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Legends of the Maori

The Girdle of the Gods

The Girdle of the Gods.

There are other South Sea legends of the connection between gods and mortals. A story of the Cook Islands is that of Tangaroa, the eldest of the gods in the Polynesian pantheon, who looked down from the sky and beheld the lovely maid Ina bathing at a stream and became enamoured of her charms. He unfastened his girdle, which mortals call the rainbow, and by this dazzling pathway descended to earth. He took Ina as his wife during his fleeting visit to earth, and she gave birth to two sons, who were fair-haired, in token of their semi-divine parentage. This story was recorded by the Rev. Wyatt Gill, the missionary of Mangaia.

Another version of the legend, as told on the romantic mountain island, Porapora, in the Society Group, says that the god who descended to find and love a mortal maid was Oro, the son of Tangaroa (Taaroa in the Islands tongue). Oro placed one end of the rainbow on the summit of Paia, the high summit of Porapora, and after a long search, found a lovely girl named Vai-Raumati bathing in a little lake at Vaitape. And every night he came down by his rainbow path to sleep with the beautiful “Summer-stream.” At last he bade her an eternal farewell and mounted into the sky from the peak of Porapora, leaving Vai-Raumati to bring forth a son to whom was given the name Hoa-tapu-te-Ra’i (Sacred Spouse from Heaven). There is a close likeness between this legend and that of our New Zealand Puhaorangi and Kura-i-monoa narrated in the beginning of this chapter.

On the island of Atiu (Cook Group) the natives have this legend of Ina, the goddess of the Moon. Ina (Hine or Hina in other islands) took to her heavenly abode a mortal husband. After living happily together for many years, she said to him: “You are growing old and infirm. Death will soon claim you, for you are a man of the earth. This fair home of mine must not be defiled with a corpse. We will therefore embrace and part. Return to earth and there end your days.” And Ina caused a beautiful rainbow to span the heavens, by which her disconsolate aged tane descended to earth to die.

In this myth there is a resemblance to the classic legend of Tithonus, the husband of Aurora; he grew old and feeble while the goddess of Dawn remained for ever young and as fresh as the morning.