Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The Maori Race

Chapter XX. Religion and Cosmogony

page 450

Chapter XX. Religion and Cosmogony.

It has been mentioned in the early part of this book that the missionaries found it as difficult as it was to them distasteful to record the wicked follies (as they thought them) of the religion that preceded Christianity in New Zealand. C. O. Davis mentions that when attempting to question an old priest on the subject of the ancient Maori worship of the Supreme Being he was refused information, and politely referred to another priest 100 miles away. Probably that priest would have referred him again to some one else and so on. Each initiate into the sacred mysteries considered his knowledge as a trust to be guarded against the outer world, and it is only under most exceptional circumstances that information could be acquired. Some gods could only be named in the Whare Kura or Whare-wananga (temples) of the tribe. To utter “the ineffable name” (10) under a roof of any kind was to blaspheme most frightfully, and would be a sacrilege that only an ignorant person (religiously ignorant) like a European would have the depravity to attempt. Even page 451 the names of ancestors, as god-descended, would not be regarded as treated with due respect if mentioned at certain times or in unsuitable localities. A European student of Maori lore once ventured to speak to an old priest whom he met in a country store (shop) and asked him some question about ancient history. The Maori turned round with a disgusted look and remarked, “This is no place in which to speak of solemn things.” If we only consider the awe in which the denizens of the unseen world were held by the natives, that every spell and invocation was supposed to have influence with gods and demons, with powers of the water, earth, or air, and that the recital of one of these spells in an incorrect manner (even in the dropping of a single word) was believed to bring death upon the user, we can dimly discern the frame of mind with which an old priest would regard the European friend who should produce his note-book, proceed to jot down the holy syllables, and ask the most tremendous questions with a light heart. Only one who loved the enquirer and dared unknown terrors for the sake of that love would answer such questions or repeat the consecrated hymns for him. It is not unusual for a priest after going a certain length to say, “If I tell you any more death will overtake me,” or “I must not repeat what follows, because there is now no priest alive sacred enough to perform the ceremonies necessary to purify me from such sacrilege.” Another has been known to say, “The presence of the Christian God has silenced the Maori gods, page 452 but the gods of the Maori still hold us in their power, and if I break their laws they will punish me with death.”

Religion, as some of us understand it, viz, as a means whereby through faith or good works, or a combination of the two, we can get a reward either in this world or the next (or even “make the best of both worlds”) was not comprehended at all. The virtues which were inculcated were those that it was proper for a brave warrior or a respected woman to possess, and were not practised either to please unseen divinities or to obtain reward in a future existence. Virtuous actions were of no religious value, worship was. Of course we use the word “worship” here as outward observance, hymns, sacrifices, incantations, etc. This worship, however, seems generally to have been paid more with the idea of disarming the resentment or obtaining the alliance of supernatural beings than with any feeling of exalted devotion, or of reverential admiration. Certainly it was not paid with any idea of spiritual improvement to the worshipper. As we shall see further on, however, it was not in every case a mere worship of dread, or propitiation of malignant forces; in some forms such as the offerings to the kumara gods, the worship of Tahu (god of peace and plenty), the invocations to the beneficent Tawhaki, etc., there was even in the worship of the lesser gods room for thankfulness and hope and gladness.

There was, if not real piety (and who shall define its limits?) much and regular religious observance, even in ordinary domestic life. In page 453 the legend of Paihau's wife we are told that before leaving her husband to elope with another man “she went to the place (tuāhu, altar or shrine) where invocations are offered, to prepare herself.” Then the story goes on, when the injured husband returned, “It was dark in the evening. All this time Paihau was expecting to find his wife at the village home; not so, she had been gone some time. He saw only the pillars of the house, there was no wife for him to speak to. Then was the man troubled on account of his fugitive, and lamented for her. This ended he went away to the altar (tuāhu) to prepare himself, remaining there till midnight, by which time he had completed his invocations.”

The theology of the New Zealander differed very greatly from that of some other Pacific Islanders. The names of the elder gods and many of their attributes seem to have been common property, but there is little trace to be found of the sublime Trinity-worship, the adoration of Light, Sound, and Stability (Tane, Rongo, and Tu) which was conducted with such solemn ritual and embodied in such magnificent hymns as those to be found in the Hawaiian Islands and the Marquesas. On the other hand, the peculiar sacred institutions of Samoa, the village and family gods, and the intricate system of their tapu was unknown in New Zealand.

Much of the reverence for the older and higher divinities had disappeared long before the Europeans came. These ancient deities had become indistinct in a great measure, and page 454 though still served with immense variety of ceremony, much of the vital principle of the Maori religion had merged into tapu, that is into the earthly presence of the gods in human or other material form.

In considering the religion and cosmogony of the Maori people it is necessary to take a very wide field of view. Part of the subject is shrouded in the darkness of the past, and another part in the difficulties besetting one human mind when it tries to enter the secret dwelling-place of the soul in another bosom. To present the impressions of those who have been content to accept the froth on the surface as a record of the deep-sea-currents of ancient belief would be easy enough. To convey to another person even what is known (in fragments) to oneself is not so easy.

First we must disassociate in the Maori religion, as in all other religions, the “outward and visible sign” from the “inward spiritual grace.” There was an outward religion which found its exponent in the charms and spells of priests, in observing the forms of tapu, in reverence and devotion to sacred objects and to the lesser gods of the tribe or locality. Inside all this, however, was an inner circle wherein those who understood the esoteric teaching lived in a larger world with abstract deities to worship, or probably with one god only as the centre and source of all their religious energies. Into that inner circle it is almost impossible to pierce, but now and then we shall get glimpses therein which will more than repay the toil of investigation.

page 455

There seems to have been with the ancient Maori two records of origin, one sufficient for the ordinary man to understand and the other reserved for the thinker and mystic. For the more superficial it was sufficient to say that they descended from Rangi (Heaven) and Papa (Mother Earth). Up to these two their pedigrees were counted as on the “god-descended” line, and from these all the children of men had their origin, the difference between the high chief and the commoner only being that one could count along the well-known lines of elder-born children while the others had lost their lineage through being derived from younger offshoots and cadets whose genealogies had not been worthy of record. For the wise and instructed, however, there was a world of origins, long anterior to Rangi and Papa, a world it is true where the persons married were little better than abstractions, but where there were distinct traces of meta-physical conceptions that no savage could (in my opinion) evolve for himself. Whether in ancient times, almost inconceivably remote, the Maoris were under a religious system in which the unity of Good was the focus of their religion, or whether what we find were the broken efforts of the human soul in different centuries “by searching to find out God” we shall probably never know. Certainly there are expressions in use (some of which will be alluded to) which not only show sisterhood with the great religions of the ancient world but they are almost unexplainable if we hold that the Maori has never stood on a loftier page 456 spiritual and intellectual plane than he occupied at the time when the European explorers visited these shores.

