Te Reinga was the place of departed spirits, the "leaping place" of souls. The word is used in two senses: one that of an actual locality at the North Cape; the other synonymous with that of Pō, as the underworld of spirits.
When the soul of a dying person quits the mortal body it flies northwards until it comes to a hill, named Waihokimai, then it goes on to another hill, called Waiotioti; and here, turning its back for ever on the world of life, it journeys on to the Rerenga-wairua (Spirit's-leap). From here the spirit flies down to the Reinga.
In some cases miraculous returns to life have been made. Thus: A man named Te Atarahi returned, his relations having warned him not to touch the sacred food.2 An old lady who had died returned and described the particulars of the Shadowy Land to her friends; she also saw a moa there.3Hutu brought back from the underworld the soul of Pare, who had killed herself for his sake.4Mata-ora followed his wife to the shadow world, and there learned the art of tattooing. On their return they omitted to make the usual offering to the guardian of the portal; and it was decreed that thenceforth no mortal should return from the land of death. Instances of resurrection are common in Māori tradition.
Reinga was one of the divisions of Papa, the earth or lower-world, in contradistinction to Rangi, the upper or celestial world, and was the third lowest division, or Hell. A synonym for the underworld is Paerau.
In Tahiti, the station of departed souls was at a place where stood three stones, called Ofaiarariorio, Ofaireiriorio, and Ofaimaueraa. Thence they fled to the mountain of Mehani, in Ra'-iātea. The Ofaiora (Life-stone) was at Papeare, in Moorea. At the apparent death of any person the soul flew thither, but returned. Close by was another stone, Ofaipohe (Death-stone). The souls that visited this stone did not return.
In Mangaia, the points of departure for spirit land are the Reinga-vaerua. There are three of these, all facing the setting sun; the dead buried in the great chasm at Auraka having to pass to these rocks before they set out on their final journey across the sea to the land of Avaiki (Hawaiki), the underworld. If the soul of a person, only supposed to have died, should meet a friendly spirit before arriving at the "Leap," the soul was told to go back, and the sufferer was supposed only to have fainted.
At Samoa, the souls dying on the most easterly side of the Navigator Group would have to pass through the whole series of islands before descending to the underworld, from the most western point of Savai'i.
At Rarotonga, the great Reinga was at Tuoro, in the west of the island; and in Polynesia generally, the souls invariably pass westward in their journey to the underworld.
Also called Reika: Me whakapono hoki te wairua kia tika ai te haere ki te Reika.5
- Shortland, Edward. (1882). Maori Religion and Mythology. London: Longmans Green, pp. 45.
- ibid., p. 42.
- Shortland 1856, p. 151.
- White, John. (1887). Ancient History of the Maori. 6 vols. Wellington: G. Didsbury, Government Printer, p. 2:163.
- ibid., p. 1:151.
- Shortland, Edward. (1856). Traditions and Superstitions of the New Zealanders. London: Longmans Green, p. 170.
- Tregear, Edward. (1891). Maori-Polynesian Comparative Dictionary. Wellington: Government Printer, pp. 407-408.
This article incorporates text from Maori-Polynesian Comparative Dictionary (1891) by Edward Tregear, which is in the public domain.