Story: Tāwhirimātea – the weather

Page 5. Wind and storms

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The four winds

Te whānau puhi, the wind family, comprises many different winds. The common word for wind is hau. Hauraro is the north wind, or wind from below. Tonga is the south wind, and Hauāuru the west. There are numerous tribal names for winds.

The east wind was known as Marangai, also meaning a storm, or bad weather. However, in some districts, marangai meant the north wind. It is likely that its meaning depended on the quarter from which bad weather tended to come in that district. Similarly, ori meant wind from a bad quarter and could be north-west, or north-east to south-east, depending on the locality.

Local wind names

Particular districts had specific names for winds:

  • Ōkiwa is the wind that blows down the valley of Whakatāne.
  • Pāwhare is the north-north-east wind in Hawke’s Bay.
  • In Taranaki pieke meant the east wind with rain.
  • To the Ngāi Tahu people, Rakamaomao was the group of winds that blew from the south and north. Within this group, Te Pūnui o Te Toka was the southerly and Rakamaomao’s child Tiu was the northern wind.
  • To Ngāti Porou, tonga huruhuru was the south-south-east wind.

Raising the wind

It was thought that tohunga (priests) were able to bring winds that would favour their own people, or upset the enemy. They used prayers known as whakaarahau. Pururangi, or tūāumuiterangi, were the incantations that deprived winds of their power – for instance, to bring about calm weather for a fishing trip.

Tolaga Bay

On his first voyage to New Zealand in 1769, Captain James Cook arrived at a spot on the East Coast of the North Island, and named it Tolaga Bay. He believed that this was the Māori name. But Rēweti Kōhere of Ngāti Porou has noted that the name was actually Ūāwa. Māori who met Cook thought he was asking what the name of the wind was, and so they said Tāraki (north wind). Tolaga is a corruption of Tāraki.


Āwha, tūpuhi and marangai were all storms. A rōpu was a squall and a taupoki was a hurricane. The saying, ‘Ngā uaua o te whitu rāua ko te ono’ (meaning ‘the strenuous times of the sixth and seventh months’ in the traditional calendar) referred to the gales and extreme weather that could begin in the warmer months of November and December.


Whaitiri or Hinewhaitiri was the goddess of thunder. Papaki whaititiri was a clap of thunder, while paoro was the moment when thunder crashed. Aputahi a pawa was both the personification of thunder and a single peal. Ngaruru mai rangi described a low, continued, rumbling thunder. Tangi pōhutu was a loud peal of thunder. Oho rangi was a rite that was believed to cause thunder.


Tamateuira is the god who personifies lightning, and the ancestor Tāwhaki was also associated with lightning. The Moriori people of the Chatham Islands linked Tāwhaki with both lightning and thunder.

In the early 1900s Teone (Hōne) Taare Tīkao, a Ngāi Tahu elder, described three types of lightning. He said uira was ordinary lightning, kohara was the zigzag flashes of lightning across the sky, and kapo was an occasional flash all round the horizon, which he believed was a sign of wind.

Lightning and death

The association between lightning and death was described by the Ngāti Porou leader Tuta Nihoniho:

Signs on the mountain

A rua kōhā or rua kanapu was a place, usually a mountain top, where lightning was seen. A double flash is particularly dramatic on a mountain, and was seen as a sign that an important member of the tribe had passed away, or might soon do so. There are frequent references in tribal laments to lightning flashing over important mountains.

Kia ata titiro ki te hiko, haunga ia te uira me te kanapu, ko te hiko hiko he toto rangatira e hinga i te parekura, i te waka tahuri, i te whare wera ranei, i te mate tupapaku ranei.
Look carefully at the distant lightning, and disregard the ordinary lightning and the gleaming electric lightning at the horizon. Distant lightning predicts the death of chiefs in battle, or an overturned canoe, or a fire, or a natural death.

The connection with death is also made in a lament for Te Huhu, a chief of Te Rarawa:

Tērā te uira e hiko i te rangi
E wahi rua ana rā runga o Tauwhare
Kāore ia nei ko te tohu o te mate.
The lightning flashes in the sky
Splitting in twain over the sacred hill Tauwhare
Assuredly a token of death. 1
  1. Tuta Nihoniho, ‘Uenuku or kahukura, the rainbow god of war.’ Te Ao Hou 26 (March 1959): 50–53. Last accessed 4 May 2006. › Back
How to cite this page:

Basil Keane, 'Tāwhirimātea – the weather - Wind and storms', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 23 October 2021)

Story by Basil Keane, published 12 Jun 2006