Before we touch the subject of the Creation let us examine some of the evidence for the idea of a Supreme Spirit. The Maoris in the olden times worshipped a Supreme Being whose name was held to be so sacred that none but the Priest might utter it at certain times and places. The name was Io. “The oldest Maori prayers were those addressed to the sacred Io.”1 “Io (God) was the Creator, and he begat Io-rangi, ‘god of the heavens,’ who begat Tahito-te-rangi, ‘the Ancient of the heavens,’ who begat, etc.”2 Thus say two of our most learned Maori scholars; and one of them translates again: “God (Atua) began his chant of creation at Darkness and sang, ‘Darkness begat Daylight,’ etc., etc.”3 Sir George Grey spells the name Iho-te-rangi, and probably this is the proper pronunciation, for the Tahitian cosmogony states that, “In the beginning there was nothing but the god Ihoiho; afterwards there was an expanse of waters which covered the abyss, and the god Tino Taata floated on the surface.”4 In Mangaia (Cook Islands) the word Io is used for “god.” It is true that there will be found in the Maori cosmogony a circle of “self-existent gods” who preceded the deities supposed to have been born of other celestial parents, but the above extracts point to a central point of deity, whether that be called Io (a name of awe in many ancient religions) or another. It is a majestic conception that page 457 God sang the universe into being, the Pythagorean idea of the music “to which the whole creation moves,” and the great harmonies of numbers in the cosmic scheme here meeting with the sympathy of a primitive belief. In an ancient incantation, translated by White, the words occur:—

“Stay, omens, stay. The One Supreme has come,
And signs now tell of his disciples near.
They come, and peering forth, gaze
Into space of beauty and of good.
I, the scholar, hold the sacred stone of power.
Soul of power, soul of earth and heaven,
Accept delight and ectasy unlimited.
Hold all beauty; let it spread around.
The soul now climbs and high ascends—
The soul of the Supreme and his disciples.
O Heaven! the soul is far above—
Above in all creation's space,
In light supreme, in blaze of day.”5


“Whilst I my offerings make and chant my sacred song,
To Him the one Supreme.”6

Whatever these mystical verses may mean, such is the translation that White, a scholar with unique means of verification by reference to old priests, has given us, and it is a bold hand that would conjure with the rod that he has dropped. It would seem that the idea of a Supreme Being was certainly present in the belief of the instructed and wiser of the Maori priests. There are other coincidences with ancient religions to be alluded to further on.

Let us see if the thought of a Supreme Being as Creator was also present in the Maori page 458 scheme of cosmic existence. The acceptance of the idea of a Suprema Being present in the universe does not make absolutely necessary the conception that all things were created by Him. It appears rather as if the visible universe, or that from which the universe evolved itself, had always existed. The primal point, or rather that at which it is introduced to us, is “Nothingness.” The cause of all things was the generative power existing in the primeval Chaos or Nothingness (Kore). Thence came the yawning immeasurable Darkness (Po), blank and unformed, yet holding within itself the potency and essence of all future life. Thus says the Maori chant—

“Night had conceived the seed of Night,
The heart, the foundation of Night
Had stood forth self-existing
Even in the gloom.”7

Matter was only the development or manifestation of Thought or Spirit. Periods emerge as Time-spaces of a thousand years and upwards, named Nothingness, Darkness, Seeking, Following-on, Conception of Thought, Enlarging, etc., etc., up to the eighteenth division, that is Daylight or the time of human beings. To give some idea of the vast period preceding the visible creation the old narrator counted thus, “the Night, the first Night, the second Night, the third Night” and so on up to tens, to hundreds, to myriads, then began again from the first to tens, to hundreds, to myriads, then began again from the first to tens, hundreds, etc., etc., over and over again page 459 18 times! This was to convey an idea of the slow emergence of the Cosmos, and although monotonous it gave somewhat of the desired impression. Of course with the passion for personification that haunts the primitive mind, Night (Po) appears as a being capable of begetting others in its likeness. Thus commences the higher genealogy, the pedigree not of men but of the Children of the Heavens. Night is followed by Suspended-night, Drifting-night, Moaning-night (in pain of travail?) Morning, Abiding-day, etc., etc. There is no certain and classical enunciation of these abstractions; almost every one given by the old priests differ from the others, and the teaching of the priests of diverse tribes has no common rule or unity—a thing to be expected, for the matter is one of pure poetry, and we get greater conformity (sad to say) over the lower and more material notions that precede the creation of the human race. Scattered among the Polynesian Islands are fragments of belief in which every variety and eccentric inversion of the attitudes and positions of the early gods towards each other may be found. It appears highly probable in comparing these fragments of belief that the most ancient realm of celestial power was that occupied by Tangaroa, the Lord of Ocean. We find how venerable was his dominion when we note in the highly specialised and wonderfully preserved hymns of the Marquesans that he (Tangaroa) has become the Evil One, a position always assigned in religion-making to superseded divinities. Indeed in many islands the worship of page 460 this deity as Supreme Being and Creator continued till the beginning of the century. Some remnant of this antiquated worship of Tangaroa may be found in very old Maori legends, such as that of Roiroiwhenua8 and the pedigrees which declare that Heaven (Rangi) was the nephew of Tangaroa.9 It will be quite sufficient for our purpose, however, to move at once to the period of Rangi and Papa, Heaven and the Earth Mother, for from this primal pair the lower or more popular cosmogony may be considered as having evolved.

The Heaven Father and the Earth Mother were the first parents. Heaven lay on the breast of Earth; the first great Parents clinging to each other in the darkness. Between them, in the gloom, their children multiplied and grew, but never did light reach them. There was strife among the children as to whether they should cleave to their mother, who had shut them up in darkness, or whether they should rend their parents apart. That is the meaning of the old saying often repeated in religious rituals—“Darkness, darkness, light, light, the seeking, the searching, in chaos, in chaos, the multidude, the length”—signifying how the children of Rangi and Papa consulted through the great Time-spaces in their search for conscious existence of light and life. These children were the early gods, and each tried in his turn to lift up Heaven from Earth, but all failed till Tane, the god and father of forests, birds, and insects, exerted his mighty strength, and with a supreme effort tore the eternal lovers apart. Then the gods prepared the page 461 props of Heaven (Toko-rangi) to sustain for ever the weight of the over-arching sky. The ancient love of Heaven and Earth remains, and still Heaven nightly mourns with sighs and dewy tears over the loving breast from whose embrace he was torn away.

Tane, the separator of his parents, found that his ruthless act had been purposeless for its object, for darkness still filled the vault of air. He looked forth and saw the Children of Light, and said, “How brightly glow the Shining Ones!” He prayed that Hine-rau-a-Moa might be given to light the darkness of the Earth-born. And she was given, but her rays could not pierce the darkness of the Void. Then Tane asked for Hina-tore (Phosphoresence), and she was given also, but the black darkness was unconquered. The Stars were brought, but still only a glimmer here and there passed across the world; afar off was the true light of day, and when the Moon was given her shining was but that of a pale dawn. Then Tane cried to Tango-tango, “Yet there remains the Ra, the Sun, the last of the Children of Light that I desire.” Then did Tango-tango grow hot with anger, and he sent the Sun, fierce with rays, that he might destroy the importunate one. But Tane warded off the beams of heat, and thrust the heavens still higher, that the sun-rays might not consume the Children of Earth. To the breast of Heaven (Rangi) the Children of Light still clung, and thus the Sun and Moon and Stars move high above the earth to give light and warmth to men.

page 462

Rangi, although sometimes a war-god, was supposed to be of a benevolent disposition, and was prayed to for life and health. He guided the souls of the dead to the spirit-world.

There are many childish stories of the decoration of the breast of the Heavens with stars, of trees being made (planted at first upside down), and of numerous deities and children of deities for whom there is no further mention. As an example, we may quote the allusions made to the different Tane. When Rangi was still undivided from Papa he was a cripple, for he had been badly wounded by the spear of Tangaroa, whose wife, Papa, he had taken. Hence arose the crippled gods, his offspring, viz, Tane-pepeke, Tane-tuturu, and others whose names convey the impression of deformity, but they do not enter practically into the religion or ritual of the Maori; they pass out of sight with mere incidental notice. The really important gods of this mythological epoch are:— Tane-mahuta, god of forests, birds, insects, etc. Tangaroa, god of ocean, of fish, reptiles (often called fish, ika), etc. Rongo-ma-tane, god of the cultivated food of man (especially kumara). Tu-matauenga, god of war and struggle. Haumia-tikitiki, the god of food that grows without cultivation, especially fern-root. Tawhiri-matea, the god of tempests.

