Illustrating the Mentality of the Maori and his Mythopoetic Concepts.



Published by the Dominion Museum, Wellington, New Zealand, under the Authority of the Hon. The Minister of Internal Affairs.

Dominion Museum Monograph No.1

Ancient Symbolical Maori Carving formerly standing at the South-western Entrance to Pukeroa Pa, Rotorua.
(Facing Page Photograph - 550kb)


Mythological and spiritual concepts illustrate the mentality of a race. Religious element in man. The two aspects of Maori religion. Lack of intolerance. Remarks by early observers. Maori cosmogony. The primal parents. Separation of Sky and Earth. Overturning of the Earth Mother. Light versus Darkness. Tane and Whiro: what they represent. Origin of woman and of the ira tangata. The maioha rite. The Dawn Maid. The broad path of Tane. The spirit-world. The Poutiriao or guardians. lo the Supreme Being. Maori gods. The cult of Io. A monotheistic tendency. All gods are one. Rongo and Tu. Maori ritual. Human sacrifice. Star-worship. Spiritual concepts. Animatism. Maori genius for personification. Myth-making. Religion and ethics. Purely abstract conception of a god is difficult. Advantages of a study of anthropology. Man has raised himself. The Maori steps aside from the path. The passing of neolithic man.

To describe in detail the beliefs and practices pertaining to the different phases or planes of Maori religion would be a lengthy task, and all we can hope to compass in a comparatively brief paper is a general sketch of Maori cosmogony, anthropogenic, and religion. In doing this we shall be compelled to enter the domain of Maori myth, inasmuch as myth and religion are inseparable when dealing with barbaric races. The mode of procedure will be such as would be adopted by a Maori; various beliefs, myths, and institutions will be briefly describe in a recognised order, regardless of which aspect they may illustrate, myth or religion. It is quite possible that some persons would be disposed to classify all Maori beliefs, religious institutions, and ritual as mythical, absurd, or superstitious, and as being outside the true definition of the term " religion." To such a pronouncement no ethnographer could possibly agree, and I hope to show in these notes that that decision is a fair one, that the higher type of Maori religion is one entitled to respect and that even the lower-grade beliefs and practices served an extremely useful purpose.

From the night of time, when man was young upon the earth, from a period to which that of the Turanians of Accadia is but as yesterday, through the mists of hoar antiquity, through the long centuries of historic time, man has ever sought to understand the heart of nature and himself. The savage of paleolithic times who observed the gleaming lightning and heard the crashing thunder, who watched his dying tribesman as the breath of life passed from his motionless body, feared the forces of nature, and marvelled at the passage from life to death. The rude predecessors of civilisation in the Nile Valley, the ape-like beings who saw the founding of Carthage from their refuge in the rugged Atlas, the dark-skinned folk who watched the ancestors of the Maori sail from the hidden land of Irihia - all these experienced two age-old sensations - fear of the unknown, and desire for help and knowledge. Throughout the changing ages, and round the rolling earth, man - savage, barbaric, civilised - has sought to learn the origin of the universe, of his own species, of all life, all matter. Throughout countless centuries he has speculated on the whence and whither of the human spirit, the soul he so firmly believed in. The crude superstitions of the low-type savage, the voluminous ritual and mythopoetic imagery of barbaric peoples, the more refined concepts and ceremonial of civilised nations, are the result of such sensations and such cravings. These results are grouped by anthropologists under two headings, "myth and religion."

To study the two subjects under discussion is to study the mentality of man, the development of human intelligence - to follow the unfolding, the maturing of the human intellect from savagery even unto the highest culture-stage. These illustrations taken from the Maori cultus show us a midway stage in such development. This study, in its broader aspect, shows us that man the savage evolved a belief in a life-principle; that barbaric man attained a higher conception of spiritual potentiae ; that civilised man refined such beliefs, and is still purifying them. It will show, moreover, that a feeling of helplessness and loneliness common to all peoples, combined with a universal desire for immortality, has forced man to seek help in supernormal beings, to rely on his gods in all crises. The loneliness of the human soul is a very real thing during such times of stress-the universal experience of man in all ages. The rude savage makes simple offerings to dimly conceived supernatural beings ; the barbaric Polynesian intones archaic ritual formulae in order to influence, indirectly, his departmental gods; civilised man craves the help and mercy of his God by direct appeal; and all are prompted by the same instincts, by similar feelings.

A study of the religious systems of antiquity and of modern times-of savage, barbaric, and civilised man-makes clear to us one outstanding fact-namely, that religions follow the law of evolution; that they are subject to change, are developed, and that one system is, as it were, built upon another. It also shows us that they are subject to decay.


Among peoples of inferior culture it is not an uncommon occurrence for keen observers to note two different phases or aspects of the racial or tribal religion. This peculiarity is noted among our Maori folk of New Zealand. The higher grade of tohunga,or priestly adepts, were the exponents and upholders of what may justly, be termed the aristocratic type of Maori religion, the cult of the Supreme Being, lo of the Hidden Face. This higher-class cultus was confined to that grade of priests and to men of superior rank ; its secrets, practices, and teachings formed the most highly venerated and most intensely tapu portion of the esoteric lore of the Maori. The common people were not allowed to gain any knowledge of its ritual or practices. The aforesaid priests appear to have also practised the cult of the secondary or departmental gods, but had no dealing with low-class shamanistic performances indulged in by third-rate tohunga nor did they teach or practise. the arts of black magic.

Priests of a lower grade were upholders land exponents of the departmental and tribal gods, and practised the ceremonies and ritual pertaining to them, but knew nothing of that connected with the Supreme Being. A third class of tohunga occupied the position of shaman, and the gods appealed to were tribal deities and deified ancestors. In addition to these, any person might act as the medium of the spirit of his defunct parent, grandparent, or other relative.

Now, the lower grades of a religious system art by far the easiest for any alien observer to become acquainted with ; in many cases this is the only aspect they ever do gain any knowledge of. Among such a people as the Maori the higher type of religion is by no means conspicuous ; it is in the hands of a small class, and is most jealously guarded. This intensely conservative feeling, this rigid retention of the superior cult - by the few, is the reason why, for so many. years, we knew no details pertaining to the higher type of Maori religion. No popular work on the Maori contains any particulars concerning it. No early collector gathered more than the name of the Supreme Being. The information concerning Maori religion contained in the various works on the Natives of these isles is but a meagre quantity, and is connected with the lower phases only of that religion. In order to learn more, the seeker must turn to the Journal of the Polynesian Society.


There is one peculiarity to be noted in the religions of such folk as the Maori—namely, that they are not intolerant; they do not practise persecution, and do not teach any belief in the punishment of the human soul in the spirit-world. It is a singular fact that such a dreadful conception as the hell of the Dark Age of Christianity seems to pertain to what are termed superior religions rather than to the systems of savages or barbarians. This was, of course, the result of the strong desire of priesthood to gain power and influence over the people. Our friend the tohunga maori had assuredly made some progress in this art, but he never attained the commanding position achieved by the priests of some of the higher religions, including our own. The Maori belief was that all offences against the gods are punished by those gods in this world, not in the spirit-world. It is this fact that enabled the Maori to dispense with civil law in the Maori commune, and to substitute therefor certain institutions that were rendered effective by the belief in the gods, and in swift and certain punishment of offences by such gods. These institutions, of which tapu was the most important, held society together, and took the place of civil law.


Some peculiar statements are encountered in the works of early writers concerning Maori beliefs and practices. Dr. Savage, who visited New Zealand in 1805, wrote concerning the Maori, " The chief objects of their adoration are the sun and the moon … the moon, however, is their favourite deity." This is certainly startling, for we have acquired no knowledge of this sun and moon cult. A subsequent passage is even more entertaining: "When paying their adoration to the’ rising sun the arms are spread and the head bowed, with the appearance of much joy in their countenances, accompanied with a degree of elegant and reverential solemnity." If these amazing Maori of 1805 were capable of singing a song with a double expression of much joy and reverential solemnity on their countenances, of a verity they must have been a truly entertaining folk. I look with deep and abiding suspicion upon such sun-worship.

In his Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition Commander Wilkes remarks of the Maori: " From the accounts and observations of all, it may safely be asserted that the Natives have no religion … either Christian or pagan."

In Earle’s narrative of his residence in New Zealand we find a statement to the following effect : "I have never discovered any symptoms of religion in these people, except it consists in a great variety of absurd and superstitious ceremonies."

Colenso is most emphatic in his remarks. He says, " Religion, according to both the true and popular meaning of the word, they had none. Whether religion be defined to be virtue, as founded upon the reverence of God and expectation of future rewards and punishments, or any system of divine faith and worship, they knew nothing of the kind. They had neither doctrine nor dogma, neither cultus nor system of worship. They knew not of any being who could properly be called God. They had no idols," &c. Setting aside Colenso’s somewhat peculiar definition of religion, it suffices to say that with all his knowledge of the Maori he never acquired aught concerning anything but the lower phases of their religion. The metaphysical leaning of the Native mind was also, apparently, a sealed book to Colenso.

