In many of the mythology throughout Austronesia, there exists a (sometimes several) primordial “Earth Mother” and “Sky Father”. Often in Austronesian art, this is depicted in a motif with two overlapping circles–one circle presumably representing the Sky Father in the form of a Sun and the other the Earth Mother. this motif is found as the state symbol of Mahapajit Empire of Indonesia (which is used in the banner head of this blog above the word “Mata”), in petroglyphs in the Philippines and Hawai`i, and in tapa in the Marquesas and Rapa Nui. Often the Sky Father is represented with the color of white (i.e. reproductive fluids, clouds, light, etc) and the Earth Mother with red (i.e. the volcanic dirt as well as blood, birth, and menstruation). This is one of the reasons why the colors red and white appears in many of the flags throughout Austronesia–from Tahiti to Indonesia to Madagascar. White and Red would also later on symbolize the duality of nature.
In Malaysia and Indonesia, according to Shaman, Saiva, and Sufi: The Evolution of Malay Magic by R. O. Winstedt and published in 1925:
In the Moluccas the earth is a female deity, who in the west monsoon is impregnated by Lord Sun-Heaven. The Torajas in Celebes believed in two supreme powers, the Man and the Maiden, that is, the sun and the earth. The Dayaks of Borneo hold that the sun and the earth created the world. The terms, “Father Sky and Mother Earth,” occur in the Malay ritual of the rice-year, at the opening of mines and of theatrical shows and in the invocations of the Kelantan shaman. A Kelantan account relates that sun and earth once had human form, sun the form of a man and earth the form of a woman, whose milk may be traced in the tin-ore of Malaya [my note: the Sultanate of Perak, “perak” literally means silver] and whose blood is now gold. Actors in the north of the Malay Peninsula say that “the earth spirit, whom actors fear, is the daughter of Seretang Bogoh, who sits in the sun and guides the winds, and of Sang Siuh, the mother of the earth, who sits at the navel of the world.”
For Hawaiians, the Sky Father is known as Wakea and the Earth Mother is generally known as Papa (in other legends, she has the name Hina or Haumea depending on which aspect you are referring to, but it is generally understood that all three names are synonymous with the Earth Mother). According Hawaiian Mythology by Martha Beckwith (published in 1940):
In the South Seas, Wakea or his equivalent is god of light and of the heavens who “opens the door of the sun”; Papa is a goddess of earth and the underworld and mother of gods. The name of Wakea appears in the Hawaiian word for midday, “awakea.” “Papa” in Hawaii is “a word applied to any flat surface,” especially to those foundation layers underseas from which new lands are said to rise–perhaps related in a figure to the successive generations of mankind born out of the vast waters of the spirit world and identified through their family leaders with the lands which they inhabit.
For ancient Hawaiians, Papa and Wakea are the parents of the lines of chiefs, commoners and the taro plant as well as most of the Hawaiian islands themselves. Since Papa in the Hawaiian mythology is also represents what can not be seen or what is submerged (i.e. hidden knowledge), its understandable why the color red which is normally with Austronesian Earth Mothers is also associated with feather icons of deities as well as the cloaks of high priests or kahuna nui. It should also be noted though that Papa and Wakea for Hawaiians (unlike for the Maori) were not deities per se but more like revered ancestors and guardians.
In Tahiti, we have a similar recitation:
|(K)o Atea te i runga,||Atea is above,|
|(K)o Fakahotu te i raro,||Fakahotu is below,|
|Ka pu te tama.||The children emerge.|
|Ka hanau e kovai?||Who are born?|
|Te marama o Atea,||The moon of Atea,|
|Te ata o Atea,||The clouds of Atea,|
Atea (Wakea) is the Sky-God and Fakahotu becomes the Earth Mother, though not of the same importance as their ancestor, Ta’aroa, the ocean and creator deity.
In Tonga, one has Eitumatupua (the Sky Father) and Ilaheva (the Earth Mother) begot Ahoeitu
who in turn became the first king of Tongatapu, Tonga.
Mythologies are the metaphors and great poetry of a society. What the Earth Mother and sky Father mythologies in many of these Austronesian societies points to is the way Austronesians once viewed women–strong, powerful, in some cases the real head of the family, and the necessary balance in the universe. Indeed, outside of Earth Goddess figures, there are also a number of other powerful deities found throughout Austronesia which points to the same ideas of the power of women.
One thought on “Earth Mothers and Sky Fathers of Austronesia”
In the Nias language, the word for God is \”Lowalangi\” a compound word for \”Ruler of the Sky\” / Lowa (ruler) Langi (sky). Thus representing the Sky Father. The Earth Mother is predominant in many forms in Indonesia as \”Ibu Pertiwi\” / the motherland, or in the pre Hindu godess \”Dewi Sri\” / rice godess.