Book: Maori Religion and Mythology
Author: Edward Shortland

Maori Religion and Mythology By Edward Shortland

Format: Global Grey free PDF, epub, Kindle ebook
Pages (PDF): 90
Publication Date: 1882

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Edward Shortland's study is an important account of Maori mythology, religion and concepts of authority. This concise book is the result of years of careful research into Maori beliefs and customs, based on narratives and songs dictated to the author, or written down for him to translate. It includes a particularly detailed account of Maori cosmogony, lists of Maori vocabulary relating to kinship and to the spirit world, several karakia (prayers) and extensive notes on the naming and claiming of land and the Maori understanding of land tenure.

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THE religious feeling may be traced to the natural veneration of the child for the parent, joined to an innate belief in the immortality of the soul. What we know of the primitive religion of Aryans and Polynesians points to this source. They both venerated the spirits of deceased ancestors, believing that these spirits took an interest in their living descendants: moreover, they feared them, and were careful to observe the precepts handed down by tradition, as having been delivered by them while alive.

The souls of men deified by death were by the Latins called "Lares" or "Mânes," by the Greeks "Demons" or "Heroes." Their tombs were the temples of these divinities, and bore the inscription "Dis manibus," "{Greek Ðeoìs xðóniois};" and before the tomb was an altar for sacrifice. The term used by the Greeks and Romans to signify the worship of the dead is significant. The former used the word "{Greek patriáksein}" the latter "parentare," showing that the prayers were addressed to forefathers. "I prevail over my enemies," says the Brahmin, "by the incantations which my ancestors and my father have handed down to me."

Similar to this was the common belief of the Maori of Polynesia, and still exists. A Maori of New Zealand writes thus: "The origin of knowledge of our native customs was from Tiki (the progenitor of the human race). Tiki taught laws to regulate work, slaying, man-eating: from him men first learnt to observe laws for this thing, and for that thing, the rites to be used for the dead, the invocation for the new-born child, for battle in the field, for the assault of fortified places, and other invocations very numerous. Tiki was the first instructor, and from him descended his instructions to our forefathers, and have abided to the present time. For this reason they have power. Thus says the song:--

E tama, tapu-nui, tapu-whakaharahara,
He mauri wehewehe na o tupuna,
Na Tiki, na Rangi, na Papa.
O child, very sacred--very, very sacred,
Shrine set apart by your ancestors,
By Tiki, by Rangi, by Papa.

The researches of philologists tend to show that all known languages are derived from one original parent source. The parent language from which the Aryan and Polynesian languages are derived must have been spoken at a very remote time; for no two forms of language are now more diverse than these two are. In the Polynesian there is but the slightest trace of inflexion of words which is a general character of Aryan languages. The Polynesian language seems to have retained a very primitive form, remaining fixed and stationary; and this is confirmed by the fact that the forms of Polynesian language, whether spoken in the Sandwich Islands or in New Zealand, though their remoteness from each other indicates a very early separation, differ to so small a degree that they may be regarded as only different dialects of the same language. The Maori language is essentially conservative, containing no principle in its structure facilitating change. The component parts or roots of words are always apparent.

When we consider the great remoteness of time at which it is possible that a connection between Aryans and Polynesians could have existed, we are carried back to the contemplation of a very primitive condition of the human race. In the Polynesian family we can still discover traces of this primitive condition. We can also observe a similarity between the more antient form of religious belief and mythological tradition of the Aryans and that still existing among Polynesians; for which reason we think it allowable to apply to the interpretation of old Aryan myths the principle we discover to guide us as to the signification of Polynesian Mythology. It was a favourite opinion with Christian apologists, Eusebius and others, that the Pagan deities represented deified men. Others consider them to signify the powers of external nature personified. For others they are, in many cases, impersonations of human passions and propensities reflected back from the mind of man. A fourth mode of interpretation would treat them as copies distorted and depraved of a primitive system of religion given by God to man.

The writer does not give any opinion as to which of these theories he would give a preference. If, however, we look at the mythology of Greek and Latin Aryans from the Maori point of view the explanation of their myths is simple.

This mythology personified and deified the Powers of Nature, and represented them as the ancestors of all mankind; so these personified Powers of Nature were worshipped as deified ancestors. There is no authority for any other supposition. With regard to the two latter theories above referred to it may be remarked that fiction is always liable to be interpreted in a manner conformable to the ideas prevailing at any particular time, so that there would be a natural tendency, in modern times, to apply meanings never originally thought of to the interpretation of mythology. Man in early days, ignorant of the causes of natural phenomena, yet having a mind curious to inquire and trace observed effects to some cause, formulated his conceptions on imaginary grounds, which, although now manifestly false and absurd, yet were probably sufficiently credible in the infancy of knowledge.