Rangi and Papa

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Rangi and Papa




RANG-gee and PAH-pah

Alternate Names


Appears In

Polynesian creation myths


Children of Te Po and Te Kore

Character Overview

In Polynesian mythology , Rangi (Father Sky) and Papa (Mother Earth) were the two supreme creator deities (gods and goddesses). They were the source from which all things in the universe originated, including other gods, humans, and the various creatures and features of the earth. Rangi and Papa played an especially important role in the mythology of the Maori (pronounced MAH-aw-ree) people of New Zealand.

Major Myths

According to Maori mythology, Rangi and Papa were created from two ancient beings—Te Po (night) and Te Kore (emptiness)—who existed in darkness before the creation of the universe. From the beginning, Rangi and Papa were locked together in a tight and continuing embrace. Into the darkness between their bodies sprang many offspring, including numerous gods.

Trapped between the bodies of their parents, the deities had little space to move around and no light to see. Weary of this situation, the offspring discussed how they could escape the confines of their existence. Tu, the god of war, suggested that they kill Rangi and Papa, but Tane (pronounced TAH-nee), the god of the forests, had a different solution.

Tane suggested that they make space for themselves by separating their parents. The other gods agreed with this plan, except for the wind god Tawhiri (pronounced tah-WEE-ree), who roared his disapproval.

Several of the gods attempted to separate Rangi and Papa. The first to try was Rongo, the god of cultivated plants. Although he pushed with all his might, he was unable to separate the couple. Next to try was Tangaroa, the god of the sea. He also failed, as did Haumia (pronounced how-MEE-uh), the god of wild plants and vegetables, and Tu, the war god. Finally, it was time for Tane to try. The god of the forests placed his head on his mother Papa, raised his feet in the air, and pushed upward against his father Rangi. Using all his might, Tane finally separated Rangi and Papa, pushing Rangi up into the sky and pressing Papa to the earth.

With Rangi and Papa separated, the space between them became flooded with light. The various deities, humans, and other offspring who had been trapped there scattered into the world. Freed at last, the children of Rangi and Papa began to quarrel among themselves, especially Tane and the sea god Tangaroa. Polynesians believe that the conflicts between the gods cause such things as the growth of weeds in fields, the differences between humans and animals, and the storms that threaten boats at sea.

Heartbroken at being separated from his beloved Papa, Rangi cried. His tears rained down upon the earth from the sky, causing great flooding. At the same time, the wind god Tawhiri showed his anger with his brothers by sending storms and winds to batter the earth, causing great destruction to the forests, seas, and fields. Only the war god Tu could resist his brother, but their struggle flooded the earth, leaving only the islands of Polynesia.

Over time the offspring of Rangi and Papa multiplied and filled the earth with life. But Rangi still cries from time to time when he misses Papa, and his tears fall as rain or as drops of morning dew.

Rangi and Papa in Context

The creator gods Rangi and Papa reflect an understanding among the Maori people of the process of human reproduction, and show how the Maori view themselves as a part of the natural world. Rangi and Papa are locked in an embrace that resembles the closeness of two people making love. When they are separated, all things in the world are “born” between them. To the Maori, the human process of creation is a model for the mythical process of the creation of the world. The myth also reflects how important a mother's nurturing care is to the Maoris: when the gods decide to separate the pair, they send their father Rangi far away into the sky, but keep their nurturing mother Papa directly beneath their feet so she can continue to provide for them.

Key Themes and Symbols

Like many mythologies around the world, the myth of Rangi and Papa views nature as comprised of two halves: the sky and the earth. Each is a distinct being, and both are necessary for life. The themes of unity, separation, and grief are also at the center of the myth of Rangi and Papa. When the couple is united, they create all the gods and elements of the earth. These elements, however, are trapped between Rangi and Papa and have no space or light. When Rangi and Papa separate, both good and bad things happen: all plants and animals on earth flourish, but great storms and floods cover most of the land. The Maori people still view rain and storms as symbols of the anger and tears of the gods.

Rangi and Papa in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life

The tale of Rangi and Papa, like most Maori myths, has been passed orally from one generation to the next. Though many of these myths have been written down over the past two centuries, the oral tradition continues among the Maori. The myths of the Maori are also expressed in art, primarily through wood carvings of the mythical figures in the tales.

Read, Write, Think, Discuss

The Maori view the sky as a father figure and the earth as a mother figure. This is a common theme in creation myths. What is it about the sky that made people associate it with a “father”? And what about the earth suggests a “mother"?

SEE ALSO Creation Stories; Polynesian Mythology