Māori Mythology

Māori are the native peoples of Aotearoa, also known as New Zealand.

Many people learned something of Māori culture through Disney’s Moana, which was more of a generalization of many native Pacific Island peoples’ belief systems. In fact, each island has its own culture and beliefs — and also varying points of view on common topics. For example, the demi-god Māui has different stories in different island regions, although he is present in many of them. As I am indigenous to Aotearoa, Māori beliefs are what I specialize in and want to share, although I have some working understanding of our differences from our neighboring cultures as well.

For example, Papatūānuku the Earth Mother and Ranginui the Sky Father are our oldest deities and many other deities are descended from them. Their first children were Tāne-Māhuta (god of forests and birds), Tāwhirimātea (god of wind and weather), Tangaroa (god of the sea and fish), Tūmatauenga (god of people and war), Rongomātāne (god of cultivated food), and Haumietiketike (god of uncultivated food). Māori culture has many components, but a few I find very important are whakapapa, kaitiakitanga, tino rangatiratanga, and manaakitanga.

whakapapa – this translates loosely to heritage or ancestry. Our ancestors are important to us—we are literally descended from them, made from them, made possible by them. We are the culmination of years of effort of those who came before us. Our ancestor veneration practice is simply being alive: survival, yes, but also our breath, our being, is innately tribute and continued legacy. Whether we know them or not, like them or not—their efforts allow our existence. For example:
kaitiakitanga – translates as something like guardianship or caretaking; it speaks to our relationship with the earth’s land and nature itself. We are part of the earth, the earth looks afters us and feeds us, and so we look after it in turn. It’s a symbiotic relationship; the land cares for you and so you care for the land so that the relationship can endure throughout time. Our ancestors did it for us and we will do it for all those who come after us.
tino rangatiratanga – this is difficult to translate; it includes ideas like sovereignty and self-determination and autonomy — but it’s also intrinsic to Māori culture. It’s about our indigenous right to exist, especially in the face of continued imperialist colonialism in our area. It speaks to Māori control over Māori lives and the importance of Māori knowledge. It also houses the word that means leader, but for us to lead means to weave: to see all the people in the community as unique and autonomous, but also to know how to successfully bring us all together into a cohesive community; in this way, self-determinism and the well-being of our community are related.
manaakitanga – this is our version of hospitality; it’s important to differentiate that this hospitality isn’t about being polite nor well-mannered: you have to mean it. It’s not perfunctory. This is about the openness of hearth and home to make sure everyone is fed, warm, and well. It’s also why food is important to our culture. It’s also why we tend to be open and welcoming as long as you’re respectful.

  • Some people also learned about Māori culture through the Locked Tomb series by Tamsyn Muir. I’m a big fan of that series so by all means if this is how you’ve found me, I’m happy to talk about the books with you!

“It’s for all of these reasons and more that I teach. I want to bring longevity to Māori knowledge and bring more awareness to Māori culture and traditions to those who would respectfully learn and engage. It’s a way for me to engage with my own heritage while also practicing hospitality internationally in this information age. I hope you’ll take me up on this welcome mat!”

— Moana Sky

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