GODS OF BELLONA AND RENNELL ISLANDS: POLYNESIAN MYTHS

bellona-and-rennellIn the style of Balladeer’s Blog’s separate examinations of Hawaiian and Samoan myths as a subset of Polynesian Mythology comes this look at the deities worshipped on the Polynesian outliers Bellona Island and Rennell Island. Despite its much smaller size Bellona had a larger population for much of their history.

NGE’OBIONGO – The goddess of the stone ovens used by the people of Rennell and Bellona. The ovens were shown such reverence that it was forbidden to eat near them or to scatter firewood or even to speak in raised voices in their vicinity. Nge’obiongo would punish anyone who violated those taboos, just as she punished women who were bad or lazy cooks or who prepared meals without first properly cleaning their hands.

Undercooking the food would also invite this deity’s wrath. On rare occassions some of the prepared food would be left in the ovens as an offering to Nge’obiongo.

bellona-and-rennell-world-heritageMAHUIKE – The earthquake god of Bellona and Rennell Islands (henceforth Bel-Ren). Like his counterparts in Hawaii and Samoa, Mahuike lived far underground and caused earthquakes by pushing at the earth with both of his arms.

Once, after a particularly destructive earthquake, the god Tehu’aingabenga fought Mahuike for injuring his worshippers and broke off one of the earthquake god’s arms. After that the quakes caused by Mahuike were never as severe. (In Hawaiian versions it is Maui who breaks the earthquake god’s arm off and in Samoan versions it is Ti’i Ti’i who does it. Bel-Ren myths do feature the figure Mautikitiki but he is less prominent than Tehu’aingabenga.)

TEU’UHI – The goddess of insanity who was the sister of the god Ekeitehua. This deity brought madness to any mortal she chose to inflict it upon, sometimes through outright possession. Many of the main gods of Bel-Ren could briefly possess mortals and – though the mortals might act strangely they might also convey useful information from the gods to humans, most often when the gods possessed mediums.

In Teu’uhi’s case the ONLY result of contact with her or possession by her would be outright derangement. In one myth Teu’uhi possessed the human woman Sikohuti, daughter of a mortal warrior named Tangaibasa. Teu’uhi causes Sikohuti to wreak havoc, since she wields supernatural powers granted by Teu’uhi.

Tangaibasa seeks out the sacred spears of the god Tehu’aingabenga and – accompanied by priests wielding “holy” staffs – battles his insane and paranormally powered daughter Sikohuti. He and his priests expel Teu’uhi from Sikohuti during the battle and the goddess flew to her brother Ekeitehua for revenge on her human attackers.

bellona-island

Bellona Island

Tehu’aingabenga, meanwhile, came calling on his equal Ekeitehua, demanding revenge on Teu’uhi for her destructive possession of one of his worshippers. Ekeitehua struck a compromise: he would not seek revenge on Tangaibasa and his priests for their offense against Teu’uhi nor would he punish his errant sister, but he would ban her from ever again entering the Ghongau District of Bellona, where Tangaibasa lived.      

KAUKAUGOGO – This most beautiful of goddesses was the only being to ever be born in Poo’ungi, the land of the dead. Her father and mother – Kangebu and Teatamatu’a – had migrated to and established a residence in the underworld while they were both still alive.

Because they were already in the land of the dead they could not die. When their daughter was born they bathed her (kaukau) in coconut oil (gogo), hence her name. (But she is also known as Koginuku.) Being born in Poo’ungi put Kaukaugogo on a par with the gods. 

Kaukaugogo’s beauty was so overwhelming she caught the attention of all the male deities. The god Tinotonu was the first to succeed in “getting a date” with her and invited her to a banquet at Nukuahea, the divine home of his father Tehu’aingabenga. Unfortunately for Tinotonu his father wound up desiring Kaukaugogo as well and the two became a couple.

Tinotonu left Nukuahea in anger, rejecting his father’s offer to sexually share Kaukaugogo with him. The angry Tinotonu sent a school of sharks to devour the goddess the next time she bathed in the ocean. Tehu’aingabenga defeated the shark army to save his beloved. The goddess then went on to be the mother of all 14 of Tehu’aingabenga’s other children.   

