Oceanic Mythologies: Australian Aborigine and Polynesian

Polynesian Creation and Flood Myths

What are the Polynesian creation myths?

There are as many Polynesian creation myths as there are individual Polynesian societies. Even within societies there are variants. One creation myth with versions in most of the islands is this Maori myth. According to the myth, it was Rangi and Papa who existed in the beginning. Rangi was the masculine force in the universe, associated with sky and light. His consort Papa was the feminine force of earth and darkness. As in the Greek, Egyptian, and many other creation myths, the first parents were so close together that a separation was called for in order that creation might continue. It fell to the children of Rangi and Papa to do something about the dilemma. Their son Tu (Tumatauenga), god of War, suggested that their parents be killed.

The others disagreed and decided that the parents should be pushed apart. First Rongo, the Cultivated Food god, tried to execute the separation but failed. Next Tangaroa, god of the Sea, with the help of his brother, god of wild food, tried and failed. Finally, it was Tane, god of the Forest, who succeeded. As he lay on his back and separated his parents by pushing upward with his legs, the primal couple screamed in agony. But room now existed for further creation. Room also existed, however, for a “war in heaven” between the children of Rangi and Papa.

In one Hawaiian myth, more credit for creation is given to Kane. It was he who created Rangi (Ao) and Papa (Po) by throwing a calabash into the air, where it broke apart forming Sky and Earth. In some Maori myths the equivalent of Kane was Io, who created Rangi and Papa ex nihilo—from nothing. In the Hawaiian version, Kane then assigned various aspects of the natural world to his brothers. Kanaloa, for instance, would control the sea, Ku the forests. The gods then created the first man and woman out of clay.


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