Islander Mythology and Astronomy12

There is broad evidence from Polynesia that the relationship of movements of Sun, Moon, and stars to meteorology, seasonal changes, tidal effects on fishing and agriculture, and other natural phenomena was carefullly studied. Some of these associations are entirely acceptable in our society, whereas we regard others as unsupported allegations, or perhaps mere superstitions. Presumably, the Polynesians made no such distinctions. Some of the specifics of such associations were present in widely separated areas and were presumably old in the culture. For example. Makemson (1941, p. 168) points out that among the Maori, the nights of Tane and Rongo (named for the god of forests and the god of agriculture) were good times for planting sweet potatoes (a South American crop introduced prior to 1100 a.d. See Bellwood 1978, p. 395). From Hawaii, Kepelino (Beckwith, tr., 1932, p. 110) tells us that the equivalent nights of Kane and Lono (in their Hawaiian pronunciations) were good for planting (sweet) potatoes.

Among the oceanic cultures, there is clear evidence of personal astrology only from Hawaii. The native scholar David Kepelino (Beckwith, tr., 1932) gives personal characteristics for men and (somewhat different ones) for women born on particular days of the lunar month. Malo (1951) gives a similar set for persons according to the months in which they were born. Presumably, omens from the days and months moderated each other.

Thus, people born in the month Hinaia-eleele were said to be lazy, as were those born on the day named Ole-ku-kahi. Those who were born on the day Ole-ku-lua, however, were supposed to be good workers. Thus, in the first case, the laziness of the month would be reinforced, and in the second, counteracted.

A concept that is widespread in Polynesia (as in the Americas and Eurasia) is that of the layers of heavens and underworlds. An extremely enlightening drawing of these

12 This section makes use of certain linguistic conventions and terminology. PP means Proto-Polynesian, referring to the reconstructed ancestral form of the languages of Polynesia. UA refers to Uto-Aztecan, an ancestral American Indian language, from which Aztec, among others, derives. An asterisk is used to mark a reconstruction of the earlier form of a word.

Figure 11.6. Views from Cape Kumukahi, the easternmost cape of the Hawaiian Islands: From here, the legendary chief for whom it is named, and his wives, surveyed and controlled the movements of the Sun. (a) to (c) Panoramic views sweeping from north to south along the coastline. (d) Twin apu (cultural shrine) at the cape. (e) Closeup of the southern apu. (f) Three views due to slight parallactic shifts in position, looking west from the twin apu at Cape Kumukahi, showing other apu, a heiau (temple)—in this case, a construct built into a lava formation. Lava flows have repeatedly devastated the Puna region of Hawaii. Photos by E.F. Milone.

was produced by Paiore, a Tuamotuan, in 1869 (see Figure 11.7).

Here, it is clear that "heavens" and "underworlds" are continuous in such a way that "highest heaven" and "lowest underworld" are conjoined. Concepts elsewhere may well have been very similar. Stimson (1928, 1933) argued that translators have consistently misunderstood the concepts of po, usually "night" or "darkness," and rangi, usually "sky" or "heaven." He thought that the Christian convert, Paiore, deliberately modified native views to make them more like

Figure 11.6. Continued.

1. PEAHA

2. TUREORA

3. TE TUMU O KUPORU

4. TURI HONO

5. TIKOKU ARIKI

6. O RAGI TAKE

7. NGARUE TE FATU-MOANA

8. TIA RUGA A TANA

The Layers Heaven
Figure 11.7. The layers of Heaven and of the Underworld, according to the Tuamotuan Paiore, ~1869. Drawing by Sharon Hanna and Sean Goldsmith.

his understanding of Christianity. Stimson thought that his informants were able to present older views more accurately. See Stimson for a comparison of their diagrams with Paiore's. Good summaries relating to heavens and underworlds may be found in Tregear 1891 (sub Kore, Hawaiki, Po, Reinga).

Kelley's claim (1957, 1990) that Uto-Aztecans from Mesoamerica somehow reached Polynesia and introduced the astronomical cult centering on Tane, the youthful Sun god, and his wife, Sina, the Moon goddess, relies heavily on linguistic evidence that would be inappropriate to consider in detail here.13 However, it seems appropriate to consider some of the astronomical and calendrical data and interpretations. The myth of snaring the Sun, which was going too fast, and forcing it to go slower is widespread in Polynesia, and it is usually associated with the name of the "hero," Maui (see comments earlier in this section). It has normally been interpreted in modern Polynesian myths in terms of the east to west diurnal movement, but it is much more reasonable to think that the original intent was phrased in terms of movement along the horizon (§2.3.1). Maui caught it in a noose, PP *kolo, apparently related to a Uto-Aztecan word for "circle," and also applied to halos around the Sun or the Moon. The inner halo is distant from the Sun by 22° (see §5.1.4), close to the maximum elongation14 of Mercury, 23°, so that this angle is a good approximation for the arc length between Mercury and the Sun at sunset (for a greatest

