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Creatures and Characters in Oceanic Mythology

Updated on February 23, 2018
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Verity is a physics with teaching BSc (Hons) graduate. In her spare time, she likes to cook, read and play video games.

Avatea - Cook Islands

In the Mangaian myth of origin Avatea was the first man, as he grew he became a hybrid with the right half of his body being a man and the left half being fish. Avatea's eyes are said to be the sun and the moon, making him a lunar deity, and was known as the god of light. This god contrasts with Avaiki which is an underworld associated with darkness.

Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons -,_Cook_Islands.jpg#/media/File:Stone_carving_in_Rarotonga,_Cook_Islands.jpg
Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons -,_Cook_Islands.jpg#/media/File:Stone_carving_in_Rarotonga,_Cook_Islands.jpg | Source

Menehune - Hawaii

In Hawaiian mythology the Menehune are small dwarf-like peoples who live deep in forests and hidden valleys, far from human eyes. Said to have arrived in Hawai'i before the Polynesia settlers, the Menehune are attributed as having incredible crafting skills; building temples, houses and roads. No physical evidence of these early settlers has ever been found, however some early scholars theorise that the Menehune could have been settlers from the Marquesas Islands who fled to the mountains to live when oppressed by new settlers from Tahiti.

A depiction of the Menehune, by Deviantart user Butterfrog
A depiction of the Menehune, by Deviantart user Butterfrog | Source

Night Marchers - Hawaii

In Hawaiian mythology the Night Marchers are ghosts of ancient dead warriors. They can be found marching in areas where large battles once took place. It is said that the Night Marchers are looking for recruits, so anyone who looks into the eyes of marcher will be forced to join them and march forever. You can be saved from this fate if a family member is taken by them instead. Legend says that if you find yourself in the presence of Night Marchers you should lay very still on the floor, face down, and hold your breath; but the Night Marchers will nudge you to try and provoke a reaction.

Patupaiarehe - New Zealand

Patupaiarehe are pale spirits belonging to Māori mythology. These beings are exclusive to hilly and mountainous regions and reside in deep forests. They can be identified by the sounds of singing and ethereal flute music. Another name for the Patupaiarehe is Urukehu which translates as 'Red Heads'.

Rainbow Serpent - Australia

The Rainbow Serpent is a deity found in the mythology of Aboriginal Australia. It is named not due to its colouring but its shape. When a rainbow is seen in the sky it is said that the Rainbow Serpent was moving from one watering hole to another. Due to its strong connection with water the Rainbow Serpent is seen as a life giver and a creator god, though when angry can be forceful and destructive. It is said that the Rainbow Serpent lived below the surface of the Earth but as it pushed upwards to get to the sky it created mountains and gorges. It is seen as an androgynous entity with it being described as many different genders and hermaphroditic across multiple accounts. The inspiration for the Rainbow Serpent is thought to be a very large snake from the prehistoric Madtsoiidae family, which is now extinct.


Taniwha - New Zealand

The Taniwha are beings from Māori mythology which live in deep pools, dark caves or dangerous seas. In some traditions they are seen as protective guardians; giving warnings the people of oncoming attackers, but in others then are seen as dangerous and predatory. When at sea they appear as a whale or shark, when in more inland waters they appear as a gecko. The Taniwha can also appear as a floating log. Human relationships with the Taniwha are complex, some are cordial with the Taniwha saving peoples lives. Others are violet with great battles being fought between the two. There are some incidences of humans who have had relations with Taniwha and then becoming one themselves when they died.

A depiction of the Taniwha
A depiction of the Taniwha | Source

Wondjina - Australia

The Wondjina in Aboriginal mythology were cloud and rain spirits who created the landscape and its inhabitants. It was said that when they found the place they would die, they would paint their images on cave walls and enter a nearby waterhole. To ensure the arrival of monsoon rains certain people of the Mowanjum tribes will repaint the images annually. This has been happing for so long that in places the paint is over 40 layers deep. The Wandjina's common colours and black, yellow and red on a white background. Each site and painting has a name and is always approached with care and respect as they are thought to still retain the powers of the Wondjina.

 Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons -
Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons - | Source
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