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Ranginui : The Sky Father


At a glance

Origin Maori Mythology
Classification Gods
Family Members Papatuanuku (Wife), Tumatuwenga, Tawhirimatea, Tangaroa, and Tane (Children)
Region New Zealand
Associated With Sky



Ranginui, the sky father, was separated from Papatūnuku, the earth mother. In the Maori perspective, when they gazed upward, they beheld Te Rā, the sun god, who was slowed down by the legendary deeds of Maui. They also observed Rona, who was carried away by the Moon. All these celestial figures are interconnected within the expansive constellation known as Ranginui.

The Maori people’s understanding of the relationship between the sky father and Papa reflects their comprehension of the reproduction process. The intimate connection between these two beings evokes a sense of love. In the event of their separation, all life on Earth becomes interconnected.

For the Maori, this creation narrative serves as a metaphor for the mythical processes that shaped the world. The division of the sky father and the earth mother underscores the profound significance of their nurturing care. When the deities separated this pair, they exiled the sky father to the heavens, while keeping the mother below their feet.

Physical Traits

Ranginui is commonly portrayed as a wise elderly figure, his countenance reflecting a solemn demeanor when depicted alone. In contrast, when he is shown in the company of his wife, Papatuanuku, his visage is transformed into a much more cheerful and content expression. Another recurring feature in these representations is the presence of traditional Maori facial tattoos adorning his features.


The union of Papatūānuku and the sky father gave rise to Te Pō, which translates to “darkness.” According to Wiremu Maihi Te Rangikheke of Te Arawa, these celestial parents gave birth to various anthropomorphic deities, including Tawhirimatea, the god of the winds, Tāne, the deity of the forests, Tangaroa, the god of the seas, and Rongo, the goddess associated with peace and cultivated food.

These gods remained confined between their parents until Tāne and other entities intervened, facilitating their separation. Efforts were made by some of the other gods, like Tangaroa, Rongo, and Tu, in an attempt to disunite the sky father and Papatūānuku, but their endeavors proved futile. Tāne then took a pivotal role by lying on his back and employing his arms and legs to physically sever the limbs of his celestial parents.

Other names

The sky father occupied a significant role as a mythological figure within Maori mythology. He bore a multitude of names, including Rangi (heavens), Ranginui (great heavens), Rangiroa (expansive heavens), and Te Ranginui-e-tū-nei, Te Rangiitiketike, and Te Rangiipamamao. The appellations Te Rangiitiketike and Te Rangiipamamao emphasize the distant and lofty nature of the heavens. On the other hand, the name Te Rangihakataka depict how the sky extends to embrace the earth mother, Papatūānuku.

Powers and Abilities

According to Maori legend, the sky father was responsible for creating Te Whanau Marama, which encompasses the moon, sun, planets, and stars. The moon’s receptacle was named Te Kauhanga, while the sun’s was called Rauru-rangi. A basket for the stars, known as Te Ikaroa, held celestial entities like Atutahi.

Echoing myths from various cultures worldwide, the narrative of Papa and Rangi revolves around the duality of nature, symbolizing the earth and the sky, both essential for life. Themes of separation, sorrow, and unity pervade the mythology of these two entities. Their union results in the creation of all earthly elements and deities.

The elements confined between the sky father and Papa exist in a state devoid of light and space. When these entities are apart, both positive and negative occurrences can transpire. Although separation of the sky father and earth mother may benefit all life on Earth, it can still lead to significant floods and storms. The Maori interpret these as manifestations of divine emotions, with the storms’ deities dissenting from their siblings’ actions. As a consequence, the sky father exiles his brother to the sky, where he combats the elements, resulting in the descent of clouds, rain, and hurricanes upon his kin.

Modern Day Influence

In the legend, during the depths of night, when the sky father’s tears descend as dew, Papa’s countenance ascends in the form of mist. According to certain narratives, it was amidst this darkness that humankind found their way to flourishing. All Maori people trace their ancestry back to these early pioneers.

Much like other Maori myths, the tale of Papa and the sky father persists through oral traditions, handed down from one generation to the next. Despite the transcription of many of these narratives, the Maori oral tradition remains vibrant. These stories are not only etched into wood carvings but are also showcased in various forms of art.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is Ranginui the god of?

Ranginui is known as the Sky Father in Māori mythology. He is also referred to by various names such as Rangi (Heavens), Ranginui (Great Heavens), Rangiroa (Expansive Heavens), or Te Ranginui-e-tū-nei (the Great-Standing Heavens).

Who pushed Ranginui and Papatuanuku?

It was Tāne, the god of forests, who separated Ranginui and Papatūānuku. Tāne lay on his back and pushed up against the sky with his feet, creating the vault of the heavens.

What does the name Ranginui mean?

The name Ranginui is of Maori origin and it means “Sky Father”. It represents creativity, curiosity, charm, friendliness, cheer, and social life. The name is also associated with communication, diplomacy, peace, and balance. In Māori mythology, the name Ranginui is personified as the heavens.

Did Ranginui and Papatuanuku have daughters?

The offspring of the primal parents were numerous, numbering seventy, and all were supernatural beings of the male sex; no beings of the female sex were born to the primal parents.

Who is Rangi first wife?

Ranginui first married Poharua Te Po where they bore 3 offspring including Aorangi (or Aoraki as given in South Island). He later married Papatūānuku together becoming the primordial sky father and earth mother bearing over 70 children including Tāwhirimātea, Tāne and Tangaroa, all of whom are male.


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