Story: Te whānau tamariki – pregnancy and birth

Page 1. Birth in Māori tradition

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Hineteiwaiwa, along with Hinauri, Hina and Rona, Hine-kōtea, Hine-kōrito, Hine-mākehu and Hine-korako, are ancestral names in Māori cosmology, associated with the procreation of life and the rhythms of life. They are commonly linked to pregnancy and birth, as well as navigation, fishing practices, the cultivation of food, weaving and other traditional activities. All of these are guided by, and explained by, the phases of the moon, the configuration of the stars, and seasonal weather patterns. Hineteiwaiwa is perhaps the most widely known atua.

The first birth

The original parents were Ranginui, the sky father, and Papatūānuku, the Earth mother. Papatūānuku gave birth to children, who remained in the dark because their parents were locked in an embrace. The children, led by Tāne, separated their parents, so they could live in the light.


In tradition, the first woman was not born, but made. Her name – Hineahuone – means earth-formed maiden. Tāne, god of the forest, formed her and then breathed life into her. Hineahuone married Tāne and they had a daughter, Hinetītama. Tāne later married Hinetītama and recited a long karakia to cause her to conceive. Her child was Hine-rau-whārangi and she was the first to undergo the tohi ceremony. When Hinetītama found that Tāne was her father, she fled to the underworld. She became Hine-nui-te-pō, the goddess of death.


Tiki is also associated with the first woman. In some traditions, he was a brother of Tāne and Tūmatauenga, the god of war; in other versions he was formed by them. Tiki was an atua. He had a wife, Marikoriko (twilight), who was formed out of earth by the Arohirohi, the shimmering heat of the sun, or an echo. Their first-born daughter was Kauatata.


In one tribal tradition the ancestor Māui was either miscarried (whānau karukaru) or stillborn (kahu). He was wrapped up in the tikitiki (top knot) of his mother Taranga, hence his full name, Māui-tikitiki-a-Taranga. Taranga cast him into the sea, but he washed ashore and was tended to by his grandfather. People believed stillborn children became malignant spirits (atua kahukahu).

Whakapapa of the natural world

Whakapapa linked Māori ancestors to the natural world. Rongo-māui stole kūmara from his brother Whānui (the star Vega). He impregnated his wife Pani, who gave birth to kūmara. Though she cooked the kūmara to remove its tapu, she was discovered. She fled in shame to the underworld with her daughter Hinemataiti, who was the ancestor of kiore (rats).


One ancestor, Tura, laid down the practices for childbirth. He landed on an island inhabited by strangers and married a woman named Turakihau, who became pregnant. When it was time to give birth Turakihau’s relatives arrived with gifts of matā (obsidian), and began to weep for her. Tura asked why, his wife explained that her child would be cut out with the obsidian, and she would die, because that was how her people gave birth. Tura built a house for her to give birth in, with two posts inside. The first (pou-tama-wahine) was for her to hold on to and the second (pou-tama-tāne) was for her to lean against. Once the child was born Tura cut the umbilical cord and offered the whenua (placenta) to the atua (god) Mua. The child was named Tauiraahua and underwent the tohi rite.


Whakapapa (genealogy) forms the foundation of Māori philosophy. Birth is the instrument by which whakapapa is created. All things are related through whakapapa – the gods, natural phenomena, humans and all other living things. Whakapapa provides a way of understanding the universe and its past, present and future.

How to cite this page:

Hope Tupara, 'Te whānau tamariki – pregnancy and birth - Birth in Māori tradition', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 25 April 2024)

Story by Hope Tupara, published 5 May 2011, updated 1 Jun 2017