In Polynesian mythology, people, the elements and every aspect of nature are descended from the one primal pair, the Sky Father and the Earth Mother. It was for this reason that the ancient Maori identified themselves so closely with nature. Before felling a tree (so slaying a child of Tane Mahuta, god of the forest) they would placate the spirits; searching for food they would not speak of their purpose for fear that the prey might hear and make good its escape.
In the beginning there was only the darkness, Te Ponui, Te Poroa (the Great Night, the Long Night). At last, in the void of empty space, a glow appeared, the moon and the sun sprang forth and the heavens were made light. Then did Rangi (the Sky Father) live with Papa (the Earth Mother), but as the two clung together their offspring lived in darkness. The Sky lay upon the Earth, and light had not yet come between them.
Their children were vexed that they could not see, and argued among themselves as to how night and day might be made manifest. The fierce Tumatauenga (god of war) urged that they kill their parents, but Tane Mahuta (god of the forests) counselled that they separate their father Rangi from their mother Papa and in that way achieve their object. Tane’s wisdom prevailed, and in turn each of the children struggled mightily to prise the Sky from the Earth. Rongo (god of cultivated food) and Tangaroa (god of the sea) did all they could, and the belligerent Tumatauenga cut and hacked. But to no avail. Finally it was Tane Mahuta who by thrusting with his mighty feet gradually lifted the anguished Rangi away from the agonised Papa. So was night distinguished from day.
Heartbroken, Rangi shed an immense quantity of tears, so much so that the oceans were formed. Tawhiri (god of wind and storm), who had opposed his brothers in the venture, was fearful that Papa would become too beautiful, and followed his father to the realm above. From there he swept down in fury to lash the trees of Tane Mahuta until, uprooted, they fell in disarray. Tawhiri then turned his rage on Tangaroa (god of the sea) who sought refuge in the depths of the ocean. But as Tangaroa fled his many grandchildren were confused, and while the fish made for the seas with him, the lizards and reptiles hid among rocks and the battered forests. It was then for Tangaroa to feel anger. His grandchildren had deserted him and were sheltering in the forests. So it is that to this day the sea is eating into the land, slowly eroding it and hoping that in time the forests will fall and Tangaroa will be reunited with his offspring.
The creation of woman: When the participants lay exhausted and peace at last descended, Tane Mahuta fashioned from clay the body of a woman, and breathed life into her nostrils. She became Hine-hauone (‚the Earth-formed Maid‘) and bore Tane Mahuta a daughter, Hine-titama (‚the Dawn Maid‘) who in time also bore daughters to Tane.
But Hine-titama had been unaware of her father’s identity, and when she found he was the Tane she thought was her husband, she was overwhelmed with shame. She left the world of light, Te Ao, and moved to Te Po, the world below, where she became known as Hinenui-te-Po (‚Great Hine the Night‘).
The children of Tane were plentiful, and increased and multiplied, for death held no dominion over them.