Shortland, albeit a scholarly man, was also lacking in insight, and failed to understand the mentality of the Maori. He states : " The Maori has a very limited notion of the abstract. All his ideas take naturally a concrete form." He seems to base this belief on the Native habit of personifying the powers of nature; but has failed to note that the Maori genius for evolving belief in life principles and other activities and manifestations has carried him far on the road of abstract thought.

The Rev. James Buller condemns the hapless Maori in one brief sentence - " The Maoris were devil-worshipers."

In the following account of Maori religion and mythology most of the illustrative matter. Will be culled from the lore of the Takitumu tribes of the east coast of the North Island. In the first place, I happen to know more about these folk than any other division of our native people; in the second, the sacerdotal lore collected by various investigators from these tribes contains more detail and is of a superior type to any gained from western or northern peoples. Cook and his companions noted the superiority of the East Coast natives in their arts and mode of life.

Lang has told us that " the dirty rites of dirty savages " were formerly held to be unworthy of serious study. Broader-minded and more far-seeing students of human culture, including many modern ethnographers, tell us that there are good points in other religions than our own. Moreover, a study of the more primitive religions of the world serves to show us the stages of development through which the higher, systems have passed, and the process of refinement through which a national faith passes as the nation advances in general culture.

In any case we will not condemn the Maori who taught according to his beliefs and his mentality. In addition to the superior cult of Io, his nature forced him to believe in, and deal with, lower gods but when we look back on the path we ourselves have traversed we can scarcely afford to heap contempt upon the neolithic Maori. He firmly believed in his gods, the gods we call false, and his belief was the key-log of his social system; it was the cohesive power of the commune, and it was suitable to the culture stage in which he lived. Although he had evolved the concept of a Supreme Being, had commenced to traverse the long path that leads to monotheism, it may be said that To is not the true God, that To does not exist. That question we will not discuss, but leave to the days that. lie before. When the time comes, wherein man becomes more altruistic, and recognizes primary truths outside national, racial, and. sectarian limits, then the question may be reopened. In the meantime we will leave it at a remark made by an old tohunga ahurewa when told that his gods were false: "Ma Io tena. Mana e tatari" ("That is for Io to decide. He will sift the matter.")


True to his mythopoetic nature and the ever-present human desire to know the origin and meaning of everything, the Maori has evolved a cosmogonic scheme. His conceptions with regard to the origin of the universe, and of man resemble those of other races in certain respects, and we have a fairly complete account of his teachings under this head. Maori myth does not commence with the formation of the earth and the heavens, as is the case with some racial cosmogonic systems, but goes much farther back into the night of time.

The vast period of time prior to the appearance of Rangi and Papa, or Sky and Earth is termed the Po, a word that, in the vernacular tongue, means "night." This name is, however, also applied to the underworld to which go the spirits of the dead, and is further employed to denote the period prior to birth and the period after death. The underworld is not a, place of darkness, and the evidence shows that this expression, the Po, was used in these connections to denote not the darkness of night, but the darkness of the unknown: " Te Po" means " the unknown."

That period is, covered or represented in Maori cosmogonic mythology by a number of names that’ appear in the form of a genealogical table., There are various versions of this recital in different districts, and at least two different series of names. Most of them appear to begin with the name of Te Kore, a word implying negation, and here standing for " chaos " or, " nothingness." Then follow a series of names such as Te Pu, Te More, Te Take, Te Weu, &c., which appear to denote parts of a tree, thus reminding us of the cosmogonic tree of Old-World mythological systems. Other versions contain such names as Te Kune, Te Pupuke, Te Hihiri, Te Mahara, Te Hinengaro, and Te Manako, ere coming to the primal parents, Sky and Earth. These expressions may be rendered as "the conceiving," "the flowing-forth (or swelling), " the persevering " (or thinking), "the thought (or power of thinking)", "the mind" and the "longing" (or desiring). Again, in some versions each name is resolved into series of ten, as the first Kore to the tenth Kore, or Chaos, and the first Pu to the tenth Pu. Doubtless the old tohunga who evolved these cosmogonic recitals meant to personify or symbolize conditions and forces that brought the universe into being. The comparing of the growth of the universe to the growth of a tree calls to mind the world tree of Scandinavian myth, and a sentence in Mrs. Philpot’s work on The Sacred Tree : " The idea of referring to the form of a tree the apparent conformation of ‘the universe is one of the most natural methods of reasoning which can occur to the savage mind." We have also in Maori myth a plain reference to the world-pillar on which the earth rests.

The conception of the cosmogonic tree is met with in northern Europe and among the ancient Chaldeans, the Egyptians, Persians, Hindus, Chinese, and Japanese. Indian myth describes Brahma as the vast overspreading tree of the universe. A cosmogonic chant communicated by a Hauraki Native to Colonel Gudgeon describes the act of lo, the Supreme Deity, in bringing the universe into being. A perusal of these compositions, and a study of Maori myths, religion, and sacerdotal ceremonies, show, how closely the Maori resembles Asiatic folk in his mentality.

After the list of names representing the period of time termed the Po, we come to Rangi and Papa, Sky and Earth, the Sky Parent and the Earth Mother, the primal parents from whom all things sprang. These are given, in the recitals alluded to, as descended from the personifications already noted. Rangi sees Papa far below him and desires her; the two are mated, and their offspring are seventy, once told. These offspring are spoken of as supernatural beings; they are all males, and are personifications of natural phenomena and productions, tutelary, deities of peace and war, &c., and we shall meet with them when we come to speak of the departmental gods. The most famous beings among them are Tane, Tu, Rongo, Tangaroa, Tawhirimatea, and Whiro, and these are also known to the Natives of Polynesia as far north as the Hawaiian Islands.

When these children were born the Earth Mother was shrouded in darkness; the only sign of light was the feeble glimmer of the glow-worm. This condition is known as the ao taruaitu. Sky and earth were in close contact, for the Sky Parent was closely embracing the Earth Mother; their offspring clung to the side of Papa and sheltered within her armpits.


Tane now proposed to his brothers that their parents should be separated-that the Sky should, be forced upward that they might enjoy freedom of movement and the air of space. To this Whiro objected, hence he and others of the brethren resolved to remain within the body of the Earth Mother, where they still abide. Whiro dwells in the underworld ; he is the personified form of darkness, evil, and death. Tane remains in this world, the world of light and life; he personifies light; he is the fertilizer - he represents the powers of reproduction.

Tane and his companions succeeded in forcing the heavens up on high, and supporting them in that position by means of four poles used as props, the names of which are the names of the four Winds.

In order to bring light into the world, Tane went forth in search of the Whanau Marama, the light-giving ones, the Children of Light, whom he found in charge of Te Ikaroa (the Milky Way). These he placed in position on the breast of Rangi, the Sky ,Parent, which they still adorn they are the sun, moon, and stars. These stars are known as the little suns," and are ever under the ,care of their elders, the sun and moon.


After the separation of Rangi and Papa, deep grief was the lot of the primal parents; they mourned for each other, torn violently apart by their turbulent offspring. lo, the Supreme God, far away in the uppermost heaven, heard the moaning of the Earth Mother as she mourned for Rangi. He sent two of his attendants, Rehua and Ruatau, to inquire into the cause of her wailing. When lo the Parent heard of the act of the brethren he spake, saying, " Evil will result from this act." He then decreed that the Earth Mother should be turned over, with her face down to Rarohenga, that she might no longer be pained by gazing upon her lost companion, the Sky Parent. This was done, and the overturning of Papa-tuanuku is known as the Hurihanga a Mataaho. But ever do the primal parents mourn for each other, and when you see the soft rain falling to earth know that it represents the tears of Rangi, who weeps for his lost mate while the white mists that rise from earth and ascend to the heavens betoken the love of the Earth Mother for her lost companion.

Though the offspring cruelly separated their parents and’ for ever parted them, yet does the mother heart of Papa-tuanuku yearn for her Wayward children. At a certain time Rangi said, " Should death assail our offspring let us place them between us." But the Earth Mother said, " Not so. Leave them to me; let them return to me. Though they rebelled against us, yet are they still my children. I brought them forth to the world of life; in death they shall return and find rest within me. Mine shall be the care of the dead." Even so we see that man, when destroyed by Whiro and Maikinui, finds rest within the body of the Earth Mother. In the words of Montgomery –

Their loveliest Mother Earth
Enshrines the fallen brave
In her sweet lap who gave them birth
They find their tranquil grave.

And this is the first mention of the mother-love that outlasts all races and all creeds, expressed by the Maori in the terse aphorism, " He aroha whaereere, he potiki piri poho."


The story of the long contest between Tane and Whiro, as seen in Maori myth, is but a repetition of the old Persian concept of the struggle between Light and Darkness. In one particular only the two myths do not agree. In the Persian version the two contending powers possess a double character : one represents light and goodness, the other darkness and evil. The Maori myth makes Whiro represent darkness and evil, while Tane personifies light, but can hardly be said to stand for goodness or virtue.

