Story: First peoples in Māori tradition

Page 4. Ancestors from the natural world

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Many environmental phenomena are considered to be ancestors of humankind, taking on human qualities and names. For example, in some stories Tānerore is the sun, who has two wives – Hinetakurua (winter maiden) with whom he spends winter, and Hineraumati (summer maiden) with whom he spends his summers. Similarly, Hineruhi is the quality of light at dawn and Hinemoana is the sea-maiden, progenitor of fishes and of clement seas.

Every aspect of existence was considered in this manner – earth, sea and sky were imbued with mana, qualities and identities that the people shared an intimate relationship with. Later interpretations of this view of the world are that it was the projection of human qualities onto the natural world. In 1923 Ira Tahu, of Ngāti Porou, commented, ‘What our ancestors did was to consider the essential aspects of the world and to relate to them as if they were human. That is, they created names for these things as if they were human.’ 1

Linking people and nature

This organic world view enabled people to imagine themselves as their counterparts in the natural world, such as a tree, a rock or a fish. There are many examples of identifying with birds – wearing cloaks made from feathers, singing like a bird, or comparing meetings on a marae to the gathering of birds. The following is an extract from a Te Tai Tokerau chant welcoming visitors to the marae:

Nau mai e taku manu, he manu aha ka tau?
Kūaka mārangaranga ki te tāhuna
Korimako pae ki te kōtātara
Pīwaiwaka i kutia ai te mate
Kōtuku rerenga tahi.
Welcome, my bird, what is this bird that has arrived?
Flocks of godwits ascend from the seashore
The bellbird alights upon a perch
The fantail who draws up death
The white heron in single flight (rarely seen).

Tribal accounts

Some tribes have unique traditions about their origins in nature. Perhaps the most well-known is that of the Ngāi Tūhoe people, said to descend from the mist of the Urewera Ranges. Known as Hine-pūkohu-rangi, the mist is described as a tipuna (ancestor). From the union of Hine-pūkohu-rangi with Te Maunga (the mountain) came Pōtiki, a human who was the ancestor of Tūhoe, the founder of the tribe.

Tumutumu-whenua (or Tuputupu-whenua) of the Te Tai Tokerau peoples is said to have emerged from under the ground. Similarly, according to tradition the Whanganui people were born from Ruapehu mountain, and it is said the Awanuiarangi tribes (Te Āti Awa and Ngāti Awa) descend from a spirit living in the sky.

  1. Nga korero a Reweti Kohere ma, ed. Wiremu and Te Ohorere Kaa. Wellington: Victoria University Press, 1994, pp. 42–44. › Back
How to cite this page:

Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal, 'First peoples in Māori tradition - Ancestors from the natural world', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 25 April 2024)

Story by Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal, published 8 Feb 2005