Story: Ngā mātua – Māori parenting

Page 1. Parenting in tradition and history

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Ranginui and Papatūānuku

The first parents in Māori tradition were the atua (gods) Ranginui (sky father) and Papatūānuku (earth mother). In the creation stories they held their children in their eternal embrace in the darkness. Ultimately, the children separated their parents – which in one tradition was considered the first sin.

Tāne and Hineahuone

In Māori tradition humans are descended from the gods. However, the gods sought te ira tangata (the human element). Tāne, a son of Ranginui and Papatūānuku, shaped the first woman, Hineahuone, from clay and gave her life. Tāne then fathered Hinetītama, the dawn maiden, with Hineahuone.

In another tribal tradition humans originated with Tiki. He is either the brother of Tāne and Tūmatauenga, or was created by them. His wife was Marikoriko (twilight) and their daughter was Kauataata.

Taranga and Makeatutara

The demigod Māui was given the name Māui-tikitiki-a-taranga (Māui wrapped in the topknot of Taranga) because he was stillborn and his mother Taranga cast him into the sea in her topknot. Māui was revived and raised by his grandfather, Tamanui-ki-te-rangi, and was later reunited with his mother. However, he wanted to find his father. After following his mother he finally met his father, Makeatutara.

This illustrates a common theme in Māori tradition, of boys who grow up without their father and later go to seek him. Examples include Uenuku, son of Rāhiri, the founding ancestor of Ngāpuhi; Rangiteaorere of Te Arawa; and Tamainupō of Waikato.

Status: Ruatapu and Paikea

In traditional society the status of the child was dependent on the status of both parents.

In the ancestral homeland of Hawaiki, the ancestress Paimahutonga was captured by Uenuku, and later had a child with him. Uenuku later made it clear to their son, Ruatapu, that he was of low status, whereas his brother Kahutiaterangi had a mother who was of high birth within Uenuku’s tribe. In revenge Ruatapu sought to drown all the leading young men of the village. Only Kahutiaterangi (who became known as Paikea) survived.

Early history

The records of early European visitors suggest that Māori children were indulged and led a rather carefree life, full of play. An early French explorer, Julien Crozet, commented that ‘[the women] seemed to be good mothers and showed affection for their offspring. I have often seen them play with the children, caress them, chew the fern root, pick at the stringy parts, and then take it out of their mouth to put it into that of their nurslings. The men were also very fond of and kind to their children.’1

French missionary Jean-Simon Bernard wrote in 1844, ‘The children here are completely free; the parents never do anything to them. They never beat them and do not allow anyone else to beat them.’ 2 This freedom was judged harshly by the standards of Victorian England.

  1. Quoted in Anne Salmond, Two worlds: first meetings between Maori and Europeans, 1642–1772. Auckland: Viking, 1993, p. 422. Back
  2. Two worlds, p. 422. Back
How to cite this page:

Cindy Kiro, 'Ngā mātua – Māori parenting - Parenting in tradition and history', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 22 June 2024)

Story by Cindy Kiro, published 5 May 2011, updated 1 Jun 2017