The intersection of land, whakapapa and pūrākau – Aotea Store

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The intersection of land, whakapapa and pūrākau

Within the corpus of knowledge of Ngāti Rehua, mē Ngā Puhi hoki, this is our understanding of the intersection of land, whakapapa and our pūrakau. They are what we have been told by our elders, and is specific to our region only; this is our interpretation. 

Māori have always been a people rich in pūrākau (traditional stories about the nature of the world). As time has gone by, these oral traditions have been translated into the written word. These stories tell about the natural world and its cycles and contextualise the place of Māori within it. 

To date, we have explored the Māori conceptualization of the creation of the universe through Te Kore, Io, the interlocking of Papa and Rangi and Tāne’s separation of them, bringing about te ao marama (the world of light.)

After the separation story, the traditional Māori account of the world talks about the core of creation presided over by the atua brothers Tāne, Tangaroa, Tāwhirimatea, Rongo-ā-Tāne, Tū and Haumia, who descended directly from Papa and Rangi.


Traditional accounts give human qualities and personal names to landmarks, weather, and seasons, to explain the way things are, and incarnate a wide variety of atua to benevolently (and sometimes not so benevolently) reign over different domains of life. Māori related to the natural world as if were human. Much like the Greek gods, Māori atua could be temperamental, craven and beautiful beyond comparison. Examples of anthropomorphized aspects of te ao māori include Marama the Moon, Tama-nui-te-Rā the Sun, Hinepūkohu-rangi the mist and Hine-wai the light rain. Māori saw the world as indivisible from themselves. For example, the first human was moulded out of clay at a sacred part of Papatuanuku. 

The origins of individual places important to Māori are explained through myth. For example, the Southern Alps are brothers descended from the Sky Father in a great waka which they attempted to paddle up into the sky; the mountains of the North Island Taranaki, Tauhara and Putauaki were rivals who were banished for seeking the love of Pihanga, the wife of Tongariro. There are many different places in New Zealand associated with Kupe, the legendary voyager from Hawaiki who brought the tangata Māori to Aotearoa. He is said to have been hunting a great octopus which he chased all the way across the Pacific to Aotearoa New Zealand.

The  pūrākau speak to the dawn of time and in this sense the characters are our tipuna, our earliest ancestors. However, they are also in and of the land, the sea and the sky, and in this sense Maori are tangata whenua. 

Māori also believed in a people called the patupaiarehe and the tūrehu who lived in Aotearoa before the Great Migration. Mostly an explanation for the unfamiliar sounds they heard on the rivers, in the forest and at sea, they nonetheless shaped the way Māori viewed themselves. The patupaiarehe were seen as atua and predecessors of Māori in Aotearoa.