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In Māori mythology, Tāwhaki is a semi-supernatural being associated with lightning and thunder.



The genealogy of Tāwhaki varies somewhat in different accounts. In general, Tāwhaki is a grandson of Whaitiri, a cannibalistic goddess who marries the mortal Kaitangata (man-eater), thinking that he shares her taste for human flesh. Disappointed at finding that this is not so, she leaves him after their sons Hemā and Punga are born and returns to heaven. Hemā is the father of Tāwhaki and Karihi.[1] Tāwhaki grows up to be handsome, the envy of his cousins, who beat him up and leave him for dead. He is nursed back to health by his wife, who feeds the fire that warms him with a whole log of wood. In memory of this incident, their child is named Wahieroa (Long-piece-of-firewood) (Biggs 1966:450). In some versions Tawhaki is the father of Arahuta. She was the cause of a quarrel between her parents, and her mother Tangotango took her to heaven, where they were afterwards joined by Tāwhaki.[2]

Avenges his father

Hemā, while looking for a gift for his son, trespasses into the land of the Ponaturi, who are evil beings. They capture him and Urutonga, blinding Hemā in the process. While journeying to rescue his parents, Tāwhaki meets and marries Hinepiripiri, to whom is born their son, Wahieroa. Tāwhaki and his brother Karihi rescue their enslaved mother, who tells them that light is fatal to the Ponaturi. Eventually, with the help of their mother, they trick the Ponaturi, who have returned to their house to sleep. Tāwhaki and his brother hide, after having blocked up all the chinks of the house so that no light can enter. When the Ponaturi begin to think that the night is very long, Urutonga reassures them that there is still a long time until dawn comes. They then set fire to the house, and open the door. The Ponaturi are killed by the fire and the exposure to the sunlight. The only survivors are Tonga-Hiti and Kanae.

Climbs into the heavens

Tāwhaki and his young brother set off to climb up to the sky. At the foot of the ascent they find their grandmother, Whaitiri, now blind, who sits continually counting the tubers of sweet potato or taro that are her only food.[3] Whaitiri is the guardian of the vines that form the pathway into the sky. The brothers tease her by snatching them away, one by one, and upsetting her count. Eventually, they reveal themselves to her and restore her sight. In return, she gives them advice about how best to make the climb into the sky. Karihi tries first, but makes the error of climbing up the aka taepa, or hanging vine. He is blown violently around by the winds of heaven, and falls to his death. Tāwhaki climbs by the aka matua, or parent vine, recites the right incantations, and reaches the highest of the 10 heavens. There he learns many spells from Tama-i-waho, and marries a woman named Hāpai, or as others say, Tangotango or Maikuku-makaka. They have a son, and according to some versions of the story it is this child who is named Wahieroa (Biggs 1966:450).[4]

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