Story: Papatūānuku – the land

Page 6. Birth from the earth – being indigenous

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Indigenous peoples

To be indigenous is to be born from the land where you live, and continually born and reborn through an intimate relationship with earth, sea and sky. Tribal stories of humans born from the land include the fashioning of Hineahuone, the first woman, from the soil of Papatūānuku, and Tuputupu-whenua who emerged from the earth in Northland. Some tribes see themselves as descended from environmental phenomena; for instance, the Tūhoe people say they arose from the mist that surrounds their mountains. These traditions speak of an intimate relationship between humankind and the earth.

Place names and the human body

The human body and the physical landscape were metaphorically united when the Ngāti Toa people named the Tararua Range as Te Tuarātapu-o-Te Rangihaeata – the sacred back of Te Rangihaeata (a Ngāti Toa leader). The naming followed a peace pact between Ngāti Toa on one side of the range and Ngāti Kahungunu on the other.

When the Te Arawa voyaging canoe arrived from Polynesia, crew members laid claim to pieces of land by naming them after parts of their body. This is known as taunaha whenua. The Ōkūrei peninsula at Maketū in the Bay of Plenty was called Te Kūreitanga-o-te-ihu-o-Tamatekapua (the bridge of Tamatekapua’s nose). A small hill nearby was named Te Takapū-o-Tapuika (Tapuika’s belly). A large piece of land was called Te Takapū-o-Waitaha (Waitaha’s belly).

A child of the earth

The idea of being born from the earth is the foundation for kinship between earth and humankind. There is no sense of ownership of land – rather, one is a child of the earth.

How to cite this page:

Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal, 'Papatūānuku – the land - Birth from the earth – being indigenous', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 19 April 2024)

Story by Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal, published 24 Sep 2007