Tāne Mahuta parts the darkness, Waipoua ngahere.Photograph by H. H.

Creation Mythology & Selected Stories

Io Matua Kore: The God Without Parents

“For me it is important, imperative the Māori expressions of spirituality are up front, that also the Christian elements are properly accounted for and so bring the emphasis that every culture has had their own Creation stories. It seems that the Grecian myths and legends have survived and still guide many of our social philosophies.

On that note, considering the Māori cultural beliefs are only of recent times, to me it is timely to get people to appreciate this. Not a question of imposing or substitution, simply a fact. Unfortunately I, or, there are no one of my generation left to converse and share with. A lonely journey with many unseen obstacles. However I always keep in mind, I think it is the O. T. Prophet Jeremiah’s words for people like me, who sometimes, circumstances leave stranded in a strange place, who said something like this ‘I take when one is confused or uncertain what next.’

‘Stand ye in the ways, the cross roads. Look intently and ask of the old ways. Where is the good way, and walk therein and find peace for your mind.’”

– John Klaricich, CNZM, QSO, Chair of the Te ua o te Kawariki Trust, Senior Kaumātua of Ngāpuhi

In the beginning there was nothingness until the parentless first being, Io Matua Kore, created the god Ranginui (Rangi), the sky-father. Rangi then mated with Papatūānuku (Papa), the Earth-mother, to have children. Those children became the guardians of the realms and soon filled the world with their creations...

Before white men arrived in New Zealand, Māori already had gods. The supreme being Io Matua Kore is the pre-Christian entity of God for the Polynesian people. Analogous to Christianity, where followers identify comprehensible pillars in order to interpret their larger faith, Māori, the people of Polynesian descent who inhabit New Zealand, harness their own spiritual touchstones.

While Māori acknowledge Io Matua Kore as the paramount figure of their faith, they engage most often with the guardians of each realm. While those guardians, the children of the gods, are still massive concepts, they are easier to understand than the colossal presence of Io Matua Kore. For example, Tāne (also called Tāne-mahuta or Tāne-nui-a-Rangi) is the son of Rangi and Papa known for being the god or father of the forests and birds. Tāne acts as Io’s representative in that role just as Christ and Muhammad, in their roles as prophets, are the representatives of God in Christianity or Allah in Islam.

There are plenty of variations held by prominent religious groups regarding creation. Science has the big bang theory, Christianity and Judaism have biblical creation as told in Genesis, and in Islam, the Qur'an states that Allah created the sun, the moon, and the planets. Māori hold their own version.

Three Kete

Sky reflected in the sand at Wehari Beach, Te Rerenga Wairua, also known as Cape Reinga.Photograph by M. H.

An old Māori karakia from when the Earth was first formed:

Here am I, Here am I, moving across the land, moving across the waters where I came to our ancestor Tāne Nui A Rangi.

Tāne Nui a Rangi climbed up to the isolated heavens at the peak of Manono and came into the presence of Io Matua Kore, the god who didn’t have parents. Tāne Nui A Rangi had ascended to Io to request knowledge. It was there, in the twelfth heaven, that he was given the Te Kete o te Wānanga (the Three Baskets of Knowledge):

The black basket, ko te kete tuauri [the one of evil]
The white basket, ko te kete tuatea [the one of good]
The basket of wisdom, ko te kete aronui
And then they were separated off, divided, Ka tiritiria
And then driven down into Earth, Ka poupoua ki a Papatūānuku
And thus emerged the first dot, or atom, of mankind that formed the first human being, Ka puta te ira tangata, from the world of darkness to the world of light, I te whei ao ki te ao marama.

–Kevin Prime, Ngāti Hine kaumātua

The kete maintained, in this way, that knowledge came to the world before humanity. Te kete Tuauri (sacred knowledge) contains knowledge of things unknown: rituals, incantations and prayers. Te kete Tuatea (Ancestral knowledge) holds knowledge beyond space and time, beyond our contemporary experiences. Rather, it is the experience we have of connections with one another and with the past, knowledge of spiritual realities. Te kete Aronui (knowledge before us) holds knowledge of aroha (love), peace and the arts and crafts which benefit the living Earth and relates to knowledge acquired through careful observation of the environment, of literature, philosophy and of the humanities.

Wisdom requires that the three types of knowledge should be used together, never one in isolation of the other.1Aroha Te Pareake Mead, “Knowledge Baskets.

Tāne and the Separation of Papatūānuku & Ranginui2A. W. Reed, “Heaven and Earth,” in Māori Myths & Legendary Tales, 11-22.

Before there was night or day, ocean or mountains, there was Rangi, the sky-father, who lay in the arms of Papa, the Earth-mother. For ages they clung together tightly, their children groping blindly between them in a world of darkness. Eventually, the children of the gods – no longer children – discussed their options. After some argument – the loudest dissenting voice came from Tawhiri-matea, the father of the winds – the children resolved to separate their parents, to push them apart, throwing Rangi to the sky while remaining close to the Earth.3Reed, 11.

