Story: Tūranga i te hapori – status in Māori society

Page 2. Tribal traditions of status and rank

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Creation story

The importance of rank and status is illustrated in the Māori creation story. This shows the interaction between tuākana and tēina (older and younger siblings), and the role of tapu and noa (common).

Following the separation of Ranginui (the sky father) and Papatūānuku (the earth mother) their children fought. Tāwhirimātea, the youngest child, battled against his tuākana. The only brother to stand against him was Tūmatauenga, the god of man and war. As Tūmatauenga defeated his tuākana he became superior to them. He took away their personal tapu and made them noa. These brothers – Tangaroa, Tāne-Mahuta, Haumia and Rongo – all became food for Tūmatauenga, who is represented by humans. Tāwhirimātea kept his personal tapu because Tūmatauenga could not overcome him. This explains why the weather continues to assail people. This story shows that inherited status can be undone through deeds done by oneself or by others.

Kahutiaterangi and Ruatapu

Brothers could inherit very different rankings depending on their age and parentage. Kahutiaterangi and Ruatapu had the same father, Uenuku, but different mothers. Kahutiaterangi was older, and his mother was a senior wife of high status. Ruatapu’s mother was a junior wife who was a captured slave. When Ruatapu was caught putting Kahutiaterangi’s comb in his hair he was publicly berated by his father:

E hika, nāku tonu koe; he tama meamea koe nahaku; he moenga rau-kawakawa, he moenga hau!
Son, while you are mine, you are a bastard son, you were conceived on a bed of leaves, outdoors.

This greatly angered Ruatapu, who took revenge by taking all the leading young men of the tribe out fishing, and then sinking the canoe, killing them and himself. Kahutiaterangi called on his ancestors and they sent a whale, which he rode to shore and safety.

Earned leadership

Ngāti Toarangatira leader Te Rauparaha was not the most senior chief of the tribe. Yet through his leadership and strategic military skills he became a famous head of his iwi.

Tūtānekai and Hinemoa

Tūtānekai was a pōriro (illegitimate child). His mother, Rangiuru, was married to the chief Whakaue, but had an affair with Tūwharetoa. Whakaue treated the child of this liaison, Tūtānekai, as his own. However when Tūtānekai became attracted to a high-born woman, Hinemoa, her family was against the relationship, because of the circumstances of his birth. To prevent Hinemoa from going to Tūtānekai on the island of Mokoia in Lake Rotorua, her brothers removed the paddles from waka on the beach. However she fastened calabashes to her body and floated across the lake, following the sound of Tūtānekai’s pūtorino (flute). They were united and eventually the marriage was accepted.

How to cite this page:

Basil Keane, 'Tūranga i te hapori – status in Māori society - Tribal traditions of status and rank', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 15 April 2024)

Story by Basil Keane, published 5 May 2011