What are karakia?
Karakia are the way people communicate with the gods. Te Rangi Hīroa (Peter Buck) suggested a karakia was ‘a formula of words which was chanted to obtain benefit or avert trouble.’1 Karakia were not used to worship or venerate gods. One type of karakia, a tūā, was a spell.
Who used karakia?
Tohunga (priests) were the most appropriate people to use karakia, as they were mediums for the gods. Karakia relied on the words chanted, and also on the mana of the speaker.
All people – children as well as adults – used karakia. For adults, a simple chant to ward off unseen presences was ‘Kuruki, whakataha!’ (Lose power, pass aside.)
Types of karakia
There were numerous kinds of karakia. There were a number of karakia tamariki (children’s karakia). This is a simple karakia for children, to halt the rain:
E rere te kotare
Ki runga i te puwharawhara
Ruru ai ia o parirau
Kei maku o kuao i te ua
Mao, mao te ua
Fly o kingfisher
On to the bunch of astelia
And there shake your wings
Lest your young become wet by the rain
Cease, cease the rain.2
The kī tao type of karakia was used to infuse a weapon with power in battle. Tā kopito was a karakia used for sickness. Tūā moe was a spell used by fowlers to make the tūī go to sleep. Tūā pana was a spell to help with childbirth. Hoa tapuae were a group of karakia used by warriors to increase their speed.
Common endings for traditional karakia are:
Tūturu ka whakamaua kia tina, tina, haumi e, hui e, tāiki e!
Whano, whano, hara mai te toki, haumi e, hui e, tāiki e!
Classes of karakia
Types of karakia include:
- ātahu: love charms
- hoa: to split stones, wither leaves or kill a bird
- hoa tapuae: to give speed to the feet and to retard an opponent
- hono: to unite fractures
- kaha: to gain success in fowling
- kawa: to remove the tapu from new houses
- kī tao: to give power to spears – also known as reo tao.
- kī rākau: to give power to weapons
- ngau paepae: to avert sorcery against a war party
- pou: to fix memory during instruction
- rāoa: to expel the foreign body in choking
- rotu: to put people or the sea to sleep
- tā kōpito: to cure abdominal troubles
- tohi: to instill tapu and mana into a baby
- tohi taua: to sprinkle a war party proceeding to war
- tūā: to dedicate children after cutting the navel cord
- tūā pā: to ward off ill luck
- whai: to cure injuries, burns, choking
- whakanoa: to make common (noa) by removing tapu.