Story: Papatūānuku – the land

Page 4. Whenua – the placenta

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The placenta

The Māori word for land, whenua, also means placenta. All life is seen as being born from the womb of Papatūānuku, under the sea. The lands that appear above water are placentas from her womb. They float, forming islands.

The womb of the world

In another perspective, all life takes place within the womb of the world. In that womb, preparations are being made for a new world. We are children within the womb of the world, soon to be born into another reality.

Tangata whenua

Tangata whenua – literally, people of the land – are those who have authority in a particular place. This is based on their deep relationship with that place, through their births and their ancestors’ births. As tangata whenua express themselves in that place, they gain the authority and confidence to project themselves into the world. This idea, in turn, underpins the notion of mana whenua – spiritual authority in a given area.

Burying a placenta

Traditionally, the whenua (placenta) and pito (umbilical cord) of newborn babies are buried in a significant place. The placenta is placed in a specially prepared receptacle and buried in a particular location. This practice reinforces the relationship between the newborn child and the land of their birth.

Te pito – the umbilical cord

The place where one’s umbilical cord was severed is called ‘te wāhi i kotia ai te pito’. This is a place of special importance for each person. It is their place of first emergence into the world, of first maturation and foundation.

How to cite this page:

Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal, 'Papatūānuku – the land - Whenua – the placenta', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 20 May 2024)

Story by Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal, published 24 Sep 2007