Story: Te hī ika – Māori fishing

Page 1. Tangaroa, god of the sea

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Ko Tangaroa ara rau
Tangaroa of many paths

According to Māori creation traditions the god of the sea and progenitor of fish is Tangaroa, the son of Ranginui (the sky father) and Papatūānuku (the earth mother). Tangaroa’s son Punga was the father of Ikatere and Tūtewehiwehi. Ikatere went to the sea, where he and his children became fish. Tūtewehiwehi journeyed inland, and he and his offspring became reptiles.

In these traditions Tūmatauenga, the god of war, fought with Tangaroa. Their enmity explains why humans, the descendants of Tūmatauenga, go fishing: they are continuing the war against Tangaroa’s progeny, the fish.

Te Ika-a-Māui – Māui’s fish

Fishing features in many Māori traditions. Perhaps the most well-known story is that of the demigod Māui, who hooked the North Island of New Zealand with the jawbone of his grandmother, Murirangawhenua. As he fished, he chanted:

Give to me O ocean,
Weroti’s fish, Werota’s fish
Be it Nuku’s rock or not,
I shall lift you to the sky. 1

Known as Te Ika-a-Māui (Māui’s great fish), the North Island is shaped like a stingray. North Cape is known as Te Hiku o Te Ika (the tail of the fish) and Wellington as Te Ūpoko o Te Ika (the head of the fish).

Kupe and the octopus

In other traditions, the great explorer Kupe is credited with discovering New Zealand. While fishing in his homeland, Hawaiki, he was distracted by a giant octopus belonging to the chief Muturangi. He pursued it and eventually caught it in Cook Strait.

  1. Tāmati R. Poata, The Maori as a fisherman and his methods. Papakura: Southern Reprints, 1989, p. 3 (originally published 1919). › Back
How to cite this page:

Paul Meredith, 'Te hī ika – Māori fishing - Tangaroa, god of the sea', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 15 June 2024)

Story by Paul Meredith, published 12 Jun 2006