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Ta'aroa (Oceania)

Ta‘aroa Is Great, Good and Mā‘ohi Nationalism and Spiritual Identity in Contemporary Tahiti


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On the island of Tahiti, he was the supreme being and the creator deity. He was the author of life and death; he was called Rua-i-tupra, ‘source of growth’; his shadows were the whale and the blue shark. Out of his own body Ta'aroa built the first fare-atua, ‘god's house’, which became the model for all temples. This house was called the bed of the great lord, roi-i-te-fatu-Ta'aroa. In 1769, on a visit to Tahiti, Captain Cook noted that ‘the general resemblance between this repository and the Ark of the Lord among Jews is remarkable’.

In ancient times the people were afflicted by a great drought and they exclaimed: ‘Ta'aroa, the world maker, whose curse is death, is angry: he is consuming us!’ So their king ordered the priests to pray for deliverance, but they could not please the god. Then the king said that they must tremble and abase themselves by a human sacrifice, because the gods liked human flesh, which was called long-legged fish, te avae roroa. It found favour with Ta'aroa and rain fell again. But this seldom happened before the deluge for the reason that the voracious war god Oro had little authority then. Victims were chosen from prisoners-of-war.

The Tahitian creation myth places Ta'aroa within the darkness of the cosmic egg. He ‘developed himself in solitude; he was his own parent, having no father or mother. Ta'aroa's natures were beyond count; he was above, below, and in stone; Ta'aroa was a god's house; his backbone was the ridgepole, his ribs were the supporters.’ Then the god cracked the shell, came out and stood upon the broken pieces. Peering into the primeval darkness he realized that he was alone: there was no land, nor sky, nor sea. Only a void existed. Weary of the silence and the emptiness, Ta'aroa used one part of the shell as ‘the great foundation of the world, for the rocks and the soil’; another part became ‘the dome of the sky’; having himself assumed the form of a person, the god created everything that is now in the universe. A variant legend says that Ta'aroa made the universe from his own body, except for his head.

Subjects: Religion.

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