The Myth(s) of Tangaroa

In honor of the first birthday of my kitten, I thought it would be interesting to explore the myths of his namesake. One would think that – for a mythologist – this would be an easy task. Apparently, my myth collections gloss over Polynesian mythology. In these collections, Tangaroa is reduced to a player in the creation or the trickster’s (Maui) father. Not really anything telling about who he is. What he does, however, is clear: he is the God of the Sea. So I had to turn to the web.

Rather than begin at the beginning, I’ll start with the birth of Tangaroa. His parents are Rangi (Father Sky) and Papa (Mother Earth), and Tangaroa was one of many of their children. Rangi and Papa emerged from the darkness of the void, but before they fully knew what do do with light, their children remained in darkness while they enjoyed the light. The children contemplated how to bring about night and day, so they too could have some light. While Tumatuenga, the god of war, suggested killing their parents, Tane (or Tane Mahuta), the god of the forest, suggested separating them. They all did what they could to separate their parents, but ultimately Tane succeeded why pushing Rangi away from Papa.

Rangi was so distraught that he cried and cried, forming the oceans. Tawhiri, the storm god, chose to join his father in the sky. He was opposed to the entire venture of separating their parents in the first place, so from above, he lashed down on Tane’s forest until they were all uprooted. Tawhiri then turned his wrath on Tangaroa, who avoided him by plunging into the depths of the ocean. Tangaroa’s own children, however, were confused by his sudden departure. Some of them, the fish, followed him to the seas; the others, lizards and reptiles, stayed among the rocks and trees. Noticing this, Tangaroa became very angry, and it is said that he (as the sea) is slowly eating the land to erode it in the hopes of one day being reunited with his lost family. To further enhance his conflict with Tane, one of his favorite tricks is to take wood from Tane’s forest and build sinking canoes.

Some versions of the Tangaroa stories give Tangaroa credit creating the cosmos and humans. In these stories, Tangaroa is the creator and hatches from the cosmic egg. After he hatches, he begins creating the world. He uses half of the egg shell to create the sky, and laid the other half below to create the ground. Noticing that he had no other tools to create with, he cut his own flesh to create soil, uses his backbone to create mountains, and his inner organs to make the clouds. All parts of his body were used in the creation. Once the world was created, he then started to create life. All of the other gods were within him, so he called the forth. Along with Tu, the craftsman god, Tangaroa makes trees and animals. They then create Til and Hina, the first humans, and convince them to procreate. “Tangaroa saw that everything he had created had a shell, just as he had had one in the beginning. They sky was the shell that contained the sun, the moon, and the stars. The Earth too was a shell; it was an enormous container for all the rocks, rivers, and lakes, and for all the plants that grew on the surface and the animals that walked on it. Even human beings had their shells; the wombs of women were the shells from which new life was born” (Hooper 338).

The myth that actually inspired the kitten’s name comes from Disneyland’s Enchanted Tiki Room (the Maori connection was just a happy accident).

If you get to the Tiki Room early enough, there is an audio-animatronic preshow among the figures outside. Here, the gods surrounds a spring, and in the moments just before letting us into the Tiki Room, while we’re calmly enjoying our Dole Whip, they all introduce themselves. Tangaroa, in a James Earl Jones-esque voice, says, “I AM Tangaroa, father of all gods and goddesses. Here in this land of enchantment, I appear before you as a mighty tree. Stand back! Oh Mystic Powers, hear my call! From my limbs, let new life fall!” And birds and plants fall from his limbs to the chiming of bells.

Suffice it to say, my Kitten embodies both the creator and the sea.

And for some levity. I guess this is from one of this online quiz thingies:


Myths & Legends: Stories Gods Heroes Monsters by Philip Hooper and Philip Wilkinson, retrieved from Google Books


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