Rangi and Papa

Rangi and Papa
Papa and Rangi held each other in a tight embrace

In Māori mythology the primal couple Rangi and Papa (or Ranginui and Papatuanuku) appear in a creation myth explaining the origin of the world. In some South Island dialects, Rangi is called Raki or Rakinui.[1]


Union and separation

Rangi and Papa are the primordial parents, the sky father and the earth mother who lie locked together in a tight embrace. They have many children [2] all of which are male, who are forced to live in the cramped darkness between them.[3] These children grow and discuss among themselves what it would be like to live in the light. Tūmatauenga, the fiercest of the children, proposes that the best solution to their predicament is to kill their parents (Grey 1956:2).

But his brother Tāne (or Tāne-mahuta) disagrees, suggesting that it is better to push them apart, to let Rangi be as a stranger to them in the sky above while Papa will remain below to nurture them. The others put their plans into action—Rongo, the god of cultivated food, tries to push his parents apart, then Tangaroa, the god of the sea, and his sibling Haumia-tiketike, the god of wild food, join him. In spite of their joint efforts Rangi and Papa remain close together in their loving embrace. After many attempts Tāne, god of forests and birds, forces his parents apart. Instead of standing upright and pushing with his hands as his brothers have done, he lies on his back and pushes with his strong legs. Stretching every sinew Tāne pushes and pushes until, with cries of grief and surprise, Ranginui and Papatuanuku were pried apart (Grey 1956:2-3, Biggs 1966:448).[4]

War in heaven and earth

Tāne adorned Rangi with stars

And so the children of Rangi and Papa see light and have space to move for the first time. While the other children have agreed to the separation Tāwhirimātea, the god of storms and winds, is angered that the parents have been torn apart. He cannot bear to hear the cries of his parents nor see the tears of Rangi as they are parted, he promises his siblings that from henceforth they will have to deal with his anger. He flies off to join Rangi and there carefully fosters his own many offspring who include the winds, one of whom is sent to each quarter of the compass. To fight his brothers, Tāwhirimātea gathers an army of his children—winds and clouds of different kinds, including fierce squalls, whirlwinds, gloomy thick clouds, fiery clouds, hurricane clouds and thunderstorm clouds, and rain, mists and fog. As these winds show their might the dust flies and the great forest trees of Tāne are smashed under the attack and fall to the ground, food for decay and for insects (Grey 1956:3-6, Tregear 1891:54, Biggs 1966:448-449).

Then Tāwhirimātea attacks the oceans and huge waves rise, whirlpools form, and Tangaroa, the god of the sea, flees in panic. Punga, a son of Tangaroa, has two children, Ikatere father of fish, and Tu-te-wehiwehi (or Tu-te-wanawana) the ancestor of reptiles. Terrified by Tāwhirimātea’s onslaught the fish seek shelter in the sea and the reptiles in the forests. Ever since Tangaroa has been angry with Tāne for giving refuge to his runaway children. So it is that Tāne supplies the descendants of Tūmatauenga with canoes, fishhooks and nets to catch the descendants of Tangaroa. Tangaroa retaliates by swamping canoes and sweeping away houses, land and trees that are washed out to sea in floods (Grey 1971:5-6).

Tāwhirimātea next attacks his brothers Rongo and Haumia-tiketike, the gods of cultivated and uncultivated foods. Rongo and Haumia are in great fear of Tāwhirimātea but, as he attacks them, Papa determines to keep these for her other children and hides them so well that Tāwhirimātea cannot find them. So Tāwhirimātea turns on his brother Tūmatauenga. He uses all his strength but Tūmatauenga stands fast and Tāwhirimatea cannot prevail against him. Tū (or humankind) stands fast and, at last, the anger of the gods subsided and peace prevailed.

Tū thought about the actions of Tāne in separating their parents and made snares to catch the birds, the children of Tāne who could no longer fly free. He then made nets from forest plants and casts them in the sea so that the children of Tangaroa soon lie in heaps on the shore. He made hoes to dig the ground, capturing his brothers Rongo and Haumia-tiketike where they have hidden from Tāwhirimātea in the bosom of the earth mother and, recognising them by their long hair that remains above the surface of the earth, he drags them forth and heaps them into baskets to be eaten. So Tūmatauenga eats all of his brothers to repay them for their cowardice; the only brother that Tūmatauenga does not subdue is Tāwhirimātea, whose storms and hurricanes attack humankind to this day (Grey 1971:7-10, Biggs 1966:449).


Tāne searched for heavenly bodies as lights so that his father would be appropriately dressed. He obtained the stars and threw them up, along with the moon and the sun. At last Rangi looked handsome (Orbell 1998:145). Rangi and Papa continue to grieve for each other to this day. Ranginui's tears fall towards Papatuanuku to show how much he loves her. Sometimes Papatuanuku heaves and strains and almost breaks herself apart to reach her beloved partner again but it is to no avail. When mist rises from the forests, these are Papatuanuku's sighs as the warmth of her body yearns for Ranginui and continues to nurture mankind (Grey 1956:11).

Names and epithets


  • Rangi (Sky)
  • Raki (Sky) in the South Island
  • Ranginui (Great Sky)
  • Rangi-pōtiki (Rangi the lastborn): possibly another name of Rangi, or a closely allied deity


  • Papa (Earth)
  • Papatuanuku (Earth spread out)

See also

External links


  1. ^ This article is based largely on the writings of a Te Arawa chief, Wiremu Maihi Te Rangikāheke, who is the author of much of the material in George Grey’s Nga Mahi a nga Tupuna (Grey 1971), originally published in 1854 and later translated into English as Polynesian Mythology (Grey 1956). It should be understood that the version presented here represents just one Māori creation myth among many variants
  2. ^ The specific number of children varies in different versions but numbers of 70 or more are commonly mentioned. Whether such a high number actually occurs in one early text is another matter for investigation.
  3. ^ Their children include, depending on the version: Tāne, Tangaroa, Tāwhirimātea, Rongo or (Rongo-mā-tāne), Haumia-tiketike, Tūmatauenga and Rehua. The youngest is Ruaumoko, who has never been born and remains inside his mother's womb. His movements cause earthquakes.
  4. ^ Traditions of the Taranaki region, however, assign this separating role to Tangaroa, god of the sea (Smith 1993:1-2).


  • B.G. Biggs, 'Maori Myths and Traditions' in A.H. McLintock (editor), Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, 3 Volumes. (Government Printer: Wellington), 1966, II:447-454.
  • G. Grey, Nga Mahi a Nga Tupuna, fourth edition. First published 1854. (Reed: Wellington), 1971.
  • G. Grey, Polynesian Mythology, Illustrated edition, reprinted 1976. (Whitcombe and Tombs: Christchurch), 1956.
  • M. Orbell, The Concise Encyclopedia of Māori Myth and Legend (Canterbury University Press: Christchurch), 1998.
  • A. Smith, Songs and Stories of Taranaki from the Writings of Te Kahui Kararehe (MacMillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies: Christchurch), 1993.
  • E.R. Tregear, Maori-Polynesian Comparative Dictionary (Lyon and Blair: Lambton Quay), 1891.

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