After the“rending apart” of their parents all these deities quarrelled fiercely among themselves, and the greater part of the dry land was submerged in the struggle. It is true that there is another and quite distinct Maori page 463 cosmogony relating that the Earth stands on a Pillar and the Pillar stands in a Basket, but this has some mystical meaning, and as it depends on a single sentence in an ancient poem its consideration may be deferred.

Rangi, the Upper World, was divided into ten heavens, and Papa, the Lower World, into ten spaces or hells (if we dissociate the latter word from its sense as “a place of torment”). The Heavens began with the sky (Kikorangi) as the lowest or First Heaven and passed upward to the highest, the Naherangi, in which dwelt Rehua, the Ancient One, the eldest son of Heaven, with flowing locks and lightning flashing from under his arms. He was the highest of the gods of the Maori Pantheon, the Lord of Love and Kindness, opposed to war and bloodshed. He is not, however, to be confounded with the Supreme Being (Io) who apparently belongs to another and different cult. The three lower heavens are ruled by Maru, the three next higher by Tawhaki, the four highest by Rehua. In the Lower World the goddesses held rule. Over the earth's surface and the three circles below it reigned “the Great Lady of Night,” Hine-nui-te-po. Rohe, the wife of the hero-god Maui, was queen of the next three, and Miru the Hellgoddess monarch of the lowest three circles. The last of these domains of Miru was named “Extinction” (Ameto) for here the spirit passed out of existence.

Before proceeding further with the description of the deities, the account of the creation of man deserves notice. There are page 464 several divergent traditions and stories of the origin of the human race. One is that the god Io made man. The most poetical is that the god Tane took red clay and made a model in the image of a man at Hawaiki. Then he uttered an incantation, and breathing on the figure, the clay came to life. The first man was called Tiki. The first woman was Marikoriko (Glimmer). She was the daughter of Arohirohi (Mirage), and Paoro (Echo) was her father. Tiki and his wife, Glimmer, brought forth a Child named “Daughter-floating-in-shadow,” because when she was born clouds were floating everywhere across the sky. Another version is that Tane made woman direct, called her Io-wahine, and gave her as a wife to Tiki. He formed a model and called it “the Earth-born Maid,” who bore a daughter, “the Pattern Maid.” She in her turn bore a daughter, who was given to the first man, Tiki, as his wife. “The Pattern Maid” was so angry when she found that she had borne a daughter to Tane that she went down to Hades and became a Death-goddess, dragging downwards the souls of men to the darkness. She then assumed the name of Hine-nui-te-po, “The Great Lady of Night.” There are many legends stating that Tiki was not the first man but himself the Creator of man, but this was a heresy, and it is said that the preaching of this doctrine and the denial of man's creation by the god Tane was the cause of mankind being destroyed by the Deluge.10

Returning to the gods mentioned as being in charge of the different celestial and infernal page 465 mansions, and omitting Rehua, who has been already spoken of, we come to Tawhaki. This personage appears in Maori legend at first as a human being, or a hero demi-god, but he soon assumed divine attributes. He is said to have caused a deluge by stamping on the floor of heaven, and is so well known in other parts of Polynesia as to be certainly one of the elder hero-deities of the race. In New Zealand the story told of the Greek Endymion is imputed to Tawhaki, he being visited at night by “The Heavenly Maiden,” who became his wife and bore him a child. When the celestial visitor forsook him and went aloft to her old home with her babe, Tawhaki climbed up a vine which hung down from heaven. There he assumed divinity, and thunder and lightning are said to be caused by his footsteps as he moves. Sometimes he is said to have ascended to heaven on a line of spider's web; at others on the string of his kite. In one legend his companion in his ascent is said to have been a lady named Hine i te muri whakaroto. As a reverse story to this we may cite the case of Tuhouhi, “a heavenly man,” who came from the skies to be the lover of “the Maid of the Mist” (Hine-pukohu-rangi). Tawhaki was a most beneficent deity, and as one of the gods of the highest heaven, to him, as well as to Rehua, were incantations made in times of sickness and death. His sacrifice was ten baskets of food counted in a peculiar manner.

Of Maru, lord of the three lower heavens, not much is known to the Maoris. In the South Island of New Zealand he often appears page 466 to take the place of Tu as the war-god, but he was not widely worshipped in the North Island except at Whanganui where he appears to have had a special cult. There his high priest was called Paraoa, the next priest Ariki, the third-class Horomatua. He often appeared to be present to a war-party in the red glow of the sky, and in this way he also was known in the Gambier Islands (Mangareva). The scalp of a war-victim was offered to Maru, not to Tu.

Of the infernal goddesses the Great Lady of Night has been already mentioned. It was she who when the hero Maui attempted to gain immortality for men balked his efforts and destroyed him.

Miru the Hell-goddess was lady in the lowest circles of the World of Darkness. Her house was called “The Door of Night” and she dwelt therein surrounded by the Ngarara (Reptile gods), with Makutu (Witchcraft) and the Multitude of the Evil Deities. She is said to have lived on earth before the days of the Deluge, but her fortress was destroyed at the time because she would not listen to the words of the good priest of Tane. She was once visited by a demi-god named Rongomai who with others of his tribe went to her dark abode and there learnt the secrets of sorcery charms, spells, etc., including the “guardian charm” (Kaiwhatu). She is said to have been burnt up at last in her own house with all her attendant fiends. Much more is known of Miru in Rarotonga than in New Zealand, but there are constant allusions to her in old poems and chants.

page 467

Ra, the Sun-god, was one of the children of Light (whanau marama). Various accounts are given of his birth, but he and his sister, Hina or Marama, the Moon, were generally called “The children of Haronga and Tongotongo,” Haronga being the son of Rangi-potiki (Baby-sky) one of the props of heaven. He was worshipped in New Zealand, and the great Sun-feast was a time of festival. Although he is said to have been beaten and made to go slower by Maui, yet Maui, himself, is really one of the forms of the Sun-god, as is proved by his relationship to Hina. Hina the Moon-goddess (or rather the wife of the Moon-god Marama) is spoken of elsewhere. She is the most interesting of all Polynesian goddesses. Others were Winter (Hine-takurua) and Summer (Raumati), these were called wives of the Ra, and by Summer he had a daughter Tanerore (Quivering Heat)—hence the proverb for the summer-time, “The dancing of Tanerore has commenced.” In the Winter the Sun lives with Hine-takurua in the ocean, in the Summer he dwells on land with Raumati. He is always moving from the realm of one wife to another. (See under Heavenly Bodies). The Stars, like the Sun and Moon, were Children of Light, and are the lordly chiefs that endure while men and trees and all things having earthly life perish. The flame of fire is their breath.