In the old Zoroastrian cultus of Persia we note the belief that the principle of evil has existed from the very beginning of time, and did not come into existence after a good principle or Supreme Being. This places the Persian concept on a higher plane than that of the Maori, and, indeed, it is more satisfactory than the Scriptural account of the origin of, evil and of Satan. A paper by F. W. Frankland, published in the Monthly Review of 1889, contains some interesting remarks on this subject. The Maori tohunga of old taught that evil pertained to everything, animate and inanimate. With us it is the antithesis of moral goodness in man. Possibly the old Maori thinkers also believed in the eternal re-existence of evil, hence the necessity of Whiro and the "basket " of the knowledge of evil.

We have seen that this contest began ere the primal parents were separated. It has continued ever since. Whiro and his companions in the underworld are ever striving to destroy the offspring of Tane, man. Whiro instils evil into human hearts ;. Ruaumoko attacks man by means of earthquakes and volcanic outbursts; Maikinui, Maikiroa, and their dread train (personified forms of disease), who dwell within Tai-whetuki, the House of Death, ever assail mankind. The slaying of men by these fearsome beings never ceases; sooner or later one or the other will strike them down. Evil and Disease, the companions of Darkness, wage eternal war against man.

When Tane ascended to the uppermost heaven to obtain from lo the three baskets of Wisdom and occult knowledge Whiro was angered, for he had failed in the endeavour. Thus it was that Tane acquired one of his dozen names, Tane-i-te-wananga; he represents knowledge. Tane was conveyed to the heavens by the offspring of Huru-te-arangi, known as the Whanau puhi or, Wind Children. They wafted him upward through the vast space known as Te Ahoaho o Tukapua, which is said to be the dwellingplace of Hine-pukohu-rangi (the Mist Maiden), and, Aoaonui, and, Uhirangi, and the whole of the Cloud Children. These children ever dread Tawhirimatea and the Wind Children, who assail and harry them, and strive to banish them to the bounds of Ranginui, the Sky Parent.

Whiro endeavoured to prevent Tane ascending to the heavens, and sent the Whanau akaaka, the pests, to attack him. These were reptiles, insects, and birds. But Tane called upon the Wind Children, who hurried from all parts and dispersed the hordes of Whiro. They came from their great plaza of Tahuaroa, or Mahoranui-atea, the vast realm of Hine-moana, the Ocean Maid, in which boundless realm they ever meet to gambol and frolic.

Even so did Tane obtain the three baskets of knowledge for mankind - the basket of virtues, the basket of ritual formulae, and the basket of evil. With these may be compared the three baskets of knowledge of the Buddhists of India, which were the three sacred books of Buddhism.

After a long contest between Tane and Whiro the latter retired to the underworld, where he still abides, and, as we have seen, is still active.


It is now full time to explain what Tane represents. He is the Fertilizer, the power that fertilized the Earth Mother and caused her to produce vegetation of all kinds. He represents light, and brought light into the world. He is the parent of the Dawn Maid, and the renewer of the life and light of Hina, the moon. He has many names to accord with his many functions. For instance, as Tane-mahuta he represents trees; as Tane-i-te-wananga he represents occult knowledge; as Tane te Waiora he represents sunlight ; and this is the Waiora a Tane of Maori myth, in which Hina-uri, the darkened moon, bathes, to return to this world once more young and beautiful. Tane it is who warms the body of the Earth Mother, and is the cause and conserver of all life. Tane is the personified form of the sun.

As the universal fertilizer, Tane is naturally credited with having produced trees and all plants. By his union with Hine-tu-pari-maunga, the Mountain Maid, was produced Para-whenua-mea (the personified form of the waters of earth) and Tuamatua, who was, the origin of rock and. all forms of stone. His family includes Rakahore (personified form of solid rock), who appears in an old aphorism, " E kore a Para-whenua-mea e haere ki te kore, a Rakahore " (i.e., Water will not move abroad unless rock is at hand, otherwise it would sink into the earth). This mother of waters is spoken of as the wife of Kiwa; they produced the waters, and the ocean is the Great Ocean of Kiwa. The progeny and descendants of Tane are a multitude.


When Tane and his brothers resolved to produce man, a race other than supernatural beings, they were confronted by a serious difficulty: woman did not exist. Full long sought the brethren in the world of life and throughout far realms, ever seeking the female element. All female beings found were of a nature super- natural, and all those of the heavens were also supernatural beings; these could not produce man, the mortal. A female of earthly origin must be found in order to institute the condition termed ira tangata (human life - life as possessed by men of this world). At that period nought existed save the ira atua (supernatural life - life as known to gods).

It was now resolved to create woman, and Tane the Fertilizer, as representing the male element, was appointed to carry out the task. On the body of the Earth Mother he fashioned an image in human form-fashioned it of earth, a portion of the body of Papa. Into this body, this lifeless form of earth, it was necessary to instil life. The spirit (the breath of life) and the mind (the power of thought) were obtained from - lo the Supreme, God. When Tane introduced these, when the breath of life entered the nostrils of the earthen image, the life-principle of man took possession of it : breathing commenced, the eyes opened, a sneeze broke from the nostrils ; the forebear of the ira tangata was endowed with life; a person, a female, lived. Woman had entered the world.

The inferior or earthly element necessary to the generation of man was now acquired, and this first woman was named Hine-ahu-one, the Earth-formed Maid. Tane the Fertilizer now took Hine to wife, and begat Hine-titama - she who bounds night and day; she whose beauty has been famed since man appeared on earth, to gaze on whom causes the eyes to glisten with delight. Hine-titama is the Dawn Maid.

Tane then took the Dawn Maid to wife, and their daughter was Hine-rau-wharangi - she who personifies the growth of vegetation. Mother and daughter were conveyed outside their house, Hui-te-ana-nui, and seated in the porch thereof, and all the people assembled to greet them-to welcome the child into the world of life, for this is an old, old custom of the Maori folk. It is known as the Maioha ceremony. They were then conveyed to a stream, on the brink of which the mat called a takapau wharanui was spread, and on which mother and child were laced. The priest entered the water, and, standing therein, took the babe in his arms and baptized her according to the ancient ceremonial of the Maori. In this peculiar rite the child was dedicated to the Supreme Being, and at a certain stage of the intoned ritual a little bird, the miromiro, was released and allowed to fly away. The ceremony endows the child with mana, and protects its life- principle. The bird is viewed as a link between the child and the gods, a means of communication. This singular ceremonial of releasing a bird is, or was, also practised in India. There is no more tapu ceremony than this Tohi rite performed over a child of rank, for it originated at a time when the gods walked the earth.


At a certain time Hine-titama inquired of Tane, " Who is my father? " And Tane replied, " Ask the posts of the house Hui-te-ana-nui; they will tell you." So the knowledge came to Hine. She spoke to Tane, saying, " I go now to the underworld, within the body of our ancient Earth Mother, there to prepare a place for our children, and from which I will look upward and see you all far above me."

As day approached, Hine fled and made her way to Poutere-rangi, whence passes the path that leads to the underworld. Tane pursued her, weeping as he went, but Hine turned and forbade him coming farther, saying, " Return, O Tane ! For you is the world of light, for me the realm of the unknown; for you to rear our children, for you to bring them into the world of life, while I will draw them down to the underworld and protect their spiritual welfare."

Then Hine passed on’. The guardian of the entrance to the spirit-world endeavoured to dissuade her, saying, " The world of light and life is behind you, the gloomy underworld before you ; turn back." . But Hine said, " Not so. I go to the underworld, the realm of the dead, there to protect the spiritual welfare of my children of the upper world "

(" Tukua atu au hi te angi o te Muriwai hou hei kapu mai i te toiora o aku tamariki i te ao turoa ").

It was then that the path of death was opened, then that the current of death began to flow ceaselessly from this world down to Rarohenga, the underworld, and never since has it ceased to flow, from that remote time even unto this day ; as Whiro and Maikinui destroy their bodies, the spirits of men ever flow like water down to Rarohenga, to enter the realm of Hine-nui-te-Po, erst the Dawn Maid.

In the above story we have a myth of considerable interest. Tane, the personified form of the sun, pursues the Dawn Maid westward until, at the edge of the world, she makes him return. Tane has to return because he has to rise again next morn and beget another Dawn Maid; hence he was turned back from the bounds of Night, the Po of the Maori. But the Dawn Maid can never return to this world, the world of light ; in the far west she must become Night, hence her new name of Hine-nui-te-Po. She must descend to the realm of gloom, where she receives all Dawn Maids as they, one after another, pass into night. For her also the task of protecting the toiora, the spiritual welfare, of man, for men are the descendants of Tane and herself, and ever, as death finds them, they hie them to the former Dawn Maid and seek her kindly guardianship.

There is no peace in the underworld, the realm of spirits, save in the region where abide the souls of the dead. For ever war wages between Hine, the beautiful, and dark, dread Whiro and his followers. The spirits of the dead are drawn down by Rua-toia and Rua-kumea, when Whiro and the Tini o Poheua ever strive to destroy them, while Hine and the Tini o Parangeki ever defend them. Were it not for Hine our spirits would be hated within Tai-whetuki, the house of death, and there destroyed. The Mother of our race is the salvation of man.


