Richard Moore

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The Māori
Māori legends and myths

Maui was a demi-god, who lived in Hawaiiki. He possessed magic powers that not all of his family knew about.

One day when he was very young, he hid in the bottom of his brothers’ boat in order to go out fishing with them. Once out at sea, Maui was discovered by his brothers, but they were not able to take him back to shore as Maui made use of his magic powers, making the shoreline seem much further away than it was in reality.

So the brothers continued rowing, and once they were far out into the ocean Maui dropped his magic fishhook over the side of the waka. After a while he felt a strong tug on the line. This seemed to be too strong a tug to be any ordinary fish, so Maui called to his brothers for assistance.

After much straining and pulling, up suddenly surfaced Te Ika a Maui (the fish of Maui), known today as the North Island of New Zealand. Maui told his brothers that the Gods might be angry about this, and he asked his brothers to wait while he went to make peace with the Gods.

However, once Maui had gone his brothers began to argue among themselves about the possession of this new land. They took out their weapons and started pounding away at the catch. The blows on the land created the many mountains and valleys of the North Island today.

The South Island is known as Te Waka a Maui (the waka of Maui). Stewart Island, which lies at the very bottom of New Zealand, is known as Te Punga a Maui (Maui’s anchor), as it was the anchor holding Maui’s waka as he pulled in the giant fish.

Although Maui fished up the North and South Islands, it was the great Polynesian navigator Kupe who discovered them. Kupe lived in Hawaiiki, mythical ancestral homeland of the Māori. In Hawaiiki lived a canoe maker by the name of Toto.

Toto fabricated two huge ocean going canoes from a large tree. One canoe he named Aotea and the other he named Matahorua. Toto gave his canoe named Aotea to one of his daughters, Rongorongo, and the other canoe named Matahorua to his other daughter, Kura. It happened that Kupe desired Kura very much. However, Kura was already the wife of Kupe’s cousin Hoturapa.

When Hoturapa and Kupe were out fishing one day, Kupe ordered Hoturapa to dive down and free Kupe’s fishing line, which had become tangled. When Hoturapa dived into the sea to free the tangled line, Kupe sliced through the anchor rope of the canoe, and began to row furiously back to shore. Hoturapa drowned, but his family were suspicious of the circumstances surrounding his death. It was, in fact, a plan on Kupe’s part to take Hoturapa’s wife Kura.

In order to avoid vengeance from Hoturapa’s family, Kupe and his own family left Hawaiiki in Kura’s canoe Matahorua. After some time of navigating, Kupe’s wife Hine Te Aparangi sighted the islands of New Zealand, which appeared as land lying beneath a cloud. Because of this, they named the islands Aotearoa, Land of the Long White Cloud.

As Kupe and his crew were sailing along the coast of this new land, they disturbed a giant octopus, who was hiding in a coastal cave. Terrified at the sight of a strange canoe filled with human beings, the huge octopus swam rapidly in front of the Matahorua and took flight, passing through the strait between the North and South Islands. Kupe followed the octopus, and discovered modern Cook Strait.

Kupe and the Matahorua eventually caught up with the giant octopus. In defence, the octopus whipped its enormous tentacles around the canoe, intent on devouring the whole canoe. During the furious battle which followed with the sea monster, it became obvious that the Matahorua was in great danger of breaking up.

However, Kupe suddenly had an idea, and threw a large water gourd overboard. The octopus, thinking that a man had fallen over, released it’s tentacles from the Matahorua and turned to attack the gourd. Kupe seized this opportunity, and waited until the octopus was entwined around the gourd. Kupe then attacked the head of the octopus with his adze, and the octopus died.

With his adze, Kupe then cut several islands away from the South Island, and several islands away from the North Island, including the island of Kapiti. He remained for a short while in modern Wellington, before continuing northwards up the coast of the North Island, naming various islands, rivers and harbours on the way. Kupe then returned to Hawaiiki, telling everybody of this distant cloud capped and high rising land which he had discovered.

He gave instructions on how to return to this new land, but said that he himself would not be returning.

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In the beginning there was no sky, no sea, no earth and no Gods. There was only darkness, only Te Kore, the Nothingness. The very beginning was made from nothing. From this nothingness, the primal parents of the Māori came, Papatuanuku, the Earth mother, and Ranginui, the Sky father.

Papatuanuku and Ranginui came together, embracing in the darkness, and had 70 male children. These offspring became the gods of the Māori. However, the children of Papatuanuku and Ranginui were locked in their parents embrace, in eternal darkness, and yearned to see some light. They eventually decided that their parents should be separated, and had a meeting to decide what should be done.

They considered for a long time – should Rangi and Papa be killed? Or shall they be forced to separate?

Finally, Tumatauenga, the god of War, said “Let us kill our parents”. However, Tane-Mahuta, the god of man and forests, and all which inhabits the forests, thought that Rangi and Papa should be separated. He thought that Ranginui should go up above, to the sky, and that Papatuanuku should should go below, to dwell on earth. All the children, including Tu, the God of War, agreed with Tane.

Tawhiri Matea, the god of winds and storms was the only child who did not wish for his parents to be separated. He feared that his kingdom would be overthrown. One by one the children tried to separate their parents. Rongomatane, the god and father of cultivated foods, tried without success. Haumia Tiketike, god of uncultivated food also tried.

Then it was the turn of Tangaroa, the god of the sea, and Tumatauenga, the god of war, but neither Tangaroa nor Tumatauenga could separate their parents.

Lastly Tane-Mahuta rose. Strong as the kauri tree, he placed his shoulders against his mother Papatuanuku and his feet against his father Ranginui, and he pushed hard, for a very long time, straining and heaving all the while. Rangi and Papa cried in pain, asking their sons” why do you wish to destroy our love?”

After a long time Tane finally managed to separate Rangi and Papa, and for the first time the children saw the light of day (ao Marama) come streaming in. Once this happened, Tawhiri Matea, the god of winds and storms, and who had been against the separation of his parents, left for the sky to join his father.

The turbulent winds and storms on earth are caused by Tawhiri Matea, in revenge for this brother’s acts.

Now that the separation of Papatuanuku and Ranginui was complete, and there was a sky and an earth. However, there was just one missing element, and Tane decided to create a female. From an area named Kura-waka Tane took some clay, and modeled it into a woman. He then breathed life into it, and created Hine-ahu-one – the earth formed maiden.

Tane and Hine had a beautiful daughter called Hinetitama. When Hinetitama grew, she had daughters to Tane. One day Hinetitama asked Tane who her father was, and on discovering that Tane was the father of her children, she fled with shame into the night, to a place called Rarohenga, the underworld. From then on she became known as Hine-nui-te-po, the goddess of the night.

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 Kauri : 
(Agathis australis) is, on maturity, one of the largest trees found anywhere in the world, and one of the most commercially attractive, with a long, straight, branchless trunk producing durable straight-grained timber, and a resin once greatly prized for the manufacture of high quality paints, varnishes and polishes.

The Kauri is a conifer, native to New Zealand. Its natural habitat was in the north of the North Island, from a line running between Raglan and the Bay of Plenty, through Hamilton. The largest ever Kauri tree grew in Mercury Bay, and when measured in 1850 had a girth of 23.43m and soared 21.8 to the first branch.

Tane Mahuta, in the Waipoua Forest, has a girth of 14m, is 51m tall and is 1.200 years old.

Source : The New Zealand Encyclopedia 4th Edition – Batemen


Main source of research : 
“Land of the Long White Cloud (Māori Myths, Tales and Legends)” – Kiri Te Kanawa 
“Māori myths and tribal legends” – Antony Lepers

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