In Māori mythology, Tangaroa (also Takaroa) is one of the great gods, the god of the sea. He is a son of Ranginui and Papatuanuku, Sky and Earth. After he joins his brothers Rongo, Tūmatauenga, Haumia, and Tane in the forcible separation of their parents, he is attacked by his brother Tawhirimatea, the god of storms, and forced to hide in the sea. Tangaroa is the father of many sea creatures. Tangaroa's son, Punga, has two children, Ikatere, the ancestor of fish, and Tu-te-wehiwehi (or Tu-te-wanawana), the ancestor of reptiles. Terrified by Tawhirimatea’s onslaught, the fish seek shelter in the sea, and the reptiles in the forests. Ever since, Tangaroa has held a grudge with Tāne, the god of forests, because he offers refuge to his runaway children (Grey 1971:1–5).
The contention between Tangaroa and Tāne, the father of birds, trees, and humans, is an indication that the Māori thought of the ocean and the land as opposed realms. When people go out to sea to fish or to travel, they are in effect representatives of Tāne entering the realm of Tāne's enemy. For this reason, it was important that offerings were made to Tangaroa before any such expedition (Orbell 1998:146-147).
Another version of the origin of Tangaroa maintains that he is the son of Temoretu, and that Papa is his wife. Papa commits adultery with Rangi while Tangaroa is away, and in the resulting battle Tangaroa’s spear pierces Rangi through both his thighs. Papa then marries Rangi (White 1887–1891, I:22-23).
In another legend, Tangaroa marries Te Anu-matao (chilling cold). They are the parents of the gods ‘of the fish class’, including Te Whata-uira-a-Tangawa, Te Whatukura, Poutini, and Te Pounamu (Shortland 1882:17). In some versions, Tangaroa has a son, Tinirau, and nine daughters (1891:463). As Tangaroa-whakamau-tai he exercises control over the tides.
In the South Island, his name can take the form Takaroa.
Elsewhere in the Pacific
Tagaloa is one of the oldest Polynesian deities and in western Polynesia (for example, Samoa and Tonga) traditions has the status of supreme creator god. In eastern Polynesian cultures Tangaroa is usually considered of equal status to Tāne and thus not supreme.
- In Samoan mythology, Tagaloa is the father of Losi and Fue.
- In Rarotonga (Cook Islands), Tangaroa was the god of the sea and fertility. He was the most important of all the departmental gods. Cult figures made from wood carvings were very popular in pre-Christian times and are still popular on the island today.
- In Mangaia (Cook Islands), Tangaroa is a child of Vatea (daylight) and Papa (foundation) and the younger twin brother of Rongo. Rongo and Tangaroa share food and fish: Tangaroa's share is everything that is red (the red taro, red fish and so on). Tangaroa is said to have yellow hair and when Mangaians first saw Europeans they thought they must be Tangaroa's children (Gill 1876:13, Tregear 1891:464).
- In Manihiki (Cook Islands), Tangaroa is the origin of fire. Māui goes to him to obtain fire for humankind. Advised to reach Tangaroa's abode by taking the common path, he takes the forbidden path of death infuriating Tangaroa who tries to kick him to death. Māui manages to prevent that and insists that Tangaroa give him fire. Māui kills Tangaroa. When his parents are horrified, Māui uses incantations to bring him back to life (Tregear 1891:463-464).
- In Hawaii, Kanaloa is associated with the squid or heʻe.
- In Tahiti, by the goddess Hina-Tu-A-Uta, Ta'aroa is the father of 'Oro.
- In the Marquesas Islands, the equivalent deities are Tana'oa or Taka'oa.
- In Tonga, the Tangaloa family of gods resided in the sky and were the ancestors of the Tuʻi Tonga kings.
- In Rennell and Bellona Islands (Polynesian cultures in the southern Solomon Islands) Tangagoa is a sea god which stayed on the coastal cliff of east Rennell known as Toho, and flew in the night with a flame in the sky. Tangagoa was believed to take spirits of the dead, so when someone was near death, the sparkling fire would be seen at night. Some can still recall the time when this god appeared in the night as a flame in the sky, and have many tales of it. Tangagoa started to disappear in the 1970s and early 1980s when Christian missionaries visited the cliff and cast him out.
- In Raiatea a legend reported by Professor Friedrich Ratzel in 1896 gave a picture of his all-pervading power.
- In Rapa Nui tradition Tangaroa was killed at Hotuiti bay and was buried in the surrounding area.
A mythological figure Tagaro also features in the Melanesian cultures of north-eastern Vanuatu. In the mythology of North Pentecost island, Tagaro appears as a destructive trickster, while in other areas, he is an eternal creator figure, and names cognate with Tagaro (such as Apma Takaa) are applied nowadays to the Christian God.
- In the traditions of the Taranaki region, it was Tangaroa who forcibly separated Rangi and Papa from each other (Smith 1993:1–2). In the traditions of most other regions of New Zealand, Rangi and Papa were separated by Tāne, god of the forest.
- Rarotonga & the Cook Islands by Errol Hunt, Nancy Keller (2003)
- The History of Mankind by Professor Friedrich Ratzel, Volume I, Book II, Section A, Religion in Oceania page 308, MacMillan and Co., published 1896 accessed 16 Feb 2011.
- J P Taylor 2008, The Other Side: Ways of Being and Place in Vanuatu
- Gray 2013, The Languages of Pentecost Island
- W. W. Gill, Myths and Songs of the South Pacific (Henry S. King: London), 1876.
- G. Grey, Nga Mahi a Nga Tupuna, fourth edition. First published 1854. (Reed: Wellington), 1971.
- M. Orbell, The Concise Encyclopedia of Māori Myth and Legend (Canterbury University Press: Christchurch), 1998.
- E. Shortland, Maori Religion and Mythology (Longman, Green: London), 1882.
- E. R. Tregear, Maori-Polynesian Comparative Dictionary (Lyon and Blair: Lambton Quay), 1891.
- A. Smith, Songs and Stories of Taranaki from the Writings of Te Kahui Kararehe (MacMillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies: Christchurch), 1993.
- J. White, The Ancient History of the Maori, 6 Volumes (Government Printer: Wellington), 1887–1891.
- Tangaroa in Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand