What characteristics of the Māori gods explain the shape of their "godsticks"?
According to the Wikipedia article on Māori mythology, the gods Tūmatauenga (god of war), Tāhirimātea (storm god), Tāne (god of forests), Tangaroa (sea god), Rongo (god of cultivated plants and peace), and Haumia (god of wild food plants) are represented by these wooden "godsticks"1:
What characteristics of the Māori gods are represented in the shapes of these staffs?
1 Image source: J. White, The Ancient History of the Maori, 6 Volumes, plus 1 volume of illustrations (Government Printer: Wellington), 1887-1891.
This image depicts the
toko wananga, stick-like representations of "departmental gods" used at the
whare wananga, i.e. Maori schools. According to White, who was commissioned by the New Zealand government to compile this information, the sticks are:
- Tumatauenga: perfectly straight to represent how Tu "stood erect . . . at the deluge"
- Tawhirimatea, god of the weather: shaped like a corkscrew, to represent "the whirling of the winds and clouds"
- Tane, god of the forest: a semicircular bend representing the "swelling and growth of bulbs, shrubs, and tree"
- Tangaroa, god of the sea: a zigzag shape representing "the waves of the sea"
- Rongo, god of cultivation: the rounded curves representing how the kumara "raised the earth in little mounds" as it grows
- Huamia, god of uncultivated plants: three semicircular bends representing the "irregular and twisted form of the fern-root when newly dug up"
In addition, Maori godsticks also refers to the
tiki wananga. These are characterised by a carved head, the
tiki, on a wooden shaft with a pointed end. These were used by priests for various religious rites, either held in hand or staked into the ground to form a temporary shrine. A typical example thus looks quite different from the above sticks:
Source: the collection of the Minneapolis Art Institute
Such godsticks were regarded as a medium for channeling a spirit, not an idol in and of themselves. Identification of depicted deities is the same as with other Maori carvings or art - and thus similarly difficult due to a lack of surviving knowledge as well as tribal differences in art styles.