Story: Te Ao Mārama – the natural world

The natural world forms a cosmic family, in the traditional Māori view. The weather, birds, fish and trees, sun and moon are related to each other, and to the people of the land.

Story by Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal
Main image: Sunset at Te Kaha

Story summary

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The world is a family

Māori people traditionally believed that in nature everything was linked together. Birds, fish, people, even the wind and sun, were all part of a big family.

The gods and their families

In the Māori story of creation, the world began when the earth mother, Papatūānuku, and sky father, Ranginui, came together to produce 70 children. The children separated their parents, pushing Rangi up and letting in the light.

Each child became a god of some part of nature, such as the forest or the wind. Then they had children of their own. For example Tangaroa, god of the sea, produced all the fish. And so the family of nature, including humans, came into being.


Experts with special knowledge would recite whakapapa (stories, genealogies). They listed the ancestors of humans, animals, trees and other things in the natural world.

These storytellers would also explain things in nature, such as why the New Zealand pigeon has colourful feathers. In this way, they passed knowledge down the generations.

Tangata whenua – people of the land

Often when Māori identify themselves they talk of the mountains, lakes or rivers that are important to their tribe. The Ngāi Tūhoe people believe their ancestor was the mist that covers the Urewera mountains.

Light and dark

Day and night were called Te Ao (light) and Te Pō (darkness). Māori linked light with peace and understanding, and darkness with conflict and confusion. The rising and setting of the sun also symbolised the cycle of birth and death.

Te Kore

Beyond light and dark lies the mysterious world of Te Kore. Some people experience this spiritual place in their everyday life. They feel the presence of a higher power or supreme being.

Mana, mauri and tapu

  • Mana is a spiritual power which comes to certain people and objects. The most important mana comes from Te Kore.
  • Mauri is the energy inside all things, and mana flows through it. Mauri stones were placed in a fishing net to attract fish.
  • Tapu means sacred. People or things that are tapu can bring mana. There are many rules to protect tapu. For instance, some priests were not allowed to handle food as it could remove their tapu.
How to cite this page:

Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal, 'Te Ao Mārama – the natural world', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 25 April 2024)

Story by Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal, published 24 September 2007