Story: Ranginui – the sky

Page 3. Polynesian myths

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Many Māori myths about the creation and gods of the heavens had their counterparts in Polynesian cultures.

Samoa and Tonga

The Samoan equivalent of Ranginui, the sky father, and Papatūānuku, the earth mother, begins with Tagaloa-lagi (Tangaroa-rangi to Māori), who created the islands of Samoa by throwing down rocks from the heavens. One of these rocks, Papatu (standing rock), married Papa’ele (low-lying rock). Papatu represented the father mountain, and Papa’ele the earth mother. From this union came the gods. The gods married, and from them came human life. In the Tongan version of this account, Papalimu married Papakele.


In Tahitian mythology Ātea, the sky father, married Papatu’oi, the earth mother. Their child was Tumunui, the great foundation, who married Paparaharaha, the life-giving earth. Their child in turn was Te Fatu, the lord of the heavens and ancestor of all life.


The Nanaulu genealogies of Hawaii are very similar to the traditions of Tahiti. During creation Wakea, the sky father, married Papa, who is described as a gourd. Wakea moulded the gourd to create the universe. First, he fashioned Papa into a drinking vessel – this became Papahanaumoku, the earth mother. The lid of the gourd formed the heavens, and its juices became the rain and clouds. The seeds of the gourd were implanted into the heavens as the sun, moon and stars. Wakea and Papa then created the island of Kahiki, the ancestral homeland of the Hawaiians. The descendants of Wakea became the high chiefs of each of the Hawaiian islands.


Rarotonga has a particularly beautiful tradition of the sky and earth. Creation began when the goddess Varima-te-takere plucked Ātea, the sky father, from her side. Atea moved about, changing shape and increasing in size to form the heavens. He then married Paparoa-i-te-itinga, the earth mother stretching into the sunrise. Paparoa-i-te-itinga gave birth to five sons, the gods Tangaroa, Rongo, Tāne, Tongaiti and Tangi’ia, and to Te Tumu, the foundation stone. Te Tumu then married Paparoa-i-te-opunga, and from this union came human life.

How to cite this page:

Rāwiri Taonui, 'Ranginui – the sky - Polynesian myths', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 20 June 2024)

Story by Rāwiri Taonui, published 12 Jun 2006