The Maori began settling in New Zealand about 1,000 years ago, after sailing from Polynesia. A lot of evidence supports the theory that the Maori and other Polynesian people originally came from Asia. For example, there are many similarities in language (especially with Malaysia and Indonesia), as well as in pottery, tools, food and beliefs.
When Europeans came to Aotearoa (the Maori native name for New Zealand meaning ‘Land of the Long White Cloud’), they unsuspectingly brought diseases and a new culture which would have serious consequences for the Maori. Over the decades, the Maori were reduced from a great and proud people to being few, with many customs and traditions disappearing.
At the turn of the century, Elsdon Best, a self-taught anthropologist, became very concerned about the loss of Maori traditions. He decided to live among the east coast tribes of the North Island. He became their friend, and recorded their traditions, beliefs and customs.
The Maori had a tremendous respect for knowledge and, like many Asian peoples, didn’t write it down, possibly because they considered it too sacred. As this knowledge was considered extremely tapu (very sacred or restricted), it was passed down verbally through the generations unaltered.
The Maori were able to memorize huge amounts of knowledge, as was demonstrated last century when a tribal chief made a claim to the Land Commission. He was able to trace his lineage back 34 generations, including details of occupations and extra-tribal marriages. His genealogy contained more than 1,400 names.
The Maori had legends concerning Eve and the serpent, and the fashioning of the first human from the earth.Elsdon Best was amazed at the oral traditions treasured by the tribal priests. He wrote that the Maori had legends concerning Eve and the serpent, and the fashioning of the first human from the earth.
The most amazing tradition was about the knowledge of the Supreme Being. This knowledge was considered so tapu that only the highest grade of priests and some tribal chiefs were permitted to learn it.
This knowledge was originally kept from the Europeans, probably because name of God was sometimes spoken of disrespectfully by some people using it as a curse word. The priests may have concluded that this couldn’t be the same Being and therefore did not tell the early missionaries.
The priests had knowledge of a Supreme Being named Io (pronounced Ee—or). Io has more than 12 titles, each describing an attribute.
Io nui—Io, the Supreme. Greater than all other gods.
Io roa—Io, the everlasting. His Being is eternal, he will never die.
Io matua—Io, the parent. He is the parent of the heavens, worlds, clouds, animals, cosmos, etc. He is over all, and is the parent of all things, including man.
Io matua te kore—Io, the parentless. He has no beginning, no brothers, sisters, etc.
Io take take—Io, the original. Io is permanent and enduring.
Io matangaro—Io, the hidden face. He cannot be seen anywhere by his Creation.
Io matanui—Io, the many eyed. All things are seen and observed by Him.
Io te toi o nga rangi—Io, the crown of heaven. He is the highest of the 12 heavens, beyond him there is nothing.
Io te wananga—Io, the source of knowledge.
Io te pukenga—Io, the source of all thought.
Io mataaho—Io, the radiant.
Io te whiwhia—Io, the giver of all.
Today, Io is widely known among the Maori people, although many do not yet recognize that Io and the God of the Bible are the same.
Some groups have lost their traditions over the years, yet others like the Maori have preserved them either in their culture or in some other form. In fact, there are many hundreds of folk memories and legends around the world obviously related to the events in Genesis—the creation account, the Flood, and the Tower of Babel with its language dispersion.1
The Apostle Paul’s words were so apt when he addressed the people of Lystra and said God had not left Himself without witness among the nations.