Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Polynesian Supernatural - the Tipua

Maori Tattoos - The Ritual
Image courtesy: Art of Tattoo Designs
The area covered by the term "Polynesia," is massive and therefore so are the mythologies and folklore that can be found in the region. Today however, I'm writing about the Tipua, supernatural being or sometimes referred to as a "demon" hailing from Maori (New Zealand) mythology.

Image result for polynesia mapThis post has not been easy research, as it was a single line reference to a "Pitua" in my "Pacific Mythology" encyclopaedia, by Jan Knappert that initially sparked my interest. Unfortunately most of my Google searches ended up with something about the pituitary gland in the brain... Not was I was after. So after some time scrolling through neurology websites, I realised that Pitua may be a typo, and started reading up on Tipua... and this is what I found...

Let's take a look...

The Māori people were Polynesian people who settled the islands of New Zealand some 700 - 750 years ago (these dates are based on  ancient mitochondrial genomes sequenced and dated to those times). Their mythology, like most mythologies, is fraught with discrepancies, as cultures enmeshed after European colonisation in the late 18th Century, and detailed written records on the subject were not kept or considered until almost a century later.
Image Courtesy: Te Ara
The concept of the Māori demon or Tipua, is often linked with the Taniwha, a sepentine or shark-like 'monster', who lived around water lakes (in serpentine / lizard form) or oceans (in shark forms). These creatures can be either villains or guardians, depending on the particular myth (see my post on Tumuitearetoka).

The Tipua, however, is a concept of its own. Tipua tends to mean "supernatural". Anything can be supernatural, for example; supernatural rocks (Kohatu Tipua), or supernatural trees (Rakau Tipua). These supernatural things were not necessarily evil or demonic, merely supernatural or special in some way. Having said that the Rakau Tipua, may play malicious tricks on people, as according to one legend it pretended to be a log in a river, causing people to capsize their boats...

 In Māori belief systems,  the natural and supernatural worlds are one – interestingly, originally was no Māori word for "religion". In their mythology the Gods (Atua) and Tipua are closely entwined.
The Tipua  are spoken of as shape shifters, and sometimes described as giants, who would do pretty much what ever they pleased. These supernatural beings have also been translated into English as being ogres. They were violent and capricious in nature, stealing women as unwilling wives, and killing men who troubled them.

Most unfortunately, I can't seem to locate any generalised pictures / images of a Tipua in this sense. 
However in the myth of Ngarara, a female Tipua (who appears to be closely related to a mermaid / or Naga like creature) had a long tail and lived in the ocean. If she captured a man and fed him food, he too would grow scales. (Interestingly the word Ngarara relates to reptile in Māori).
This idea is also repeated in another myth of Te Rapu Wai and Kahui Tipua, in which the people living with the Tipua grew scales from eating their food.

So it seems that the concept of Tipua is a complex one. I hope you enjoyed discovering a little more about the mythological world around you. 

Whakawhetai hoki pānui!
Thanks for reading!
Useful references:
White, J. 1888, The Ancient History of the Maori, His Mythology and Traditions,Cambridge Press.