Maori language week a good time to learn about some of our richest legends

Te Wiki o te Reo Maori, or Maori language week, is a good time to learn about some of our most famous Maori purakau or legends. Photo / iStock
Te Wiki o te Reo Maori, or Maori language week, is a good time to learn about some of our most famous Maori purakau or legends. Photo / iStock

Te Wiki o te Reo Maori, or Maori language week, is a good opportunity to familiarise yourself with our most famous purakau, or legends.

These reflect timeless themes relevant to our modern world.

Maui fishes up the North Island

The most important legend tells how the demigod Maui fished up Te Ika-a-Maui (the fish of Maui, the North Island) while standing in Te Waka a Maui (his canoe, the South Island), renamed in 2013 as Te Waipounamu (the waters of greenstone).

The purakau tells how the cheeky Maui-tikitiki-a-Taranga hid in the front of his brothers' canoe when he learnt they planned to leave him home when they go fishing.

Maui only revealed himself far out to sea, and then caught his biggest fish ever, Te Ika-a-Maui, the North Island.

Wellington is known as the head of Maui's fish, Te Upoko o Te Ika a Maui.

Many areas in the region are recognised as part of Maui's catch, with Wellington Harbour and Lake Wairarapa the eyes of the fish, Nga Whatu o te Ika a Maui.

Palliser Bay, on the south coast of the Wairarapa, is its mouth, Te Waha o te Ika a Maui. Cape Palliser and Turakirae Head its jaws.

Mount Hikurangi, on the North Island's East Cape, is said to be the first part of Maui's fish that emerged from the sea.

The mountain is sacred to local iwi Ngāti Porou, who consider themselves direct descendants of Māui.

The Ministry of Education's Te Kete Ipurangi (the online knowledge basket) tells this legend in both Maori and English.

Tane mahuta creates the world of light

Tane-mahuta, the Lord of the Forest, is an important figure in Maori legend.

The oldest of six siblings, he tired of living in darkness, closed in between Ranginui (his sky father) and Papa-tu-a-nuku (his earth mother).

He decided to push them apart, and in doing so created Te Ao Marama (the world of light) we live in today.

Waipoua, in Northland has one of the largest surviving kauri forests, with some of its trees more than 2,000 years old.

Its most ancient and revered trees are Te-Matua-Ngahere (father of the forest) and Tane-mahuta, named after the legendary Lord of the Forest.

Tane Mahuta in the Waipoua Forest of Northland stands an impressive 51.2 metres tall and is named after the Lord of the Forest. Photo / File
Tane Mahuta in the Waipoua Forest of Northland stands an impressive 51.2 metres tall and is named after the Lord of the Forest. Photo / File

Tane is a figure of great importance in tribal traditions.

He separated earth and sky and brought this world into being; he fashioned the first human; he adorned the heavens, and brought the baskets of knowledge, wisdom and understanding down from the sky to human beings.

Tane is referred to by different names to reflect his different roles.

He is called Tane-mahuta as god of the forest, Tane-te-wananga as the bringer of knowledge, and Tanenui-a-rangi as bringer of higher consciousness.

Te Ara, The Encyclopedia of New Zealand, tells the full story (and many others) on the forest mythology around Tane.

The love story of Hinemoa and Tutanekai

Hinemoa and Tutanekai were New Zealand's very own Romeo and Juliet - two star-crossed lovers entangled in a passionate and forbidden relationship.

This tale has a happy ending though, as they prove the strength of their love through a dramatic and dangerous act, gaining the acceptance of their families.

The island of Mokoia in Lake Rotorua is where these legendary events took place. On the island is Hinemoa's Pool, the natural hot spring where she bathed.

Te Puna Matauranga o Aotearoa (the National Library of New Zealand) has a version of Hinemoa and Tutanekai's story based on an early account of the purakau.

The story of  Paikea who journeyed to a new life in New Zealand on the back of the whale Tohorā represents the spiritual bond between the human and natural worlds. Photo / iStock
The story of Paikea who journeyed to a new life in New Zealand on the back of the whale Tohorā represents the spiritual bond between the human and natural worlds. Photo / iStock

Paikea the Whale Rider

Maori legend tells the story of the ancestor Paikea who journeyed to a new life in New Zealand on the back of the whale Tohora.

The story represents the spiritual bond between the human and natural worlds, and has many implications for the stewardship of our enviromental heritage.

The story of Paikea inspired Witi Ihimaera's book Whale Rider, which inspired the award-winning film of the same name.

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2017, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf05 at 28 May 2017 03:50:14 Processing Time: 288ms