Wood, paua shell
Gift of Curtis Galleries, Inc.
In the beginning there were only Rangini, the Sky Father, and Papatuanaka, the Earth Mother, bound together in a tight embrace.1 Their
many children, crushed between them, fought with their parents and with each other, trying to break free. Finally, Tan Mahuta, god
of the forests, managed to push his parents apart, and at this moment, the world as the Maori understand it, was created. The freed
children of Paptuanuku and Rangini became the inhabitants of the earth, sky and water. The earth was populated by their descendents
in the form of humans, who traveled across the ocean to explore the many islands of Polynesia that comprised their known world.
Because all humans are descendents of the original divine pair, the Maori believe that it is important to maintain the spiritual power in
themselves, and to remain in contact with the various deities of the forest, the weather, the ocean and agriculture. It is also
essential to revere and communicate with one's ancestors, who remain present in the community as spiritual protectors of the living.
Knowledge of one's ancestry, or whakapapa, is crucial, because lines of descent determine the Maori social order, as well as the
institutions of leadership and aristocracy. A person reinforces his whakapapa by recitations of the layers of descent back to the
original voyagers from Eastern Polynesia, and beyond to the gods and godesses themselves.
1 The Maori creation story, as well as a comprehensive survey of Maori culture, is given in Maori
Art and Culture, ed. D.C. Starzecka, (Chicago, Illinois: Art Media Resources Ltd., 1991)