A celebrated hero of Polynesia, sometimes appearing as a mortal, sometimes as a deity, but generally with supernatural powers.0
In New Zealand, he is said to have been the son of Hema and Urutonga (or Hine-pūpū-mai-naua). He married a girl named Hine-piripiri; and by some means aroused the wrath of his four brothers-in-law, who attacked him, and left him for dead. He was found by his wife, who carried him home, and nursed him back to health, and dwelt with him until their son Wahieroa was born. Tāwhaki revenged himself upon his brothers-in-law and their people by arousing, through his prayers, the wrath of the gods, who sent the flood called Hurianga-i-Mataaho in consequence.
Tāwhaki then set out with his brother Karihi to rescue the bones of his father, Hema, from the amphibian fairies named Ponaturi. The mother of Tāwhaki had been carried off as a prisoner by these people, and was confined in their great dwelling, the Mānawa-tāne. Mother and son plotted to destroy them; and when they were all asleep, the sunlight was suddenly let in, in full flood, upon them, and these creatures of darkness all perished.
The fame of his exploit reached the celestial abodes; and Tangotango, one of the maidens of the heavenly race, stole down to his side every night and stayed with him, fleeing before the dawn. At last she found that she had conceived a child, and she came down to Tāwhaki and lived with him as his wife. When the baby (afterwards named Arahuta) was born, the married pair had a foolish quarrel, and Tangotango fled back to her heavenly home, taking the child with her.
Tāwhaki pined for his lost wife and child, and after some time set out with his brother Karihi to search for her. She had told him that the way to find her was by a vine which somewhere hung down from heaven. The brothers sought direction from an old blind ancestress named Matakerepō, whose sight was restored to her by the touch of Tāwhaki. Karihi failed to climb the celestial vine, but Tāwhaki ascended safely, and reached the land of those who dwell in the skies. He assumed the aspect of a poor old slave, and was set to work to carry axes, etc., for the canoe-builders; but he soon tired of this, sought the presence of his wife and child, and assumed his divinity, the lightning flashing from his armpits.
There are several variations of this story; they generally agree in showing that Tāwhaki was regarded as a beneficent and gracious being. In the South Island it is said that Tāwhaki met the wife of Paikea in heaven, and that she had a child by him. Tāwhaki caused the Deluge by stamping on the floor of heaven till it cracked.1
Tāwhaki was actually killed by his relatives, but came to life again by his own inherent power as god. The relatives were jealous because he was preferred by Hine-nui-o-te-kawa, who had been destined for another man. It was Hine who went up to heaven and took her child with her.2 The red color on the feathers of the kaka bird is from the blood of Tāwhaki.
Tāwhaki married Pare-kōri-tawa, the daughter of Hine-nui-te-pō. (The sister born before Pare was called Pō-tangotango, hence perhaps confusion of names.) Pare went with Tāwhaki to heaven, and they left a black moth behind them as a token of the soul. By Tāwhaki, Pare had two children, Ue-nuku (Rainbow), and Whaitiri (Thunder).6 Whaitiri is generally known as the wife of Kaitangata, the father of Hema, and thus the grandmother of Tāwhaki. Tangotango is also called Hāpai. Tāwhaki married Maikuku-makaka (the sister of Hāpai), and she was the mother of Wahieroa.7
Tāwhaki went up to heaven by a line of spider's thread, hence called "the path of the spider."8 He cured the sight of the old ancestress with clay moistened with his spittle.9 He was killed by a reptile while washing at a stream. His sister passing by beheld him, and he then came to life and went up to heaven. When he prays it thunders and lightens. People who are ill repeat incantations to Tāwhaki and Rehua; they offer him a sacrifice of ten baskets of food counted in a particular manner.10 This counting was as follows: Counting the ten they then set aside one; counting the nine they set aside one, etc., as the old blind ancestress of Tāwhaki had counted her taro roots11 when visited by her grandson. Tawhaki ascended to heaven on the string of his kite Aute (of Kahu).12
- White, John. (1887). Ancient History of the Maori. 6 vols. Wellington: G, Disbury, p. 1.48.
- ibid., p. 1:54.
- ibid., p. 1:59.
- ibid., p. 1:54.
- ibid., p. 1:61.
- Shortland, Edward. (1882). Maori Religion and Mythology. London: Longmans Green, p. 24.
- White 1887, pp. 1:129, 3:2.
- ibid., pp. 1:67, 69, 63.
- ibid., p. 1:67.
- White, John. (1885). "Maori Customs and Superstitions." In T. W. Gudgeon, History and Doings of the Maoris from 1820 to 1840. Auckland: Brett, pp. 97-225, p. 116.
- Grey 1855, p. 43.
- White 1887, p. 1:129, 2:71.
- ibid., p. 1:Appendix.
- Grey, Sir George. (1855). Polynesian Mythology. Auckland: Brett, p. 36 ff.
- Tregear, Edward. (1891). Maori-Polynesian Comparative Dictionary. Wellington: Government Printer, pp. 496-497.
This article incorporates text from Maori-Polynesian Comparative Dictionary (1891) by Edward Tregear, which is in the public domain.