Story: Tāwhirimātea – the weather

New Zealand’s rapid weather changes, frequent rain, distinctive cloud patterns and strong winds all had a huge influence on the daily life of Māori. Each region developed a rich store of words, sayings and traditions relating to the domain of Tāwhirimātea – god of the weather.

Story by Basil Keane
Main image: Tāwhirimātea, god of the weather

Story Summary

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The weather was very important in Māori life. The seasons, the wind and the rain affected daily activities, especially growing crops and fishing. There were dozens of words to describe the weather. There were also stories to explain wind, thunder, rainbows and other natural events.

Tāwhirimātea’s battle

In Māori tradition, Tāwhirimātea was the god of the weather. His parents were Ranginui (the sky father) and Papatūānuku (the earth mother), who lay close together. To let light into the world, Tāwhirimātea’s brothers separated their parents. But Tāwhirimātea did not agree to this. To show his anger he sent out his children, the four winds, and clouds that brought rain and thunderstorms.

This destroyed trees in the forests ruled by his brother Tāne. But Tāwhirimātea could not defeat his brother Tūmatauenga, god of the people. So the battle between people and the weather continues today.

The seasons

  • Spring was the time for digging the soil, ready for planting. The word for spring, kōanga, includes the word kō – a digging stick. Spring begins in September in the southern hemisphere.
  • In summer (raumati) a bright star, called Antares or Rehua, appears. The cicadas that sing in warm weather were called Rehua’s birds.
  • Autumn (ngahuru) was often a good time, because food was harvested. The name ngahuru means ten: February–March was the tenth month in the Māori calendar.
  • In winter a star called Sirius rises. Māori called it Takurua, which also means winter.

Clouds (kapua)

Different cloud patterns were named after familiar things, such as a belt, or rows of soil. People predicted the weather from certain clouds. Clouds that brought rain and wind were called ‘atiru’.

Rain (ua)

It often rains in New Zealand, so there were dozens of words to describe rain. Raindrops were linked with the sadness of death, because they fall like tears.

Wind (hau)

Tribes had their own names for local winds. In Taranaki, ‘pieke’ was the east wind with rain. Tohunga (priests) used prayers to change the winds, for instance so that people could go fishing.

Thunder and lightning

Whaitiri was the goddess of thunder, but there were also other names. Tama-te-uira was the god of lightning. A lightning strike on a tribal mountain was a sign of death, perhaps of an important chief.

How to cite this page:

Basil Keane, 'Tāwhirimātea – the weather', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/tawhirimatea-the-weather (accessed 17 December 2018)

Story by Basil Keane, published 12 Jun 2006