In Maori myths, as preserved by the Takitumu tribes, one frequently encounters references to the ara whanui a Tane (the broad path of Tane), as, for instance, in the old saying, " He mata mahora no te ara whanui a Tane." This singular concept, which reappears among the natives of the Cook Islands, is a striking illustration of the mythopoetic nature of Maori mentality. The explanation is as follows:-

Prior to the death of a person in this world the spirits of his dead forebears come hither from the underworld in order to guide his spirit to the spirit-land. The path to that realm leads across the vast spaces of Tahora-nui-atea, the ever-rolling realm of Hine-moana, the troubled breast of the Ocean Maid. For the spirit- world lies far, far away to the westward, away at the bounds of night; where the ruddy form of Tane hangs above the realm of Hine. And so, when night approaches, Tane te Waiora, the Shining One, throws the bridge of souls far across the plaza of the Ocean Maid. Far away it stretches athwart the rippling waters, true to the setting sun that beckons where the sky hangs down, the gleaming spirit-path calls to the waiting spirits in the Aoturoa. For it is the ara whanui a Tane, the glittering sun-glade, the golden path of the setting sun.

Along that gleaming path pass the spirits of the dead, the path provided by their ancestor Tane, the path that leads to the realm of their ancient mother, Hine, the Dawn Maid. For, ever the setting sun and the sinking soul of man are linked together in the human mind, even as the ever-returning sun has helped to induce uncultured man to evolve the belief in resurrection or immortality. And that far-off region into which pass the setting sun and the soul of man is to the Maori the " Hidden Home of Tane."

Such is the Maori conception of the passage of the spirit to the spirit-world; and truly the thought grows that Moore must have been thinking of the ara whanui a Tane when he wrote –

And though his life has passed away
Like lightning on a stormy day,
Yet shall his death-hour leave a track
Of glory permanent and bright.

These spirits of the dead, having crossed the vast ocean to the red west, finally reach the ancient home-land of the Maori race, the land of Irihia, and there, at Hawaiki-nui, they separate. Those who sympathize with the Earth Mother pass down the long descent known as Taheke-roa to the underworld; those who sympathize with Rangi the Sky Parent ascend by means of the gyrating whirlwind to the heavens, and so pass upward to the uppermost heaven, where dwells lo-matua (lo the Parent), and are there welcomed by the company of celestial maids, the twelve mareikura. Thus we note in laments for the dead such words as the following :-

E mau to ringa ki te to! huarewa
I kake ai Tane ki Tikitiki-o-rangi,
Ma urutomo koe ki roto o Te Rauroha,
Kia powhiritia niai koe e nga mareikura
O roto o Rangiatea
Ka whakaoti te niahara i kona ki talao,
E hine . . . e.
[Grasp in your hand the toi huarewa by which Tane ascended to the uttermost heaven, that you may enter within Te Rauroha, that you may be welcomed by the mareikura of Rangiatea, then will all remembrance of this world cease, O maid."]

Such is the conclusion of a mother’s lament for her dead child, who died on the, island of Motu-kairangi,* (Now Miramar Peninsula) at Wellington, many generations ago.

We have seen that the Maori has never evolved a belief in the punishment of the human spirit after death. Yet he believed in the existence of two spirit-worlds, one situated under the earth’ and one in the heavens. It seems quite possible that this peculiar conception might have resulted, in time, in a belief in a heaven and hell such as those of Christian teachings. The Maori had already a very good substitute for Satan in our old friend Whiro, and the benevolent lo would fill the position of a beneficent deity. A study of these beliefs and the cult of Io shows us that Maori religion was in a very interesting stage of development, and a worthy subject for the attention of the ethnographer.

The Rev. Mr. Yate tells us that the Reinga (the ordinary name for the underworld) is a place of torment, but his statement is absolutely untrue. No Maori held such a belief, but all held that wrongdoing is punished by the gods in this world. This belief was the true basis of the peculiar substitutes for civil law that existed in the Maori commune, and it is interesting to note how effective those substitutes were. It has been argued that a belief in the punishment of wrongdoers in the next world is necessary to the maintaining of social and moral order in this life, but experience and observation do not bear out such an assumption. One Schwaner tells us that the natives of the Barito River region of Borneo do not believe in any system of punishment after death, and adds, " From this principle those defective ethics result which are found among all these people." On the subject of the defective ethics of civilized communities, however, he maintains a discreet silence.

It may be remarked that the Maori concept of life in his two spirit-worlds is vague. Of that in the upper spirit-land we have collected no information, but in the underworld the life of the spiritual beings is described as being much the same as it was in this world, save that no form of evil exists in act or thought. Indeed, the denizens of that realm can scarcely be termed spiritual beings, inasmuch as they consume fold and cultivate it, wear clothing, and tattoo themselves - practices that can scarcely be said to pertain to spiritual life. However, perhaps we had better not enlarge on the vagueness of Maori conceptions, for our own ideas of life in the upper spirit-world are by no means too clear, though that charge cannot be brought against certain teachings of life in the subterranean spirit-world, wherein, peradventure, some of us are booked for an extremely sultry time.

The Rev. Mr. Yate tells a story of a Maori who considered the European heaven to be quite unattainable: " Taki, an old man of Ohaeawai, is still hard and stubborn. He said that he was quite satisfied to go to hell, so long as he could get what he wanted in this world before lie went there, as he was quite sure that he would never reach heaven."


Albeit much more remains to be said concerning native myths, we must now pass on to other subjects. We have already mentioned a number of supernormal beings who are alluded to as atua, a term we render as " gods," though the latter term is by no means always a suitable one.

The Pou-tiriao, or Guardians.

These were supernatural beings who were appointed by command from Io-nui (Great lo, the Supreme Being) as guardians and supervisors of all realms of the earth, the heavens, and the ocean, as also of the underworld. Their duties were to watch over and promote the welfare of all things in all places, to prevent troubles of all kinds, to allay all evils, and to preserve peace among all things. Their activities apparently extended to what we call inanimate things, and this would result from the singular belief the Maori had in animatism-that is, the possession of a spirit, a life-principle, by inanimate matter. Tane was entrusted with the task of placing these guardians, who were to be controlled indirectly by lo through the medium of the Whatu-kura, his attendants in the uppermost heaven.

Thus Te Kuwatawata, Hurumanu and Taururangi were appointed as guardians of ‘Rarohenga, the subterranean spirit-world, and of the thrice-sacred Hono-i-wairua, situated at a place known by the four names of Hawaiki-nui, Hawaiki-rangi, Hawaiki-whakaeroero and Poutere-rangi. This place is on the summit of Maungaharo, also known as the Tihi o Manono in the old homeland of the Maori. Here the four ara matua, or spirit-paths, from the north, south, east, and west meet at Hawaiki-nui, by which paths the spirits of the dead come from all quarters of the earth, there to separate and pass down the Muriwai hou to the underworld, or ascend to the uppermost heaven.

The guardians selected for the realm of Rangi, the Sky Parent, were Uru-te-ngangana, Roiho, and Roake. In their care were the heavenly bodies, as also the denizens of the eleven heavens.

The guardians appointed to the realm of Hinemoana, the Ocean Maid, were Kiwa, Tangaroa-whakamau-tai, and Kaukau.

Tu-kapua, Te lhorangi, and Tama-te-uira were appointed as guardians to control the winds, clouds, rain, mist, lightning, and thunder.

Tu-matauenga, Tu-matakaka, and Te Akaaka-matua were appointed to control the activities of Maiki-nui, Maiki-roa, and their many brethren, all of whom are personified forms of disease and sickness.

Those appointed to control the seasons were Te Ikaroa (Milky Way), Rongomai-taharangi, and Rongomai-tahanui.

The guardians appointed to control all fish, shell-fish, and other denizens of the waters were Rongomai-tuwaho, Tiwha-nui, and Mauhi.

Taka-urunga, Taka-tua, and Kekerewai were to guard the welfare of all things on earth, and also control the department of superior knowledge.

To guard and control all plant and tree life, all insects, reptiles, birds, &c., of the world, was the task of Tane-i-te-hokahoka, Tangai-waho, and Rongo-maraeroa.

Those selected to guard and supervise all tapu things and places, good and evil spirits, and all ritual, were Tane-i-te-wananga, Tupai-whakarongo-wananga, and Rongo.

Those appointed to act as observers of the activities of the various guardians, to prevent trouble arising among them, and to report on their abilities to the Whatukura, ere such matters were laid before Great Io the Parentless, were Tane-matua, Nganangana-a-rangi, and Turamarama-a-nuku.

Io, the Supreme Being.

In speaking of the gods of the Maori the first matter calling for attention is that of classification. If we include in our purview all beings termed atua by the Maori, and on whom they relied for help in the crises of life, then it will, I believe, be necessary to form our atua maori into four classes.

