Story: Traditional Māori religion – ngā karakia a te Māori

Page 6. Tūāhu and wāhi tapu

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Tapu places and objects

Particular places and objects were tapu. These included shrines, objects used to contain gods, waterways set aside for religious purposes, and places which were intrinsically tapu, or tapu due to important events which had happened there.


A tūāhu was a simple shrine located away from a kāinga (village). It consisted of a heap of stones. A tūāhu with an enclosed post was a pouahu. A wooden waka (box) containing the tribal god would be kept in the enclosure. Small carved wooden houses set on posts – kawiu – also contained waka. Sometimes a whata (stage) was erected.

Village latrines

Village latrines were known as turuma or paepae. These were used by tohunga in various rituals, including ngau paepae (biting the cross-bar of the latrine).

Wai tapu

A number of rituals required water from a stream or pond. Wai tapu (sacred waters) were set aside for the purpose. These waters were used for the dedication of children to gods, cleansing of people from tapu, and lifting tapu from warriors returning from battle.

Wāhi tapu

Some areas were considered tapu (restricted). These included burial grounds, sites where people had been killed, trees where the whenua (placenta) of children had been placed and the tops of tribal mountains. Certain prohibitions applied to these areas. People either had to stay away from them, or refrain from doing things which would break their tapu, for instance taking food to wāhi tapu.

Taumata atua and godsticks.

Some objects contained atua and were used in ceremonies associated with fertility. Taumatua atua (abiding place of the gods) were images shaped from stone that were placed near food crops as mauri to protect their vitality. Whakapakoko atua or atua kiato (god sticks) were usually carved and had a pointed end so they could be inserted into the ground. They were used as temporary shrines for atua, and were also used to ensure the fertility of crops, or the abundance of fisheries.

How to cite this page:

Basil Keane, 'Traditional Māori religion – ngā karakia a te Māori - Tūāhu and wāhi tapu', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 25 June 2024)

Story by Basil Keane, published 5 May 2011