Mythology of Oceania: History, Myths, Gods and 11 Legends

The Oceania Mythology is considered one of the richest in the world. It is characterized by its myths and cults, the great influence of music.

Oceania Mythology
Oceania Mythology – Haka Dance

Oceania Mythology

The Oceania Mythology is very multifaceted; however for its study we must take into account its geographical limitations, according to the most recent agreement we can observe that it is conformed in two parts: Australasia and Melanasia.

Within each one there are many other zones which brought as a consequence a great diversity in religions and beliefs; however, it could be said that all Oceania was characterized by the animism system where magic predominated over religion.

Therefore the different groupings of Oceania make their mythology have as many similarities as possible discrepancies in their history in addition to the fact that they are passed from generation to generation orally causing much information to be lost over the years. One of the main characteristics of this mythology is the ease of mixing and acceptance of different cults and beliefs.

History of the Oceania mythology

Oceania is commonly considered to be divided into three regions:

  1. Melanesia (group of islands above Australia)
  2. Micronesia (groups of islands scattered around the islands adjacent to Asia)
  3. Polynesia (group of islands farther away).
regions into which Oceania was divided
regions into which Oceania was divided

It is believed that the human populations that inhabited these lands 40,000 years ago came from Asia. Due to the distance between the islands, the beliefs and legends of the Oceania mythology vary from one region to another, having magic as a common point.

It was not until the middle of the 18th century that Christianity was introduced to Oceania. The tribes that lived in these islands had no record of their religion since their traditions and beliefs were transmitted orally from generation to generation.

Adding all these events plus the inevitable influence of the arrival of Christianity means that we do not have a totally accurate and general definition of what would be the Oceania mythology; however, despite its history and diversity of the islands, this mythology was always characterized by an origin of shamans, healers and mediums who claimed to be able to control, visit and manipulate the spiritual world.

The aborigines of Oceania believed that through their rituals they could communicate with the spirits of the dream and thus release their power and give them wisdom.

Myths and Legends of Oceanian Mythology

There are a variety of myths and legends throughout all regions of Oceania, but they are most prevalent in Micronesia and Polynesia.

Most influential myths of Oceania

According to existing records, it is considered that in Micronesia the most peaceful, balanced and helpful populations prevailed. In this area, the most influential myths were those of the ifaluk atoll, full of praise for their kindest gods, in gratitude for having provided them with the necessary knowledge to navigate the seas and how to carry their daily sustenance.

On the other hand, in Polynesia, myths and legends predominate about their priests and those who inherit their positions in society, mainly in the areas of Hawaii and New Zealand.

Most important legends of Oceania

Legend of the rainbow serpent

This legend narrates the fact where a large colorful snake moved throughout their territory creating the hills, valleys and ancestral rivers that are considered their most sacred places.

Legend of the origin of the sun

According to the Oceania mythology in ancient times the sun and man did not exist, in the sky there were only the moon and the stars and on earth the animals and giant birds.

Until one day the ostrich Dinewan fought with the crane Brelagh causing Brelagh full of anger to go to Dinewan’s nest and steal one of her eggs to throw it to the sky, but it fell on firewood causing it to break and when its yolk spilled it illuminated the fire in such an amazing way that everyone was completely illuminated after living in the darkness.

Thus the sky god observed the beauty of the world after being illuminated and decided that it would be good that to achieve this he would light a similar fire every day.

Characters of the Oceania mythology

The first cults performed were to honor the gods of the sea and the land, who were their main gods since the origins of Oceanian mythology.

Then began to appear the cults to gods like those of fertility and war; among their main mystical representations they described wild women with very big eyes, aquatic monsters and bird men.

Among other characters representing mythological figures were heroes, gods and ordinary people who represented some religious rank in their tribe.

