Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Māori Culture And Legend

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you all
Māui and his brothersMāui and his brothers taming the sun - The Marae, Te Papa Museum of New Zealand

Māori tradition is steeped in folklore. It is a culture I have much respect for and I see strong similarities with the Celtic traditions in Scotland, the land of my birth. I’d like to share with you some of the aspects of Māori culture and folklore that are significant to me.

The section I belong to at The Correspondence School (TCS) is called Poutama. We chose this name when restructuring began, with the regionalisation of TCS early last year. I feel privileged to belong to a wonderful section of teachers in Poutama. I’m very proud of our name which comes from the name for an ancient Māori wall design.


The Poutama design is a type of tukutuku, a traditional Māori art form. They form part of visual storytelling in Māori culture.

Tukutuku are decorative woven or carved
panels that are part of the traditional wall construction used inside Māori meeting houses.

In ancient lore, poutama symbolises an ascent made by the folk hero Tawhaki (pronounced tafaki) to receive the three baskets (kete) of knowledge from the gods.

They are:
  • te kete-aronui - basket of knowledge that helps us,
  • te kete-tuauri - basket of knowledge to do with ritual, memory and prayer,
  • te kete-tuatea - basket of knowledge of evil or makutu, harmful to us.
The interpretation of the word poutama is one who protects and supports his family sub-tribe and tribe, as in a chief or rangatira.

The construction of poutama symbolises the steps to progress in education and the endeavour to improve - the planning of a child's future - by parents, family and tribe. It is believed to be the ultimate mark of a leader.

The legends of Māui

I have always had a fascination for folk legends. Most
Māori legends possess a strong principled or educational aspect. Perhaps this is why I found the legends in Māori folklore particularly absorbing.

Among some of the most attractive are the tales about the Māori half-god, Māui, who was abandoned at birth and later reunited with his family. Māui is depicted with his four brothers in the photo at the head of this post.

Here is how I tell the legend of Māui, how he was eventually reunited with his mother and family
, and given his name.

Māui wrapped in the topknot of Taranga

Little Māui, baby Māui,
Wrapped all in the tikitiki,
Sleeping on the white wet sand.

Swept the wind up on the beaches,
Swept the ripples, swept the tide-spray,
Hair and seaweed tied the bundle,
Lightly tied the bundle neatly.

Swathed in seaweed, bathed in sea-spray,
Lifted by the tide-wave gently,
Buoyed up on the foamy bubbles,
On he slept as waves were bobbing,
Poor unwanted baby Māui,
Bobbing out to sea.

Still he slept, the little Māui,
As the cruel and hungry sea-birds
Watched the bundle gently rocking,
Rocking on the sea.

Then the kindly sky-god Rangi
Saw the hungry sea-birds hover,
Hover near the baby Māui,
Bobbing out to sea.

Swiftly Rangi hailed the mountains,
Mountains with their white hair gathered,
Gathering the white hair rolling,
Rolling out to sea.

Swift they lifted little Māui,
Lifted on the plumes of white hair,
Hair twined with the tikitiki
High above the sea.

There the kindly Rangi raised him,
Taught him all his wondrous magic,
Set him on the rolling white sand,
Wet sand where Taranga left him.

Then the old man Tama met him,
Took him as his son, his own son,
Told him of his four fine brothers,
Told him of their mother's homeland.

Showed him all he knew as nature,
Where the streams run fast and steeply,
How the bees hive, how they gather,
How the birds dive, how they hover,
Where the fish swim fast and fleetly,
All that he had known.

Then the youthful Māui learning of the homeland,
Yearning for the brothers living with their mother dear,
Left the old man Tama by the rolling white sand,
Crossed the western hills to the wooded plain so near.

Lightly fell the footstep quieter than the silence,
Slipping like a shadow through the shady underwood,
Entering the whare in the family's presence,
Past the smoking fire to where the pitiless mother stood.

Presently Taranga called on all her young ones,
Called on them to join her around the smoking fire,
Counting as they joined hands, counting she had five sons,
Four sons and a strange one dressed in strange attire.

Holding near a fire-brand to the littlest brother
Taranga leaned forward and asked from where he came,
Māui said 'I'm Māui, and you are my own mother',
'These four are my brothers and Taranga's your name'.

Little Māui told them what old Tama told him
Of the baby Māui laid asleep upon the sand:
Shrouded in the seaweed, chilly crown and cold limb,
Rescue, and the sea-birds, and kindly Rangi's hand.

Māui named his brothers and told them all their secrets,
'You are our little Māui!' cried Taranga,
Clasped him to her breast as her hair hung round in ringlets,
Named him little Māui-tikitiki-a-Taranga.

Many other
Māori legends can be found on the Māori in Oz site.

This April is National Poetry month in the US.

I have been hopping across to Bud the Teacher and attempting to invoke the muse. It is a wonderful site and Bud is prompting us to write some poetry every day this month.

If you are poetically inclined and would like to write a line or three,
I encourage you to nip across to Bud’s site. Go on. Give opportunity to your muse.

Ka kite anō – Catch ya later


Paul C said...

In Ontario we always balance the classical Greek and Roman myths with the Canadian aboriginal tales of the Huron, West Coast, Inuit, Haida... So interesting to read about Maori tradition and your own myth weaving of traditional stories. Also I appreciate the links you provide.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Paul.

It's curious how some tales from widely different cultures can be so similar. What distinguishes many Māori tales is their uniqueness, and their direct link to nature and to their way of life.

Catchya later