tarawera River in the valley left by Putuaki.
          Putuaki was now unsure what he should do - he was afraid to go to Whakaari and afraid to go back to Tarawera. So he stayed where he was in the Bay of Plenty with Ko Putuaki.

Today we can still see the 'child' sitting on his father’s knee, and the Tarawera River flowing past them. Putuaki was later renamed Mount Edgecombe by Captain Cook


Animism is the worship of the life-force which Stone Age folk, all around the world, believed permeated all objects. The partiular life-force of an object is an animus; an animus could animate aspects of nature (e.g., plants, places, the weather, the ocean), human beings and parts thereof (in the story of Hinauri, for example, she is very keen to check out the animus of Tinirau's genitals before becoming his partner), artifacts (e.g., carvings and buildings), and human behaviours (e.g., war or love). It seems evident that, in all early human cultures, the animi of various significant objects - plant growth, hunting, a place, love, war, health, and so on - were individualised; increasingly elaborate stories were told about them and distinct personalities emerged. As this happened, animi became totems and/or the gods and goddesses of polytheism. Rangi nui, for example, was an early animus of the sky who was starting to emerge as the god of the sky in late pre-European Maori culture. Some animi, such as Papa (the earth), Tangaroa (the sea), and Tane (the bush), were already more god-like than Rangi. The Europeans, with a much more evolved (monotheistic) culture,  mistook all Maori animi for gods. Calling them 'gods', however, misrepesented their status within Maori belief. Tangaroa, for instance, wasn't so much the god of the sea (a deity apart from the sea over which he ruled) as the life-force of the sea and its contents.

1. Maori universe began with korekore (the 'nothingnothing'). The evolution from this to physical reality was slow, subtle, internal to the universe, and completely without any god or god-like creator.

from the conception the increase
from the increase the thought
from the thought the remembrance
from the remembrance the consciousness
from the consciousness the desire

the world became fruitful
it dwelt with a feeble glimmering
it brought forth night:
the big night | the long night
the lowest (darkest?) night | the loftiest (intensely dark?) night,
the thick [gloom-laden] night, to be felt
the night to be touched
the night unseen
the night of death

te Po nui | te Po roa
te Po uriuri | te Po kerekere
te Po tiwha,
te Po tangotango
te Po te kitea

from the nothing the begetting
from the nothing the increase
from the nothing the abundance
the power of increasing
the living breath [life-force]
it dwelt with the empty space
and produced the sky which is above us
the sky which floats above the earth
the big sky above us dwelt with the early dawn
and the moon sprang forth
the sky above us dwelt with the heat
and thence the proceeding of the sun
they were thrown up above
as the chief eyes of heaven
then the heavens became light
the early dawn, the early day
the mid-day
the blaze of day from the sky

2. After the initial evolution of something from nothing (note 1) the big sky (Rangi nui) and the earth (Papa tu a nuku) were joined together in a kind of perpetual sex act (in the missionary position). Their offspring, who were to become the animi of sea, forest, war, and so on, lived in darkness. For a while, they debated among themselves what to do. In the end Tane mahuta (the animus of the forest) forced Rangi and Papa apart by growing in the space between them.

3. The pre-European kumara were probably a kind of yam. Nowadays, the word 'kumara' is applied to a sweet potato that was introduced here from South America after European settlement.

4. I admire Hinauri greatly, and what became Hinau Press was orignially going to be Hinauri Press. Sadly, the present racial politics in New Zealand, which allow Maori folk to freely appropriate large bits of other cultures, make it impolitic for a non-Maori (me) to 'appropriate' the name of a legendary character.

Ka mate ('car martee'). The pivotal lines this haka are ‘ka mate | ka mate | ka ora | ka ora!’ (It is death | it is death | it is life | it is life). The haka (a chant accompanied by body movements) was composed in 1820 by a Ngati Toa war chief, Te Rauparaha, after a particularly narrow escape from his enemies by hiding in an underground kumara store. A woman sat on the entrance to the pit and the power of her vagina (the 'hairy benefactor' of the haka) prevented Te Rauparaha's enemies from sniffing him out with their magic. Sadly, Te Rauparaha (who, by 1830, 'owned' more than 2000 slaves) went on to order the worst episode on ethnic cleansing in known New Zealand. The few suriviors of one of the worst affected Iwi (Muaupoko) became known as 'the remnants of the meal' after Te Rauparaha ordered his warriors to "Clean these weeds from my garden." Hitler and Stalin would have been proud of him.

5. When the demi-god, Maui, was born, his mother told him that he would one day conquer his ancestress, Hine nui te Po, and that, in so doing, would free human beings from the power of death. Maui's father, however, was unsure of this because he had forgotten, and so missed out, part of the prescribed prayers at his son's birth ceremony. One day, Maui asked his father what Hine nui te Po was like. His father pointed towards the ice-cold mountains which, at the time, were lit up by the flaming colours of clouds at sunset
          "What you see over there, Maui, is Hine nui flashing where the sky meets the earth. Her body is like a woman's, but the pupils of her eyes are pounamu (New Zealand jade, commonly called 'greenstone') and her hair is kelp. Her mouth is that of a barracuda, and her vagina - where people enter her at death - has sharp teeth of pounauma and volcanic glass (i.e., obsidian)."

Maui, who was a cocky little sod, decided to visit Hine nui, crawl up her vagina and out her mouth, thereby taking away her power. First, he decided a form in which to achieve this feat, eventually turning himself into a moko huruhuru (caterpillar). Maui waited until Hine nui fell asleep before crawling into her vagina. A little bird (tiwaiwaka or fantail) found the sight of a caterpillar looping its way into Hine nui so comical that it laughed out loud (as you would!). Hine nui woke up, snapped her cunt shut, and that was the end of Maui.

6. Hawaiiki was the mythical homeland of the Polynesians who migrated to New Zealand c1300-1400 CE. Its similarity to the name Hawaii has excited speculation that the Polynesians are (a) related to the Amerindians and (b) like them, migrated from northern Asia southwards - perhaps under pressure from the ice that covered so much of the northenr hemisphere before global warming began c12,000 years ago. If that is the case then present day Hawaii, being northernmost, could have been one of the first islands settled and New Zealand, being southernmost,  the last. Those who finally arrived here, anywhere from 14-11,000 years after the migration began, would have had an oral tradition which preserved the name of the Hawaian 'homeland.' Given that New Zealand Maori (the language) and Rarotongan Maori are almost identical, it could just as well be that Hawaiiki was somewhere in the Cook Islands.

7.  The name Tongariro [tonga-riro], which is derived from this chant, is nowadays applied to only one of the three central volcanoes (Tongariro, Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe). In the early days, then name (which means carried away southwards) was  given to the three peaks as a set.


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