The Earth, the Great Mother. She was the wife of Rangi, the Sky. All living things lay in darkness, shut in by the close embrace of earth and heaven, till their divine children determined to force them apart. Rongo, , and Tangaroa all tried in vain to separate them, but by the fierce efforts of Tāne they were at length divided. From this "rending apart" arose war among the gods, Tāwhiri-mā-tea, the fierce lord of tempests, resenting the divorce of his parents, and he avenged himself furiously upon his brothers, driving them into the ocean, and below the surface of the earth. Papa hid Rongo, the god of cultivated food, and Haumia-tikitiki, the god of uncultivated food, in her bosom until the fury of their brother had passed away.

The general support of tradition is given to the idea that Papa is the same person as Papa-tū-a-nuku (Earth standing in Space); but White1 gives legends affirming that Papa-tū-a-nuku was really the wife of Tangaroa, and that Rangi and Tangaroa fought as to her possession (mythically the Ocean and Sky claiming and warring for Earth). Tangaroa was the victor, but satisfied with his triumph, resigned Papa-tū-a-nuku to Rangi. Rangi is said to have had as first wife, Poko-harua-te-pō; as second, Hekeheke-i-papa, etc., etc.; Papa-tū-a-nuku only being mentioned incidentally as the mother of Rehua, Tāne, Tū, Rongo, Rū, and others,2 but these are amongst the greatest of Polynesian deities. Shortland3 gives Hine-ahu-papa as Rangi's first wife, Papa-tū-a-nuku as second, and Papa as third. These appear to be mere priestly or genealogical myths, grafted on to the ancient belief that Heaven was the father and Earth the mother of all men.

Papa, as the lower world (in contradistinction to Rangi, as the higher or heavenly world), consisted of ten spaces or divisions, proceeding lower and lower to the darkness wherein the gods of night had their home. The first division was the earth's surface; the second was the abode of Rongo-ma-tāne and Haumia-tikitiki; the third was Te Reinga, the home of Hine-nui-te-pō; the fourth, Autōia, the realm of Whiro; the fifth, Uranga-o-te-Rā, wherein dwelt Rohe, the wronged wife of Māui; the sixth, Hikutoia; the seventh, Pouturi; the eighth, the awful home of Miru, or Meru; the ninth was Toke; the tenth, and lowest, was Meto, or Ameto, or Aweto, wherein the soul of man found utter extinction. Of these hells, or circles of death, the first four were ruled by Hine-nui-te-pō, the next three by Rohe, and the lowest three by Miru.

MangaiaPapa, a goddess, was the daughter of Timātekore and his wife Timaiti-Ngava Ringavari. She became the wife of the god Vātea, after having visited him in a dream.

Hawai'i — The Ulu and the Nana-Ulu genealogies commence with Wākea (Vātea) and Papa; but the Kumu-uli pedigree begins with Tāne, and places Wākea and Papa-nui far down, in the 28th generation.

Papa was the granddaughter of the Princess Ka-Oupe-Ali'i, who dwelt in the cradle-land (O-lolo-i-mehani). Papa dwelt with Wākea until he committed adultery with Hina (Hina bringing forth the Island of Moloka'i); but Papa then went to live with a man or god called Lua, and she bore the Island of O'ahu. An older name of Papa was Haumea, and when thus known she brought a famine on the Hawaiian islands.

A tradition of great age states that Papa, the wife of Wākea, begat a calabash (ipu), including bowl and cover. Wākea threw the cover upward, and it became heaven; from the inside flesh and seeds he made the sun, moon, and stars; from the juice the rain was formed; and from the bowl the land and sea.

Marquesas — The earth is spoken of as Papa-nui in the chant of the Deluge: Oai tuto e tomi'ia te Papanui Tinaku ma he tai-toko e hetu? "Who would have thought to bury the great Earth in a roaring flood?" Perhaps Papa-nui Tinaku is a corruption of Papa-nui-tū-a-nuku.

Tonga — The earth is called Mama.

Ra'-iātea — Tu-papa is the wife of , the sun.

Tahiti — Te Papa-raharaha was the mother of all things; the rock foundation of all lands.



  1. White, John. (1887). Ancient History of the Maori. 6 vols. Wellington: G, Disbury, p. 1:21.
  2. ibid.
  3. Shortland, Edward. (1882). Maori Religion and Mythology. London: Longmans Green, p. 17.


  • Best, Elsdon. (1924). The Maori. Wellington: Harry H. Tombs, p. 86.
  • Buck, Peter H. (1938). Ethnology of Magareva. BPBM, no. 157, pp, 83, 110.
  • Grey, Sir George. (1855). Polynesian Mythology. Auckland: Brett, pp. 7 ff.
  • Tregear, Edward. (1891). Maori-Polynesian Comparative Dictionary. Wellington: Government Printer, p. 315.

This article incorporates text from Maori-Polynesian Comparative Dictionary (1891) by Edward Tregear, which is in the public domain.