There was an annual festival held in honour of the Sun. Great heaps of food were arranged in lines forming a regular heptagon, with a fire lighted at each interior angle, and a pole with page 468 pennant at each exterior angle of the figure. In the centre was a larger fire representing the Sun and named for this purpose as Here. A human victim (called the Whaka-here) was burnt in this fire as a sacrifice wherewith to propitiate the Sun-god. Four larger poles with pennants were arranged in the shape of a cross about the central fire. The feast was named Hakari, after some ancestor of that name, but it is probable that it is a sun-name. The hakari afterwards became the name of any great festival, but the carefully constructed and enormous pyramid prepared for the reception of the food showed the feast to be a survival of sun-worship. (See page 113.)

page 469

The mystical names given to portions of the ceremonial are of peculiar interest. The heaps of food were called tahua, which is derived from the word tahu “to kindle,” and the priests were known as tahu or tahuna. * The larger poles with pennants, near the centre, were called wana “rays of the sun,” and the smaller poles outside the heptagon were toko, also “rays of the sun.” From wana is derived wananga “a holy altar” or “the medium of the spirit of a deified ancestor;” in Hawaiian wanana “to prophesy.” There is no explanation why toko the ordinary Maori word for “a pole or staff” should also mean “a sunray,” or why tahua “a kindling” should be applied to “a heap of food,” except in the explanation offered by this first-published description of the sun-feast.11

An interesting allusion to this annual feast is given in one of the Ngai-tahu legends, that

* Thus showing that the Hawaiian Kahuna “a priest' is not a word related to Maori tohunga “a priest or wizard” as is usually supposed. Tohunga is derived from to hu “to think,” hence, “a wise man, a learned man,” a priest or artificer; but tahuna (Ha waiian kahuna) is “a burner,” a sacrificing priest.

page 470 of Niwareka. “Then they selected a hundred and seventy men of their tribe and went to the home of Hapopo, and, having found Niwareka there almost alone, one of the party asked, while all the others were silent, ‘Where are the people?’ She answered, ‘They are yonder out on the plain.’ He asked ‘What are they doing?’ She replied ‘They are chanting songs and offering sacrifice to Ra (the sun).’ He said ‘For what purpose?’ She answered ‘To suppress the ill-feeling of the people and to give quiet to the land.’” Since the Easter Islanders and the Mangaians are known to have anciently worshipped the Sun, as the natives of the Polynesian colony of Port Moresby, New Guinea, also did, and as we are told that in Samoa they not only worshipped the Sun but offered up a human sacrifice to that deity every day for eighty days, it would be strange had traces of a religion so natural and so ancient not been discovered in New Zealand.*

* Mr. Savage remarks12 that the Maoris worshipped the sun, moon, and stars, and noted that, while their chants to the moon were of a mournful character, “when paying their adoration to the rising sun the arms are spread and the head bowed with the appearance of much joy in countenances; accompanied with a degree of elegant and reverential solemnity, and the song is cheerful.” It is curious that Mr. Savage is almost the only early visitor to New Zealand who made any report on the subject. The writer of the article on “The New Zealanders” (Library of Entertaining Knowledge, Edition 1830, p 233) says that two young New Zealanders then in Great Britain “were in the habit of commencing the exhibition of their national customs with the ceremonies practised in their morning devotion to the sun. The vocal part of the rite, according to the account we have received, consisted in a low monotonous chant; the manual in keeping a ball about the size of an orange constantly whirling in a verticle circle. The whole was performed in a kneeling posture.” It is true that we cannot trust much to the antics of transplanted natives giving so-called representations of their national customs, but the Maoris of that date were unsophisticated as to stage work, and there was no reason for falsely stating that to keep a ball moving in a verticle circle was done in honour of the sun, unless for some hitherto unexplained deception. The regular swinging of a sphere in a verticle circle savours of solar worship, and may have been part of some ancient rite (the poi dance may be of sun-worship origin) but it is certain that a priest would not have gone through his incantations for money, although a young man might imitate a portion of the priestly ceremony. Or it might have been (as is stated by the above writer) a part of family worship—but, even then, the kneeling posture is suspicious. As to these two testimonies I utter no opinion, but merely compile information which may have escaped the notice of the ordinary reader.

page 471

Kahukura, the god of travellers, life, death, and disease was one of the beneficent deities. His image was worshipped in the Mua of the great temples of the Wharekura. He is properly one of the rainbow gods and is described with them.

Tu, the war god (Tu-mata-uenga), has been mentioned as one of the children of Rangi and Papa. To him all war-parties were sacred, and the children of a chief and a slave woman were a tribute to him and his especial property. Tu and his brother Rongo were the leaders of the rebellion in Heaven, and Tu was supposed to have been killed in that mythical combat, though it probably meant that his celestial influence then ended and he became a terrestial page 472 deity only. His terrible name was held in great sanctity and is often mentioned in different parts of Maori ceremonial and religion.

Whiro (Whiro-te-tupua—Whiro the goblin) is a god often alluded to as the spirit who influenced the minds of men to wickedness, and as the Maori Satan. He, perhaps, hardly deserves this bad character, although he was well known in Eastern Polynesia as the patron deity of thieves. He is vaguely alluded to in numberless ancient Maori poems, etc., but is best known as a famous voyager of old times, or probably the voyager, being similarly named, is confounded with the god. Whiro was sometimes a war-god, though not so generally accepted as Tu. Whiro had a tiny oven set for him, an oven not larger than a dinner plate, the offerings consisted of a piece of the heart or liver, and the scalp of the mataika, the first man slain.

Besides the gods proper, there is a class of deity whose place is difficult to define. They were tutelary deities and had special charge and protectorate over particular things, so were called matua (parents), but are often alluded to as gods nevertheless. Of these we may mention:
  • Punga the parent of lizards, insects, etc. (ngarara).
  • Punga the parent of the gurnard fish (kumu kumu).
  • Noho-tumutumu the parent of the cormorant (kawau).
  • Moe-tahuna the parent of the duck (parera).
  • Pu-whakaharahara (a star) the parent of the maire tree.
  • Naha the parent of the flounder (patiki).
  • Pani the parent of the sweet-potato (kumara).
  • Pu-te-hue the parent of the gourd (hue).
page 472a Maori Carvings in Wanganui Museum.The carving with spirals (in the foreground) is an old bow-piece of a canoe. page 473
  • Te Hukita the parent of the lizard (moko-moko).
  • Haereawaawa the parent of the rail bird (weka).
  • Kereru the parent of the pigeon (kukupa).
  • Pahiko the parent of the parrot (kaka).
  • Parauri the parent of the parson bird (tui).
  • Irawaru or Owa the parent of the dog (kuri).
  • Otunairangi the parent of the palm-tree (nikau).
  • * Mumuhanga the parent of the totara tree.
  • Hinamoki the parent of the rat (kiore).
  • Tautini-ariki is the god of flies, and is the tutelary deity of the large metallic-looking fly (Rango-tamumu).
  • Haunua the parent of the fern-root (roi).
  • Tomairangi the parent of dew (hau).
  • Tuhirangi (a red flush on horizon) the parent the rainbow.

Raka-maomao was the god of ordinary winds, as separate from Tawhiri-matea the god of tempests. The south wind was called “the child of Raka-maomao.” Maui is said to have held in his hands all the winds except the west wind, and that he could not catch, so had no power over it. The others he placed in caves when he did not wish them to blow, but sometimes his enemies rolled away the stone placed at the mouth of the cave and let them loose, then Maui had to chase them mounted on one of the other winds. Tane shut up the mouths of all but two winds with his fingers but an enemy pulled out the stopper.