In the first grade, and standing alone in his majesty, comes Io, he who is termed lo the Parent, lo the Parentless, lo the Great, and lo of the Hidden Face. The second class is composed of what may be called departmental gods, as those who preside over war, peace, the forest, winds, ocean, agriculture, &c. Then we come to a third class, whom I term tribal gods, not so widely known as those of the second class, and of a somewhat lower grade. Lastly we come to such as are the spirits of dead forebears, and the knowledge of whom is confined to a small area.

The Maori concept of a Supreme Being forms one of the most interesting subjects connected with this highly interesting people. Inasmuch as lo was known to the folk of the Cook and Society Groups, it is evident that he is not a local production, that the concept must hail from other lands. As to how far across the ocean this belief and name may have been carrried no man may say, or as to how many centuries the Maori has retained this belief.

The intense sacredness pertaining to lo prevented any familiar description of him, hence the vagueness surrounding him. It was equalled only among such peoples as the Semites, who employed descriptive names to enable them to avoid pronouncing the true name of the Supreme Being. When the Maori heard us English folk employing the name of God in cursing each other, and even in manner humorous, his feelings were those of amazement and contempt. The easy familiarity with which the most pious among us pronounce the name of God would have been impossible to Maori or Semite. Such a conception of intense sacredness is unknown among modern civilized races.

The number of men initiated into the cult of lo was but small; only members of the higher grade of priestly experts and men of high-class families were allowed to learn the ritual pertaining to it. The common folk apparently had no part in it, and it is doubtful if they were even allowed to know the name of the Supreme Being. This cult of lo was an esoteric one; that of the lower tribal gods may be termed exoteric. All ritual and ceremonial pertaining to lo was retained in the hands of the superior priesthood, by no means a numerous body. It may be described as an aristocratic cultus, known only to such experts and the more important chiefs. It is quite probable, indeed, that this superior creed may have been too exalted for ordinary minds, that such would prefer to depend on more accessible and less moral deities.

Io is said to have existed for all time ; he was never born, hence his name of lo-matua-kore (lo the Parentless). He begat no being, but he was the origin of the universe and of the lower gods - he caused them to exist. There is no proof that lo was raised to the primacy from a polytheistic system, or because he was a primal ancestor, or a great nature force, such as the sun. The concept bears the aspect of a metaphysical abstraction, the result of a speculative philosophy seeking a First Cause.

Max Muller tells us that God can be recognized by deep thinkers of any race. Lang remarks that in barbaric theology can often be traced the conception of a Supreme Deity; while an old saying in India is, " He who is above the gods alone is God."

The writer has a considerable quantity of the old karakia, or ritual formulae, pertaining to the cult of lo, and which was intoned by officiating priests. These effusions are remarkable productions; they are ancient chants couched in exceedingly archaic language, and are, moreover, often true invocations - a rare occurrence in Maori ritual. Such ritual employed only on what were deemed important occasions such as the birth, sickness, or death of a person of rank, the opening of the tapu school of learning, the installation of the medium of a god, or any serious calamity threatening the tribe.

It is interesting to note that no form of offering or sacrifice was made to lo, that no image of him was ever made, and that he had no aria, or form of incarnation, such as inferior gods had. We have no time to prolong the study of this subject, but an examination of the ritual referred to shows that the Maori concept of the Supreme Being was pitched upon a high plane of thought. The purity of the conception, and the practices of the cultus, were doubtless preserved by allowing people to deal with lower types of gods, or even to practise shamanism if they were so disposed.

One of the twelve names of lo is lo-te-waiora, and he is so named because he is the, welfare of everything; the life and welfare, physical and spiritual of all things emanate from lo.

It is just possible that the ancestors of the Maori brought the name of lo from an Asiatic home-land. In Renan’s History of the People of Israel the author states that the name of lahveh, or lahoue, became contracted into lahou, or lo. Of a verity it would be a startling discovery to find that lo is but a form of the name Jehovah. However, these far-off speculations are outside the present writer’s province.

In his work on Anthropological Religion Max Muller tells us that a system of departmental gods, such as that of the Maori, calls for a Supreme Being to place above them. He believes that, an early stage of religion was polytheistic; then departmental gods were introduced, and, later, these became subordinate to a Supreme Being. A much more advanced stage is represented by monotheism, which is a comparatively modern development.

It is assuredly a fact that the lower gods of the Maori pantheon were not worshipped, and the only ritual savouring of such a feeling is that pertaining to lo.

Certain barbaric folk of yore believed in a Supreme Being they called Jahweh, or some such name. We believe in one we call God, a concept apparently derived from that of Jehovah or Jahweh. The Maori believed in his Io. There cannot be two or more Supreme Beings. Are these but different names for one being, or is lo of the Maori to be put out of court? And, if so, why?

A Monotheistic Tendency in Maori Beliefs.

An old and learned Native at one time made a very remarkable statement to a friend of the writer. They had been discussing the gods of the Maori, and certain remarks made by the Native led the European to say, ", Then your higher priests seem to have believed that all gods are one? " " Yes," replied the old man, "all gods are one, but the people must not be told so. All gods are one, but he has many names."

In a form of lecture delivered to some young Native learners fifty years ago another old sage remarked, " There is one parent of all things, one god of all things, one lord, one spirit ; hence all things are as one, and all originated with lo-taketake " (original or eternal lo).

Now, this is a tendency observable in the ancient religious systems of Egypt and Babylonia, in which one god possessed many names - in the case of Babylonia, twelve names, as lo of the Maori had, and as Tane had. "We know," writes J. E. Carpenter in his Comparative Religion, " that both India and Greece reached the conception of a unity of energy in diversity of operation ; ‘the One with many names’ was the theme of Hindu seers long before Aeschylus in almost identical words proclaimed ‘one form with many names.’ "

As to our Maori friend’s statement that there is but one spirit or soul of all things, listen to a remark by Moncalm in his Origin of Thought: "Those who consider the Supreme Being as the Infinite in Nature, and the individual soul as the Infinite in Man, must consider God and the soul as one, not two, seeing there cannot be two Infinites. Such is the belief of the Hindus ; but the belief does not belong to them exclusively."

The Maori belief was that the wairua (spirit or soul) of man came from lo; he sent it to be implanted in Hine-ahu-one, the first woman, from whom man inherits it.

I do not say that the Maori would have ever achieved monotheism, but merely draw attention to interesting illustrations of introspective thought on his part, and a certain tendency to combine his many gods. In his great work on Primitive Culture Professor Tylor points out that in order to introduce monotheism the attributes of deity must be confined to one being - a remark that looks like a theological axiom. He also states that no savage tribe of monotheists has ever been known; concerning which statement Lang remarks, "And very few civilized populations, if any, are monotheistic in this sense." Tylor held that peoples of low culture-stages hold the doctrine of polytheism, which culminates in the rule of one supreme divinity; he denies that such folk are pantheists.

The Departmental Gods of the Maori.

Under this heading come what may be termed the second-class gods of the Maori, the most important of whom were certain members of the offspring of the Sky Parent and Earth Mother. Of these the first place was taken by Tane, probably because he was the progenitor of man ; others were Tu, Rongo, Tangaroa, Tawhirimatea, and Whiro. Some others are viewed rather as originating beings only, such as Punaweko, Peketua, Tuamatua, Te Akaaka-matua, and others.

Tane has control over a forests and forest products; hence bird-snarers and tree-fellers were careful to placate him. His mana was also great in connection with the whare wananga, or tapu school of learning, and in other matters.

Rongo presides over the arts of peace and peace-making ceremonial. He is also the atua or god of the kumara and of cultivated food products generally, as also of the arts of the husbandman.

Tu is the god of war, and is placated in connection with all matters pertaining to that art. Offerings were made to these beings.

Fornander tells us that in olden times the Hawaiians seem to have looked upon Tane, Tu, and Rongo as but three names for one god. As Tane certainly represented the sun with those folk, it looks as though these three names represent different phases or stages of the sun’s movements. I have long been inclined to think that Tu stands for the setting sun. He represents war and death, and the setting sun is connected with death in Old-World mythologies. If this is so, then he is ranged by the side of Tu of Babylonia and Tum of Egypt; and even in far-off Germany the god of war was Tiu.

In Egypt Tum, or Ra-tum, was the setting sun, apparently a personification and deity; while in eastern Polynesia - half a world away - ra tumu denotes the setting sun. In our local dialect tumu has, among other meanings, that of "battlefield." Tu has many names, and, at Mangaia, is said to dwell in the underworld, which would be an appropriate place for a setting sun.

But Rongo is perhaps the greatest puzzle of the two. He is coupled with Tane, both in New Zealand and the Society Group, as Rongomatane (Rongo-ma-Tane, or Rongo and Tane), and this title is used as though pertaining to a single being. This is certainly suggestive. At the Cook Islands Rongo and Ra (the sun) are said to dwell in the shades. In the Hawaiian Isles Rongo is said to dwell on the waters, and is spoken of as the light of heaven on the earth.

In Fornander’s collection of Hawaiian lore we see that Hina went to reside in the heavens, and there assumed the name of Lono-moku. In our Maori dialect this name would be Rongo-motu, or Crippled Rongo. Here we have Hina and Rongo as two names for one being, and that being is the personification of the moon.