SINAKIBI – “Sina the Blind.” This goddess should not be confused with just plain Sina, who DOES feature in Bel-Ren myths like her Samoan counterpart Sina and her Hawaiian counterpart Hina. Sinakibi was mostly blind because she had tiny eyes like the XXX fish she was associated with. Her diet was fish-eyes, which she would pluck out and devour.

A prominent myth depicted the restoration of the goddess’ vision. Sinakibi’s daughter Nguatupu’a and her son Tepoutu’uingangi, like many Bel-Ren deities, often fed on the life-force (ma’ungi) of other beings. The couple had taken the ma’ungi of Manongi the sugar-cane god and returned with it to Ngabenga.

The two – who were also husband and wife – stored the life-force to be eaten later. Meanwhile Manongi’s wife Moesabengubengu, the goddess of healing herbs, had discovered his corpse and traced the theft of its life-force to Ngabenga. Once there the wife befriended Sinakibi by applying a poultice to her eyes, causing them to grow to normal size and thus restoring her vision. Sinakibi rewarded Moesabengubengu by returning her husband’s life-force, resurrecting him and infuriating N’guatupu’a and Tepoutu’uingangi when they found out.

(Confusingly, in some versions of the tale Moesabengubengu is the husband’s name instead.)    

TEHANONGA – The snake god. Tehanonga controlled all snakes, which creatures were considered especially repugnant by the people of Bel-Ren. Snakes were a taboo food because of the disgust engendered by their writhing, slithering movements. Even eels were taboo because of their similarity to snakes.

Tehanonga was associated with killing threats to yams and at times the higher deities could prompt the snake god to grant abundant yam growth to deserving worshippers. Tehanonga was the father of the snake-man who wooed and won Sina until she discovered his true nature. 

KAITAHITAHI – A very unusual deity who had a peculiar specialty. Kaitahitahi would cure constipation, which, joking aside, CAN be fatal if not treated properly. This god would be invoked to clean out the bowels of a person already afflicted with constipation and would be prayed to in order to prevent people from becoming constipated in the first place.

Meals prepared on Bellona Island were more likely to cause blockage of the bowels than meals prepared on Rennell Island, so when residents of Rennell would travel to Bellona they would, in their own words “dedicate their buttocks to Kaitahitahi” in hopes that he would stave off constipation.    

TITIKANOHIMATA – The god of flying foxes, animals which figure very prominently in the myths and culture of Bel-Ren. Rituals would be performed in this god’s honor before going out to hunt flying foxes. Titikanohimata was considered the brother of the goddess Tehahine’angiki.

In a fairly unique concept the Bellonese and Rennellese believed that flying foxes themselves also worshipped this deity but not all of the specifics have survived.

BAABENGA – Patron goddess of the now-extinct Sau Clan. Baabenga was the trickster deity of the Bel-Ren pantheon and would often mislead humans by appearing to them in both male and female form. She was so skilled at trickery that she taught humans how to use a special noose and hook technique to catch sharks. Sacred rituals of thanks to Baabenga were performed for every shark snagged with that technique.   

TUPAUKIA – A deified ancestor of the Tanga Clan, whose ‘ata (spirit) bathed in the Water of Chiefs in Poo’ungi, the land of the dead. Bathing in that lake could either permit the ‘ata of a Chief to be reborn as a child OR to become immortal. (In Bel-Ren beliefs after most souls were dead for so long they became as nothing and were considered “annihilated.”)

Tupaukia was one of only three figures to bathe in the Water of Chiefs and choose immortality over being reborn. He lived on forever in the realm of the gods. Tamua, a Chief of the Iho (aka Taupongi) Clan, also chose immortality over rebirth, with a royal woman from the Tanga Clan rounding out the trio. 

Annihilated souls would lose all identity after falling from a perch in the god Tehainga’atua’s heavenly home. Men fell from one perch and women from another. Their ‘atas (souls) would plummet to the lowest level of Poo’ungi, the land of the dead. That level was called Hakanauua (or, less frequently, Ngaangonga) and it was there that the inert souls would lie, unthinking and uncaring, surrounded by all manner of waste.

