Story: Te Ao Mārama – the natural world

Page 4. The importance of the land

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Ideas about origins

Until the arrival of Europeans in the late 1700s, Māori held a world view that originated in their Polynesian homeland. This grew and changed according to life in the new land. The Polynesian influence is still widely evident, although it is challenged by some.

Springing from the land

Some iwi (tribes) hold that their ancestors did not come from over the sea, but sprang from the New Zealand landscape. For example, the Ngāi Tūhoe people claim that their ancestor is Hinepūkohurangi, the mist that dwells in the valleys of the Urewera Ranges. Similarly, Ngāti Whātua tradition states that their ancestor, Tuputupu-whenua, came up from beneath the ground. Some Whanganui traditions speak of the inland mountains as their place of birth.

People’s place in the world

The world is a vast family, and humans are children of the earth and sky, and cousins to all living things. Such unity means that nature is the ultimate teacher about life.

Traditional knowledge is inspired by heritage, passed down the generations by word of mouth. There is no alternative – to ensure success in fishing, long journeys, or handling life’s challenges, you have to trust your ancestors, who include the entire natural world.

Tangata whenua – people of the land

Humans are born of the earth and achieve fulfilment when the earth speaks through the human community. True tangata whenua (people of the land) can speak authoritatively about the world they inhabit – the animals, plants, weather patterns and natural rhythms of life. Tangata whenua are descendants of other tangata whenua, and know the histories of their forebears and how life spoke through them.

According to this world view, when people are asked about their identity, they do not mention themselves directly. They refer to their mountain, their river, and their esteemed ancestor. For example, a Ngāti Tūwharetoa person from the Taupō region would respond in this way:

Ko Tongariro te maunga
Ko Taupō te moana
Ko Te Heuheu te tangata.
Tongariro is the mountain
Taupō is the waterway
Te Heuheu is the person.
How to cite this page:

Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal, 'Te Ao Mārama – the natural world - The importance of the land', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/te-ao-marama-the-natural-world/page-4 (accessed 25 August 2019)

Story by Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal, published 24 Sep 2007