Story: Ranginui – the sky

Page 1. Ranginui – the sky father

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Māori mythology personified the heavens as a sky father, naming him variously Rangi (heavens), Ranginui (great heavens), Rangiroa (expansive heavens), or Te Ranginui-e-tū-nei (the great-standing heavens). He was also called Te Rangiātea, which referred to the great breadth of the heavens, or Te Rangitiketike and Te Rangipāmamao, which denoted loftiness and remoteness. The names Te Rangiwhakataka and Te Rangitakataka describe how the heavens reach down to the horizon to meet Papatūānuku, the earth mother.

The term Rangi-tūhāhā comes from the Māori conception of the heavens comprising 10 or 12 layers, with Rangi being the closest to the earth.

Creation of the heavens

In myths about the creation of the world, the union of Ranginui, the sky father, and Papatūānuku, the earth mother, led to Te Pō (darkness, the night). In an account given by Wiremu Maihi Te Rangikāheke of Te Arawa, these primal parents gave birth to several anthropomorphic gods, including Tāwhirimatea (god of the winds), Tāne (forests), Tangaroa (seas), Rongo (kūmara, cultivated foods and peace), Haumia (fern root and uncultivated foods) and Tūmatauenga (humankind and war). These gods dwelt in darkness between their parents, until Tāne and several others decided to separate them. Rongo, Tangaroa, Haumia and Tū all tried unsuccessfully to drive Ranginui and Papatūānuku apart. Then Tāne lay on his back and pushed with his arms and legs, while the others severed the limbs of their parents, breaking their last grasp. Tāne planted posts to keep his parents apart, which is why he is also known as Tāne-tokotoko-o-ngā-rangi (Tāne of the posts that hold the heavens aloft).

Ranginui and Papatūānuku are celebrated in whakataukī (aphorisms), waiata (songs) and whaikōrero (speech making):

E mihi atu ki Te Matua, ki a Ranginui, ki a Rangiroa,
Tāwhirirangi, Te Hauwhakaora, Te Hau e pāngia ngā kiri o te tangata.
E mihi atu ki a Papatūānuku, ki a Papatūārangi
Te Papa i takatakahia e ngā mātua tūpuna, te papa i waihotia e rātou mā
Te Papa e maroro ki te itinga, e maroro ki te opunga
Te Papa-awhi, e awhi ana i a tātou, o tēnā, o tēnā, o tēnā o ngā whakatupuranga e tupu ake nei.
Te Ūkaipō, Te Ūkaiao o tātou katoa.
Greetings to the sky father, the great heavens, the expansive heavens,
The heavenly winds, the life-giving winds, the winds that caress the skin of all people.
Greetings to the earth mother, extending beyond the visible land and beyond the visible heavens.
The earth mother trampled by our ancestors, the earth mother left in heritage by the ancient ones
The earth mother that stretches unto the sunrise, that stretches unto the sunset
The embracing earth mother, which embraces each of us from all generations sustained by her grace.
She that sustains us night and day.
How to cite this page:

Rāwiri Taonui, 'Ranginui – the sky - Ranginui – the sky father', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 17 April 2024)

Story by Rāwiri Taonui, published 12 Jun 2006