13 Much of this evidence is summarized in Kelley (1990), where further details and references may be found.

1. PEAHA

2. TUREORA

3. TE TUMU O KUPORU

4. TURI HONO

5. TIKOKU ARIKI

6. O RAGI TAKE

7. NGARUE TE FATU-MOANA

8. TIA RUGA A TANA

eastern elongation) or sunrise (for a greatest western elongation) during this event. Because 23.5° is the obliquity of the ecliptic, the angle is also an approximation to the bearing of either of the Tropics (Cancer or Capricorn) relative to the equinox rising or setting Sun. Thus, the halo seen at an equinox would appear to "noose" the Sun adequately, marking the solstitial limits, through which it may pass.

Maori mythology refers to two temples on Hikurangi mountain called Koro-riwha-te-ao and Koro-riwha-te-po. Maori riwha is "gapped," which has no obvious contextual meaning, but other Polynesian languages show "sloping" as a meaning for apparent cognates. This would give Koro-sloping-towards-the-dawn and Koro-sloping-towards-the-night and would, we suggest, nicely correspond to halos around the rising Sun. Hikurangi mountain would mean "tail of Heaven" in Polynesian, but Papago Hikunavangu is "Navel Mountain." Both were equated with the mountain where the people were saved from the flood. In Mangaia, Ikurangi or Rangimotia, "end-of-Heaven," where the people were saved from the flood, was said to be at the center of the universe—much more fitting for the Uto-Aztecan meaning. It is said by the Maoris that the bird of the Sun dwelt in its house, Totoka, on Hikurangi mountain. In Tahiti, the bird of Tane, the youthful Sun god, is kura (PP*kula), a red parakeet; among the Uto-Aztecan Tarahumaras, kura is a parrot, and the Huichol identify a red parrot as the messenger of the Sun. Such a role is appropriate for Mercury, always back and forth near the Sun, and in Hawaii, Hoku 'ula (probably from PP *Fetu, "star," despite the vowel irregularity, and *kula) is a name of Mercury. The house Totoka may come from *toka, "spider," a word shared by Polynesian and Uto-Aztecan, although not the usual word. In both Polynesia and Mesoamerica, it is said that heroes or "demons" passed back and forth from heaven to earth by a spider's thread. As in other areas, the Moon goddess as a weaver may have been personified as a spider, although direct evidence is lacking both in Polynesia and in Mesoamerica. However, all visible planetary movements fall closer to the ecliptic than the ±5° variation of the Moon (see §2.3.4). We suggest that this 10° range constitutes the bounds of the "house" of the "bird-of-the-Sun."

The outer halo at 46° is close to the maximum elongation of Venus, about 48°. The birth of Ruatapu from the top of the mountain may well be a reference to Venus seen where (but of course not when) a rainbow would appear.

It is also said that the canoe of Maui grounded on Hikurangi mountain, and that the canoe of Maui is sometimes associated with Orion's Belt. Orion's Belt is also associated with or identified as a turtle in both Mesoamerica and the Tuamotus (as well as Burma and China), and the birth of a hero from a turtle shell depicted on Maya pottery again probably refers to Venus. A name for Venus shared in Polynesia and Mesoamer-ica is *soli (Aztecxolotl, "slave," a dog-headed god often identified as Venus or one of its phases; Pap. holi, "slave," both from UA *soli- Tahitian Hori-poipoi translated as "dog of the morning," a name for the morning star—cf. Sam. soli, "to treat as a conquered person," both from PP *soli).

DHK thinks that one form of planetary god is the Heron, a bird associated with death and with eating human souls in the form of fish, with similar associations in both Mesoamer-

ica and Polynesia. The Heron is one of the figures who ran off with the Moon goddess, *Sina, and his name appears in Polynesia as Matuku or Kotuku; apparently related forms in Uto-Aztecan suggest an earlier form *tuka. In New Zealand, it was said that Matuku lived in Rua-o-Ra, "the pit of the Sun," which would be appropriate for a planetary deity. On Mangareva, te Rua Ra was the name of the observation post from which summer and winter solstices were observed. If Heron is to be identified as a planet, the motionless bird waiting for a fish seems most reminiscent of slow-moving Saturn, but no very good reason can be advanced for Saturn rather than for Jupiter or even Venus. Among the Maya, Heron is sometimes pictured with the incorporated head of a god (see Figure 15.2), identified by DHK as Saturn.

