Story: Kōrero taiao

Page 2. Good and bad qualities

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Good qualities

Individuals were encouraged to take on good qualities by being compared with examples in nature.

Great endurance was praised with the saying ‘Manawa tītī’ (the heart of a tītī, or petrel), as this bird was noted for its ability to stay aloft for long periods at sea. A person was encouraged to be as firm as ‘te toka tū moana’ (the boulder standing in the sea), not like ‘te toka rurenga tai, neneke i te ngaru’ (the rock rolling in the tide, shifted by a wave).

A lookout person was exhorted to have an eye like the star Rēhua (Antares), which was unblinking. But someone with a sharp eye for small objects was said to have ‘he kanohi hōmiromiro’ – the eye of a tomtit, which was noted for this ability.

Individuals were also encouraged to succeed by looking at how birds and grubs could overcome the lofty kahikatea (white pine). One saying was ‘He iti te kōpara ka rērere i te puhi o te kahikatea’ (though the bellbird is small, it can reach the crown of the kahikatea). Another was ‘He iti te mokoroa nāna i kakati te kahikatea (though the grub is small, it gnaws away at the white pine).


Tribal society was communal and it was vital that each person contributed. Because the economy involved group effort, for example in agriculture, fishing, and hunting, qualities such as laziness were particularly despised. Lazy people were said to be like the koekoeā (long-tailed cuckoo), which often left its eggs to be hatched in the nest of the tātaihore (whitehead). Similarly, there was the pointed question ‘I hea koe i te tangi o te pīpīwharauroa?’ (Where were you when the shining cuckoo sang?). When the bird’s call signalled the time for all to help with planting, some people stayed away – but they showed up to eat at harvest time.

In the same way, a person who put in a short burst of activity was likely to be labelled ‘He harore rangitahi’ (a one-day mushroom). With so much work to be done, late sleepers were reviled. They were compared to the native dandelion that opens late in the day: ‘E moe tonu ana te tohetaka’ (the dandelion still sleeps).


Food was a communal resource, so gluttony was frowned on. A greedy person was said to have the mouth of the voracious kahawai fish, or a ‘puku taniwha’ (shark’s stomach). The saying ‘He kākā honihoni, he kūkū tangai nui’ (a nibbling parrot, a pigeon with a stuffed crop) compared the small appetite of the kākā (parrot) with the greed of the kūkū (New Zealand pigeon).

How to cite this page:

Basil Keane, 'Kōrero taiao - Good and bad qualities', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 23 July 2024)

Story by Basil Keane, published 24 Sep 2007