Dubbed the “shaky isles,” Aotearoa has endured the tremors of seismic shift for centuries. So it comes as no surprise there reigns a god of earthquakes in Māori Mythology - Rūaumoko.
Rūaumoko in Māori mythology
Rūaumoko, son of sky father Ranginui (Rangi) and earth mother Papatūānuku (Papa), is thought responsible for all violent stirrings beneath the earth. The rumblings of earthquakes, the molten hiss of volcanoes and the inevitable rolling change of seasons.
According to the Māori dictionary the definitive meaning of Rūaumoko is ‘earthquake.’ Interestingly, if we deconstruct the word, the definition of ‘rū’ is shake, one translation of ‘au’ is smoke and ‘moko’ (also tattoo) can mean lizard. Conjuring up visions of a writhing, heaving fire-breathing beast – the perfect metaphor!
The legend of Rūaumoko begins with Rangi and Papa. Their sons yearned for light and space in the dark, cramped world living between the loving embrace of their parents. Their combined strength forced apart their clasp allowing sunshine to bathe the earth, but the separation caused Rangi and Papa painful sorrow.
Rangi shed great tears of rain to flood the earth. The sons turned Papa face down so neither had to look at each other ever again, and see the sadness in their eyes.
At the time that Papa was turned, Rūaumoko was at his mother’s breast so he was carried to the underworld, his movements below the earth causing the tremor of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Another variation has Rūaumoko yet to be born. It is his twists, turns and attempts to escape from inside Papa’s womb that causes the earths rumblings.
Rūaumoko is also thought to be responsible for the change in the seasons. Depending on the time of year, his movements cause the variations in temperature as he releases warm or cool air into the atmosphere and over the surface of Papa.
Despite his reputation in Māori mythology as a kind god who lives in the belly of his mother, once unleashed he is an inimical force with the potential to bestow much harm and destruction. It is wise to have respect for Rūaumoko.