That lowest level called Hakanauua was also the home of various malevolent ‘apai (unworshipped gods) as well as snakes, monstrous lizards, giant centipedes and other crawling monsters.

SIKINGIMOEMOE – This goddess was the sister and wife of the sky god Tehainga’atua. During the nautical migration to Bel-Ren the now-extinct Puka Clan claimed her as its patron deity. She once gifted the Puka clan with a coconut tree that produced coconuts by the hundred. After the Puka Clan was wiped out Sikingimoemoe was frequently malicious toward humans, like some of the other deities whose favored clans had been killed off.

Even when the Puka Clan still existed Sikingimoemoe was noted mostly for her merciless enforcement of taboos and the sometimes draconian punishments she would inflict, even on her own worshippers. Dragonflies were sacred to this goddess and when a Puka man rashly took to killing any dragonflies he encountered one of them at long last manifested as Sikingimoemoe herself and killed him.

Another myth recounts how a Priest-Chief happened to be alone when he caught some coconut crabs. He made a fire to cook the crabs, despite the taboo forbidding Priest-Chiefs from personally building fires. While the man slept after eating, Sikingimoemoe used fire to burn off the Priest-Chief’s hair as punishment. He died either from shock at seeing Sikingimoemoe in person or from his burns, accounts vary.   

One day the goddess and her brother/husband Tehainga’atua were riding on the backs of sharks for amusement when they spotted a Bel-Ren man and his grandson traveling by canoe between the two islands. The boy violated taboo by speaking the name of a species of deadly sea-creatures when traveling on the water and Sikingimoemoe immediately decided to kill both humans.

On other occasions this goddess:

a) punished two men with death because one of them cursed Kaukaugogo, Sikingimoemoe’s daughter-in-law (or grand-daughter-in-law)

b) possessed a man’s daughter for unknown reasons and caused her to crawl like an insect up to the ceiling, from where she urinated and defecated on her father below before dying

c) wiped out an entire clan of people who lived beside Lake Tengano on Rennell Island, she did this by tricking every single one of them into eating poisonous fruit. The Bel-Ren people say she did this to punish the clan for departing from the true methods of worship

EKEITEHUA – (Also called Singano) This major deity was the god of the Northwest wind and was also the main district deity of the Iho (Taupongi) Clan, the archrivals of the Kaitu’u Clan since those two clans are the last survivors of the original eight traditional clans.

Ekeitehua’s celestial home was the far-off land called Mungingangi. This home lay on the horizon to the northwest of Bel-Ren and was the source of the Nohotonu Wind, which Ekeitehua controlled. The Bel-Ren people were undecided on whether or not Mungingangi was above the horizon, below it or on some plane equivalent to it.

Ekeitehua was the son of the god Sikingingangi, having been born from Sikingingangi’s feces, which were yams. Ekeitehua’s sister Teu’uhi the goddess of insanity was also born from their father’s feces/yams and their adopted mother was the goddess ‘Iti’iti.

Ekeitehua’s two wives were the goddesses Moeanga and Teungitaka, the latter the mother of all his children (the lesser district deities of the Iho Clan). Neither goddess was his sister. His favorite animal form to assume was the white-breasted frigate bird. 

After death the spirits of the Iho Clan would travel to Mungingangi to stay with Ekeitehua, just as the spirits of dead Kaitu’u Clan members would travel to stay with Tehu’aingabenga and Tehainga’atua.

The rivalry and warfare between the Iho Clan and the Kaitu’u Clan has spawned much historic and mythic lore. The origin of their mutual hostility went back to the initial nautical migration to Bellona and Rennell Islands. The Iho Clan claimed their canoes were the first to arrive because of the divine help they received from Ekeitehua and the winds he controlled. 

Naturally the Kaitu’u Clan claimed THEY were truly the first to arrive and the rivalry grew from there. The intensity of their enmity was moderated a little when the goddess Ngeipau, a daughter of Ekeitehua, married the god Nguatinihenua, a son of Tehu’aingabenga – the main patron god of the Kaitu’u Clan.