Fire was personified by two goddesses, Mahuika and Hine-i-tapeka. (The Maori

* Among some tribes Hani is the tutelary god of the totara tree. Hence one calls out, for good luck to a canoe, “Hei koko i Te Hani, Kei te huri Papa nui!” “Let it be a bowl for Te Hani, lest the worked board or Mother Earth capsize!” This is a pun on Papa-nui the Earth-mother and papa a board.

page 474 pronunciation of Mahuika is probably corrupt; it should be, as the Moriori have it, Mauhika). Te-ahi-o-Mahuika is ordinary fire brought from the Under World by Maui, but Hine-i-tapeka is the fire of the Under World (volcanic) itself. It is this kind of fire that produced the charred wood to be seen among the pumice formation on the Kaingaroa plains through which the Taupo-Napier road passes. Both Mahuika and Hine-i-tapeka were sisters of Hine-nui-te-Po, the Great Lady of Night. (See, however, “The Contest between Fire and Water”—under “Myths.”) Makawe was a deity recognised by the Arawa and Whanganui tribes, but little is known about him in legend. When Maui threw the seeds of fire into the kaikomako tree, the tree was personified as a goddess, and she married Ira, so the figures carved on the sticks for producing fire by friction were those of Hine Kaikomako and Ira. Tahu was called the “god of peace and plenty.” Rakataura was a goddess of the air. She presided over music, and long ago played on a flute wrought from the tough cocoon of a certain caterpillar, but later on lost her flute and was heard only in sudden and unintelligible noises. Tangi-aitua was only a voice heard in the moaning surf; perhaps, to speak more plainly, she was invisible to mortals. Ririo was a deity of the Taupo tribes. He once carried off to the Kaimanawa Ranges a chief who had broken tapu by eating of food from a sacred oven. All the priests assembled at the holy place (tuāhu) and uttered incantations without ceasing for the chief's restoration. With their page 475 sacred girdles fastened about them, and with extended arms, they prayed aloud. For seven nights (and days, that is, Maoris counted by nights) without food did the priests say their prayers, and on the seventh night the chief was thrown down to them from the tree-tops close to the village. The man lived, but was paralysed along one side and crippled. Maikuku and Makaka were Penates, or Household gods, dwelling in the corner of each house. Hine-te-iwaiwa was the goddess presiding over child-birth.

Tinirau (in Polynesia the god of fishes) was a son of Tangaroa, the Ocean-god. He dwelt in Holy Island (Motu-tapu), and there had his pools and preserves for breeding fish. He married Hina, the sister of Maui. Tinirau is well known in folklore in Hawaii and in Mangaia, as well as in New Zealand. Rongomai was worshipped as a good deity by two of the Maori tribes. He sometimes appeared in the heavens in the full light of day as a meteor or comet. Wheka was a guardian and sustaining sea-god. It was he who with a brother deity named Tu-hina-po led the Maoris overseas to New Zealand. Mu and Wheka were the sea-nurses of Maui when as an immature birth he was thrown into the sea. Tote was the god of sudden death. Awhiowhio was the god of the whirlwind. Ruatapu was a protecting god, and, with Uenuku (the Rainbow; a name of Kahukura) ever corrected evil in their descendants and were guardians to those of pure and virtuous life. Ruatapu appeared in after times as a tidal wave rushing up on the shore page 476 and destroying men. The Urewera people had gods not found elsewhere, probably divinities of the original inhabitants (tangata whenua). Among these may be mentioned Takataka-putea and Marere-o-Tonga; these two originated and presided over all indoor games, such as dances, flute - playings, etc. Marere-o-Tonga was also “the Peacemaker.” It was in his house or temple that the sons of Heaven and Earth sought to find universal peace after the war among themselves (subsequent to the “rending apart” of their parents) and here were hidden the mystic treasures of the ancient world—probably of the pre-Adamite (or pre-glacial?) world of which we catch glimpses in Oriental legend.

The god-leader of the Urewera tribe was a lizard-deity named Rehu-a-Tainui and spoke through its priest medium. It was a kahukahu, that is the demon spirit of an untimely birth, of an abortion.13 Sometimes the god would conceal itself in a burning oven but was not affected by the heat—a bad omen. At other times it would appear in the hand of the medium and put out its tongue from side to side, a good omen. It was only the priest who saw the real body of the god, but others saw its likeness or appearance (aria). The god Tamarau was incarnate in a green lizard (kueo) as large as a tuatara and with whitish marks, which lived in a certain rata tree at Ruatoki. He was a deified ancestor, but a powerful god. He performed wonders in the past and could fly through the air an immense distance, looking like a shooting star and disappearing page 477 with a loud report. His name was applied as an epithet of praise to a fast runner. No one could approach the tree in which he dwelt, for the lightning flashed and the thunder pealed if such a desecration was attempted. Te Pou-a-Tuatini was another celebrated god in the Tuhoe country. Te-Ihi-o-te-Ra, was a war-god and was incarnate in the mantis (whe). Te Hukita was another war-god whose incarnation was a lizard (mokomoko). Te Kanawa was a god of whom a curious story is told as having deceived his worshippers cruelly on the eve of a fight, asserting that no foe was near when a strong war-party of the enemy (soon to be victorious) was close at hand. When the trouble came the priest Hapopo, who had questioned the demon, and received the false answer, reviled his god as a lying and deceitful demon. Tuna, the Eel-god (well known in Polynesia also) is the parent (matua) of eels and conger eels which sprung from his body when he was killed by Maui. From the hair of Tuna came also the toro tree, the aka vine, the supple-jack (kareao), the bulrush (raupo), and the titoki tree. The Haere, or rainbow-gods, were three, viz, Haere-atautu, Haere-wae-wae, and Haere-kohiko. They were the sons of Houmea the Ogress. They with Kahukura or Uenuku-tawhana (the rainbow) are discussed elsewhere. Mahu, who fought Haere, is represented by some bunches of flax growing on a cliff by Lake Waikaremoana, and known as Makawe-o-Mahu, “the hair of Mahu.” Any one who should touch one of these sacred leaves would never be able to leave the lake page 478 but go paddling on for ever, a lacustrine Flying Dutchman. Oho was a deity of whom little is known, as he was a god of the “former inhabitants” of New Zealand (tangata whenua). It is said that his divinity was recognised at his dedication ceremony (naming), when the gods were asked that he might be brave in war and industrious in peace. The boy-deity stretched forth his hand and ate of the sacred offerings, a proceeding that terrified the priests and those present until they saw by the child's demeanour that it was entitled to eat of the holy food reserved for gods. His father said, “he is not one of us; it is his own food that he eats.” Pani the “mother” of the kumara was the goddess of all crops in store. Winiwini was the god of spiders. There was an evil spirit known as “the Terror of the Air” (Te Wehi o te Rangi). She killed men by a single blow in the right eye. This was her “mark” (tohu).

Besides all these, there are hundreds of names alluded to in song and legend as celestial beings, but their attributes, etc., are not known; only their names are mentioned, and whether they are true gods or deified ancestors it is difficult to say. Some of them, like Maui, the hero, belong more to the domain of folk-lore than to that of theology.

Milton seems to have had a glimpse of some teaching like that of the old Maori tradition of “The Rebellion in Heaven,” when the gods fought together in the skies. Their battles, it is true, “are of the earth, earthy,” but war was waged between good and evil page 479 spirits “even up to the high peaks of the hills of heaven.” Tu and Rongo were the evildoers; they promoted disobedience and were always for war and strife. (Rongo, singularly, afterwards became a god of peace.) Tane, to whom they were the cause of sorrow, said to those disorderly ones and their followers: “No longer shall ye dwell here; go down from this high place,” and the evil ones went falling swiftly to the worlds below, where they dwelt in fear and dread. Another version says that there were three rebellions in Heaven, caused by insurgent and wicked spirits, and that Rangi (the Heaven-father) gave power to Tane to chase the spirit-hosts of evil down to the darkness, where they all fell to one circle or the other of the worlds of gloom (Po). After the third rebellion Tane wished that all the wicked should be destroyed, but Rangi urged that they should be allowed to redeem themselves by birth as human beings, and to this Tane would not agree, so through the matter remaining undetermined the wicked ones lost their chance of redemption and continue to live in doubt and dread in the realms of darkness. They still, however, have power to harm, and the misfortunes which have afflicted the Maori come from them. It is curious to note how deeply engrained the idea of cannibalism was in the most ancient thought of the natives, so that even the gods devoured each other. Thus it is said that the body of Maru, when he was killed by Rongomai, was eaten, “but the spirit of Maru flew up to the heavens.” The goblin Matuku-tangotango page 480 lived below the ground and his occupation was supposed to be “eating men.” He periodically rose to the surface of the earth, and on one occasion seeing the chief Rata lying on the ground “laughed at the prospect of having something to eat.”

