South Island creation myths, Ranginui Walker

Tikao Talks
Herries Beattie,
Penguin Books, Auckland, 1990, 160pp, with photographs and index of personal names, $29.95

Tikao Talks consists of the reminiscences of Teone Taare Tikao on Maori traditions as recorded by the historian Herries Beattie. The book was first published in 1939 by AH & AW Reed Ltd, twelve years after Tikao died at the age of 77. This second edition by Penguin has an introduction added by Tikao’s descendants, a section of black and white photographs of the life and times of Tikao and a revised index.

Tikao belonged to the Irakehu branch of the Kai Tahu at Banks Peninsula. He was born in 1850 and studied for a time under the two remaining tohunga of the South Island, Koroko and Tuauau. When his father died, Tikao assumed the mantle of leadership for which he had been trained. He was the acknowledged authority on South Island traditions and widely recognised as a genealogist. Tikao’s account of the creation and Maui myths are quite fascinating. The major events and characters are the same as the North Island ones as given by the scribe Te Rangikaheke to Governor Grey. But there are interesting interpolations, transformations and transpositions of characters and events. For instance, the creation myth begins with the classic recitation of vast periods of space and darkness. At the conclusion of the ages of darkness Io the supreme being is interpolated as the creator of Ranginui and Papatuanuku, the sky father and earth mother, who caused the darkness in the first place. As in the North island account, Tane is credited with the separation of earth and sky, but he accomplishes the feat with a pole named Poututerangi instead of his legs.

In Tikao’s telling of the Maui myths, Maui’s kuia (female ancestors) Mahuika and Murirangawhenua, are merged into a single character and transformed into Maui’s maternal grandfather. Despite this change the account of Maui fetching fire from Mahuika is essentially the same as the North Island one. So is the fishing up of Te Ika a Maui (the North Island) with a hook fashioned out of Murirangawhenua’s jawbone.

Overall, Tikao’s discourse touches on a wide range of subjects including schools of learning, spiritual and celestial phenomena, migrations, introduction of the kumara, witchcraft and the superstitions which survived into the era of Christianity. Tikao is accurate in what he does know because much of what he says is confirmed in the writings of Elsdon Best and Raymond Firth. But he is also disarmingly honest in admitting to gaps in his knowledge. For these reasons, this new edition of Tikao Talks is a welcome addition to the literature on Maori traditions.


Ranginui Walker is Head of Maori Studies at the University of Auckland and is well known as a commentator and author of several books.


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