Story: Tangaroa – the sea

Page 2. Creation

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Tangaroa – son of earth and sky

In the most well-known version of the Māori creation story, Tangaroa is the son of Papatūānuku, the earth mother, and Ranginui, the sky father. He is one of the 70 children who, when earth and sky were separated, went to live in the world that was created.

Tangaroa – husband of earth

In other versions, however, Tangaroa is the husband of Papatūānuku and a competitor of Ranginui. The following account was dictated to Sir Donald McLean by Hūkiki Te Ahukaramū of the Ngāti Raukawa tribe, in 1856:

Ka moe (a) Rangi i a Papatūānuku, te wahine o Tangaroa, i pūremutia e Rangi … Ka puta ki waho ko … Tānenui-a-rangi … Ka whakaaro rātou kia puta iho te rā i te kēkē o Rangi. Ka mea (a) Tānenui-a-rangi ‘Tēnei te rā kei runga e whiti ana.’ Ka mea (ia), ‘Me toko tō tātou matua kia waiho ko te wahine ko Papa hei matua mō tātou.’ Ka mea rātou, ‘Tokona, wehea rāua, kia tau kē te wahine kia tau kē te tāne, kia tupu ai tātou ki te Ao.’ Kātahi ka tokona te rangi. E tū iho ana a Rangi; e takoto nei a Papa.
The sky (Rangi) cohabited with the earth (Papa) who was the wife of the sea (Tangaroa). She was seduced by the sky. They had a child whom they called Tānenui-a-rangi, ‘Tāne, great of the heavens.’ The family thereupon decided that the sun should be allowed to shine through the armpit of the sky. ‘Tāne-great of the heavens’ said, ‘The sun shines above.’ He then said, ‘Let us raise our father above and leave the female, Papa, as our parent.’ They joined in and said, ‘Raise him up, separate the two. Let the female be set apart, let the male be set apart so that we may prosper in the world.’ The sky was then raised above. Hence, the sky stands above and the earth lies below. 1

It is likely that this version of the creation story – where water lies between the earth and sky – reflects an islander’s view of the world, where much of the earth appears to be under the sea. Following the separation of the adulterous lovers by their child, the earth returns to her place beneath the water and what is left above is the whenua – a word meaning both land and placenta, which comes from the womb of the earth and floats on the sea. The Māori term for island is moutere – ‘floating land’.

  1. See Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal, Native traditions by Hūkiki te Ahu Karamū o Otaki, Jany 1st 1856. Ōtaki: Te Wānanga-o-Raukawa, 2003. › Back
How to cite this page:

Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal, 'Tangaroa – the sea - Creation', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 12 December 2023)

Story by Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal, published 12 Jun 2006