As to the appearance of the gods there is danger in the Maori religion, as in all others, in confusing the ideas of the existence of the spiritual being and its eidolon. This eidolon might take many shapes and be regarded in many ways. Thus a god might “possess” a priest and speak through him as a medium, or he might become incarnate, not only in human form (so that gods like Tawhaki and others were at some period of their history regarded as men) but also in animal shape, as in a bird or lizard. Sometimes the god appeared to dwell in an image and could be worshipped best in that way, but to specify the exact amount of spirit occupying a sacred image is delicate ground for us to debate, and might annoy worshippers in other religions than the Maori cult. Certainly an image that had been touched with the kura (the magic stone) and to which incantations were recited could not be regarded as a common piece of wood or stone.

Of the great “uncreated gods” images were seldom or never made and it is doubtful whether any image, if of a deified ancestor or another, ever was an “idol,” if by “idol” is meant a worshipped image that could of itself work miracles or confer benefits. There was always the spiritual creature behind it. The page 481 god Kahukura was personified by a wooden image, and this figure was sometimes carried about by two priests and lifted up and down. In the South Island little effigies like carved pegs were carried, and each of these might have been looked upon as a kind of god, or rather as a sacred thing into which the spirit of a god could project itself. When they were consulted they were first dressed up with a band of parrot's feathers tied round the neck. A small image (Atua whawhai or tiki) with a carved conventional face at the top and the remainder a straight wooden pin bound with sinnet was sometimes stuck in the ground near the shrines (tuahu) or altar. The god was supposed to take up his position in one of these god-sticks if the proper invocations were chanted by a priest, and the divine presence was shown by the tranced or convulsed appearance of the magician. No reverence in the sense of worship was paid to god-sticks when not thus fortified by a celestial personage's presence, although of course they were never treated disrespectfully. They were divine habitations when occupied and when empty were merely wooden images. Some gods took material form, as Rongomai who appeared as a shooting star, or Maru as a red glow in the sky, but others were portable, and were known under fantastic forms. Some of the famous simulacra of gods were said to have been brought from Hawaiki. Of these was Ihungaru, whose earthly form appeared to be a lock of human hair bound round with a strip of the bark of the paper-mulberry (aute). page 482 Itupaoa was kept as a companion of Ihungaru, but no record of his appearance has been obtained. These gods were consulted in the following manner. One of them was placed upon a mat on the ground and a charm recited. Then the god moved, if it were two inches it was a good omen, if four it signified a great victory, but if it moved to six it would immediately return to its first position, a sign of disastrous defeat and wasted lands. If the image of Rongo the Lord of the Kumara was stolen it would return by its own power.

Gods when incarnate were said to be noted for a peculiarity of figure and gait. Thus, an old witch-wife, being warned by her grandchild that men were flying towards them, said, “if they fly with their limbs drawn up they are food for you, but if with limbs outstretched they are gods.” In one of the Maui legends it is said, “If the man comes down the hill walking upright on his legs, catch him for he is a thief; but if he comes walking on his hands and feet, having his face and belly upwards, then know that he is a god (atua) and be sure not to meddle with him.” The Melanesians had a belief that the elbows and knees of spirits turned the wrong way, and the Greeks also had a similar fancy if we may trust the words of Homer, “It is one of the gods, not Calabas, for easily I knew the tokens of his feet and knees as he turned away, and the gods are easy to discern.”

There are curious and mystical allusions to the early gods which seem to be coincident with legends and theogonies of the classical page 483 world. In a Maori cosmogony we find these curious words, “Again the visible Heavens combined with the great abyss of Eternity to produce the numberless sorceries, the gods Pierced, Suspended,” etc., etc. In another legend occur these words, spoken of the god Tawhaki, “Then he went and made openings in the fourteen heavens so that he might accomplish the object of his journey which was to acquire a knowledge of the incantations known to Tama-i-waho, and also to obtain a sight of him who was hanging in space in the heavens.” To whom is this allusion made? Perhaps to Osiris, or to Witoba (Vishnu), the gods “crucified in space,” that is without the cross but hanging with extended arms, or to Odin hanging on the Life-Tree, Ygdrasil.

“Thus was the birth of the hero Awa-nui-a-Rangi, the ancestor of Ngati-awa.

“A maiden was sent by her parents to get water from a stream. As she stooped to fill her calabash, there shone around her a great blaze of light. She saw no human form, only on the sunny water fell the shadow of a man. Around her were the invisible arms of Heaven (Rangi) who whispered in her ear, ‘If a child is born to us, and it is a male child, let him be named after the river of light on which I descended to you.’

“So, when the boy was born it was named after the cascade of rays on which the Heaven-father had come down to earth, and the child was called Awa-nui-a-Rangi, ‘Great River of Heaven.’”

page 484

There is a distinct tradition of tree-worship among the Maoris or rather among some tribes of the Maori. The trees themselves ranked as chiefs and commoners, some varieties, such as the totara, the rimu, and the maire, needing invocations to the Lord of Forests before they could be felled, a rite not necessary for common trees and scrub. The worship of particular trees was often connected with a phallic cult. In almost every case this tree was the hinau (Podocarpus). There was a tree at Te Koturu, Ruatahuna, which was supposed to aid conception in women. One side of this tree had a male side and the other a female side. Whichever side of the tree a barren woman embraced decided of what sex the future child would be when it was born. This tree has been alluded in the chapter upon Birth as Te Iho-o-kotaka and on its branches the iho of children, carefully wrapped in paper-mulberry bark (aute) or in raukawa leaves, were suspended. A tree in the Urewera country was known by the name of the Puta-tieke, and was visited by sterile women who by repeating charms and clasping the tree would become pregnant. A stone god had been deposited in the hollow tree and was watched over by a tieke bird (Creadion carunculatus). Another tree called Hunahuna-te-po, at Horomanga Creek in the same district, was also famous as the friend of barren women. One side of the tree was green and the other dry. If a woman who desired children approached the tree she was very careful how she approached. She closed her eyes when at a long distance off and page 485 walked blindly towards the tree, keeping her eyes shut while she embraced it and when she was going away, not knowing which side she had clasped. A priest, however, who had been watching, observed which side she had embraced and if she had clasped the green side she would become pregnant but if the dry side conception was hopeless. The natural tree was not always the object to which the tree-worshippers' devotion was paid; among the Ngati-Ruanui tribe a highly ornamented food-store was accepted as a conventional form of the Sacred Tree, the Rakau-Tapu.