This made the romantic couple a sort of divine version of Romeo and Juliet (but with a happy ending) and brought an uneasy peace between the rival clans. This uneasy peace – more like a Cold War, actually – lasted until 1961 when the violence broke out again over a border dispute.   

A prominent myth features Ekeitehua coming to the protection of an Iho Clan member – Baiango – who had blasphemed against the goddess Sikingimoemoe. Baiango’s younger brother Patiange was out on his canoe catching flying fish when Sikingimoemoe rode by on a shark and carried Patiange off with her.

When Patiange’s empty canoe washed ashore at Ahanga on Bellona Island his brother Baiango consulted a medium, who informed him Sikingimoemoe was responsible. Baiango cursed Sikingimoemoe then angrily went out and desecrated those portions of temples featuring sacred icons of the goddess and even went so far as to wipe his butt-crack with the ceremonial loincloth of Sikingimoemoe.    

After that Baiango appealed to his clan’s main deity Ekeitehua to help him understand why his brother was gone and to protect him from Sikingimoemoe’s revenge. Ekeitehua sought out the goddess at her home and found her preparing a meal of welcome for Patiange. Ekeitehua asked why she had made off with this man from the Iho Clan.

She replied it was because she had immediately become very, very fond of him and NOT because she wanted to eat his life-force (the usual reason for gods to abduct humans). Ekeitehua eased Baiango’s mourning by relaying this information about his brother’s fate and protected Baiango from any attempted revenge by Sikingimoemoe over his irreverent acts.

SINA – The Bel-Ren counterpart to the Sina of the Hawaiian Islands (Hina) and the Samoan Islands (also called Sina). Like those figures she was the sister of Maui (Hawaiian) or Ti’i Ti’i (Samoan). However, this Sina was neither a moon goddess like her Hawaiian version nor a love and beauty goddess like her Samoan self.

Instead she fell under the Bel-Ren category called the Kakai. As the Atua were the major deities and the Apai were the unworshipped and/or mischievous deities the Kakai were classed as either pure Culture Gods or as the deities worshipped by the Hiti. The Hiti were the previous inhabitants of the Bel-Ren Islands and were all exterminated by the arriving Eight Clans.

(The Hiti lived on in Bel-Ren myths as impish, supernatural beings like the Menehune in Hawaii. They – like the exterminated Hiti – had once been the original inhabitants of their island group.) 

Sina was featured in the myth explaining how the various birds who visited the Bel-Ren Islands got their coloring. The creative and artistically inclined Sina interacted with the birds on a regular basis and her intimacy with them enabled her to paint and craft their feathers, wings, claws, beaks and eyes to give each species its unique look.

A variation of that myth dates to the period after regular contact with foreign cultures. In that version Sina runs a marketplace which the birds visit to “buy” the coloring and accessories that gave each of them their unique appearance. Sina thus became the Bel-Ren goddess of both the arts AND commerce.

Another prominent myth about Sina bears similarities to stories from the other Polynesian Island groups in which the eel god Tetuna (or variants) tricks Sina/Hina into marrying him. The goddess’ revulsion on discovering the true form of her new spouse prompts her rescue by assorted male deities from the respective pantheons.

A woman who had a snake for a son wanted to marry that son off to the goddess Sina. To that end she introduced her son to Sina, but Sina – like the Bel-Ren people themselves – was disgusted by snakes and angrily refused to become its mate. She indignantly left the snake-mother’s home.

The mother was undeterred and chopped her son up into smaller pieces and placed the pieces in an enormous calabash. She added various other ingredients, performed her magic over the calabash and covered the open top with sugar-cane leaves.

After some time the son emerged, looking like a handsome humanoid male who took the name Tangatategautogo (“sugar cane leaf man”) from the leaves which had covered the calabash he had transformed in. Sina is attracted to the man, oblivious to his true identity.

Sina mentioned this attraction to her servant, the mouse goddess Ta’epakupaku – meaning “dry feces” for the color of her fur when she assumed her mouse form. (That puts me in mind of how one of the Samoan tattoo goddesses was named “pale feces” in their language) Ta’epakupaku informed the object of Sina’s affection and then introduced the two.

