Story: Hawaiki

Hawaiki – a real island? Or a mythical place?

Hawaiki is the traditional Māori place of origin. The first Māori are said to have sailed to New Zealand from Hawaiki. And in Māori mythology Hawaiki is the place where Io, the supreme being, created the world and its first people. It is the place from which each person comes, and it is where each will return after death.

Story by Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal
Main image: ‘Hawaiki’, by Wilhelm Dittmer

Story summary

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The source of life

Hawaiki is a place of great importance in Māori tradition, and appears in many songs, proverbs and whakapapa (genealogies). In tradition, the ancestors of Māori came to New Zealand from Hawaiki, navigating the seas in their canoes.

Hawaiki is seen as the place from which humans are born, and to which they go after death – it is strongly associated with the cycle of birth, life and death. Hawaiki represents all that is good and powerful. It is a mystical place, where people turn into birds or descend to the underworld

Home of the gods

In some traditions, the supreme being Io created Hawaiki. The gods are believed to live there, including the trickster demigod Māui, whose deeds are famous throughout Polynesia. The first woman, Hineahuone, was fashioned from the soil of Hawaiki.

Location unknown

Māori and Pākehā alike have wondered about the true location of Hawaiki. The actual location has never been confirmed, and it is uncertain if it is a real, physical island, or a mythical place. Some have associated Hawaiki with the Tahitian island Ra‘iātea (Rangiātea, in Māori). Like Hawaiki, Rangiātea is seen as both a physical and spiritual place.

Some people thought that Māori might have originated from Polynesia, India, or even Mesopotamia. More recent scholars have admitted it is difficult to decide on the 'true' location of a place that is also mythological.

How to cite this page:

Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal, 'Hawaiki', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 22 April 2024)

Story by Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal, published 8 February 2005, updated 1 April 2015