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Volume 38, 1905
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Myth of Maui And Hine-Nui-Te-Po.

Maui is perhaps the principal representative of the age of heroes in Maori mythology, being one of the demi-gods who porformed wondrous deeds in the misty past, when man was young upon the earth. It was Maui who procured fire for mankind, who lengthened the day by chastising and binding the sun, and who is credited with many impish tricks, all of which the Maori delights to recount. But no reverence of any kind is paid to him.

As to Hine-nui-te-Po and her origin, it was in this wisc: Tane, one of the progeny of Rangi and Papa (Sky and Earth), sought his parent Rangi and asked, “Where is the female element?” Rangi replied, “The female element is below; the abode of life is above.” This may refer to Papa, the Earth Mother, whose place in nature is below the heavens, while above is the vast expanse of the heavens, the denizens of which know not death. It is evident that for many centuries the Maori mind has been deeply imbued with animism, as a study of their myths will prove to the inquirer.

One authority gives the following as the reply of Rangi to Tane: “The female element is below: it is the abode [or origin] of misfortune, of death. The realm of life is above. Our descendants shall not be as we are, and as are our grand-children—the sun, the moon, the stars, the Hinatore, Pari-kioko, and Hine-rauamoa—for they shall know death, the death of the lower world, and be mourned” (“Kia mate ao, kia mihia, kia tangihia ai”).

Whether the term used in this myth—i.e., “uha”—applies to the Earth Mother. or to Hine-nui-te-Po, who is said to have brought death to man by slaying Maui in a very singular manner, it is evident from a perusal of this myth that death and misfortune were supposed to have been caused by, or originated with, the female element.

Tane sought long for the female element, and in so doing he produced trees, shrubs, and plants, until he came to two beings named Roiho and Roake, who told him where to find woman. That woman was Kurawaka, who had been formed by Tiki by means of the tira rite. She was formed from the sacred mound termed Puke-nui-o-Papa, which represented the po, the realm of darkness, of oblivion, and sin. By Kurawaka Tane had Hine-ahu-one. He took his daughter to wife and had Hine-ahuarangi, whom he also married and had Hine-titama. Tane took her also to wife, until one day she asked, “Where is my father?” Tane replied, “I am your father.” So shocked was Hine-titama to learn this fact that she fled to the lower world, to Tane-te-wai-ora. She was pursued by her father

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(whose full name was Tane-nui-a-rangi), but refused to return with him, saying. “Return thou to the upper world, that you may draw up our descendants to light and life; while I remain here below to drag them down to darkness and death.”

Here some Natives state that Hine-titama became Goddess of Death and of Hades, and was ever after known as Hine-nui-te-Po. Others say that Hine-nui-te-Po was a daughter of Hinetitama and Tumurangi. Yet again other versions give Hine-ahu-one as the one who became Queen of Hades, others that Hine-a-tauira (which seems to be another name for Hine-ahua-rangi) obtained that important post. However that may be, it is admitted by all authorities in this district that HIne-nui-te-Po is Queen of Hades, and the origin or cause of death. Descendants of Te Tini-o-Awa state that she had two younger sisters, Mahuika and Hine-i-tapeka, who were the personification, or origin, of fire. Mahuika was the living fire, the ordinary fire of this world, while Hine-i-tapeka (or Hine-tapeka) represented the fire which burns in the underworld, the tokens of which are the charred trunks of trees, and charcoal seen in deposits of pumice, as at Kainga-roa. When Maui, the hero, sought to obtain fire for man he sought Mahuika for that purpose.

Now, the fire seems to have been contained in the body of Mahuika herself, or in her fingers. The names of her five children given above are those of the fingers and toes, beginning with tako-nui, the thumb, or big toe, down to toiti, the little finger or toe. These were the fire children, or offspring, of Mahuika, whose name is viewed as a synonym for fire. The names of Hine-tapeka's offspring imply firebrands and charcoal.

