A little-known Maori philosophy

A little-known Maori philosophy

Papa and Rangi, the primal couple of Maori mythology, carved in this ancient tree

Posted 13 July 2011, by Nalinesh Arun, The Indian Weekender (Kiwi Media Interactive Limited), indianweekender.co.nz

The concepts of higher philosophy is generally claimed as the domain of more ancient civilisations like Hinduism, Shintoism, Daosim, Judaism and Zoroastrianism, or of their off-shoots like Buddhism, Christianity or Islam. .

These concepts range from a supreme god, the lord of the universe, an all powerful entity for a chosen people to having created the world, being the material cause of the universe and (in monism) everything being God.

Cosmological concepts range from the seven heavens, the three worlds, the hells or netherworlds, creation, sustenance and destruction. The concept of the soul and the spirit, along with reincarnation, karma, judgement day, purgatory and cleansing are elements in most, if not all, of these religions.

On the other hand, generally, the world sees the belief systems of ‘minority’ races as primitive, nature-based, unable to stand up to the scrutiny of the higher concepts of the more forceful strains of religion like Christianity or Islam.

A classic case is the belief system of the ancient Greeks – adopted with variations by the Romans – which fell to the onslaught of Christianity. This belief system was then turned in mythology of legends and accepted as a cultural innovation that these people had to ensure until supplanted by a ‘better, more acceptable’ system of beliefs.

The Pacific Island nations, particularly the Polynesians, endured a similar supplanting of their beliefs, mostly after missionaries took Christianity to the islands during European empire-building era.

In New Zealand, the present-day Maori mythology is largely focused around Rangi and Papa, Hine-nui-te-po and Maui.

“Rangi and Papa are the primordial parents, the sky father and the earth mother who lie locked together in a tight embrace. They have many children all of which are male, who are forced to live in the cramped darkness between them.

These children grow and discuss among themselves what it would be like to live in the light. Tumatauenga, the fiercest of the children, proposes that the best solution to their predicament is to kill their parents.” (Grey 1956:2).

Traditions on migrations name Kupe as the discoverer of New Zealand, or Toi as the first important origin ancestor, or place special emphasis on descent from a particular canoe migration.

But it is the little-known, and rather controversial, philosophy of Io Matua Kore that puts the lie to the Maori belief system lacking high philosophy. It is controversial because some scholars still refuse to accept it as integral to the Maori, saying it was made up in response to the Christian missionaries’ relentless move to convert the people.

But Io has been known to Polynesians for millennia with oral tradition in Hawaii referring to Io, and the place-name Ur (very Abrahamanic), or Uru and the heroic figure Nu’u. Polynesians call their homeland Hawaiki, a legendary place that sank beneath the waves in calamity still remembered by these island dwellers and migration specialists.

Maori elders say the knowledge of Io was with the people for eons, but as a path of higher aspiration in which only the chosen could tread. It was not for all and sundry and thus not well-known outside of its rather-secretive circle.

On the face of being overwhelmed by the missionaries, the elders had little choice but to bring out the knowledge of Io into the mainstream to combat the missionary zeal.

Io Matua Kore (Maori for “Io the Parentless who was always existent without beginning or end”) is in many ancient Polynesian traditions the supreme god. Io is the absolute principle of being, of reality, of being eternal and unknowable.

Io is: “both Being-itself and absolute Nothingness. That is, He is truly infinite, encompassing within himself both the absolutely Positive and absolutely Negative.”

Such a refined concept is similar to the concept of Brahmam in Vedanta in its aspect of ajar, amar (beyond birth and death), Nirakaar (formless), nirguna (attributeless) and its aspects of Sat (Being), Chith (Consciousness), Ananda (Unalloyed joy).

A good piece on the concepts of Io can be found at this site: http://teiranaahi.auturoaartists.com/2010/08/02/the-science-of-io/

More intriguingly, and compounding the belief that the Maori have in their grasp one of the highest philosophies, is a poem written by a Maori ancestor, Tieme Ranapiri. When I came across this poem I was much taken by its depth and its exposition.

To my limited knowledge, there are indeed very few pieces in Western literature (religious and secular) that can come close to the concepts this poem portrays so concisely, despite the fact that some of its grandeur and nuances may have been lost in the translating of it.

“My Law”
Written by Tieme Ranapiri (1700AD/CE?)
and translated from Maori by Kere Graham.

The sun may be clouded, yet ever the sun
Will sweep on its course till the Cycle is run.
And when into chaos the system is hurled
again shall the Builder reshape a new world.

Your path may be clouded, uncertain your goal:
Move on – for your orbit is fixed to your soul.
And though it may lead into darkness of night
The torch of the Builder shall give it new light.

You were. You will be! Know this while you are:
Your spirit has traveled both long and afar.
It came from the Source, to the Source it returns
The Spark which was lighted eternally burns.

It slept in a jewel. It lept in a wave.
It roamed in the forest. It rose from the grave.
It took on strange garbs for long eons of years
and now in the soul of yourself it appears.

From body to body your spirit speeds on
It seeks a new form when the old one has gone
and the form that it finds is the fabric you wrought
On the loom of the Mind from the fibre of Thought.
As dew is drawn upwards, in rain to descend
Your thoughts drift away and in Destiny blend.
You cannot escape them, for petty or great,
Or evil or noble, they fashion your Fate.

Somewhere on some planet, sometime and somehow
Your life will reflect your thoughts of your Now.
My law is unerring, no blood can atone
The structure you build you will live in alone.
From cycle to cycle, through time and through space
Your lives with your longings will ever keep pace
And all that you ask for, and all you desire
Must come at your bidding, as flame out of fire.

Once list’ to that Voice and all tumult is done
Your life is the Life of the Infinite One.
In the hurrying race you are conscious of pause
With love for the purpose, and love for the Cause.

You are your own Devil, you are your own God
You fashioned the paths your footsteps have trod.
And no one can save you from Error or Sin
Until you have hark’d to the Spirit within.

Here we have concepts that Hindus and Buddhists (and even mystical Judaism, Islam and Christianity) are very familiar with:

1. Karma – your orbit is fixed to your soul; Somewhere on some planet, sometime and somehow Your life will reflect your thoughts of your Now

2. Reincarnation of the soul – You were. You will be! Know this while you are: Your spirit has travelled both long and afar. It came from the Source, to the Source it returns. From body to body your spirit speeds on. It seeks a new form when the old one has gone and the form that it finds is the fabric you wrought

3. The Soul – The Spark which was lighted eternally burns. It slept in a jewel. It leapt in a wave. It roamed in the forest. It rose from the grave. It took on strange garbs for long eons of years and now in the soul of yourself it appears.

Cultures deemed a more ‘primitive’ culture do have some of the highest philosophies – philosophies wrapped up as riddles of a mythology, understandable only to the initiated.

And outsiders see the most obvious traits of a culture, and miss out on the beauty and the basis of that culture. Or plainly refuse to accept that anything outside of their culture can carry the truth.

* Nalinesh Arun is a former Fiji journalist who lived in India for many years. He is now based in Christchurch

http://www.indianweekender.co.nz/Pages/ArticleDetails/25/2466/In-focus/A-little-known-Maori-philosophy

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Amber on August 7, 2012 at 10:40 pm

    Where is the carving of Rangi and Papa?

    Reply

  2. RE:- “A good piece on the concepts of Io can be found at this site”: The above link has expired and the work referenced can be found here –

    http://auturoaartists.blogspot.co.nz/2013/12/the-science-of-io.html

    Reply

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