At Samoa Rongo is the son of Tangaroa by Sina. Sina, or Hina, is the moon, or personification of the moon, all over Polynesia and in New Zealand, though in some Melanesian tongues sina is the sun, the word meaning "shining " or " to shine." In far away Assyria Sin was the moon god. Fenton states that Rono seems to have been a name for the moon god among the Accadians. Throughout Polynesia Sina is connected with light ; she appears as the woman in the moon, as the wife of Tane, as the sister of Maui (who also represents light); and at Niue the heavens are the " bright land of Sina." Altogether Rongo is an interesting abstraction, and I cannot agree with Fornander’s statement that Rongo and Tu represent Sound and Stability.

In Tangaroa we have the being who represents all fish, and is essentially an ocean god, though the latter word does not represent all functions of these beings, who are, under certain conditions, viewed as tutelary beings and originating powers, even as parents.

Tawhirimatea is the personified form of winds, each wind having its own personification. Seafarers recite charms and make offerings to this being, and to Tangaroa, in connection with the dangers of the ocean.

Tu is the principal war god, but a host of inferior beings served as tribal war gods. Of these Maru, Uenuku, and Kahukura are widely known, the two last being personified forms of the rainbow. Below such as these come numbers of inferior gods or demons, many of whom were known to only one tribe. These were employed as war gods, as the vivifying power of magic spells, and for many other purposes. The form of atua whose cult was most restricted was represented by ancestral spirits, who were approached or conciliated by a living descendant. The inferior gods had human mediums, priestly experts or shamans, who performed all ceremonial pertaining to such beings. Some gods are personified forms of natural phenomena, such as comets, meteors, lightning, thunder, &c.


Of the ritual of Maori religion, there is but little to say in this paper, for that way distraction lies. In the higher-class ritual formulae only can anything like true invocation be observed. In other cases all is resolved into what may be termed incantations or charms, in which no appeal or prayer is noticeable. Like the early Egyptians, the Maori recited, or rather intoned, such ritual in the belief that, indirectly, it would affect the gods and cause them to assist the cause of the priestly medium. Offerings were made to all gods below the Supreme Being with a view to placation. Offences against the gods usually consisted of some breach of the laws of tapu, the most potent institution in Maori life. It would take too much time to here describe this tapu, but it may be said that it represented a series of prohibitions. Any infringement of these unwritten laws was punished by the gods, and punishment followed swiftly the offence. Herein lies the kernel of the power of Maori religion in maintaining order in the social commune. We may deride it as gross superstition, but it was a virile institution, an effective and useful power.

Human sacrifice was not a marked feature of Maori religion. There is some evidence to show that it was more frequently practised in olden times than in late centuries. Some signs of Melanesian influence may be seen in the sacrifice of persons at the erection of a new fortified village or house, as on the East Coast, and the placing of their bodies at the bases of stockade or house posts. There is, however, no proof that it was a common custom, or that it has been practised for many generations.

Divination and omens entered largely into Maori life, and much might be written on these subjects. Divining was practised by means of consulting the actions of the aria (or form of incarnation of an atua), the stars, or fire, and in many other ways. Hallucination or so-called demoniac possession was induced or feigned by tohunga with a divinatory object, and great faith was placed in dreams. Gross superstitions had a strong hold on the people.

Song and festival marked the heliacal rising of the Pleiades, which on the East Coast marked the commencement of the new year, as it did in the Cook Islands, and also, in olden times, in far off southern Asia. The planets and principal stars were invoked in the singular first-fruits ceremonial, and the new moon was, at. least in some districts, welcomed with song by the women.

In Maori myth or belief the Pleiades are termed " the food- bringers" ; Rehua (Antares) represents the heat of summer ; while Wero stands for wintry cold. There appear to be several stars named Wero, one being Wero-i-te-ninihi, a name rendered by White as meaning "pierce the coward " at page, 137, Volume 1, of his Ancient History of the Maori, though at page 149 he translates it as "arouse the absconding." There is an undiscovered mine of wealth for some future humorist in the pages of that work.


Moncalm tells us that the last breath of a dying person gave the first conception of the presence in man of a non-corporeal principle. In some cases man has employed a word meaning "breath" to define the soul, but the Maori calls that spirit the wairua, a word meaning "shadow" or any unsubstantial image. The word ata, having a similar meaning in Maori, is applied to the human spirit or soul in some isles of the Pacific. The wairua of Maori belief is that which leaves the body at death and goes to the spirit-world. It also is believed to quit the body during the life of that physical basis and move abroad, as in the case of dreams. When any very tapu ceremonial was being performed by a select few the other members of the community remained in their huts lest their wairua be affected by the potent ritual.

This wairua, although invisible to all save the matatuhi, or seers, yet seems to acquire material form in sonic conditions, as, for example, in the subterranean spirit-world, where the spirits are sometimes said to live much as they do in this world. Against this we can place a very singular and interesting belief contained in what may be termed the inner teachings of the higher grade of priestly adepts. This is to the effect that after a certain period the wairua sloughs off its grosser qualities, when there remains an intangible, etherealized spirit called the awe. This is a word denoting lightness, and is applied to the down of birds, to clouds, and the soot deposited by the smoke of burning wood. Hare Hongi uses the term hamano to denote this purified spirit, a word allied to mano, which means the core or very centre - perhaps essence or refined element in this case. This is an interesting concept, and an illustration of metaphysical reasoning on the part of the ancient Maori.

Lord Avebury has said that "The savage does not realize the idea of a spirit as we do : it is always more or less material." This cannot be said of the Maori awe, and the word wairua, denoting "shadow" and sometimes "reflection" as in water, can hardly be said to have had a material origin.

It seems to me highly probable that in my ignorance of this subject my system of terminology may be entirely wrong, but I have waded through deep waters in endeavouring to obtain a clear, well-recognized definition of the terms "spirit" and "soul." Many ministers of divers sects have stated that both terms are used very loosely. One says that the soul equals life and intelligence, while the spirit is that which leaves the body at death. The theory of the tripartite nature of man seems to show the soul as man’s ego - a comparatively gross element - while the spirit represents the spiritual nature of man. If so, then presumably the soul does not survive the death of the physical basis. But here enter the dicta of the Handbook of Folk-lore, wherein "soul" is limited to the separable personality of the living man, "ghost" to the same thing after death, and "spirit" to a soul-like being that has never been associated with a human or animal body. Here it is the soul that is the ethereal element that goes to the spirit-world; but you must not call it a "soul" then, it is a "ghost" ; while "spirit" pertains only to inanimate objects - which, however, may not be deemed inanimate by uncultured man. The modern term "animatism" denotes the attributing of life and personality to things, but not a separate or apparitional soul.

This leads us to the Maori conception of different spiritual potential in man. Apart from the wairua, our Maori friend possesses a mauri. One of the definitions of "soul" already given would here be fairly suitable, but our definitions differ too widely to allow of the expression being safely used. The mauri of man seems to be his life-principle; it represents the life that animates his body, and it ceases to exist when death claims the body. The term mauri bespeaks activity, in the same sense that the old Greek term thymos denoted inward commotion, and as in Tamil the soul is called "the dancer." The thymos was an activity that ceased to exist at the death of the body as also does the mauri. The psyche is, on the contrary, a something active, and survives the body : such is the wairua. Max Muller considers that the terms "soul" and "ghost" both originally implied commotion. Psyche originally meant "breath." The mauri, then, is the life-principle that cannot survive the death of the body; hence the expression "Kua ukiuki te mauri " is equivalent to saying that the person alluded to is dead. The mauri, like the wairua, is not located in any organ of the body.

The expression mauri ora is employed to denote the tapu aspect of the life-principle of man; and should this tapu principle become polluted in any way, then the life and general welfare of its physical basis are in extreme danger, inasmuch as they become exposed to the powers of black magic and all other harmful influences. The hidden meaning of this condition is that the loss of tapu means the withdrawal of the protection of the gods. So firm was the belief of the Maori in the power and far-reaching influence of his gods that his religion or superstition (call it which you will) was the most prominent feature of his life. It affected to a remarkable extent his everyday actions, and when he believed that the gods had withdrawn their help and protection from him he became very seriously affected, expecting every moment to feel the clutch of dread Whiro.

The Aotea folk say that the moa became extinct because its mauri was interfered with or polluted by the early Maori settlers in these isles.

In some Polynesian dialects mauri is used to denote a ghost, also "life" or "alive." A variant form employed in New Zealand and elsewhere is mouri, which at Niue Island becomes moui, meaning "life" and "living" ; and Moui was a sun god of Egypt. In the Niue dialect fakamoui (faka, a causative prefix) means "to save," and whakamaui bears a similar meaning here in our local dialect. Those acquainted with the Maori myth of Maui will note the suggestive nature of these data, for assuredly Maui represents light - either the sun or day - hence, like Tane, he is connected with knowledge, and so becomes Maui-matawaru (Maui the Wise).