When Maui applied to Mahuika for fire she pulled off one of her fingers and gave it to him. This finger was fire. Maui took it aside and promptly extinguished it, after which he returned and demanded again the fire of Mahuika, which was granted him. This also he extinguished; and so on until he came the fifth time, when the enraged Mahuika plucked off her last finger and cast it at Maui. The fire raged fiercely and pursued Maui, who was almost consumed by the same, when he bethought himself of calling upon his ancestors to cause the heavy rains to fall, which soon extinguished the pursuing fire. The remnants of fled to the woods and took refuge in the kaikomako

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and some other trees, from which the Maori people procure fire by the hika, or generating process.

Then it was that Hine-nui-te-Po resolved to avenge the destruction of the progeny of her sister Mahuika. To prepare the way, and to render Maui susceptible to her designs, she had recourse to magic, for it had come to her knowledge that Maui had designs against her. She sent one Kahukura (a butterfly) as a messenger to obtain the aria* of Maui, in the form of a drop of his blood. But Maui slew the messenger with a slap of his hand. Then Hine despatched Waeroa (the mosquito), but Maui heard the insect humming and destroyed it. Then Tuiau (the midge) was sent, and death was the lot of Tuiau. But when Hine sent the silent Namu (sandfly), success was won, and she obtained a drop of the blood of Maui, over which she performed certain rites of magic to enable her to take the life of Maui.

At a certain time the thought came to Maui that he would strive to gain eternal life for man, that man might revive from decay as the moon does. He called together his people—the forest elves, the birds, and the multitude of the Mahoihoi—and explained to them his design. They said, “Maui, you will perish. Beware! Your spirit has been taken by Hine-nui-te-Po.” But Maui persisted, and so he and his people fared on until they found the dread Goddess of Hades, who was asleep. Said Maui to his folk, “You must be very careful not to laugh while I enter the body of Hine, lest she awaken and slay me. When I have gained [or obtained] her manawa, then all will be well. Do as I say and Hine [or her power to inflict death upon mankind] shall be destroyed.” Then Maui essayed to enter the body of Hine by the passage whence man is born into the world. But when he had half entered, the strange sight was too much for Piwakawaka (the fantail, a bird), who laughed aloud. Hence awoke the dread Goddess of Death, who, by closing her puapua (? labia) caused the death of Maui. So perished Maui, the hero, he who performed marvellous deeds, but who succumbed in his effort to gain eternal life for man.

(Ka ki atu a Maui ki ana iwi, “Kei kata koutou ki ahau. Mehemea ka uru ahau ki roto i nga puapua o Hine-nui-te-Po, kei kata koutou ki ahau. Ki te kata koutou, ka mate ahau; ki te kore e kata, ko ia ka mate i a au. Kia taea ra ano e ahau tona manawa, katahi ka hamumu ai koutou.” Katahi ka tukua kia ngaro ki roto i nga kuwha o Hine-nui-te-Po, tu maro ana te nanakia i roto i nga kuha (kuwha) o Hine. Na, kua heke iho a Maui, ka tae iho ia ki nga puapua o Hine-nui-te-Po, e tuhera (tuwhera)

[Footnote] * Aria=semblance. This blood would be used as an ohonga. (See Transactions, vol. xxxiv, p. 75.)

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ana. Kihai i kata. No te tomokanga atu ki roto, katahi ka kataina mai e te moho-tupereru, katahi ka whakakopia mai nga nga kuwha o taua wahine, mate tonu iho a Maui. Ko Maui tenei ka mate i a Hine-nui-te-Po.)

In this version it is the moho bird which causes the disaster to Maui and the genus homo.

In an account of Maori magic given by an old Native of Ngati-Awa (tribe) I note the following passage: “Me waiho ko te tawhito o Hine-nui-te-Po, ko tena te atua i patua ai te tangata nana i raweke a raua tamariki ko tona taina.” The tawhito of Hine-nui-te-Po was the demon that destroyed the person who slew the children of her sister and self. This word “tawhito” is a very ancient sacerdotal term for the organs of generation in man (membrum virile)

The object of Maui in entering the body of Hine was to gain her manawa, a term which is applied to the heart, and also the breath (manawa-ora, the life-breath). In failing to effect this he lost the chance of acquiring eternal life for man, while Hine, in triumph, not only slew Maui, but carried out her will as to the introduction of universal death into this world. As her word was to Tane of old, ever she drags man down to the realm of death.

