Go to National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa
Volume 38, 1905
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Plate LX.

This quaint figure of a Maori god of eels was dug up recently whilst a field was being ploughed near the City of Auckland. From its position when found, it is clearly of great antiquity. It is a relic of the Stone Age, having been cut by stone chisels,

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and in its style and character is striking proof of the excellent work done by the prehistoric Maori carver. The body of the eel is carved with great skill, and is exceedingly lifelike. It is carved on a board belonging to an ancient wharepuni, or temple.

Maori mythology has many references to eels and eel-gods, and, as will be shown presently, the capture of eels was always celebrated with religious rites and ceremonies by the prehistoric Maori—both before he went eel-catching and after his return.

Tangaroa in New Zealand and throughout Polynesia was the god of fishes. He was one of the greatest of all gods, and so sacred throughout Polynesia that his image was never carved. Tuna was one of the lesser Maori deities, the son of Manga-wairoa. Legend says there was a drought in heaven, and naturally the eel-god came away in search of water, and came to earth. One legend says he killed two of the great god Maui's children, and the latter in revenge slew him. Another legend says that in Maui's absence Tuna came up out of the water and ravished Maui's wife. Hearing this, Maui told his wife to go to the whare by the river, and he laid logs between the hut and the river and there lay in ambush. Tuna came gliding gaily over the logs to see the lady, and Maui slew him. One legend says that Tuna's tail became the fresh-water eels' progenitor, and his head produced salt-water eels. The next story reverses the order, but confirms the fact that he begat both sorts. John White says some Maori tribes worshipped Ruahine as the god of eels, and performed religious rites to him. His worship, however, was strictly limited, as there is no other reference to him in Maori legends.