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Mori culture is rich in legends or prkau.

Forms of the legends

The three forms of expression prominent in Mori and Polynesian oral literature are genealogical
recital, poetry, and narrative prose.
Genealogical recital
The reciting of genealogies (whakapapa) was particularly well developed in Mori oral literature,
where it served several functions in the recounting of tradition. Firstly it served to provide a kind of
time scale which unified all Mori myth, tradition, and history, from the distant past to the present.
It linked living people to the gods and the legendary heroes. By quoting appropriate genealogical
lines, a narrator emphasised his or her connection with the characters whose deeds were being
described, and that connection also proved that the narrator had the right to speak of them. "In the
cosmogonic genealogies, to be described later, genealogical recital is revealed as a true literary form.
What appears at first sight to be a mere listing of names is in fact a cryptic account of the evolution
of the universe"' (Biggs 1966:447).
Poetry and song
Mori poetry was always sung or chanted; musical rhythms rather than linguistic devices served to
distinguish it from prose. Rhyme or assonance were not devices used by the Mori; only when a
given text is sung or chanted will the metre become apparent. The lines are indicated by features of
the music. The language of poetry tends to differ stylistically from prose. Typical features of poetic
diction are the use of synonyms or contrastive opposites, and the repetition of key words. "Archaic
words are common, including many which have lost any specific meaning and acquired a religious
mystique. Abbreviated, sometimes cryptic utterances and the use of certain grammatical
constructions not found in prose are also common" (Biggs 1966:447-448).
Prose narrative
Prose narrative forms the great bulk of Mori legendary material. Some appears to have been sacred
or esoteric, but many of the legends were well-known stories told as entertainment in the long
nights of winter. "Nevertheless, they should not be regarded simply as fairy tales to be enjoyed only
as stories. The Mui myth, for example, was important not only as entertainment but also because it
embodied the beliefs of the people concerning such things as the origin of fire, of death, and of the
land in which they lived. The ritual chants concerning firemaking, fishing, death, and so on made
reference to Mui and derived their power from such reference" (Biggs 1966:448).

Detail from a thh (ridgepole of a house), Ngti Awa, Bay of Plenty, New Zealand, circa 1840.
Believed to represent one of two ancestors: Twharetoa or Kahungunu.
Myths are set in the remote past and their content often have to do with the supernatural. They
present Mori ideas about the creation of the universe and the origins of gods and of people. The
mythology accounts for natural phenomena, the weather, the stars and the moon, the fish of the
sea, the birds of the forest, and the forests themselves. Much of the culturally institutioned
behaviour of the people finds its sanctions in myth. "Perhaps the most distinctive feature of myth, as
distinct from tradition, is its universality. Each of the major myths is known in some version not only
throughout New Zealand but also over much of Polynesia as well" (Biggs 1966:448).
The Mori understanding of the development of the universe was expressed in genealogical form.
These genealogies appear in many versions, in which several symbolic themes constantly recur.
"Evolution may be likened to a series of periods of darkness (p) or voids (kore), each numbered in
sequence or qualified by some descriptive term. In some cases the periods of darkness are
succeeded by periods of light (ao). In other versions the evolution of the universe is likened to a tree,
with its base, tap roots, branching roots, and root hairs. Another theme likens evolution to the
development of a child in the womb, as in the sequence the seeking, the searching, the conception,
the growth, the feeling, the thought, the mind, the desire, the knowledge, the form, the quickening.
Some, or all, of these themes may appear in the same genealogy" (Biggs 1966:448). The cosmogonic
genealogies are usually brought to a close by the two names Rangi and Papa (father sky and mother
earth). The marriage of this celestial pair produced the gods and, in due course, all the living things
of the earth (Biggs 1966:448).
The earliest full account of the origins of gods and the first human beings is contained in a
manuscript entitled Nga Tama a Rangi (The Sons of Heaven), written in 1849 by W Maihi Te
Rangikheke, of the Ngti Rangiwewehi tribe of Rotorua. The manuscript "gives a clear and
systematic account of Mori religious beliefs and beliefs about the origin of many natural
phenomena, the creation of woman, the origin of death, and the fishing up of lands. No other
version of this myth is presented in such a connected and systematic way, but all early accounts,
from whatever area or tribe, confirm the general validity of the Rangikheke version. It begins as
follows: 'My friends, listen to me. The Mori people stem from only one source, namely the Great-
heaven-which-stands-above, and the Earth-which-lies-below. According to Europeans, God made
heaven and earth and all things. According to the Mori, Heaven (Rangi) and Earth (Papa) are
themselves the source' " (Biggs 1966:448).

Kupe, and the discovery of Aotearoa (New Zealand).