Among shared items with shared names is the *puwa tree, the Plumeria or frangipani, a Mesoamerican plant. With the locative-gerundial ending -*nga, shared by Uto-Aztecan and Polynesian, we have *Puanga, a widely attested Polynesian name for Rigel, which also has the meaning "zenith" in New Zealand, where Rigel is far from the zenith at meridian transit (cf. §11.2). Among the Micronesians in the Caroline Islands, the sky is conceived of as a giant house, and the top beam of the house is represented as the path of Rigel. In such a scheme, cross-beams roughly represent an equivalent of latitude, and it seems notable that *teka, "cross-beam," is another word shared by Uto-Aztecans and Polynesians (compare with Figure 11.2). Finally, DHK suggests that the relatively rapid movement of the Sun along the horizon near the equinoxes may be responsible for a reference to this as the "place of movement," UA/PP *oli plus locative -gerundial *nga. As in Mesoamerica, Mangaians recognized a series of Thirteen Lords of the Night, beginning with Lono, embodied in a conch shell (Gill 1876, pp. 95-96). The 6th of these Lords was Tane-Kio, said to have been enshrined in the planets Venus and Jupiter.

This sampling of mythical terms that also seem to have technical astronomical meanings, and that are shared by Uto-Aztecan and Polynesian, strongly indicates that much of the mythology of Polynesia may have had an astronomical interpretation. There is also a strong suggestion of a historical connection, which DHK has interpreted as a movement of Uto-Aztecans into the Pacific, probably in the early centuries a.d.

In any case, it seems probable that many words of myth once had a degree of technical astronomical meaning, and now are largely lost. Further analysis of the mythology may throw substantial light on both Mesoamerican and Polynesian astronomy. Polynesia also seems to have had a Sirius cult sharing many features with the cult of Sirius among the Dogons (§8.4).

Recent work on Hawaii has revealed much more detail about ancient Hawaiian culture and astronomy than was previously known. Consequently, the remainder of this section will concentrate on the Hawaiian islands. The Hawaiian temples are called heiau, sacred places. They were of stone, with walls several feet high. Some had a series of parallel walls and elevated platforms and terraces in several tiers. The most important had many houses, with wood and thatch of leaves or grass (Stokes 1919/1991, p. 27). Stokes makes three main points among generalizations. The first is that the temples varied in importance and function. The second is that location depended on the function. The third is that orientation had to do with the contour of land or shore, an interpretation that will be discussed later. The most important temples belonged to the king or chiefs. There, sacrifices of bananas, coconuts, pigs, and sometimes humans were performed. Human sacrifices, however, took place only in the most important of these, the luakini, which belonged to the king. They were found in or near villages. There were also many temples for the commoners. Agricultural temples (heiau ipu o Lono, "Temple of the Gourd of Lono") were between fields and villages. Fish temples (heiau ko'a) were at or near the beach. Temples "of the priestly caste" were at or near the priest's residence (Kamakau as summarized by Stokes 1919/1991, pp. 32-34). The orientation, Stokes (1919/1991, pp. 35-36) says, was controlled by the situation. If situated on the shore, the temple lay parallel or at right angles to the immediate shoreline (not the overall lay of the coast). If slightly inland, the orientation would seem to depend primarily on the contour of the ground and secondarily on the lay of the coast. .. . Farther inland, it would be only the contour of the ground which would be considered. I could find no evidence in the foundations of orientation to cardinal points. It is true that some of them did lie almost true north-south or east-west, but this was because the situation required it.

Stokes (p. 21) also notes that they were usually located in some sort of "commanding position" like the crest of a hill. This still begs the question of why they were sited where they were, especially in light of the comment that one of the purposes in setting up a temple was for "sailing to Kahiki" (Kamakau as summarized by Stokes 1919/1991, p. 33). Stokes's view does not preclude the possibility of alignments to individual stars. In fact, Makemson (1941, p. 148) asserts that the heiau were associated with particular stars and that "each community and family formerly had its own star with which its fortunes were immutably associated."

The Ahu a 'Umi heiau has been described by da Silva and Johnson (1982) as indicating extensive star alignments and as recreating a cosmological scheme. This heiau is located on the pass between Mauna Loa and southwest of Hualalei, a dormant volcano on the island of Hawaii. It is traditionally believed to have been built for King Umi, the first ruler of the entire island. The measurements of the base rectangle are close to a 3:4 ratio, suggesting interior Pythagorean triangles. Eight small cairns (A to H) surrounded the main platform; these fell in approximately paired oppositions. The line B-F is at right angles to the line D-H, and the point where they cross is also very close to the crossing point of A-E. Da Silva and Johnson postulate alignments to the June solstice sunrise and to the December solstice sunrise and sunset as well as stellar alignments, but all of these are dependent on their establishment of a geometrically determined central point for the complex. While we think their determination is a reasonable possibility, we do not think it well enough established to be certain of any of the alignments.

