Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Finding Parallels in Polythesism: The Legend of Ni'auepo'o

I have been exploring the world of polytheism lately. I'm testing a hypothesis that the various gods/goddesses of ancient cultures can give insight into certain aspects and characteristics of the God I recognize and worship. I'm just getting started on this and the first culture I turned to was from ancient Hawai'i.

In reading from the book "Folktales of Hawaii" by Mary Kawena Pukui, I last night read The Legend of Ni'auepo'o, a boy whose father moves away when he is very young. His father gives him some items to bring with him so the father will recognize his son when he goes to seek for his father. When the time comes for the boy to find his father, he chooses to not bring the items and gets there in another, magical way. His father does not recognize him, is angry and killed his son for being an impostor. When the son returns from the dead, the father is told by the prophets of his village that the man standing before him claiming to be his son is indeed his son. The father repents by preparing an offering for an ancestor-god and accepts his son.

Legends, stories and allegories are fascinating and as I ponder this legend more, the more I begin to learn from it. And that's just with my cultural background, and not being schooled in much Hawaiian culture.

I see a parallel between Ni'auepo'o and Christ being prophesied and expected by the Jewish people to come to them, but then he is not recognized when he does appear and they kill him. Just as Christ, Ni'auepo'o is resurrected and comes back to his people and no doubt, there was a period of where his people came to the realizsation that not only was it him that came, but that he returned after death; just like how over the centuries some Jews have come to the realization that the one early Jewish people killed is who he said he was. In that way, the Legend of Ni'auepo'o can be used as an allegory for the prophesies of Christ, his persecution when he declares himself, his death and resurrection.

What role does this particular legend play in convincing Hawaiians of Christ? It may actually dissuade more than convince if one views the story of Christ as a more modern substitute for an ancient legend. As Christianity is famous for superimposing Christian rites and beliefs over earlier cultural beliefs and practices, could this not be one more example?

If one were to consider the perspective here, this could be an example of how the gospel was known from the beginning and that ancient peoples the world over knew the stories and prophesies, and those stories became the legends of ancient cultures, with words and names in their own language and cultural practices that were familiar to their locale, climate and food system.

There are other concepts that can be learned from this legend, specifically Ni'auepo'o's mother as a strong female character who has a strong relationship with deity and power to invoke and enact magic/miracles. There are likely other concepts present in the legend as well and its a good example of how simple stories--this one is simple enough that my little boy would likely enjoy it--can veil powerful cultural and spiritual truths.

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