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In Māori mythology, Whaitiri is a female deity, a personification of thunder, and the grandmother of Tāwhaki and Karihi. Whaitiri is the granddaughter of Te Kanapu, and the great-granddaughter of Te Uira, both of whom are personified forms of lightning (Reed 1963:158). In Maori mythology, there is also a male deity of thunder, Tawhirimatea.


Marries Kaitangata

Whaitiri is a fearsome figure, fond of cannibalism. When she hears of a mortal named Kaitangata (man-eater), she is certain he will make a fine husband for her. She comes down to earth and marries him, but is disappointed to learn that he is a gentle person, nothing like his name suggests. Whaitiri kills her favourite slave, Anonokia, takes out her heart and liver, and offers them to Kaitangata as a sign of her affection. He is horrified at the grisly offering (Reed 1963:158-159).

Kaitangata is a hard worker, spending a lot of time fishing to feed his family. Unfortunately, he has never learned how to make hooks with a barb, and so most of his fish escape. Whaitiri gives him a barbed hook, and he catches a groper, which she offers to the gods. Whaitiri quickly tires of a diet of fish, so when her husband is away fishing, she takes a net and catches two of her husband's relatives, Tupeke-ti and Tupeke-ta. When Kaitangata returns, she asks him to perform the incantations that are used when human flesh is offered to the gods. He does not know the chants, so she tries to perform them herself, not willing to confess that she is ignorant of the correct words to use. She mumbles nonsense words, before cooking the bodies, cutting them up and gorging herself on the flesh, to the disgust of the villagers. Only the bones are left (Reed 1963:158-9).

Later, Kaitangata uses the bones to make barbed hooks, and goes fishing. He catches groper, and gives them to Whaitiri. He does not tell her that he used hooks made from the bones of Tupeke-ti and Tupeke-ta. She eats the fish, and because the fish is infused with the tapu (sacredness) from the bodies of the two men, Whaitiri gradually begins to go blind. At first she is mystified at the reason for this, but eventually she is visited by a woman from the underworld who tells her what has happened (Reed 1963:159).

Returns to the sky

One day, Whaitiri overhears her husband describe her to two strangers. She is offended when she hears him say that his wife's skin is like the wind, and her heart is as cold as snow. On another occasion, she is ashamed when Kaitangata complains that their children are dirty. She explains to her husband that she is unable to wash her children because she is a sacred being from the heavens, and she tells him for the first time that her name is thunder. She prepares to return to her true home in the heavens, and foretells that her children will follow her one day. She departs in a cloud, leaving her children, one of whom is Hemā (Reed 1963:159-160).

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