Polynesian mythology

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Polynesian mythology is the oral traditions of the people of Polynesia, a grouping of Central and South Pacific Ocean island archipelagos in the Polynesian triangle together with the scattered cultures known as the Polynesian outliers. Polynesians speak languages that descend from a language reconstructed as Proto-Polynesian that was probably spoken in the Tonga - Samoa area around 1000 BC.

Contents

Description

Prior to the 15th century AD, Polynesian people fanned out to the east, to the Cook Islands, and from there to other groups such as Tahiti and the Marquesas. Their descendants later discovered the islands from Tahiti to Rapa Nui, and later Hawai‘i and New Zealand. Latest research puts the settlement of New Zealand at about 1300 AD. The various Polynesian languages are all part of the Austronesian language family. Many are close enough in terms of vocabulary and grammar to permit communication between some other language speakers. There are also substantial cultural similarities between the various groups, especially in terms of social organisation, childrearing, as well as horticulture, building and textile technologies; their mythologies in particular demonstrate local reworkings of commonly shared tales.

Thus, in some island groups, Tangaroa is of great importance as the god of the sea and of fishing. There is often a story of the marriage between Sky and Earth; the New Zealand version, Rangi and Papa, is a union that gives birth to the world and all things in it. There are stories of islands pulled up from the bottom of the sea by a magic fishhook, or thrown down heaven. There are stories of voyages, migrations, seductions and battles, as one might expect. Stories about a trickster, Māui, are widely known, as are those about a beautiful goddess/ancestress Hina or Sina.

In addition to these shared themes in the oral tradition, each island group has its own stories of demi-gods and culture heroes, shading gradually into the firmer outlines of remembered history. Often such stories were linked to various geographic or ecological features, which may be described as the petrified remains of the supernatural beings.

From oral to written

The various Polynesian cultures each have distinct but related oral traditions, that is, legends or myths traditionally considered to recount the history of ancient times (the time of "pō") and the adventures of gods (“atua”) and deified ancestors. The accounts are characterised by extensive use of allegory, metaphor, parable, hyperbole, and personification. Orality has an essential flexibility that writing does not allow. In an oral tradition, there is no fixed version of a given tale. The story may change within certain limits according to the setting, and the needs of the narrator and the audience. Contrary to the Western concept of history, where the knowledge of the past serves to bring a better understanding of the present, the purpose of oral literature is rather to justify and legitimatise the present situation.

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