Story: Papatūānuku – the land

Page 1. The importance of Papatūānuku

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Mother earth

In Māori tradition and history, Papatūānuku is profoundly important. Papatūānuku is the land, a mother earth figure who gives birth to all things of the world and imparts many blessings to her children. She is seen as the birthplace of all things and the place to which they return, and is considered a foundation for human action. Papatūānuku is the first kaupapa (platform) in the traditional world view.

Emerging from water

In many Māori creation traditions, Papatūānuku emerged from under water. This reflects the experience of island people living within the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean. A similar theme is expressed in the stories of the legendary trickster Māui fishing up various islands of Polynesia.

Life from the land

After the earth emerged from water, it gave birth to all life. Trees, birds and humans emerge from the land and are nourished by it. Figuratively, humans are born from the womb of Papatūānuku, and return there after death. People’s emotional, intellectual and spiritual selves are born daily from the land, and thought itself is seen as coming from the land.

Land as stability

For an island people, land is hugely important. The traditional Māori world view is based in early Polynesian experience, where whole islands were sometimes lost beneath the sea. The world seemed unstable, as it consisted mainly of water. Land could not be taken for granted. A person’s search for their own foundation, values and principles is compared to a journeying canoe looking for land. An island comes as relief to the weary ocean traveller.

A place to stand

These ideas inform the concept of tūrangawaewae – a place to stand. In the Māori world view, much of life is about finding one’s tūrangawaewae, one’s foundation and place in the world. This is traditionally expressed through a people’s relationship with particular places, such as a mountain, a river and other important sites.

How to cite this page:

Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal, 'Papatūānuku – the land - The importance of Papatūānuku', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 21 May 2024)

Story by Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal, published 24 Sep 2007