Gods of Oceanian Mythology

In the Oceania mythology have a great diversity of gods through all their tribes, these have depending on the area different names for the same god, classifying them for each area we have:

  • Malaysia: we have Bajang as an evil spirit, Hantu Air the god of the sea, Raja Angin god of the wind, Raja Guru god of the hunters, Raja Indainda god of thunder and messenger of the gods.
  • Australia: Djanggau was the goddess of fertility, Hau god of the wind, Kinie Ger was a merciless beast, Puckowe was the muse of the healers, Waitiri was a goddess who descended from the sky and showed them hunting with arrows and Whowie was the most feared beast of all time by the aborigines of this area.
  • Hawaii: she was the goddess of the midwives who assisted in childbirth and Kapo was the god of fertility.
  • Polynesia: Ina was the goddess of the sea and also of death and healing, Kalamainu and Kilioa were two lizards in charge of carrying away the souls of the dead and Raka was the god of the wind.
    Cults and customs of the Oceania mythology

Within the Oceania mythology it was customary to perform annual and seasonal cults; the most important were in honor of agriculture and fertility. They were offered the fruits of the first harvest among other tributes.

In the beginning, these rituals were usually very extensive and attracted the attention of many people in the area, some cults even had a great transcendence throughout the whole area of Oceania.

cults of the mythology of Oceania
cults of the Oceania mythology

Most prominent cults of the Oceania mythology

  • The cult of Tangaloa, which was later replaced by the cult of Oro; it spread throughout the archipelago and its sacred altar took place in Taputapuatea.
  • The cult of Rongo, which extended from the area of Mangaia to various parts of Polynesia; it even reached the Gilbert Islands.
  • The cult of Tañe, very well known cult in Polynesia; it extended from Huahine to Tongatapu, ending in New Zealand.
  • Esoteric cult of Kiho, also called Io; although this cult was only performed and followed by the members of the priestly caste of Polynesia, specifically in the eastern region, it caused great speculations in the Oceania mythology.

Oceanic Cosmology

In the world of Oceanian mythology there are a great variety of myths that show us the structure of a shamanic plan that the universe is made up of three layers.

They believed that the sky was similar to the effect of the rainbow; that is, it had two ends that touched the earth and all travelers passed through several skies, hence the term “sky breakers”.

In other areas such as Hawaii, New Zealand, among others, there is evidence of the existence of two types of skies. One was of light and the other of darkness or also called positive and negative. The missionaries did not agree with their beliefs and this caused the waters of life to be called “the waters of death” and their tree of life was nicknamed “tree of death”.

Influence of musical instruments in Oceanian mythology

Musical instruments symbolize a fundamental role in the Oceania mythology because in their beliefs the sounds of these instruments represented the voices of their gods responsible for creation. Within this mythology we have three fundamental instruments; the drums, the ratchet and the flute.

The drums

In Hawaii, most of their religious complexes in the most sacred interior contain drums called “god drums“. They are used to make calls for people to visit the temple and also to send messages.

Another use was to indicate changes in the postulations of ceremonies to be performed even in ancient times they announced human sacrifices.

The ratchet

In other areas such as Melanesia, a set of instruments were used for the most secret male rituals among which “the ratchet” stood out. This instrument is a piece of wood with an elliptical shape that has a hole at one end where a cord is tied; they spin it around the person’s head causing a very high-pitched sound, according to them it is the voice of the spirit.

Its function is to scare young men in male initiation rituals. It is very significant in the rituals of Oceania mythology and they also call it “madubu” which means “I am a man“.

The flute

In northern Oceania, the transcendental instrument is the flute; it was only played in special moments by men and in secret places where rituals are more complex. According to Oceanian mythology, flutes are forbidden for women; they cannot even look at them or they would be punished with death.

Instruments of the Oceania mythology

Transmission of knowledge of the Oceania mythology

The method used to safeguard the knowledge of the Oceania mythology were the myths; also in most of the groups there were men and women dedicated to this task, either because they were the heads of the family or they were entrusted by a great dignitary.

Although the most common thing was that this task was maintained by the priests who transmitted this knowledge to one of their youngest grandchildren who would automatically inherit their position.

In some areas they were even shown this knowledge in the schools having as teachers the priests of their area; and in others it was the great chief who through acts, dances and stories passed this information to the young people of his region.


The Oceania mythology is very divided; it has many languages, mythologies and legends due to its geographical division. It is difficult to give totally accurate information about its mythology due to the remoteness of its areas.

It is based on myths and cosmic figures, essentially of animals and gods. Its main deities are of the sea, the earth, fertility and war, and characterized by having magic as a common point in all its regions.

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