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Ko wai Tāwhaki?

Māori Mythology Part 3

 

In 1966, An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand was published, presenting the main body of Māori mythology as a corpus of three story complexes. The first is about the birth of the world and the genesis of gods and men. The second is about the exploits of the demigod Māui and his relations. We have written about the first two complexes in earlier posts. The third is the Tāwhaki myth complex.

 

It is worth remembering that myths are told in different ways according to the intentions of the storyteller. The traditions of kōrerorero or oral-storytelling are considered a taonga and are practiced to different degrees throughout Aotearoa. Their power on us as stories can lie in their oral performance, the way they are passed on, and how they are shown to relate to the world of the listener. In New Zealand, Māori myths have been beautifully illustrated in books and more recently have been a subject of visual art, dramatic performance and film, for example, the origins myth exhibition at Te Toi o Tāmaki, the Auckland Art Gallery. The kōrero about the origins of individual iwi often contain elements of myth.

 

The Tāwhaki Myth Complex

 

Tāwhaki was the grandson of Whaitiri, a cannibal goddess whose name means thunder. Whaitiri married a mortal man named Kaitangata or man-eater. They had a son named Hemā who married a woman named Urutonga. Hemā and Urutonga had two sons, Tāwhaki and Karihi.

 

Tāwhaki was envied by his tūākana, for he was very handsome. One day they beat him and left him for dead. His wife Hinepiripiri found him and nursed him back to health by a fire. She fed the fire with a single log. They named their first son Wahieroa, long piece of firewood, in remembrance of this moment.

 

A malicious tribe called the Ponaturi slew Hemā and kidnapped Urutonga. Tāwhaki and Karihi set off to find her. They found her imprisoned in the Ponaturi’s hut, while the Ponaturi were hunting by night. She told them that light was fatal to the Ponaturi. They hid in the rafters. The Ponaturi came in before dawn and when the sun rose, Tāwhaki and Karihi sprung their trap, flinging open the doors and windows. In this way, they saved their mother and avenged their father.

 

Tāwhaki then fell in love with a woman from the heavens named Tangotango. She conceived a child named Arahuta. Tangotango took Arahuta with her into the heavens. Whaitiri guarded the entrance to the heavens. Tāwhaki and Karihi found her and played a trick on her. She was now blind and spent all of her time endlessly counting her kūmara one by one. They snatched away several kūmara, upsetting her count and causing her to cry out, “who is there?!” They revealed their identity. 

 

There were two vines to the heavens. Karihi climbed the aka taepa, the hanging vine and fell when a violent wind blew the vine wildly about. He was carried many miles by the winds. Following the advice of his grandmother, Tāwhaki climbed the aka matua, the parent vine, which was rooted not only in the heavens but also in the earth. He gained the uppermost of the ten heavens and was reunited eventually with his second wife and their daughter.

 

Tāwhaki’s first son Wahieroa married Tonga-rau-tawhiri and they had a boy named Rata. When Wahieroa was killed by Matuku-tango-tango, Rata decided to make a waka to sail to Matuku-tango-tango’s pit to avenge his father. After he followed the appropriate tikanga for felling a tree for the hull, the guardians of the forest helped him complete the waka. Matuku-tango-tango was accustomed to ascend from his pit when the moon was full. Rata avenged Wahieroa’s death by killing Matuku-tango-tango at the full moon.

 

More Beautiful Māori Myths to Explore

 

Listed below are some other famous Māori myths we would suggest are worth exploring.

 

- Tūtānekai and Hinemoa (Rotorua, te waiata Pōkarekare ana)

 

- Aoraki and his brothers (Kā Tiritiri o Te Moana or the Southern Alps)

 

- Tongariro, Taranaki etc. (ngā mounga o Te Ika ā Māui)

 

- Rona me Te Marama (Rona and the moon)

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