Similar incantations to those offered to trees were supposed to secure pregnancy to women if repeated to a stone named Uenuku-tu-whatu, which stood on the bank of the Awaroa Creek at Kawhia. There are sacred stones at the head of the Hokianga River which were believed to have been brought thither by a very ancient chief of Hawaiki named Nukutawhiti. Any native passing these would break off a branch of the raureka shrub and repeat the whaka-u incantation. There are sacred stones looking like Druidical remains at a place between Kerikeri and Kaitaia, Bay of Islands. These were anciently used in sun-worship and are known as Nga Whaka-ra-ra, or Te Hakari. They were used as posts around which pyramids of food were piled at the annual feast of Ra, the Sun. A very sacred place was Te Umu-a-Te-Rakitauneke at the base of the Marokura Hills on the Waitaki River, South Island. Wayfarers halted there and uttered a charm over their feet to give page 486 them strength and speed on the journey, “lest the Earth be drawn out long for them.” The marae was known to the Polynesians of the Eastern groups as a temple in the shape of a truncated pyramid of stone on the top of which the shrines of the gods were placed and whereon the chief priest stood, while on the steps the other priests were placed according to their rank and seniority. The explanation given was that certain of the greater deities could only be communicated with in this way, as they would not come close to the surface of the common earth lest they should be defiled or made common (noa). In the Marquesas, the marae became a horizontal space paved with stone, and at Mangaia, a sacred enclosure where religious rites were performed and sacrifices offered, but in New Zealand, as in Samoa, the marae was only the principal open space in a village where meetings were held.

It is exceedingly difficult in writing on this subject to draw lines of demarcation. The gods seem to merge into the spirit, the spirit into the ghost, the ghosts into the souls of persons living or dead. Probably guardian-angels should be placed under the heading of protecting deities. The spirits of the dead warriors of their tribe were gods (atua) supposed to accompany a war-party and give direction, especially if consnlted; their instructions would ensure victory if understood and carried out. If fear came upon the warriors the guardian atua of the enemy were extending their baleful influence over those to whom they were hostile.

page 487

The tribal spirits would not favourably interest themselves for strangers, and to others they were, if not hostile, indifferent. If a man had a powerful god or attendant-spirit he would be warned by some sign that witchcraft threatened him, otherwise his soul would soon be on its way to Spirits' Leap. A chief in old days who was lying wounded almost to death was resuscitated by his guardian angel (atuamatamata) coming to his rescue, licking his blood and healing the wounds. It was supposed that when a priest-chief was at the point of death if his successor should breathe into the left ear of the dying man, the influence and knowledge possessed by the elder would pass to the younger man, and if the latter passed between the legs of the moribund person the priest-power would also be his.

Owa, the patron deity of dogs, would sometimes appear in the shape of a spirit-dog to chiefs of certain families. The apparition, like that of the Irish banshee, was a warning of approaching death.

Mention is made in this book in very many places as to the offerings made to gods. It was asked of the priests, “How can a spirit eat material food?” The answer was given, “You can see that form of the offerings is preserved, but its essence or virtue (mana) is absorbed by the spirit.” There appears to have been a belief in things we consider as inanimate possessing a kind of soul. Thus in the story of Te Kanawa and the wood-fairies we are told that he took off his ornaments of greenstone (jade) and laid them down as a page 488 propitiatory offering. The fairies “carried off the similitudes (ahua) of all the jewels,” but left the things themselves behind. This spiritual part of a material object appears to have been the portion accepted by the gods in a sacrifice, especially in a blood-sacrifice. It would seem that the Maori understood the principle of blood-atonement in very serious efforts for conciliating the gods, and that spilling the life-fluid was the most perfect way of neutralising evil. They sometimes disliked extremely proceeding to war, especially against a tribe so strong that defeat appeared inevitable, but if the honour of the gods was involved (as by a violation of tapu) the dominant idea seemed to be that “without shedding of blood there is no remission of sins.” Sometimes when a deity had to be propitiated the image or representative of the deity was fed with blood, and some of the clotted blood of the suppliant was lifted up to him on a stick. The atua were revengeful if they received any offering that was not the best procurable, and resented the slight of bringing inferior sacrifices. It fell out in days within the century, during Te Rauparaha's visit to Kaiapoi, that a man was led to his death through the niggardliness of his wife in this respect. Before he left his home his atua had said, “I hunger after eel.” So the man told his wife to make an offering of eel. She did so, and offered a very thin and small eel. In revenge, the atua when he should have warned his protege of the presence of danger, withdrew his protection and the man with his companions walked, without one warning evil omen, into an ambuscade.

page 489
We have referred to sacred trees and it may be that the sacred places, made by setting up rods or pillars may have had their origin in tree worship. Whether this is so or not there is mention made of the rods in several ancient religions and they were well known in Maori religious rites. A very full description of the process is given in the legend of the voyage of the Aotea canoe to New Zealand from Hawaiki. The Aotea and Ririno canoes had, through stress of weather and injury to the vessels, to put into the mid-ocean island of Rangitahua (wherever that might be) to refit. There the crews killed two dogs which they had brought with them in the canoes; one of the dogs was eaten and the other sacrificed. This latter dog “they cut up raw as an offering to the gods, and laid it cut open in every part for them, and built a sacred place, and set up pillars for the spirits that they might entirely consume the sacrifice; and they took the enchanted apron (maro) of the spirits, and spread it open before them, and wearied the spirits by calling on them for some omen, saying, ‘Come, manifest yourselves to us, O Gods; make haste and declare the future to us. It may be now that we shall not succeed in passing to the other side of the ocean; but if you manifest yourselves to us and are present with us we shall pass them in safety.’ Then they rose up from prayer and roasted with fire the dog which they were offering as a sacrifice, and holding the sacrifice aloft, called over the names of the spirits to whom the offering was made; and having thus appeased the wrath of the offended page 490 spirits they again stuck up posts for them saying as they did so,

‘'Tis the post which stands above there,
'Tis the post that stands in the heavens,
Near Atutahi-ma-Rehua (names of stars).’

Thus they removed all ill luck from the canoes by repeating over them,” etc., etc. These rods set up about a mound of earth seem to have represented the altar or tuāhu. These altars or shrines received different names according to their construction (tapatai, ahupuke, torino, ahurewa, ahurangi, etc.). Some of these could be made on the ground at any place and could be removed, but prayers had to be offered at a distance and then the earth had to be taken to another place and left. The form of tuāhu known as ahurewa was a long stick or pole placed in the sacred place of a tribe, and was the mauri of the tribe (spoken of farther on). The shrine of the god Kahukura was built of bark of white pine and ake-rau-tangi wood, and of course shrines or altars could be erected to any of similar gods who might be represented by images, but the very highest gods (except Rongo) were imageless and unrepresented except by a staff. In case of no altar being procurable a priest has been known to use his hollowed hand to serve as one. The tuāhu had sometimes a sacred rod of peculiar shape set in front of it to denote to which deity it was devoted, and similar rods were set up in the great temple of Wharekura, that of Tangaroa being a zigzag like a lightning flash, that of Tu perfectly straight, etc.14 These god-staffs must not be confounded with the page 491 sacred staffs borne by priests. Every priest of influence bore one of these rods (otaota) made of mapou or whau wood and this was handed on from one to another as a sign of succession.