A number of children attempted the task: Rongo-ma-tāne, the father of cultivated food; Tangaroa, the father of the sea, of fish and reptiles; Haumia-tiketike, father of wild berries and the fern-root; Tūmatauenga, the god of war and father of man. All failed to separate their parents. Finally, Tāne-mahuta (Tāne Nui a Rangi), the mighty father of the forest, birds and insects and all living things that love light and freedom, approached his parents. He stood unmoving, gathering his strength. Tāne-mahuta inserted himself between his parents, his hands pressed into the Earth and feet planted firmly against his sky-father. He thrust and stretched until his body fully straightened, a low rumbling moan filling the small space Tāne occupied. Tāne pushed until an eruption of movement flung Rangi away from Papa, the winds of Tawhiri-matea screaming through the open space between the sky and Earth.4Reed, 12. The separation of Rangi and Papa lives in the creation myths of other faiths, for example, in Christianity when God said ‘let there be light’.

Stories tell that Tāne journeyed to find the glowing red sun to place at the meeting of his parents and marama (the moon), to light the world during darkness. Then, he traveled to the end of the world to Maunganui, the Great Mountain, where his brother Uru lived with his children, the Shining Ones. Tāne begged Uru for some of his Shining Lights to fasten to the mantle of the sky. Uru shouted for his children who came rolling down the mountain, each one shaped like an eye. They glowed and twinkled, lighting up the mountain as they descended. Uru and Tāne plucked the shining ones and filled a basket with their light. Tāne carried the basket to his father and placed four sacred lights in the four corners of the sky, five in a cross on the breast of Rangi. The children of light still cling onto Rangi’s robe and the basket hangs in the wide heavens projecting a soft cluster of light – a light we call The Milky Way.5Reed, 14-15.

Split of Power & Building the Realms

“There have been all sorts of things that happened as a consequence of that [separation]. That battle, as we’re concerned will continue to happen. It’s between those gods of that time because some of them agreed to the separation and some didn’t.”

– Hori Parata, Ngātiwai kaumātua

Cliffs and coastline meeting the sea as the sun begins to set, Te Rerenga Wairua, Cape Reinga.Photograph by M. H.

With light now flowing through the world, the children of the gods and their celestial descendants began to blanket the Earth with their creations. While Tāne and his brothers on land reveled in their newfound freedom, Tawhiri-matea held his violent winds close and bided his time. He watched as Tāne peacefully populated the forest and Tangaroa flourished out at sea with his children Ika-tere (the father of fish) and Tu-te-wehiwehi (the father of reptiles). Tawhiri-matea rushed the land of Tāne with destruction. He rose and hurled his winds, thrust down from his father’s robes, across the empty space as dark storm clouds and flashes of lightning. Leaving behind uprooted forests, the storm god swept toward the sea. Using the strength of his winds, Tawhiri-matea forced waves to rise and water to dissolve, emptying out the bottom of the ocean. To escape, Tangaroa and his grandchildren fled the valleys of their under-sea world in search of shelter as Tu-te-wehiwehi and Ika-tere directed their children to safety. Tu-te-wehiwehi fled with the reptiles to land, while Ika-tere hid his fish children in the sea, their scornful shrieks rising above the screaming winds.6Reed, 15. So, unending strife was caused by Tawhiri-matea, for Tangaroa never forgave his children who fled to the dry land of Tāne. When the winds roared, Tangaroa hurled his waves against the land to break down the realm of Tāne. And when the winds calmed and the waters settled, the sons and daughters of Tāne crept out in their boats and snared the children of Tangaroa to supplement the vegetable baskets of the children of men.7Reed, 16.

Still angry, Tawhiri rushed upon the territory of Tūmatauenga. Despite the rolling waves and fallen forests, Tūmatauenga stood unbending to the will of Tawhiri’s winds. Defeated by the father of man Tawhiri retreated to the sky-father. Having stood strong against the attack, Tūmatauenga looked upon the broken forests and beaten sea and pronounced himself the conqueror of all. His children would never fear the children of the wind, the sons of Tāne would be their subjects, the sea would obey them as they rode the waves in canoes that Tāne gave them, and the fish, birds, root and berry shall be their food. To this day the sons of Tūmatauenga are lords of both the forest and sea.8small>Reed.

Meanwhile on land, Tāne fashioned the birds and sent them gliding through the wind until the island air filled with birdsong. The world grew older and the feathered children of Tāne grew in number. Some went down to the sea to soar over the waters, others to the shining sands where land met water, but most went inland toward the sunbeams that broke through canopies and under the shade of trees, making the forest ring with their music.9Reed, 18. The creatures learned when to go out and stay hidden, where to find food at what time of the year, and how to communicate camaraderie and warnings. Eventually, peace settled on the world that Tāne made by separating his parents.

Amidst all the beauty Tāne felt dissatisfied. His and his brothers’ children were celestial and not fully suited to the ways of life on Earth. He felt that the Earth needed to be populated with men and women. Together, the gods descended on the Earth and watched as Tāne carved the image of a woman in the warm red soil. Tāne saw her beautiful, lifeless shape and breathed into her nostrils, giving life to the dawn maiden, the first woman of Earth. She was named Hine ahuone, woman made out of Earth, and she bore multiple female children with Tāne. The first man, named Tiki, was born to Tūmatauenga (the god of war) who became the father of men and women of Earth. Through all this creation, the creatures that Tāne, his brothers and their children created, inhabit our world to this day.10Reed, 20-21.