THE Maori had no tradition of the Creation. The great mysterious Cause of all things existing in the Cosmos was, as he conceived it, the generative Power. Commencing with a primitive state of Darkness, he conceived Po (=Night) as a person capable of begetting a race of beings resembling itself. After a succession of several generations of the race of Po, Te Ata (=Morn) was given birth to. Then followed certain beings existing when Cosmos was without form, and void. Afterwards came Rangi (=Heaven), Papa (=Earth), the Winds, and other Sky-powers, as are recorded in the genealogical traditions preserved to the present time.
We have reason to consider the mythological traditions of the Maori as dating from a very antient period. They are held to be very sacred, and not to be repeated except in places set apart as sacred.
The Genealogies recorded hereafter are divisible into three distinct epochs:
1/ That comprising the personified Powers of Nature preceding the existence of man, which Powers are regarded by the Maori as their own primitive ancestors, and are invoked in their karakia by all the Maori race;
for we find the names of Rangi, Rongo, Tangaroa, &c., mentioned as Atua or Gods of the Maori of the Sandwich Islands and other Islands of the Pacific inhabited by the same race. The common worship of these primitive Atua constituted the National religion of the Maori.
2/ In addition to this the Maori had a religious worship peculiar to each tribe and to each family, in forms of karakia or invocation addressed to the spirits of dead ancestors of their own proper line of descent.
Ancestral spirits who had lived in the flesh before the migration to New Zealand would be invoked by all the tribes in New Zealand, so far as their names had been preserved, in their traditional records as mighty spirits.
3/ From the time of the migration to New Zealand each tribe and each family would in addition address their invocations to their own proper line of ancestors,–thus giving rise to a family religious worship in addition to the national religion.
The cause of the preservation of their Genealogies becomes intelligible when we consider that they often formed the ground-work of their religious formulas, and that to make an error or even hesitation in repeating a karakia was deemed fatal to its efficacy. In the forms of karakia addressed to the spirits of ancestors, the concluding words are generally a petition to the Atua invoked to give force or effect to the karakia as being derived through the Tipua, the Pukenga, and the Whananga, and so descending to the living Tauira.