Story: Te Waonui a Tāne – forest mythology

Page 5. Sayings from the forest

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Many whakataukī (sayings) use trees and plants as symbols and metaphors.


The tōtara (Podocarpus totara) is symbolic of a great chief. The following expression describes the death of a chief:

Kua hinga te tōtara i Te Waonui a Tāne.
A tōtara has fallen in the great forest of Tāne.

A great chief is also referred to as a tōtara haemata – a strong-growing tōtara.

Another saying compares people to the tōtara and the pukatea:

Ka haere te tōtara haemata, ka takoto te pukatea wai nui.
The tōtara floats, while the pukatea lies in deep water.

This proverb suggests that young people are like the soft-wooded tōtara – they move around easily and can attend meetings in different areas. Older people are more settled – they are like the pukatea, a tree with heavy wood that grows in swamps.

Human qualities

A difficult person is identified with the stinging ongaonga (tree nettle, Urtica ferox):

He tangata ongaonga.
A prickly person.

A bold and committed person is compared to the maire (Nestegis cunninghamii), a hardwood:

E, ko te matakahi maire.
Like a wedge of maire.

Cowardice is likened to the soft berry of the tawa (Beilschmiedia tawa):

He tawa para, he whati kau tāna.
The pulp of the tawa berry is easily crushed.

A courageous person is compared to the tawa’s hard kernel:

Ka mahi te tawa uho ki te riri.
Well done, tawa kernel fighting away.


Another proverb notes that when a person dies, they return to Te Pō (the darkness) forever, unlike the tī kōuka (cabbage tree), which grows back even if it is cut down.

Ehara i te tī e wana ake.
Man is not like the tī, which renews itself.


Another proverb refers to the tough climbing frond of mangemange (Lygodium articulatum):

Kia pēnei te mārōrō o tō kākahu me te mangemange.
Let your clothes be as strong as the mangemange, which never wears out.
How to cite this page:

Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal, 'Te Waonui a Tāne – forest mythology - Sayings from the forest', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 14 June 2024)

Story by Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal, published 24 Sep 2007