Some Native authorities state that it was Maui who argued with the Queen of Hades as to whether death should or should not be allowed to enter the world, and also that Maui had deeply offended her by interfering with her connection with Tuna, the eel-god. Maui decided, they say to slay Hine on account of her practice of magic arts, by which means she destroyed many people. Her word was,—

Ka kukuti
Ka kukuti nga puapua
O Hine-nui-te-Po
Ka whai toremi.

The drop of Maui's blood obtained by Hine was used as an ohonga, or connection between her rites of magic and the person of Maui. (See vol. xxxiv of the Transactions, p. 75, for an explanation of this matter.)

The meaning of this singular allegorical myth may not be clear to our minds, for we have attained to a different plane of thought from that occupied by primitive man. We do not, and never will, understand the inwardness of the primitive mind. The time for us to do so has long passed away. But ever in Maori magic rites—barbaric ritual of a deeply superstitious people—may be noted the strange belief that the female genitary organs are allied to death and misfortune, while the male organ was resorted to in order to save man from disaster, from the charms and spells of magicians.

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In an old invocation or incantation repeated by the priests of old in order to relocate the breath of life in an apparently dying person we find the following:—

Kai hea?
Kai hea te pu o te mate?
Kai runga, kai raro
Kai te hikahika nui no Hine-nui-te-Po, &c.

(“Where is the cause or origin of death? It is above and below. It is in the organ of Hine-nui-te-Po.”)

A singular discourse delivered by an old Native to myself puts a somewhat different complexion on the story of Tane seeking the female element. He said, “I will speak of life and death. When Tane approached his parent Rangi, in his search for the female sex, Rangi said to him, ‘The whare o aitua [abode of misfortune or death] yawns below, while open above is the whare o te ora [site of life, &c.].’ The former term implies the female organ, while the latter expression is applied to the ears, eyes, nostrils, and mouth. Now, when Tane found woman he was ignorant of the laws of procreation and of copulation, hence he mistook the purpose of the ears, nostrils, &c. Now, if Tane had not interfered with the whare o te ora, death would never have approached man; he would have retained life for ever, even as do the children of Tangotango, who are the sun, moon, and stars.”

It will be noted that the above notes really contain two accounts of the origin of death, which may perhaps be accounted for when we know that these isles were not settled by one migration of Polynesians, but by at least two, whose myths and traditions may have differed somewhat. Moreover, I am becoming imbued with the idea that many such origins or myths bear a twofold aspect as recorded in Maori tradition, the one being of a sacerdotal character, retained by and known to but a few persons, such as the priests and chiefs; while the other version is the popular one, known to all members of the tribe, and appears conserved in the folk-lore of the people, often interwoven with the doings of some popular old-time hero.

The adventures and deeds of such beings as Maui, Tawhaki, &c., are common property, told around any camp-fire, or in any place where Natives are gathered together. No reticence marks the imparting of such folk-lore tales to Europeans. But how different, and difficult, it is to acquire any matter pertaining to the real old-time religion, the cult of Io, the collector alone knows.

The underworld, or Hades, to which the spirits of the dead descend, is termed the “po,”, a word which also means “night.” Pouri=dark; uri denotes blackness or very dark colour

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This underworld of the dead will be treated of later on, but I wish to state here that the “po” is a term often used as a synonym for death. In like manner the expression “ao marama” (light world, or world of light) is employed to denote life, the world of life, this world we live in. Hence “light” and “life” are, to the Maori, equal terms, as also are “darkness” and “death.”

A natural death is termed “mate aitu,” or “mate tara whare,” sometimes “hemo-o-aitu.” Suicide is known as “whakamomori.”

In the very old myth of Mahu and Haereatautu mention is made of Noke, the Worm of Death. This Haere was one of the rainbow-gods of the Maori. He was taken by Mahu to a paepae (latrine), where Noke entered his body and caused his death. This myth, as obtained, is too fragmentary to carry any explanation with it.