A very singular and interesting part of Maori religion is that appertaining to the kura. The word as commonly applied signifies “red” when used as an adjective, but as a substantive it has many curious and some mystical meanings. Among these are “a chief,” a “treasure,” “supernatural beings,” a “sacred stone,” “knowledge,” etc. It being applied to red wreaths as of feathers, etc., seems to be an old Polynesian memory, but the traditions which apply to such red wreaths as being worn by the first immigrants to New Zealand (Kura-pae-a-Mahina) appear to have become confused with priestly meanings given to the real kura, the sacred stones of power. Such kura of red wreaths were laid on the bodies of dead chiefs or beside them in the tombs. What the kura actually were is now very difficult to understand. They seem to have been images among the West Coast tribes of the North Island, and sometimes natural objects such as stones, etc. Their use was to secure the success of fishing expeditions, to protect forts and plantations from trespass and sanctify the boundary marks of tribes. To the chiefs who possessed the kura the warriors looked in the days of trouble. With the kura stone went the idea of ancestral knowledge and spiritual power, for the answer as to what the kura implied was “wisdom.” The “Kurahaupo,” page 492 one of the canoes of the Great Migration, is said to have brought the kura or its prestige (mana), and this power descended through the descendants of those in that canoe. An important kura was that known as Te Kura-a-Tukaeto or Te Kura-patapata-nui of the Ngati-Kahungunu tribe. These descriptions of kura must be considered as comparatively modern, for in the most ancient times there was only one sort of kura. When coming away from their original home the Maori brought certain precious stones of a red colour, very hard and imperishable, these were called whatukura (“red-stones” or “treasure-stones”). They were used as connections with their old land and as media of the gods. They were small; not over an inch in diameter. The priest, on landing, procured a stone of the new country and bored it hollow, carving a design on the outside. This stone was called “the dwelling place of the kura stone” (Nohoanga whatu-kura) and was supposed to represent the link between the old and the new lands. Through the hole in the larger stone the leading priest would sometimes utter spells or prophesy to a departing war-party. The priest prepared a carved wooden post as an image (whaka-pakoko); while the people fasted and while invocations were recited the carved pillar was set upright and a kura stone placed in the hollow of the “Dwelling place” which was then deposited at the base of the pillar. The whole was covered in and the ceremonies ended. This was the Holy of Holies. No one ever afterwards dared to approach the sacred spot page 493 save the high priest, and he only when in communion with the gods. No man was so great as the priest who was allowed access to this spot. He was called Ahurewa, Pouwhenua, Amo-kapua, titles signifying the Supreme Priest; he was infinitely sacred, and his word was law over lands and people. He was always tapu.

The kura appears to have been confused or synonymous with other mystical things known as paua, ara or mauri. The ara appears like the kura to have been a sacred stone carried in the canoe from other lands on purpose to convey the sacredness of the old country to the new. Thus we read in the voyage of the Arawa Canoe to New Zealand, that the great priest Ngatoro-i-rangi said when the vessel entered the Gulf of Hauraki (the Thames), “Let our canoe's course be turned that we may approach the island there, so as to allow our ara to touch the soil of this main land.” The reason for this was a certain stone which Ngatoro had brought with him. After the stone had been left, Tama-te-kapua asked, “What is the meaning of leaving this stone here?” Ngatoro replied, “Thou art left here, O stone, that thou mayest be embodied in the incantations of the people on board this canoe as a mauri or heart, or in the spells to ward off evil.” Besides the ara, another stone, the paua, is alluded to as having powers of the kura, and was laid beside the dead bodies of great chiefs in the tomb. The greatest of these paua was known as “The kura stone of the Ocean God” (Te Whatu-kura-a-Tangaroa). page 494 It was about four inches long; like an ear-drop of cylindrical shape, and was laid in the chasm of Moaha. Among the Maori the word paua is generally used as the name of the rainbow-hued Haliotis shell, but the priestly paua was a stone described as like white quartz—it was probably made from the white Trydacna shell of the Pacific. The ara seems not always to have been a stone, for we are told that the Mataatua canoe brought its ara in the shape of a divining rod used in the niu ceremony. It appears to have been identical with the kaha used by some tribes; a rod made of dried sea-weed stem and charmed with spells—one of these was in every canoe setting out on an important voyage. The mauri, which had a wide spiritual significance as the heart or soul, even of abstract things, was also spoken of as the kura in its concrete form. Thus there are said to be five great Mauri of New Zealand. (1) The kura stone already mentioned as having been left by the Arawa canoe at Moehau, which is on the northern part of Coromandel Peninsula at the Thames, and is the Maori fairy-land. (2) The manuka tree at Whakatane (Bay of Plenty) made sacred by the incantations of Muriwai. (3) The lily (rengarenga) on the altar or sacred place at Whangara. (4) The flint-stone which Ngatoro-i-rangi, the priest of the Arawa canoe, stuck into the summit of Tongariro mountain and which caused the volcanic fire of Ngauruhoe to burst out of the hill. (5) The altar named Ahurei, which was at Kawhia, Maketu, in the Bay of Plenty.

page 495

With the mauri in its spiritual aspect we must commence the task of attempting to describe the soul of man and the immaterial (?) essence of life. It is difficult exactly to define the difference between the mauri and the hau. The hau or kawaora of a man is a kind of essence of the man, intangible, unseen, but yet to be conveyed by the hand of another person. The mauri, the life-spark, cannot save the hau, the individuality, from being purloined by witchcraft, but if the hau is taken the mauri is lost and the man dies. Priests, by means of incantations, could gather with whirling hands the souls of their enemies into a sacred calabash and so destroy them. The mauri of a piece of land is something that contains or represents the hau of that land. Sometimes it was a kira, i.e., the long feathers of the right wing of a parrot charmed and endowed with magic powers through incantations. So too the mauri of a forest or a river is a talisman, and whilst it is in its proper place it keeps the hau of the forest, stream, or land, so that birds multiply and trees flourish. Therefore every care is taken to guard the hau, the essence or soul of the land, by concealing the mauri, that is, its material representative. If a priest desired to find the mauri of an enemy's land he had to repeat the kahau invocation, turning this way and that to hear if the guardian lizard (moko-tapiri) of the mauri should chirp and so guide him in direction. When through his black art the wizard had obtained the mauri, he held the heart of the enemy's country in his hand.

page 496

With the Maori the seat of the understanding, the will and the affections was supposed to be in the internal organs of the body. Thus the word manawa which means not only the “belly” but the “lungs” and “breath” was used as we use the word “heart” in such phrases as “a great-hearted man,” etc. Ngakau, “the bowels,” was also used for “heart” in this connection, just as we use it in “he has no bowels for his own relations.” Ate, the “liver,” was also supposed to be the seat of the affections, and is used as a term of affection as we might say “heart of mine,” Hinengaro, also some part of the intestines, was applied to the heart, as affection, but probably with greater strictness to the will or desire. None of these words, however, seemed to convey a spiritual meaning, although they sometimes took on that of intellect or conscious power. The word for “spirit” or “soul” proper was wairua, and although sometimes degraded as with ourselves into the notion of “ghost” or even “evil spirit” it was the only exact expression for the soul of man. Ghosts had their own proper names and will be again referred to. The ahua is sometimes called the “spirit” of a thing, but is really only its “appearance,” that without which it would be impossible to obtain an idea of its form—thus one's reflection in a mirror is an ahua. Such a reflection was often alluded to as a spirit, but it was only the appearance or manifestation of the wairua or spirit proper. So also ata is translated as spirit or “soul” but is properly “a reflected image” and “a shadow”—that is the form or page 497 manifestation of the inward spirit, although it is true it is sometimes though rarely used for the soul itself (Unuhia noatia te ata o Wharo). Manea is a word also used to express the individual essence (hau) of a person, but it particularly meant that beneficial influence or spiritual power conferred on the owner of a house by the presence of the bones of the victim (whatu) sacrificed and buried at the opening ceremony. The Maori mind was saturated and imbued with the idea of the future life, although not perhaps of immortality, for (as to the inferior ranks of men) there was a downward process towards final extinction in the world to come. The soul (wairua) was poetically compared to lightning, to a shadow, to the rays of celestial bodies, to the wind, etc., but it was there, the spiritual creature, the immaterial Ego, the temporary inhabitant of the human body and (for a short time) temporary inhabitant outside the body, of this earth on which we dwell.