The source and destination of life
Hawaiki is a rich, many-sided place in Māori history, mythology and tradition. It is often referred to in songs, proverbs and genealogies. For example, parents welcome their newborn children with the phrase:
E taku pōtiki, kua puta mai rā koe i te toi i Hawaiki.
My child, you are born from the source, which is at Hawaiki.
Similarly, orators farewell the dead with the phrase:
E ngā mate, haere ki Hawaiki,
Ki Hawaiki nui, ki Hawaiki roa, ki Hawaiki pāmamao.
To the dead, depart to Hawaiki,
To great Hawaiki, to long Hawaiki, to distant Hawaiki.
Hawaiki is the place from which we are born, and it is where we go after we die. Hawaiki, therefore, is deeply associated with the cycle of birth, life and death.
Hawaiki in Kepa Ehau’s speeches
Orator Kepa Ehau of Ngāti Tarāwhai and Ngāti Whakaue made many eloquent speeches that are still quoted today. One of these, delivered at the funeral of a returned soldier around 1937, gives another insight into the meaning of Hawaiki. It concludes:
‘Te otinga o tāua te tangata, ko Hawaiki-nui, ko Hawaiki-roa, ko Hawaiki-pāmamao. Haere rā i a koe ka kōpikopiko atu ki Te-Hono-i-wairua, ki te kāpunipunitanga o te wairua.’ (The inevitable destiny of mortal men, Hawaiki-nui, Hawaiki-roa, Hawaiki-pāmamao farewell you as you wend your way to Hono-i-wairua, the meeting place of departed souls.)
A place of mystical power
This cyclic dimension is only one aspect of a concept shrouded in mystery and complexity. In some traditions Hawaiki is perceived to be a physical place from which the Māori people first emerged before arriving in New Zealand. Others associate it with certain compass points, particularly the east, or regard it as an actual island located somewhere in Polynesia. Yet others believe that Hawaiki can be found in New Zealand.
All these traditions and versions represent Hawaiki as a special place full of mystical power and regenerating force – the source and origin of life itself. It is the homeland of many of the major figures of tribal mythology and traditions, including Māui, Tāwhaki, Tiki and Rātā. These and many others lived in Hawaiki, and their deeds serve as examples for succeeding generations.
A model for humanity
Over numerous generations Hawaiki has become a mythical template for everything that is good, powerful and benevolent in the traditional Māori world view. The importance of Hawaiki traditions to succeeding generations, as both the source and the model for life, is found in the expression:
Ehara i te mea poka hōu mai: nō Hawaiki mai anō.
It is not a new thing done without proper cause: it has come to us all the way from Hawaiki.
Hawaiki is significant as the place where the fullness of life is first envisioned and experienced. It is the beloved image of life’s origin and purpose. And Hawaiki is where human regeneration is secured and human life finds meaning.