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The mythology and legendary tales put flesh and blood stories on these genealogies and provided a framework by which Maori generations can understand the importance of those names included in their whakapapa. Myths such as the ones surrounding the Creation of the World, Maui and Te Kupe provided the action of some of the most important atua and people who make up the Maori whakapapa. These stories therefore are the present day Maori’s story. They also are the basis of the values and morals of Maori society, what Ranginui Walker calls ‘myth messages.’ Pictured here are: 1) Tane Mahuta, Lord of the Forest and 2) Maui…before Disney got to him :)
Maori religion is an oral religion that has ties to other religions of Polynesia. Until recent times many of the beliefs, practices and rituals of Maori religion were not written down but passed on orally from generation to generation. This means some things are lost to time, that Maori belief is not universal from tribe to tribe and that the theology is not fully encompassed by that which is written down in books. In fact, central to Maori belief is the passing on of belief through the generations. In the Maori tongue certain elders of the Maori tribes and sub-tribes (iwi and hapu respectively) passed on the wananga (or esoteric learning) of their iwi. They passed this on in the form of whakapapa, mythology and legendary tales. A Maori whakapapa is the most central organizing principle of all Maori belief and practice. It is by whakapapa (or geneaology) that a person’s stance in the community and amount of authority (mana) is established and it is by whakapapa that a Maori understands their outlook on life and their relations with others according to mana. All the people in the Maori community are expected to know their whakapapa and pass it onto the next generation. A whakapapa is much more than a family tree. A whakapapa is the genealogical descent of all living things from the gods to the present. Everything has a whakapapa and the whakapapa encompasses not only the trail of descent but the stories associated with the people and atua as well. There are four common whakapapas – the cosmic genealogy, the genealogy of the atua (gods), the genealogy of humankind and the genealogy of the waka (canoes). The first practical expression of Maori belief is the individual’s knowledge of, sharing of and passing on of their whakapapa. This establishes their identity and mana within their community. When someone recites their whakapapa it is known as tatai and is very important to their identity and stance in the community. Whakapapa, and its related myths and legends, is passed on in a variety of forms including Maori art, moko (tattoo, pictured above), carving and music.