Story: Love and romance

Page 1. Māori love stories

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Māori relationships between couples were the concern of whānau, hapū and sometimes iwi, not just individuals. Māori love stories combined a focus on passion and the way marriages connected whānau, hapū and iwi. They are still used to illustrate the connection between erotic love and kinship relationships.

Hinemoa and Tūtānekai

The story of Hinemoa and Tūtānekai attracted the attention of Pākehā settlers and has been the inspiration for popular songs and several movies. Its prominence reflects Pākehā conceptions of the ideal love story. The first feature film ever made in New Zealand was Hinemoa (1914), directed by George Tarr. In the early 21st century the story was used to advertise Lake Rotorua as a location for Māori-style weddings.

Perfumed warriors

In the past men as well as women would use perfume to attract potential lovers. Sometimes the bodies of warriors were smeared with honey from the fruit (or pātangatanga) of the kiekie plant as a way of attracting the attentions of women.

Hinemoa and Tūtānekai fell in love, but her family resisted the marriage of the beautiful and high-born Hinemoa to someone of lower social status. Hinemoa would listen each night to the flute music of Tūtānekai and his friend Tiki as the sounds drifted across from their home on the island of Mokoia in Lake Rotorua. When Hinemoa’s family tried to prevent her leaving, she strung together six empty gourds for flotation and swam naked across to Mokoia at night, guided by the sound of the music. Tūtānekai found her warming herself in Waimihia, a warm pool on the island. Clothed in one of his cloaks, Hinemoa returned with Tūtānekai to his village. Their marriage was eventually the source of strong bonds among their kin.

Fleeting love

There is a Māori proverb: ‘Ahakoa, he aroha iti, he pounamu tonu.’ (A love that is brief is love nonetheless.)

Wiremu Maihi Te Rangikāheke produced the first written version of this story in 1849, which includes an account of Tūtānekai’s relationship with Tiki, his close friend or hoa takatāpui. Tiki and Tūtānekai’s story has been used to illustrate the importance for Māori of love between people of the same gender. In the 21st century, many Māori lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people began to identify themselves as takatāpui.

Māhinaarangi and Tūrongo

Māori tribes attach importance to the story of Māhinaarangi and Tūrongo, the parents of Raukawa, the founder of the Ngāti Raukawa iwi.

According to Tainui traditions, Tūrongo and his brother Whatihua were rivals for the affections of the beautiful Ruapūtahanga. Tūrongo married her and they had a child, Uenuku-tū-whatu.

Lost love

Many mōteatea (songs) have lost love as their theme. This is the lament of an East Coast woman for the husband who had deserted her:

Kāore hoki e te pō nei
Tuarua rawa ko Te Huirori
Ko taku hoa moenga ka riro kē …
Pōuri, pōtango, i te tinana ī.

This night has brought to me
Twice a vision of Te Huirori
My sleeping mate has gone elsewhere …
Dark, intensely dark is my lot.

When they broke up, Tūrongo left the Waikato and travelled to Kahotea on the East Coast of the North Island, where he distinguished himself as a builder and a hunter.

He attracted the attention of Māhinaarangi, whose parents approved of their relationship. Māhinaarangi wooed Tūrongo by meeting him late at night on his way home, and whispering in his ear, ‘Taku aroha e te tau; taku aroha!’ (My love, my beloved, my love!) Tūrongo was enchanted by his unknown night-time lover and her perfume made from raukawa leaves. Finally, he recognised her distinctive perfume and realised that she was Māhinaarangi, the puhi of the village.

The marriage of Māhinaarangi and Tūrongo established an alliance between Tainui and the peoples of Te Tai Rāwhiti, especially Ngāti Kahungunu. Tūrongo returned to the Waikato, followed by Māhinaarangi, who gave birth to their son, named Te Mutu-ki-Raukawa, at Ōkoroire. This love story, like that of Hinemoa and Tūtānekai, features a very active heroine who takes the initiative in forging the relationship. It also embeds romance within the wider context of kinship relationships and strategic alliances between kinship groups.

How to cite this page:

Rosemary Du Plessis, 'Love and romance - Māori love stories', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 22 June 2024)

Story by Rosemary Du Plessis, published 5 May 2011, reviewed & revised 1 May 2017