Maori Belief: Symbols of Religion

Rana Cho (English 34 1993)

[Based upon The Fixed and the Fickle: Religion and Identity in New Zealand, by Hans Mol (Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1982)].


The Canoe -- Associated with: migration, livelihood (fishing), the equivalent of "the Roman chariot" in war, in constellations (in the tail of Scorpion, its prow in the Pleiades), ancestry (as descendants of crews of canoes), waka atua (a person acting as a medium for the gods, also the canoe), Maorian equivalent of Westerners' "giants" (the South Island as the canoe of the demigod Maui, son of the ocean goddess), means of transportation for the dead travelling to the after-life.

Land -- Associated with: physical security for one's livelihood, strict borders called tapus (sacred restrictions), confiscation by the English: loss of hapu (subtribal unity), turangawaewae (lit.: a standing place for one's feet), collective knowledge of place, the marae
Older Maoris are often loath to surrender their individual land-shares, even when the parcels are much too small and widely separated to have economic utility. Without land they feel like immigrants and strangers. And this means having inferior status.

Rangi (the masculine Sky) of the sun and light, and Papa (the feminine Earth) of the moon and darkness.

Chieftainship -- Associated with: leadership, objectification of power of the tribe (by costume and wealth), tapu (sacredness). [In the past] tapu was all important--the first of all things; without it none of the powers of the gods were available, and without the aid of the gods all things are without authority and ineffectual; no [however, the mind of man] is in state of confusion [lit. like a whirlwind], as are all his deeds... (Te Matorohang, a nineteenth- century Maori sage)

Lo (source of mana, sacred influence, in universe)

Commitment -- Aroha (love, warm feeling) connects individual to his/her relatives and community. Universal love, similar to agapé, it was limited to the family and community and did not transcend wars, land claims, or cannibalism.

Tapu is commitment to the tribe expressed through observance of structural restrictions : the sacred state or condition in which a person, place, or thing is set aside by dedication tot he gods and thereby removed from profane use.

Noa implies the communal, unrestricted, without purpose--the opposite of tapu.

Rituals enforced tribal identiy through rites of repetition and passage

Myths describe the dialectic between death (femaleness) and life (maleness)

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Last Modified: 15 March, 2002