Although it has been clear for a long time that astronomy played a central role in navigation and calendrics in the Hawaiian group, that certain places were associated with astronomically determined rituals, and that astrology was important, our knowledge of details has been spotty and inadequate. Recently, Francis Warther (1991a/1991b; Warther and Meech 1993) has begun to show that unified evidence from several lines of investigation suggest that Hawaiian astronomy was both more sophisticated and more pervasive than anyone had previously thought. He has also demonstrated the probable presence of types of alignment that we could only recognize with the aid of written or oral tradition.

Warther has provided evidence that certain alignments of natural features of the environment were recognized by the Hawaiians as markers and regarded as important. He has shown that certain monuments either alone or in alignment with topographical features or other monuments coincided with astronomical alignments. He has used traditions associated with monuments and natural features, including various mythical associations. The names of such features are a form of traditional evidence, and translations of the names are often very revealing. He has provided translations of charts demonstrating astronomical meaning.

Among the interesting mythical-topographic traditions is that Maui stood on Oahu on Pu'ulanihuli Mountain, "the hill of the turning around of the sky," to snare the Sun over Haleakala Mountain, "the house of the Sun," on Maui. An observer standing on Pu'ulanihuli would see the December solstice Sun rising over Haleakala. Another hill on Oahu where Maui stood was called Heleakala, "snare of the Sun," and was in the district called Nanakuli Ahupua'a, "Star Dog of the mound of the Pig," the "Star Dog" unidentified, but the "Pig" probably Sirius. It is also said that Oahu and Kauai were once linked by Maui's fish-line (his hook is widely identified in Polynesia with Scorpio). A line between the two islands matches December solstice sunrise/June solstice sunset.

One of the most intriguing areas is the Wailua district on the east coast of Kauai. Here, Warther has drawn attention to three heiaus or sacred spaces. He thinks that he has correctly identified two large boulders as Pohaku 'ele'ele, "very black stones." The two are aligned at the base to the rising of the December solstice Sun. The Malae heiau is an elaborate stone building with a five to six proportion of the sides, aligned 14 arc-minutes east of north. There are unusual extensions of the walls at the corners. With this structure, the diagonals mark the solstices, which in turn creates a massive play of light and shadow. Referring to the walls as "east," "south," "west," and "north," despite the 14' offset, the east and south walls will be lit at the December solstice sunrise; the south wall will be lit at mid-day; and the south and west walls will be lit at sunset. The north wall will remain in darkness. The projections at the corners can be used like gnomons, and the shadow projections along the east and west walls should allow mid-day and true north-south to be determined with high precision when both east and west walls are in complete darkness. At the June solstice sunrise, east and north walls will be lit, the south wall will remain in darkness, and the north and west walls will be lit at sunset. From the Malae heiau looking northwest to the sunset, the sun will drop into a notch on the otherwise even horizon in that direction.

Warther also draws attention to towers called anu'u. He says that these were 40 ft high and built with an opening to the ground that was illuminated only by the Sun at zenith passage. Unfortunately, he does not give his source for this statement.

Necker Island, the most northwesterly of the Hawaiian group, was uninhabited at the time the first Europeans reached it. However, the 41 acres of the island contained 33 heiaus. It was on the Tropic of Cancer in 900 a.d., and its Hawaiian name was Moku Mana Mana, "the island of great supernatural power."

Near the shore line of Cape Kumukahi (Puna, Hawaii), there is a heiau, the north and west parts of which are of a natural outcrop of pahoehoe lava, built on the east and south corner with slabs of weathered volcanic stones. Just west of this platform was a small cairn (ahu). At the shoreline, on a natural lava rock, east of at lighthouse, which narrowly missed destruction in a 1960 lava flow, two ahus can be found. They are conical in shape, and ~3 m high (see Figures 11.6d-f). The space between them was slightly greater than were their diameters (about 2m each) near the base. From this site, several of the principal terrain rises in the area are visible: the Kapoho crater; the partially natural heiau; and the Pu'u Kuki'i cone on which is located another heiau, which according to Johnson (private communication 1993), was constructed by the 15th-century ruler, King Umi. The relatively fragile appearance of the twin ahus makes it appear unlikely that they could have survived without constant rebuilding. This and the other ahu near the partially natural heiau indicate a continuing tradition of maintenance, even if the modern purpose has more to do with the veneration of ancient practices and constructs than for any practical purpose. Modern ahus of all kinds are commonly constructed by young Hawaiians, natives and non-natives alike; their purposes are certainly multiple.

At this point, we voyage to the Americas.

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