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Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.




The most sacred lore of the Maori was embodied in the karakia, a rhythmic, monotone chant defined as:

“Chant, spell, incantation, particularly the ancient rites proper to every important matter in the life of the Maori.”

The chant was performed by two tohungas, one continuing till his breath gave out and the other “riding in” at the right moment to prevent a break. A perfect performance was considered necessary to bring about the desired results. The karakia had all the essential qualities of an art form, as the following rules for its proper performance will show:

“Ka tara te karakia ka ngahou, he ora tena.”

(When the karakia is recited with a quick (lively) rhythm, is learnt well and comes from the heart, it is an omen of life.)

Ritual chants were performed on all important occasions – over a new-born child, to initiate a seer (matakite), to dedicate a new pa, to make a messenger fleet-footed, to bless the kumara crops, to bring success in bird snaring or fishing, to cure sickness, to calm the sea, to appease the spirit of a felled tree, to bring peace, and so on.

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