Rapanui Proper and Place Names versus Rongorongo Texts

© Sergei V. Rjabchikov

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Part 12.

36. The plots of two Polynesian myths attracted my attention. According to a Maori version, Maui had a young sister called Hina-uri who was beautiful. The name of her husband was Irawaru. Maui once transformed Irawaru into a dog (Grey 1885: 30-32). According to a Tuamotuan version, Maui was married to Hina who loved a stranger called Ri in fact. Maui once transformed Ri into the same animal (Buck 1938: 195).

It is apparent that both stories have a common structure: Maui and Hina are basic personages, and an enemy named either Irawaru or Ri is turned into a dog. On the other hand, it is well known that Maui personifies day and light, he is the sun god. Hina is the moon goddess; during the dark phase of the moon she is called Hina-uri ‘Dark Hina’ (Best 1924: 131; 141-142; 1954: 15). In my opinion, the transformation of the enemy into an angry being denotes a solar eclipse that can happen in the new moon.

L.M. Ermakova (1995: 224) offers the following Austronesian plot found in the Japanese mythology. The character Hoori once looked at his wife Toyotama-hime, a daughter of the lord of the ocean, and she resembled a crocodile. I suppose that only a part of an archaic myth is preserved. I restore its initial structure that tells of the sun, the new moon (*Too) incarnated in a reptile, the darkness (*Ri), and the lord of the ocean (*Tama). On the basis of some reconstructed terms (Biggs and Clark 2006), I compare these names with Proto-Polynesian *too ‘to set (of sun)’, *lili [riri] ‘to be angry’ and *tama ‘father’ (cf. the name of the Polynesian god Tangaroa; the variation of the sounds m/ng is possible). So, the meaning of the name of Ri (< *Ri-ri) is clear. Replacing Ri by the dog shows the following wordplay, cf. Proto-Polynesian *ku(a) lili [riri] ‘(someone) became angry’, and *kulii [kurii] ‘dog’, cf. the forms in Biggs and Clark 2006. But what does the name of Irawaru signify? In the Mangarevan beliefs the demigod Maui exists with the epithet matavaru ‘eight-eyed’ (Tregear 1891: 236). It is the designation of vision and light. Irawaru is an antipode of this hero, so that this name reads Ira waru ‘Eight spots’, and its figural meaning is ‘Darkness’, cf. Maori ira ‘marks on the skin’, iramata ‘speck in the eye’, Hawaiian ila ‘dark spot on the skin’ and Mangarevan ira ‘black spots on the skin’.

It may be inferred that the variants of this ancient myth were widespread in the Polynesia in old times. Earlier I discovered this plot in several Marquesan petroglyphs (Rjabchikov 1998c: 10) on the base of S. Millerstrom’s (1988: 3, the right figure; 1990: 59, figures 19d, e; 102, figure 35e) publications. In this connection it is interesting to consider a new Marquesan rock drawing (Millerstrom 1997: 188, figure 6). I distinguish here three groups of signs. These pictures follow one after the other, and the direction of the reading is from east to west. It is the direction of the motion of the sun. The first group contains the signs of a man with the round head (he is at the extreme right) and a woman. I think that they are Ri (Irawaru) and Hina. The second group contains the sign of a man without the head which is substituted by the sign of a dog. I believe that here Ri (Irawaru) turned into a dog is shown. This human being without the head corresponds to the Rapanui rongorongo glyph 99 mi, cf. Maori mio ‘prayer after death’, Mangarevan mio ‘to die away; to die down’, Japanese mi ‘spirit; sacred’ and yomi ‘the country of the dead’. Then a sign is depicted. It can be compared with the Rapanui rongorongo glyph 4 atua, cf. Marquesan atua and Rapanui atua ‘deity’. The second sign of the dog is to the left of these symbols. It is safe to assume that this sign denotes the end of the magic transformation. It should be noted that I compare the Rapanui glyph 4 with sacral stones located in different parts of the Polynesia (Rjabchikov 2006). The third group consists of the sign of a human being with four arms and a sign corresponding to the Rapanui rongorongo glyph 4 atua (deity). The first symbol of this group reads mau, cf. Marquesan mau ‘paucal number marker’ and Rapanui mau ‘very; several’ originated from Proto-Central-Eastern Polynesian *mau ‘paucal or plural marker’ (Biggs and Clark 2006). In this context this reading was used to represent the name of Maui (cf. Proto-Polynesian *Maaui ‘name of a legendary hero’ in Biggs and Clark 2006). Thus, I have read an example of a forerunner of writing. In I.J. Gelb’s (1963) terminology these signs were composed using a descriptive-representational devise.

Let us examine another Marquesan rock drawing (Millerstrom 1997: 188, figure 5, the 2nd sign in the 2nd line). Here a strange being with five paws and three tails (5+3=8) is represented. There can be little doubt that it is an image of the Ri-Irawaru turned into a beast (cf. Marquesan ’i’i ‘to be angry’, i’a ‘spot on the skin’, va’u ‘eight’).

I.K. Fedorova (1978: 26) believes that the Rapanui character Ure a Vai a Nuhe ‘A son of waves’ (in her interpretation) is Maui in his late condition indeed. Because Marquesan nuhe means ‘dog’, I translate this name as ‘A son of the water (associated with) the dog’. It is a hint of the solar eclipse connected with the mythical animal. T.S. Barthel (1974: 706) offers Timoteo Pakarati’s version of a Rapanui myth about Maui who is called poki (child) Tikitiki ata arangi, a son of (Nu)ahine a Rangi Kotekote. Obviously this hero is (Maui)-tikitiki-a-Taranga, and his mother (The Old Woman [Hina] – the Clear Sky) is the moon goddess (cf. Rjabchikov 1987: 365).

In conformity with Maori myths (Buck 1938: 52-53; Tregear 1891: 233), Taranga, a wife of Makeatutara, gave birth to four sons called Maui-tahaMaui-in-front’, Maui-rotoMaui-within’, Maui-paeMaui-on-one-side’, and Maui-waho Maui-on-the-other-side’, and then to the demigod Maui by his full name of Maui-tikitiki-a-Taranga. The mother threw the last son into the sea. There the god Tangaroa brought him up. In both names of the parents of the Maui brethren I pick out the form *tara, cf. Proto-Polynesian *tala ‘sharp-pointed object’ (Biggs and Clark 2006) as well as Rarotongan tara-marama ‘two points or horns of the new moon’. On the other hand, the form *Make presented in the name of the father of the Maui brethren corresponds to the name of the Rapanui supreme god Makemake. Really, this deity conforms to the Maori sun god Tane or to a personification of his procreative powers known as Tiki (see Métraux 1940: 314; Best 1955: 13ff; Buck 1938: 273). So, this report tells of the sun deity and the moon goddess who produced several personifications of the sun, and their last-born son was the sun appeared during a day when the age of the moon was new.

I can state with assurance that the Austronesian myth about Maui was dedicated to different aspects of solar and lunar observations.

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