Creation Myth – Maori

     The Maori race presently habitats parts of New Zealand and migrated to their current home hundreds of years ago from other Polynesian islands. Their culture stresses the importance of a sophisticated religion and has a mythological structure that emphasizes spiritual matters as highly significant. The Maori creation myth has several variations that slightly differ from each in length or minor details. However, major themes and characters are evident in all versions, thereby maintaining a central homogeny between various accounts.
     Io is known as the Supreme Being and ex nihilo (out of nothing) creator of the entire universe. He creates Ranginui (Rangi) and Papatuanuku (Papa), Sky Father and the Earth Mother, respectively. The sky and earth produce numerous offspring while they are physically, “cleaved together in a procreative embrace.” The children are forced to live in the darkness since their parents block all the rays from the sun. They soon become restless and worn out from the living conditions and gather to question whether to separate their parents or to kill them for more room and light.
The fiercest of the offspring, Tumatauenga (Tuma) voices his opinion for death, while Tanemahuta (Tane) wishes to just separate the mother and father so that the earth will “remain close as our nursing mother.” Most of the sons, including Tuma, finally agree with the plan for separation with a major dissenting vote from only one sibling, Tawhirimatea. As the guardian of winds and storms, he fears that his kingdom will be overthrown if the parents are torn apart. In the minority, Tawhirimatea remains silent and holds his breath.
     The children begin to divide Rangi and Papa, and they soon realize their task is very difficult to accomplish. After many siblings attempt to separate the parents, Tane finally succeeds as he places his shoulders against the earth and his feet against the sky. He pushes slowly with both his upper and lower body with great strain. “Soon, and yet not soon, for the time was vast, the Sky and Earth began to yield.” The Earth Mother and Sky Father bleed and this gives rise to ochre (red clay), the sacred color of the Maoris. As the parents cry out for Tuma to stop, he only presses on harder. Sky Father and Earth Mother’s blood spills on his head, known as the kokowai, the sacred red earth that is created when the first blood spills at the dawn of time. Now that the separation is complete, there is a clearly defined sky and earth.
One of the offspring, Urutengangana, states that there is one element still missing, and he urges his siblings to find the female element, ira tangata, to enable the creation of woman. The search spans both land and sea, and Tane finally consults his mother, Papa, for her advice and knowledge. The earth takes pity on Tane and tells him to search an area named Kura-waka. Tane returns to his siblings with the new insight and they travel to the location. The children find the element in the Earth and dig it out to contribute in the creation of woman and her form. The elder siblings shape the body and the younger siblings add the flesh, fat, muscles, and blood. Tane then breathes life into it, and creates Hine-ahu-one, the earth formed maiden.
     This overview of the Maori creation story gives a broad insight into their culture and traditions. The physical landscape is mentioned numerous times with the Sky Father and the Earth Mother. The Maoris have a deep cultural and spiritual relationship with the entire landscape of New Zealand that goes back hundreds of years. As an indigenous culture, many activities are centered on tribes, sub-tribes, and extended family units. The relationship between land and family is important as it plays a major role in their everyday lives.
     The creation myth also heavily emphasizes elements of nature such as wind and water. It is not surprising that most Maori settlements are near coastal terraces. Fishing in freshwater environments is a significant part of Maori culture and is one of the major sources of food. To further explain natural phenomenon such as raining and dew in the morning, the creation myth references the separation of the sky and earth. Even apart, Rangi and Papa love each other so much that the father briefly floods parts of the land with an immense amount of tears. Some of the children decide to turn their mother over so that she and Rangi will not have to see one another’s grief and grieving. The act of rotating the earth is called Te Hurihanga a Mataaho, the overturning of Mataaho. The event is named after the child that saw the rotation occur. After the turning, Rangi’s tears are less copious than before, and now they are the dew drops that form in the night on Papa’s back (the earth’s surface). “The morning mists that form in the valleys are her sighs.”
     The overall creation myth of the Maori culture has similar elements to the Enuma Elish, the Babylonian creation epic. Marduk is commissioned to fight Tiamat, “the mother who bore them all,” just as Tuma is chosen to separate his parents. Both accounts shed blood, describe raw violence, and end with the younger generation defeating the older rulers. Marduk physically slays Tiamat by slitting her heart, and Tuma metaphorically kills his parents by pushing them apart forever. Another comparison between the stories is how humankind is created by taking another element and transforming it into a human being. Individuals are created from the blood of the defeated general, Qingu. In the Maori myth, elements from the Earth are used to create woman.
     The establishment of Io, the Supreme Being, in the Maori creation myth is either mentioned very briefly or not at all. Therefore, his existence is ambiguous and mysterious. A similar account can be examined in the Hymns from the Rig Veda. “In the beginning was darkness swathed in darkness; / All this was but unmanifested water/ Whatever was, that One, coming into being.” Both stories are unclear as to who was truly the first creator, and how did this person come into being. In this essence, both originators are ex nihilo individuals.
     The Maori creation myth has two major parts. First, it describes the Earth Mother and Sky Father procreating many children that eventually separate their parents due to a lack of space. Then, the story concludes with the making of “the earth formed maiden” from elements of the earth (clay) and work by many children to add life. It is implied that all Maoris are descendants of this first woman and the male offspring of the Earth Mother and Sky Father. Within the myth, some themes and events can be paralleled to other creation stories from around the world such as the Enuma Elish or Hymns from the Rig Veda. However, the distinctive traditions and elements in the Maori creation myth come together and make this story exclusive to their own culture.