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Maori Beliefs

Discussion in 'Sacred Texts, Folklore, and Mythology' started by kiwimac, Jul 12, 2006.

  1. kiwimac

    kiwimac Brother Napalm of God's Love

    Jan 5, 2005
    We'll see
    The discussion of Maori religious beliefs falls rather neatly into three broad categories. Maori beliefs prior to the arrival of the Europeans; Immediate post-European beliefs and 20 / 21st Century Maori beliefs.

    In the pre-European period
    Like many Argricultural societies much of the pre-european Maori religion was concerned with obtaining the help of the Gods and Spirits to get food supplies and materials. With the arrival of the Europeans this mode of religious practice declined because of the comparative ease of getting the same things from the settlers. But even as that practice declined the importance of the genealogically connectedness of the Maori increased, for example, in one chant (which were oral histories) the beginning is Te Kore (Nothingness) and the chant leads through the creation of Night, Dawn, and Light of Day, to Rangi (Male) the Sky and Papa, the Earth (Female).

    It tells how the Earth and the Sky were closely bound in their great love for one another and how their children (who were confined between the bodies of Rangi & Papa) had no space to grow and how the Children finally forced Rangi and Papa apart so that there would be room to grow. It was these children that were the Atua (or gods) that relate to the important areas of nature, they include Tu the war-god, Kongo the god of peace and agriculture, and Tangaroa the god of the ocean. But of all of these the most important was Tane. Tane was the God which overthrew and banished the powers of the darkness, who was the author of all vegetation, and who created the first woman.

    Tane's trees are rooted in the ground and stretch towards Rangi, the sky, and it was they which forced Rangi upwards while the other Gods held up the sky with poles. In Maori legend the rain and mist express the great pain and sorrow of Earth and Sky, and their great longing for each other.

    Indeed all of nature, including human beings, are kin, and may therefore be asked for help when it is is needed, Maori belief notes that while this is the 'ideal' that there is also conflict, because the world is full of spirits (atua). It will have been noticed that the Maori gods named above were all male and it was Tane who fashioned her out of the earth and breathed life into her ( Note that there are several variants of this myth throught the P.o.lynesian islands.) This myth, in another form, is told this way: Tane asked his father for a female, but was refused because earth is where the female element is found, while the sky is the realm of life. The earth is therefore for the short-lived beings of life while the sky is permanent. Also note that while the Maori saw a similar duality between spirit and 'thing', or between life and fate, that they saw no opposition between good and evil.

    For the Maori the idea of the 'Holy' revolved around the concept of Mana (power). Things which had mana became tapu or sacred. Almost any thing could become tapu if it had in some way been in touched by the supernatural order. Fire, if lit by the priests for their ceremonies, would become tapu since the god might be brought to live in the fire. When the kumara (Sweet Potatoes) were planted, the god Kongo might be brought by the Tohunga (Priest) to specially made a fire in order to ensure a good harvest.

    Water could become Tapu, sacred, especially when a stream was used for religious rites. The sun, moon and stars were also invested with mana (power). The moon was sacred to women in childbirth, (probably because, as Best suggests, the cyclic nature of the moon was seen to be similar to that of the women.) Food Sources were carefully preserved and given longevity by religious rites and priests performed rites in order to open and close the seasons for fishing and bird-snaring .

    However the most important receptacle of Tapu were people, both living and the dead. Mana was stronger in Men than it was for women, who especially tapu if they were of high status, were menstruating, or giving birth but all living beings had Mana. Men who were not slaves had mana and so they were tapu especially in the blood and on their heads and so any man who was captured (and thus enslaved) lost his mana and tapu and became noa (unsacred). The Tohunga (Priests) had so much mana and were so tapu that even their shadows had to be avoided and anything they touched became tapu which meant that special arrangements were needed for their feeding.

    The chiefs also had great mana and so much tapu. They were often fed by another person and even their mouths might not touch the eating utensils lest they become Tapu and unusable by anyone else. indeed it was customary to pour water into the mouths of important males. To violate a tapu not only endangered the violator but also took something from the tapu person. A dead body was more tapu than a living person. The dwellings of supernatural beings, their places in the forests or streams and oceans were also tapu although this tapu could be removed in appropriate circumstances. A meeting house was tapu during its construction, as were the workers, and when it was completed rites were held which removed the tapu.

    Those who were successful had mana and this resided particularly in chiefs and priests. When the mana failed it was because tapu had somehow been broken. When something particularly the preserve of Males, such as War or the building of a canoe was being undertaken the men kept away from the women until the tapu had been removed by a priest.

    The people were trained to know whic things were tapu by stories about such cultural heroes as Maui (P.o.lynesian Trickster God). There were figures carved on buildings such as the Marae (Meeting house) which represented important ancestors and events in mythology and each Tribe had their own atua (or spirits) which were particular to the common people, the priests and the chiefs. It was the Tohunga who was considered to keep the atua alive and the activites of the atua in a place explained many events. Local Atua had both good and bad characteristics and were considered ancestral to or a part of ther Tribe & given their own place in its genealogy.

    In ore-European times a Maori village consisted of those of the rangatira (chieftains), there would be a main chief (called an Ariki), the main populace of the village and a small group of slaves. One of the chiefs was also the tohunga, who guarded the mana of the group and who had a special mana of his own. There were several differing classes of tohunga who specialised in such things as art, magic, knowledge, or healing and their power could be greater than that of a chief.

    Slaves, who had usually been captured in inter-tribal wars, were important workers and could be used as human sacrifices in order to make a place Tapu by the shedding of their blood an example being the use of slaves to be buried beneath the centre pole of a Marae. There were certain tasks and events which automatically put the people involved under tapu and it was one role of the Tohunga to bring to light the reasons for any untoward happenings which were usually held to come from witchcraft or the breaking a tapu.

    Tohungas also acted as healers. They were the mediums of the local gods and shamans they relayed messages from the gods to the people. They were, therefore, a central figure in the life of the village, since they guided and prepared for most of the important activities in the life of the village such as agriculture, hunting, building, war and sickness. A village might well have several Tohungas of varying status which would depend upon their Mana and their skill in the spiritual world. For the possession of power had to be established in the eyes of the people and so success increased the mana. While he then became tapu in proportion to his mana that could be easily infringed and he would lose status.

    The worship of the Maori took place within the life of the villagers, there was no worship in the European sense, the crucial religious events were associated with tapu and with death. At death the corpse was brough on to the Marae (prior to burial) and a Tangi (funeral) was held. These Tangis could invovle visiting parties from other villages or even other tribes (if the person had enough mana) and they could go on for days. The Tangi helped speed the soul to the land of the dead (Te Reinga) and ensured that it properly left the body. Death was thought to be unfinshed until the flesh had decomposed from the bones. So most folk were buried in temporary graves and their bones were moved to the permanent burial place.

    [1]: Maori religion and mythology : being an account of the cosmogony, anthropogeny, religious beliefs and rites, magic and folk lore of the Maori folk of New Zealand in three volumes. by Elsdon Best, 1920.

    More to come later
  2. methylatedghosts

    methylatedghosts Can't brain. Has dumb.

    Nov 2, 2006
    Hey man, Loved that. :D Makes me proud to be a kiwi :D
  3. kalani20

    kalani20 New Member

    Aug 15, 2011
    loved it... its exactly what i learnt growing up as my first spoken language was maori.. but i need more knowledge on tohunga's because i need healing. other than that
    Allsome look forward to hearing more from you ;)
  4. Nooj

    Nooj none

    Jan 20, 2008
    That's awesome. Someday I hope to move back to NZ and learn te reo.