Father Sky among Indigenous Pacific Islanders and Africans

Across both Polynesia and Micronesia there is a great commonality of belief around the idea of a divinized sky

Sky Father and Earth Mother Ranginui and Papatūānuku in Maori legend. Image by Kahuroa on Wikimedia Commons.

The sense of the heaven’s enormity is certain to have been experienced in the souls of those who sailed long distances under its expanse—and who depended so on the stars and night sky to guide them on their perilous journeys.

In the Maori traditions of southern Polynesia the gods operate in the realms of sky, earth and underworld.  Rangi (heaven) and Papa (earth) were the divine Ancestral pair from whom humans descend. 

Among their six children, only the God of Forests, Birds and Insects can raise his father up to the skies by being firmly planted on his mother the earth.    In Polynesia, “the greater gods are almost always ‘heavenly.’” 

And in Micronesia also, major deities associated with biocosmic forces are usually from above.

In many African myths it is understood that at one time in the past the heavens or sky and the earth were united as one. 

The historical point where Oduduwa, the legendary progenitor of the Yoruba race, is said to have landed from heaven via a chain to create the land. It is also known as his final resting place. Image by The_AyeniPaul on Wikimedia Commons.

Some myths teach that there was a chain, ladder or rope between the two worlds but that a separation took place.  Some say that animals bit the leather rope into two so that one part went up to the sky and the other fell to the ground; some say that it was through man’s fault that the two parts of the universe were split up. 

In any case, a severing occurred.  (Is that much different from the Garden of Eden story?)

The universe is seen as without edge, just as the earth has no edge.  It is eternal.  Thus circles are important in ceremonies and rituals for they symbolize the continuity of the universe and its unendingness.  Birth, death and rebirth rituals also underscore the fact that life is stronger than death.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, The Hidden Spirituality of Men: Ten Metaphors to Awaken the Sacred Masculine, pp. 6f.

To read the transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.

Banner Image: “The moonlight and the boat,” by Claudia Dea on Flickr.

Queries for Contemplation

Is the severing that is spoken of in African traditions parallel to the rupture named in the Garden of Eden story?  Is it still happening today when humanity cuts itself off from our deeper relationship with nature and the cosmos through our narcissism and anthropocentrism? 

Recommended Reading

The Hidden Spirituality of Men: Ten Metaphors to Awaken the Sacred Masculine

To awaken what Fox calls “the sacred masculine,” he unearths ten metaphors, or archetypes, ranging from the Green Man, an ancient pagan symbol of our fundamental relationship with nature,  to the Spiritual Warrior….These timeless archetypes can inspire men to pursue their higher calling to connect to their deepest selves and to reinvent the world.
“Every man on this planet should read this book — not to mention every woman who wants to understand the struggles, often unconscious, that shape the men they know.” — Rabbi Michael Lerner, author of The Left Hand of God

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7 thoughts on “Father Sky among Indigenous Pacific Islanders and Africans”

  1. Avatar

    The key point made today, is that it is humanity that cuts itself off, that separates itself, that fragments and ruptures. And yet, at the same time I hear whispered a deeper truth, a reality veiled… “Nothing shall separate you from the Love of God. What God has joined, no one can tear asunder. The veil has been torn, from top to bottom… now all can enter into the holy of holies.” Ceremony and ritual helps us to remember, experience and encounter this eternal truth and the reality of what is, was and ever shall be… that we may be and live in the circle of reciprocity… the divine exchange… the sacred movement from brokenness to the awakening of our wholeness… the spiraling dance from exclusion to the inclusion of Oneness… the drawing inward from the whirlpool of chaos into the still point of calm centeredness.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Jeanette, I’ve always like the image of “The veil has been torn, from top to bottom… now all can enter into the holy of holies”–the way is open, there is now nothing that stands between us and God–not a priest, or the “curtain” of The institutional Church which stands between us and God. Bless you Jeanette…

  2. Avatar

    All of our myths and stories throughout time have been pointing to one great Truth. They have been and are that proverbial “finger pointing at the moon”. As mystics have advised, “Regard not the finger, but what it points to.” When we practice “the mother of all the disciplines”—silence & solitude—we are positioning ourselves to do just that.

    The point of “the mother of all the disciplines”—silence & solitude—is that we would surrender to LOVE and let them embrace us. }:- a.m.

    1. Avatar

      Hoofnote: I have a friend, Sharon Paints The Sky (Cherokee) who married a Celt, Barry. They live on a farm in the Highlands of Scotland where they raise Highland Coos and North American Bison ?!!!

      Sharon completed her PhD in cultural anthropology with her research on the common strains of Celtic, Native American, and Polynesian myths, legends and traditions.

  3. Avatar

    Fr. Rohr says that the ego wants to be separate, superior, and in control. The untrammeled ego has led to all kinds of disconnections. I love all the creation stories and find the same commonalities you write about. Thank you, Matthew. Disconnection from the universe and all our brothers and sisters, human and otherwise, shows how broken we are within.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Sue, Many years ago I was at a conference where my two heroes were scheduled to have a discussion over the ego. One of my heroes was Matthew Fox, and the other was Ram Dass. In a “nutshell” Ram Dass said that to be totally liberated spiritually, you must let go of the ego. Matthew on the other hand said that, when we look at our society today, especially broken homes, poor parental examples and low self esteem, we do not need to destroy the ego, rather, we need to teach our children how to have healthy egos.

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