We now enter the realm of animatism for a brief space in order to point out that not only - all the lower animals, but also all matter termed by us, inanimate, possesses a mauri or life-principle according to Native belief. Such apparently lifeless matter as stone could not exist unless it possessed this vital principle. This is a singular belief, and a subject on which much might be said but we have no time to deal with it at present. There is one form of mauri, however, that may be briefly discussed. A material mauri – i.e., an object called a mauri often consisting of a stone - was employed in order to protect and preserve the fruitfulness or welfare of a forest, a stream, the ocean, a village, &c. Such an object was a taunga atua, a sort of shrine, as it were, in which certain gods were enshrined by means of very peculiar ceremonial. These gods were the power that protected the forest or village. Should this emblem become vitiated or polluted in any way, then the gods withdrew such protection, and thus exposed the people, birds, fish, fruits, or trees to many dangers. Here we have analogous conditions to those pertaining to the immaterial mauri of man. The gods protect both; they are, We may say, present in both, unless expelled or forced to retire by some infringement of the laws of tapu, or lack of placation by man. Material mauri were employed by deep-ocean voyagers and by travellers on land journeys. It was a protecting talisman.

The Maori had the same objection to waking a sleeping person that Indonesians have, the danger of such an act being that the sleeper’s spirit may be absent from his body at the time. Again, the belief that such human spirits appear in the form of moths and butterflies may be traced from New Zealand and Samoa right across the wide world to Ireland.

The hau of a person seems to represent his vital principle, or vital mana, as the hau of land or a forest represents its vitality.

The term ngakau is used to denote the mind in some cases ; it is the seat of emotions, the feelings, and these are located in the viscera. The word puku is used in much the same manner to denote the feelings, as in puku takaro ( = playful) : puku riri ( = quarrelsome). Puku is the stomach.

Mahara expresses thought, memory, to think, to remember. Whakaaro denotes thought, opinion, understanding, also to think or consider. The term hinengaro seems to be used to express conscience and mind. The expression manawa ora means, "the breath of life."

We thus see that the Maori viewed certain organs of the body as the seat of thought and the emotions, while the spiritual potentiae were not so located. These beliefs resemble those of Asiatic and Mediterranean races; hence we possess such terms as " phrenics," denoting "mental philosophy," because the Greeks believed the diaphragm to be the seat of thought.


We have already seen in this broken narrative that the Maori of yore possessed a veritable genius for personification and mytho-poetical allegories. This faculty is an attribute of peoples of the lower culture-stages, but is weakened as they attain a high plane of civilization. We still retain, however, some traces of this old phase of mentality, principally in poetry, as in Montgomery’s lines –

Spirit of Vengeance, rest!
Sweet Mercy cries "Forbear!"
She clasps the vanquished to her breast :
Thou wilt not pierce them there."
And again :-
When with the mother’s pangs the expiring Earth
Shall bring her, children forth to second birth.

We have already noted many of these personifications in the foregoing pages. We have observed the Maori attitude toward the earth and sky, and the phases of preceding chaos. We have seen that the offspring of the primal pair are but personified forms. The list of the offspring of the wives of Tane teems with personifications, for Hine-te-uira represents the lightning ; Hine rau-wharangi represents growth in the vegetable world; Para-whenua-mea, the waters of earth; Rakahore, the rock of land and sea; Hine-tu-a,-hoanga, various kinds of sandstone; and Hine-one, the sand of seashore and river-beds. The sun has two wives, Hine-raumati (the Summer Maid) and Hine-takurua (the Winter Maid) ; he spends half the year with each. In Hine-Whaitiri the Maori personifies thunder, in Te lhorangi rain, in Wahieroa and Auahi-turoa the comet, in Uenuku and Kahukura the rainbow, in Hina the moon, in Hine-ahiahi the evening, and so on. To describe the universal personification adopted by the Maori would call for a special paper.


in his work on Primitive Traditional History Hewitt explains how myths came to be evolved, and their purport ; how slow we were to understand the personifications they contain, and how we have misinterpreted them.

In order to understand myths and myth makers, he says "it is necessary to enter into their modes of thought, understand their symbolisms, to see things as they saw them, and to know them thoroughly and the surroundings in which they lived."

Myths may be evolved as follows : (1) By love of the marvellous, leading to exaggeration ; ( 2) by mental irresponsibility; (3) by a desire to account for phenomena.

Children are myth-makers even now, as men were during the childhood of the human race. Myths formed from the first two causes mentioned would be of the inferior type coming under the head of folk-lore, a branch of the subject we have no time to discuss. The third cause produces such myths as we have scanned in our brief survey, the origin myths of a barbaric folk. This type of cosmogonic and anthropogenic myths could have been evolved only by a people of a somewhat advanced culture, by men who had attained, the faculty of introspective and metaphysical thought.

Of survivals of the old myths and superstitions of former times there are many ; they are encountered in every land, in every faith. We now place coins under a foundation-stone because a prejudice has arisen against human sacrifice. Evidences of old pagan cults are also encountered in the most civilised lands. When, some years ago, the old peel-tower known as Elsdon Tower, in Northumberland, was being repaired, a walled-up chamber was discoveredin which were three horses’ skulls placed together. This was an old custom of the Saxons, a Survival of paganism ; they built such skulls into churches as survival of the old, old custom of human sacrifice.


It would appear that even in the lower forms of religion we must admit the existence of a phase of ethics. The Maori tells us that his lesser gods, deified ancestors, help him if he does right, and punish him if he does wrong. Naturally his ideas of right and wrong are affected by superstition ; still, they are his ideas of those qualities. In more important matters the possession of a clean moral character was necessary ere a Native could have certain ritual formulae recited over him - i.e.,, before he could take part in certain religious ceremonies. In order to pre- pare him for such a performance he was instructed to confess any wrong acts he may have committed, including what we call immoral acts, such as theft. This was followed by certain ceremonial, during which he was immersed in the waters of a stream, and he was finally pronounced purified.

The first question of the priest in one of these singular rites is of some interest. He asked, " Are you an ahurangi or a whiro? " (i.e., " Are you of good or bad character ? ") It is a notable fact that lustration entered largely into Maori, ritual performances. Lang speaks of the nascent ethics of savage creeds being denied or minimized by anthropologists, whereas the truth is that very few observers ever become sufficiently well acquainted with such creeds to know their inner teachings and less prominent features. How many can explain the lustral ceremonies of the Maori to which allusion has been made?

The Maori of yore felt and lived their religion, however inferior it may have been from our point of view. Religion is a form of government, and in the case of the Maori it was the strongest force in the tribal commune. Among the less advanced peoples religion often occupies a more prominent place than it does with us, inasmuch as it enters into every department of life, into every industry, every activity of the daily life of the individual. It will be objected that much of this is mere superstition ; but superstition and religion are intermingled in all lower culture-planes, and superstition has at one time or other crept into all the higher religious systems. These powers have ever had very important effects on human development - effects both good and evil. They often represented a much-needed cohesive force ; they were often tyrannous, and in the higher grades wofully intolerant, as seen in the case of Christianity; but they often held together a people uncontrollable perhaps by any other means. The childhood of mankind has resembled the childhood of an individuals some form of firm control being necessary in both cases until the race evolves civil law and the child attains maturity.

Albeit these powers, religion and superstition, have wrought much harm and caused a world of suffering, also often preventing the advance of knowledge, yet have they in some directions served a useful purpose. And so Good and Evil have passed together down the countless ages since Tane brought them down to earth in the days when the world was young. From these two principles have been evolved personifications representing the two qualities, and from them have come our beneficent deities and our devils. So we have handed down the two baskets of knowledge, the aronui and the tuatea, the good and the evil, even from that vastly remote and mist-laden period into which no questing eye may peer - the childhood of the human race.

The purely abstract conception of a god has ever been an extremely difficult matter for the human mind to grasp. We have not yet broken free from anthropomorphic deities endowed with human qualities; there is ever a tendency to revert to old and less advanced forms among uneducated or non-intellectual people. We know of decay affecting religious systems in the past, and of efforts made to stay it, and these differences explain inconsistencies in certain faiths. The Maori tells us that a wairua is invisible except to a seer, yet those in the underworld appear to possess material bodies and appetites pertaining to such. Here, possibly, we have a belief that influenced the faith in the resurrection of the body. To escape this the Maori evolved the idea of the awe of the wairua, the refined essence of a spirit, which seems to be a more advanced concept than that of the resurrection of the body. In this connection we may compare Shortland’s statement to the effect that the Maori had, but a limited notion, of the abstract. A study of Maori conceptions shows us that the three terms wairua, awe, and io (or iho) convey the sense of shadow or reflection, of lightness, and of core or kernel. In these expressions there is a curious lack of reference to things material, or to organs of the body, such as is noted in the names for spirit employed by many Old-World folk. It is in his designation of mental and emotional processes that the Maori uses terms derived from the organs of the body ; and ever he held that man has within him a spark or fraction of the ira atua.

We have now seen that the intellectual status of a people is the principal factor in determining the type of religion maintained by them ; that, as the one changes, so must the other; also that the Maori had not advanced to that stage in which religious intolerance and the punishment of the spirit after death are introduced, and that religion and morality have been plants of slow growth.

