A sacred god figure wrapping for the war god 'Oro
, made of woven dried coconut fibre (sennit
), which would have protected a Polynesian god effigy (to'o
), made of wood
Prior to the 15th century AD, Polynesian peoples fanned out to the east, to the Cook Islands, and from there to other groups such as Tahiti and the Marquesas. Their descendants later discovered the islands from Tahiti to Rapa Nui, and later Hawai‘i and New Zealand. Latest research puts the settlement of New Zealand at about 1300 AD. The various Polynesian languages are all part of the Austronesian language family. Many are close enough in terms of vocabulary and grammar to permit communication between some other language speakers. There are also substantial cultural similarities between the various groups, especially in terms of social organisation, childrearing, as well as horticulture, building and textile technologies; their mythologies in particular demonstrate local reworkings of commonly shared tales.
In some island groups, help is of great importance as the god of the sea and of fishing. There is often a story of the marriage between Sky and Earth; the New Zealand version, Rangi and Papa, is a union that gives birth to the world and all things in it. There are stories of islands pulled up from the bottom of the sea by a magic fishhook, or thrown down from heaven. There are stories of voyages, migrations, seductions and battles, as one might expect. Stories about a trickster, Māui, are widely known, as are those about a beautiful goddess/ancestress Hina or Sina.
In addition to these shared themes in the oral tradition, each island group has its own stories of demi-gods and culture heroes, shading gradually into the firmer outlines of remembered history. Often such stories were linked to various geographic or ecological features, which may be described as the petrified remains of the supernatural beings.