24 February 2011

Rūaumoko, the Maori God of Earthquakes

In light of the devastating earthquake that hit Christchurch, New Zealand's second largest city and the largest on the South Island, I found it interesting that prior to the arrival of Europeans, the Māori had experienced what they called "rū whenua", that is the shaking of the land.

In Māori legend, it was the God Rūaumoko who caused earthquakes. Rūaumoko was the son of Ranginui (the Sky God) and Papatūānuku (the Earth Goddess). 

Rangi had been separated from Papa, and his tears had flooded the land.  In an attempt to ease their grief and sorrow, their offspring turned Papa face downward so they could not see each other, however in doing do, Rūaumoko was still at her breast, and therefore was carried to the world below. To keep him warm there he was given fire. He is the God of earthquakes and volcanoes, and the rumblings that disturb the land are made by him as he walks about.

In some other traditions, earthquakes were also to the taniwha, dragon-like monsters. For example, it was said that a taniwha travelled north from Porirua, near Wellington, to Te Aute in Hawke’s Bay, and left a trail of destruction. At Te Aute it battled with the god Tāne, the thrashing of its tail creating a sandbank island in Lake Roto-a-Tara. Although this small lake is now drained, the sandbank remains. The Te Aute area also has two other lakes dammed by earthquakes – Poukawa and Hātuma.

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