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Nga Purakau me Nga Pakiwaitara - Myths and legends

Matariki pattern

Why are myths and legends important?

Myths and legends are often stories of origins, how the world and everything in it came to be. As such they form an integral part of cultural identity. Maori have many myths legends which help to explain human existence, characteristics of human nature, the environment and the basis of a Maori cultural worldview.

Common themes

Maori myths and legends reflect themes commonly found in the stories of indigenous cultures.

Matariki papatuanuku
  • Sky and earth

    In Maori mythology the sky father, Rangi, is masculine and the earth mother, Papatuanuku, is feminine. They were clasped together and the world (between them) existed in total darkness. Their children lived in this darkness, trapped between their parents.
  • The struggle of the generations

    In Maori mythology the separation of sky and earth allowed light to enter the world which in turn led to the growth of all plants and animals. However, the separation was bitter, painful and precipitated by the children’s need to dominate their parents.
  • Gods and Guardians, Atua and Kaitiaki

    The creation story tells of brothers, gods in their own right, who were restless and bored with being trapped in eternal darkness. They explored options for gaining freedom including Tumatauenga’s (god of man and war) plan that their parents should be killed in order to let light in. Finally, led by Tanemahuta (god of the forest, birds and animals), the parents were separated by his awesome strength, never to embrace again.
  • Other Gods

    Traditionally Maori acknowledge many gods, both male and female, which are referred to the cultural stories. Gods such as Rongomatane god of cultivated foods, Haumietiketike god of uncultivated foods, Ruaumoko god of earthquakes and volcanoes, Tawhirimatea god of wind and storm and Tangaroa god of the sea are still commonly acknowledged in Maori karakia (prayer).

Each tribe, hapu (sub-tribe) and whanau (extended family) also has its own stories which describe and explain the significant characters and events in their history. These stories have been passed down through the generations as oral histories or through artwork such as carvings.