The two hit it off and were soon engaging in the Bel-Ren foreplay activity of delousing each other. The snake man did his best to hide his true nature by covering the scaly side of his face with his long hair. One night Sina’s curiousity got the better of her and while her mate slept she pushed his hair away from the serpent side of his face. Horrified, she abandoned him forever.

(Further muddying the waters is the way some versions claim the snake-man’s mother was Moesabengubengu, the goddess of medicinal herbs mentioned earlier. She had this son from an afffair with the snake deity Tehanonga. In this version the sugar-cane leaves that she throws in the calabash with her chopped-up son’s remains are actually the dismembered remains of her husband, the sugar-cane god. The resulting mix of their remains spawns the snake man.)

On another occassion a jealous Kakai murdered Sina’s then-husband at sea and took his form. The shrewd goddess saw through the ruse and sought out her slain husband in Poo’ungi, the Land of the Dead. With the help of her servant the mouse goddess she rescued him, in some versions with additional aid from her own father. In other versions this is the myth in which Sina and the mouse goddess first met. 

MAUTIKITIKI – The most popular of the Bel-Ren divine entities classified as Kakai. Obviously this brother of Sina was the Bel-Ren counterpart to Maui (Hawaiian) and Ti’i Ti’i (Samoan). Like those figures Mautikitiki was famous for fishing up islands – in his case Rennell Island.

In Bel-Ren myths Bellona Island was the upper part of the shell of an enormous sea-snail, similar to Iroquois myths in which the world rests on the back of an enormous turtle. Bellona was considered the center of the entire world – an example of the type of ethnic chauvinism common to nearly ALL belief systems.

Rennell Island was beneath the waves and was the special hideaway of Mautikitiki’s father ‘Atanganga, from whose feces he was born. Resenting the way his father kept hiding from him, Mautikitiki created the first canoe then fished up the island and from then on Rennell has been on the surface of the ocean.

Another similarity Mautikitiki has with Maui would be his discovery of fire with the help of a mudhen. In addition Mautikitiki was responsible for naming all the creatures in the sea  – just like his sister Sina provided the coloring and accessories for all the world’s birds – he established the shape and usefulness of all the world’s fish.   

For instance Mautikitiki decreed that the Api’s teeth were to be used as razors, he stomped the Flounder flat, decided that the shark’s teeth were to be used for decoration and for hairbrushes, etc. Oddly, Mautikitiki urinated on the shark, making its meat too stench-ridden to eat. Only the shark’s liver was untouched by the urine and is the only part of a shark that the Bel-Ren people would eat.

Mautikitiki tattooed the coconut crab to give it its color and tore off two of its legs, which why it has fewer than other crabs. The kingfisher bird helped Mautikitiki establish the means of counting the hours.

Alongside another kakai  – named Ngosi – Mautikitiki raided the home of a band of deities who lived in the sky. The pair plundered many of the fruits and vegetables that those figures hoarded in the heavens. From then on those food items grew on the Earth as well. This is similar to a Samoan myth in which the deity Losi leads an assault on the heavenly deities and brings back new foods to share with the human race.

As a monster slayer Mautikitiki saved a woman and her daughter from a gigantic sea slug. When Mautikitiki at last succeeded in killing the creature by shoving hot stones down its throat the beast used its dying breaths to instruct the hero how to treat its head and body separately after he passed away. 

The dead monster’s long body became the trunks of coconut trees while his head became the coconuts themselves. The part about killing a monster with hot stones is similar to myths from Vietnam and the Philippines and elsewhere. The origin of coconut trees parallels Hawaiian and Samoan myths in which Maui or Ti’i Ti’i slay the eel god Tetuna and form coconut trees from that god’s remains.

When Mautikitiki’s daughter was born without a vagina he used his adze to cut the opening into her so that she could urinate and give birth. A tiny part of Mautikitiki’s adze broke off and formed the clitoris. This is vaguely similar to the Inuit myth in which their moon god Tarqeq creates women’s vaginas with his hunting knife.

Mautikitiki’s saga ends in a manner similar to the end of Maui’s saga in Hawaiian myths. Maui tried to free humans from death by winning a race through the land of death ruled over by the goddess Milu, but lost.

