Story: Te Ao Mārama – the natural world

Page 1. The traditional Māori world view

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The cycle of the sun

The rising of the sun, the journey it makes across the sky, and its setting in the west is a cosmic mystery. Because this cycle is repeated every day, traditional Māori considered it the basic principle of the world. The sun represents the birth and growth of mana (power) in the world. The birth, rise and death of the sun came to be the primary model for all existence – all of life should in some way give expression to this pattern.

The orator’s role

When an orator rises to speak on a marae, he will often announce himself by saying:

Tihē mauriora
Ki te whaiao, ki Te Ao Mārama
The breath, the energy of life
To the dawnlight, to the world of light

The words refer to a world constantly emerging from darkness into light.

The orator’s speech is considered to be a re-enactment of Tāne separating earth and sky, the means by which light came into the world. Tāne was the father of humankind. When he separated his parents, Papatūānuku (the earth mother) and Ranginui (the sky father), the sun was able to shine into the world that was created. If the orator’s words offer guidance and wisdom, he brings his audience out of the ‘night’ of conflict and into the ‘day’ of peace and resolution. This occurs when mana (a spiritual force) enters the person – just as the sun illuminates and brings forth the new day.

Understanding a world view

Looking back on history, we try to imagine the world view of the people of that time. Inevitably we see the past, or a traditional philosophy of life, through the lens of our own knowledge and experience. A people’s world view is complex and dynamic.

The world view of Māori changed immediately after they arrived in New Zealand. Encounter with European settlers brought further change. It is not possible to say that there is a single viewpoint in Māori culture today. The ideas set out here are only an attempt to understand the world view of Māori before Europeans arrived.

How to cite this page:

Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal, 'Te Ao Mārama – the natural world - The traditional Māori world view', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 22 May 2024)

Story by Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal, published 24 Sep 2007