Although Maui fished up the North and South Islands, it was the great Polynesian navigator Kupe
who discovered them. Kupe lived in Hawaiiki, mythical ancestral homeland of the Mori. In
Hawaiiki lived a canoe maker by the name of Toto.
Toto fabricated two huge ocean going canoes from a large tree. One canoe he named Aotea and
the other he named Matahorua. Toto gave his canoe named Aotea to one of his daughters,
Rongorongo, and the other canoe named Matahorua to his other daughter, Kura. It happened
that Kupe desired Kura very much. However, Kura was already the wife of Kupe's cousin
When Hoturapa and Kupe were out fishing one day, Kupe ordered Hoturapa to dive down and
free Kupe's fishing line, which had become tangled. When Hoturapa dived into the sea to free the
tangled line, Kupe sliced through the anchor rope of the canoe, and began to row furiously back
to shore. Hoturapa drowned, but his family were suspicious of the circumstances surrounding his
death. It was, in fact, a plan on Kupe's part to take Hoturapa's wife Kura.
In order to avoid vengeance from Hoturapa's family, Kupe and his own family left Hawaiiki in
Kura's canoe Matahorua. After some time of navigating, Kupe's wife Hine Te Aparangi sighted the
islands of New Zealand, which appeared as land lying beneath a cloud. Because of this, they
named the islands Aotearoa, Land of the Long White Cloud.
As Kupe and his crew were sailing along the coast of this new land, they disturbed a giant octopus,
who was hiding in a coastal cave. Terrified at the sight of a strange canoe filled with human
beings, the huge octopus swam rapidly in front of the Matahorua and took flight, passing through
the strait between the North and South Islands. Kupe followed the octopus, and discovered
modern Cook Strait.
Kupe and the Matahorua eventually caught up with the giant octopus. In defence, the octopus
whipped its enormous tentacles around the canoe, intent on devouring the whole canoe. During
the furious battle which followed with the sea monster, it became obvious that the Matahorua
was in great danger of breaking up.
However, Kupe suddenly had an idea, and threw a large water gourd overboard. The octopus,
thinking that a man had fallen over, released it's tentacles from the Matahorua and turned to
attack the gourd. Kupe seized this opportunity, and waited until the octopus was entwined
around the gourd. Kupe then attacked the head of the octopus with his adze, and the octopus
With his adze, Kupe then cut several islands away from the South Island, and several islands away
from the North Island, including the island of Kapiti. He remained for a short while in modern
Wellington, before continuing northwards up the coast of the North Island, naming various
islands, rivers and harbours on the way. Kupe then returned to Hawaiiki, telling everybody of this
distant cloud capped and high rising land which he had discovered.
He gave instructions on how to return to this new land, but said that he himself would not be
Mori creative arts like weaving and carving celebrate the past and continue to evolve through fresh
inspiration and new materials.
When Mori first arrived in Aotearoa, they encountered a climate that was
extreme compared to their homelands in Polynesia. They adapted quickly
by utilising their existing twining and weaving skills to produce korowai
(cloaks) and other practical objects such as kete (baskets) and whriki
(mats). The most widely used weaving material was (and still is) harakeke -
otherwise known as New Zealand flax.
"Maori weaving is full of symbolism and hidden meanings. embodied with the spiritual values and
beliefs of the Maori people."
- Erenora Puketapu-Hetet, 1989.
"Weaving is more than just a product of manual skills. From the simple rourou food basket to the
prestigious kahu kiwi [kiwi feather cloak], weaving is endowed with the very essence of the spiritual
values of Maori people. The ancient Polynesian belief is that the artist is a vehicle through whom the
gods create".
- Erenora Puketapu-Hetet 1989 p2
"Of all the Maori weaving techniques, raranga is the one that has best survived colonisation. It also
has the strongest links with Pacific Island weaving".
- Erenora Puketapu-Hetet, 1989, p44.

The sybolism and hidden meanings are contained in the many patterns, both ancient and modern,
used in the many forms of weaving, and in the fibres themselves.
For Maori, raranga is also a powerful symbol that evokes tribal memories of the ancestors and the
arts they brought with them to Aotearoa / New Zealand, and that the ancestors passed down to us.
A living art and a living symbol that has survived with us, our language and culture, and that moves
with us beyond the temporary setbacks of the colonial era.
The kete itself has power as a symbol for a container of knowledge and wisdom. This is an ancient
symbolism contained in the story of how Tane-te-Wananga obtained for all mankind the
three kete of knowledge from Io, the supreme spiritual power.
Raranga is still in use in every day household products, and is living symbolic proof that our culture
has survived.
In many ways the kete / basket, carried now by many Maori men and women in lieu of purses,
handbags and briefcases, has become a symbol of liberation from the shackles of an alien Western
European culture which has tried for two hundred years to submerge, and at times to obliterate, all
traces of Maori culture.
Raranga evokes all these feelings. And it evokes strong feelings of unity and togetherness; the
weaving together of the people into their families and tribes and into the Maori nation, and
spiritually, the weaving together of all of creation into a single indivisible living wholeness.
Raranga also serves as a symbol for this website; the gradual weaving together of many strands of
information, insight and knowledge into a story of the Maori people of Aotearoa / New Zealand..
Whakairo the art of carving
Rather than purely being decorative, whakairo (Mori carvings) each give a unique narrative. The
stories passed down through generations explain cultural traditions and tribal history. Traditionally
Mori carvers were men; their craft included precious adornments, weapons, tools, musical
instruments, canoes and decorative panels and posts for the various buildings within the village.
A sign of prestige
Precious adornments were (and are still) worn as a sign of prestige; they included ear pendants,
breast pendants and carved combs worn in the hair. These were made from pounamu (jade or
greenstone), whale ivory and whale bone, although other materials, like albatross feathers and
sharks teeth, were also incorporated. Pounamu from the South Island is highly prized for its beauty
and strength, and is still used for making adornments today.
Symbols and patterns
Maori carvings are rich in symbolism and use common patterns, though styles differ between tribes.
Symbols include the tiki, which represents the human figure, and the manaia, a creature with bird-
like head and serpent-like body, associated with guardianship. Traditional patterns used in carving
were often inspired by the natural environment, including spider webs (pungawerewere), fish scales
(unaunahi) and the unfurling fronds of the fern (koru).