Mautikitiki’s brothers were all devoured by a gigantic Tridachna clam at the bottom of the sea. Mautikitiki tried to keep the clam’s mouth open long enough for his brothers and all the other victims trapped in the clam, whose innards were the land of the dead Poo’ungi.

Mautikitiki was not strong enough to keep the clam’s mouth open for the entire day needed for all the victims of death to escape. His arms grew tired and the clam’s jaws snapped shut, condemning all living things to eventual death. Mautikitiki and his brothers had to leave the Earthly plane, living on as the stars in Orion’s belt forever after.  

TEHU’AINGABENGA – COMING IN THE NEXT FEW WEEKS!  

TEHAINGA’ATUA – COMING IN THE NEXT FEW WEEKS! HE AND TEHU’AINGABENGA ARE SUCH A MAJOR PART OF BEL-REN MYTHS THEY DESERVE AN ENTIRE ARTICLE EACH!    

NGUATUPU’A AND TEPOUTU’UINGANGI – The parents of many of the major gods and goddesses in Bel-Ren myths, like Izanagi and Izanami in Shinto beliefs. Nguatupu’a and Tepoutu’uingangi were revered AND feared by ALL of the clans of the two islands. They were represented by two large black stones in the region of Bellona Island called Ngabenga.  

These two deities were sister and brother respectively as well as being spouses. Incest was forbidden to mortals but the gods engaged in it. In fact it was SO taboo among humans that sisters and brothers maintained a very strict and formal and – most importantly – limited – relationship with each other through adulthood.    

The goddess Nguatupu’a was always mentioned first and was above her brother/husband Tepoutu’uingangi in prestige. The erosion of regard for the male deity began early on. Like other Polynesians the Bel-Ren people traveled by sea from other islands to reach their eventual home. The Bel-Renners claimed their island of origin was called Uvea or Ubea, depending on who’s spelling it.  

Approximately 1400 A.D. the Bel-Renners arrived on the pair of islands and proceeded to slaughter the original inhabitants, called the Hiti. Again we see that such atrocities are a HUMAN failing and are not limited to a few particular groups.

At any rate, enroute to Bellona and Rennell Islands the travelers had brought with them two large black stones representing Nguatupu’a and Tepoutu’uingangi. The stone representing Tepoutu’uingangi fell overboard and was later replaced by a stone found in a cave on an uninhabitable island along the way to Bel-Ren. Step one in the process of “devaluing” the male deity Tepoutu’uingangi.

Kaitu’u, the ancestor of one of Bel-Ren’s two surviving clans (out of the eight original clans) first considered settling on Rennell since it was much larger than Bellona. He and his party of Chiefs from the other seven clans set up the pair of stones representing the gods and returned to their ships, only to find the pair of stones awaiting them there.  

Kaitu’u and his fellow aristocrats accepted this miracle as a sign that the two deities did not want that location as their home. After exhausting all possible locations on Rennell Island only to find the two stones always awaiting them back at the shoreline Kaitu’u and company set off to try nearby Bellona Island instead. 

On Bellona, Nguatupu’a and Tepoutu’uingangi signaled their displeasure with unacceptable locations for their stone representatives by causing the tides to come so far inland that Bellona would have been just a fraction of its size. Finally the two stones were established at Ngabenga and the god and goddess demonstrated their satisfaction by causing the ocean to withdraw to its former position. 

Even after the Tonga Clan – the main clan that had worshipped the pair of deities – died off, the area of Ngabenga was still revered and regarded with superstitious awe. In dire emergencies N’guatupu’a and her brother were still invoked by the Bel-Ren people. 

FOR THE TOP 15 IROQUOIS DEITIES CLICK HERE –  https://glitternight.com/2013/01/28/the-top-fifteen-deities-in-iroquois-mythology/  

FOR SIMILAR ARTICLES AND MORE OF THE TOP LISTS FROM BALLADEER’S BLOG CLICK HERE:   https://glitternight.com/top-lists/

© Edward Wozniak and Balladeer’s Blog 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Edward Wozniak and Balladeer’s Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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