Mircea Eliade "From Primitives to Zen": A POLYNESIAN ORPHEUS


A Maori hero, Hutu, went down to the underworld in search of the, soul of the princess, Pare, who had committed suicide after being humiliated by him. This story is reminiscent of Orpheus' descent to Hades to bring back the soul of his wife, Eurydice.

Once, when the lance which he had thrown, led Hutu to Pare's door, the young noble-woman, whose heart had been won by the youth's skill and presence, revealed to him her admiration and love and invited him to enter her house. But he refused her and departed. Overwhelmed with shame, she 'ordered her attendants to arrange everything in the house and put it in order. When this was done she sat alone and wept, and rose and hung herself.' Hutu, remorseful, fearful of the people's anger, determined to save her soul in the world below. First he sat down and chanted the priestly incantations having to do with death and the abode of the dead; then he rose and proceeded on his journey. He met Hine-nui-te-po (Great-lady-of-the-night), who presides over the Land of Shades. Ill-humoured as usual, when Hutu asked the way, she pointed out the path taken by the spirits of dogs to the lower regions; but her favour was eventually won by the presentation of the seeker's precious greenstone hand club. Mollified by the gift, the goddess pointed out the true route, cooked some fern root for him and put it into a basket, at the same time admonishing him to eat sparingly of it, for it must suffice him throughout the journey. Should he eat the food of the lower world, it would mean that, instead of his being able to bring back the spirit of Pare to the world of light, his own soul would be condemned to remain forever in the lower regions. The goddess advised him further, 'When you fly from this world, bow your head as you descend to the dark world; but when you are near the world below a wind from beneath will blow on you, and will raise your head up again, and you will be in a right position to alight oil your feet. . . .' Hutu arrived safely in the world below, and so, inquiring the whereabouts of Pare, was told that she was in the village.' Although the girl knew that Hutu had come and was seeking her, her shame led her to conceal herself. In the hope of luring her from her house, he organized contests in top spinning and javelin throwing, games which he knew she loved to watch. But never did she appear. At last Hutu, sore at heart, said to the others, 'Bring a very long tree and let us cut the branches off it.' This done, ropes were plaited and tied to the top, and the crown of the tree was bent down to the earth by the people's tugging at the ropes. Hutu climbed into the top, and another man sat on his back. Then Hutu shouted, 'Let go.' And the tree flung the young adventurer and his companion high into the air. Delighted at this exhibition, all the people shouted with glee. This was too much for Pare and she came to watch the new game. Finally she said, 'Let me also swing, but let me sit on your shoulders.' Exuberant, Hutu answered, 'Keep hold of my neck, 0 Pare !' The top of the tree being again drawn down, it was released on the signal and flew skyward with such a rush as to fling the ropes against the under side of the upper world where they became entangled in the grass at the entrance to the realm of the shades. Climbing up the ropes with Pare on his back, Hutu emerged into the world of light. He went straightway to the settlement where the dead body of Pare was lying, and the spirit of the young chiefess reentered her body and it became alive.


John White, The Ancient History of the Maori (Wellington, 1887-90), vol. II, pp. 164-7, as condensed by E. S. Craighill Handy, Polynesian Religion, Bernice P. Bishop Museum Bulletin 34 (Honolulu, 1927), pp. 81 ff. (CF.. M. Eliade, Shamanism. Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, trans. Willard Trask [New York, 1964], P. 368)

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