A Concise Encyclopedia of Maori Myth and Legend

A Concise Encyclopedia of Maori Myth and Legend

A Concise Encyclopedia of Maori Myth and Legend

A Concise Encyclopedia of Maori Myth and Legend


A guide for educational use, and home reference. More than 300 entries, arranged alphabetically, look at myths and legends, religious beliefs, folklore, and history. They draw on oral history, and on written records from the nineteenth century. Based on the author's 'The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Maori Myth and Legend'.


In traditional Māori belief the sky, Rangi, is the first male and the earth, Papa, the first female. In the beginning these two lay embraced, then they were pushed apart by one of their sons, Tāne [Male], to make room for people to live between them. Afterwards Tāne fathered trees, birds, and last of all, human beings.

The history of the world is the history of ancestors [tūpuna]. The traditions vary somewhat, but Tāne's brothers often include Tangaroa, father of sea creatures; Tū, the first warrior; Rongo, father of the kūmara; Haumia, father of fernroot; and Tāwhirimātea, father of the winds. Sometimes there are others as well. In one tradition Tāne has a sister, Wainui [Great waters], the mother and origin of water.

Since humans and other life forms are bound by the indissoluble ties of kinship, Māori did not see their existence as something separate and opposed to the world around them. Birds, fish and plants, along with natural phenomena such as the moon, mist, wind and rocks, were felt to possess a life essentially similar to that of human beings. There was not the sharp distinction between nature and culture that occurs in Western thought.

Between them, the earliest ancestors and their immediate descendants determined the characteristic behaviour [tikanga] of men and women, natural phenomena, and other life forms; they set the pattern for their descendants, who behave now as they did then. Men going fishing on the ocean, for instance, are siding with their creator, Tāne, in his ancient quarrel with Tangaroa, father of the fish--and their waka itself is Tāne, because it is hollowed from a tree, another of Tāne's children.

Succeeding generations, who are exclusively human, become rather more specialised in their activities. Some of these early ancestors satisfy human needs, as when the trickster hero Māui acquires fire, invents spear- points, slows the passage of the sun, and pulls up the fish that becomes Aotea (the North Island).

Further down the genealogies [whakapapa] we come to the men and women who leave their homes in Hawaiki to sail to Aotearoa and become ancestors of the peoples now living in different parts of the country. Traditions telling of such voyages exist in every region.

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