NZ’s 7 Most Fascinating Māori Legends
The myths and legends of the Māori people of New Zealand offer an interesting perspective on the island’s origins and the creation of Earth as a whole.
There are plenty of stories about native gods (known locally as ngā atua), mythical Kiwi creatures, nature, war and astronomy in Maori culture to explore. Here are 10 popular myths that will get you better acquainted with this interesting native culture.
#7: The Separation of the Earth and the Sky
In Maori tradition, Tāne is known as the creator of human life and the world as we see it. He is given various names according to the different roles he plays in local legends. The most common story around this god involves Tāne separating his parents Ranginui (the ‘sky father’) and Papatūānuku (the ‘earth mother’) from their tight embrace that once shrouded the planet in darkness.
#6: Māui Fishing at North Island
This is one of the most well-known Māori legends around. In local NZ tradition, Māui is associated with the origins of the island itself. As the tale goes, New Zealand’s North Island is the fish that the mischievous Māui hauled up the Pacific Ocean, while the South Island served as his canoe. Nearby Stewart Island is widely considered to have been the canoe’s anchor.
#5: Tāwhirimātea the Weather God
Tāwhirimātea was another of Ranginui and Papatūānuku’s sons, and opposed their separation. In his anger over what his brothers had done, he sent the winds and the clouds to rain down upon the Earth in formidable storms. Tāne’s forests were destroyed by these storms, but ultimately, Tūmatauenga managed to defeat his malicious brother.
#4: The Supernatural Taniwha
According to Māori legend, Taniwha are supernatural monsters that can be compared to lizard or shark-like humanoids. To this day, local tribes-people still believe that these creatures exist in the waterways and rivers of New Zealand. One of the most infamous Taniwha is Tuhirangi, who protected Kupe of Polynesia as he discover the Cook Strait. Nowadays, we would be more likely to play at Crazy Luck Casino for fun rather than sailing in search of new continents like he did!
#3: Māngōroa the Galaxy-Creating Shark
Sharks are viewed as protectors and guardians in Polynesian cultures, and Māori mythology agrees. According to old legends, Māui placed the shark Māngōroa way up in the sky to form what we know today to be the Milky Way galaxy.
#2: The Battle of Mountains
One of New Zealand’s most pervasive legends when it comes to the creation of its mountains is the legend of the battle of the mountains. When the Earth was still young, the Māori say that 4 warriors – Tongariro, Taranaki, Tauhara and Pūtauaki – battled to win the affections of the mountain girl Pihanga. Tongariro eventually won the fight, and the mountains that were defeated separated to create the ranges that cover NZ today.
#1: The Beginnings of Matariki
Matariki is a term associated with both the Māori New Year and the constellation that gave the tradition its name. The term translates to ‘the eyes of god’, and originated from a myth associated with the weather god Tāwhirimātea. It is said that in his anger in seeing his parents separated, he gouged out his own eyes and threw them into the heavens where they remain to this day.