In this sketch we have but a very incomplete picture of Maori religion ; it would require many such papers to describe its different phases, and to reproduce the highly interesting ceremonial pertaining to its more refined practices. There remains but to insist on the fact that his religion, or superstitions, entered into every phase of the Maori’s life. From a period prior to birth to the day when he drank of the waters of Tane-pi and hied him to the realm of the Dawn Maid, those powers ever surrounded and affected him. Though some minds rose above gross shamanism, and a few attained still higher Ievels, yet the majority ever feared evil spirits, a belief that was carried into much higher faiths, as students of religion know full well. As Clodd puts it : "Among the delusions which have wrought havoc on mankind, making life one long nightmare, and adding to mental anguish the infliction of death in horrible forms upon a multitude whose vast total can never be known, there is probably none comparable for its bitter fruits with this belief in the activity of evil spirits." This picture is rather too gloomy to represent the life of our Maori folk, but is applicable to some extent. Faith in his gods was strong in the Maori, and faith has bridged full many a river; but we also know that blind, indiscriminate, unquestioning faith has worked much evil in the world. It is advancing knowledge that improves and purifies all human institutions and beliefs. Amid all the disadvantages imposed by ignorance our Maori held one golden pnvilege - he had not been taught to fear the hereafter. When the time came for him to abandon taiao (this world), to cast off the ira tangata (human life) and assume the ira atua (supernatural life), his mind held no dread of suffering in the world to come, for he himself was descended from the gods ; he yet retained a portion of the ira atua inherited from Tane and from the spirit implanted in the Earth-formed Maid. He had been, all his life, surrounded by supernormal beings; he knew that the gods punished him for sins committed here in this world, and wherefore should fear enter his soul? What had he to dread? He had fared down the path of life with no clear guiding-lights amid the deep shadows of ignorance and superstition; he had sought the desirable region wherein sojourn Rua-i- te-pukenga, Rua-i-te-mahara, and Rua-i-te-wananga (personified forms of mentality and knowledge), to the best of the ability of barbaric man. He knew that his ancestor Tane would guide him over calm gleaming seas to the care of his fair daughter, the Dawn Maid. Here we trend upon one of the most persistent features of Maori thought and sentiment, the never-lessening regard for the old home-land of the race. He loves to refer to it in speech and song, and in death his spirit returns thither as the worn traveller turns to seek his home. To adapt the words of Edmund Leamy:-

A rover of the wide world when yet his heart was young,
The sea came whispering to him in well-beloved tongue;
And, oh, the promises she held of golden lands agleam,
That clung about his young heart and filled his eyes with dream!

                *    *    *    * 

And never shine the dim stars but that his heart would go
Away and back to olden lands and dreams of long ago.

It may be asked of us, What benefit can we derive from a study of the religion and mythology of barbaric folk, of a religion we style false, of myths we brand as puerile? What useful lesson can we learn from such abstractions of a neolithic people? These quaint concepts tell of a past that was never present, of conditions that never existed, of beings who never lived. These are assuredly facts ; but the existence of these myths proves that the Maori has sought to discover and explain the origin of the universe, of man, and of all things on earth ; that he has made no little progress in the great search for the author of all he saw around him ; and that he has striven to learn the origin and destiny of the soul of man. He shows us clearly that he has performed his part in that endless task, the development of human intelligence, and affords us some insight into the processes of such development. The barbaric Maori was steeped in superstition and many forms of ignorance; he lay under the shadow of black magic , and he was a ruthless cannibal ; but he had trodden the paths of metaphysical thought, and had evolved a form of religion that was the cohesive power in his social system. He was an upholder of polytheism, but had, by a singular chain of introspective thought, developed the conception of a Supreme Being of superior attributes. He held to his gods, and rightly so, for the people were not sufficiently advanced to discard them, but he held the God high above the gods, and kept him free from taint of evil or shamanistic attributes because the gods existed.

Anthropologists tell us that to know what man is we must know what man has been. To this it might be added that in order to know what man may become we must know what man has been and is, and also we must understand the laws controlling his development, physical, mental, moral, and spiritual. Our Maori friend, with his singular institutions, his peculiar reasoning-powers and mythopoetic mentality, will do good service in explaining such advancement, and so in preparing us for further progress.

Looking back upon the troubled past we can see that in times long passed away we marched abreast with the Maori. We have advanced far beyond him during later ages, and we have, as it were, used him to assist our upward progress; he has helped to lift us up the ladder. We built our institutions on those of barbaric man; we borrowed the framework of our faiths from folk of a lower culture-stage. It is not for us to condemn with loud, voice and bitter words the myths and religious beliefs of peoples to whom such were suited, whose faiths and mentality were on the same plane. Our attitude towards such beliefs of lower civilizations should be a sympathetic one; we should recognize the strivings to understand and to advance, to lift faiths or social institutions to a higher level; for truly have we traversed that most difficult path in the long, long centuries that lie behind.

From that remote period when the Southern Cross was seen in northern Europe, when Whanui (Vega) was a pole star, and onward through all the dim and changing centuries even to the present time, man has ever striven to learn, however lowly his ambition, however puerile the results. Through long, weary ages of savagery and ignorance, of weakness, fear, and doubt ; through the hampering maze of innumerable superstitions and cruel intolerance ; through the shadow of despair and much suffering, man has slowly lifted himself from savagery to his present level. The path he trod was a gloom-laden one; his advance was pitifully slow as he peered down the dim side paths and wondered as to which was the true road. Yet ever he pressed on, and ever some strayed off into by-paths fair of promise, but which run out in desert or jungle; while those who lifted side trails have, one by one, passed into the great unknown - they are so passing even now.

During these long ages the savage clan possessed its rude social system and primitive religion, or slowly developed into a cohesive tribal unit of a wider social scope, and evolved classified gods. A few there were who developed into nations, wherein the bounds of altruism, of common effort and common law, were further widened, while religious systems were purified to some extent.

Now the Maori, some phases of whose, mentality I have endeavoured to explain in this paper, is near, very near to the end, of his path. He left the main road in the mist-laden days of the remote past ; he performed yeoman service in directions not touched upon in these notes ; he sought the Iight of knowledge to the best of his mental powers. The path he followed has run out, and the old wayfarer knows full well that the end is near. It remains for us to carry on his task.

Our neolithic Maori has had an adventurous career for many he has traversed great areas of the vast Pacific; he has looked on many strange lands and strange peoples; he has lost many familiar stars below the place where the sky hangs down. He left the far-distant home-lands of Uru and Irihia behind him; he deserted the thrice-sacred Hono-i-wairua and saw the great mountains of Hikurangi and Irirangi sink below the distant horizon, when he fared forth upon the great unknown ocean that was to be his home for so many centuries. He left spacious lands and wide plains to perform his part in the great task of opening up the lone places of the earth, the subjugation of the old Earth Mother to man’s needs, and to claim his place as the most daring and skilful of neolithic navigators throughout the grey ages.

The gallant old Maori voyager who traversed the restless water- roads of the realm of Kiwa for twenty centuries will never again lift the snow-clad peak- of Hikurangi, or watch the wheeling stars as his lean prau throws the gliding leagues astern. Unless, per- chance, lured by the fair Dawn Maid and her sire, he finds that one more voyage lies before him. He will then, for the last time, man his sea-worn craft and sail forth on the broad path of Tane, the gleaming sun-glade that glitters far across the heaving breast of Hinemoana, even unto the Hidden Land of Tane in the far west. Along that path, guided by the spirits of his forebears, true to the reddening signal of Tane-te-waiora, he will pass down the rolling waterways his ancestors knew long, long centuries ago. Tarrying not by the wayside, he will greet the summer lands whereat those old sea-kings rested during their long, long quest of the rising sun, until, through the far-off sea haze, he lifts the loom of the Lost Land of Irihia.

And whether he resolve, through love for the gentle Earth Mother, to enter the realm of Rarohenga and abide with the merciful Dawn Maid, or ascend by the gyrating whirlwind to the supernal realm of lo, there to be welcomed by the celestial maids, we will cry him a long farewell.

He aroaro ka huri ki te wa kainga, e hore e tau ki raro

(He who is homeward bound tarries not by the wayside).

[Photo by J. McDonald, 1907]
A Maori Tuahu, or Wahi Tapu (Sacred Place), at Hauraki, near the ancient Pa called Puhirua, Rotorua.

The stones represent the principal gods of the Arawa people: Maru-te-whare-aitu, Rongomai, lhungaru, and Itupawa. Here religious ceremonies were performed by the tohunga, or priest, and the gods placated by karakia and offerings.

At the time the photograph was taken the natives who assisted to clear away the growth of fern round the stones removed most of their clothing before entering on the sacred ground, and were especially careful to leave behind them knives, tobacco, pipes, and matches, &c., lest the tapu be polluted. After the photograph was taken - the operator, in packing up, had the misfortune to break the focussing-glass on his camera. This, so the natives told him, was a swift and just punishment by the gods, and should serve as a warning to irreverent pakeha and kaiwhahaahua (photographers) to leave tapu places alone.

1922 Elsdon Best