Māori religion

Māori religion encompasses the various religious beliefs and practices of the Māori, the Polynesian indigenous people of New Zealand.

Whare Karakia o Onuku
Māori Christian church in Akaroa. Christianity was adopted by Māori across New Zealand during the 19th century.

Traditional Māori religion

Traditional Māori religion, that is, the pre-European belief system of the Māori, was little modified from that of their tropical Eastern Polynesian homeland (Hawaiki Nui), conceiving of everything, including natural elements and all living things as connected by common descent through whakapapa or genealogy. Accordingly, all things were thought of as possessing a life force or mauri. Illustrating this concept of connectedness through genealogy are the major personifications of pre-contact times: Tangaroa was the personification of the ocean and the ancestor or origin of all fish; Tāne was the personification of the forest and the origin of all birds; and Rongo was the personification of peaceful activities and agriculture and the ancestor of cultivated plants. (According to some, the supreme personification of the Māori was Io; however this idea is controversial.)

Tapu and mana

Certain practices are followed that relate to traditional concepts like tapu. Certain people and objects contain mana - spiritual power or essence. In earlier times, tribal members of a higher rank would not touch objects which belonged to members of a lower rank. This was considered "pollution" and persons of a lower rank could not touch the belongings of a highborn person without putting themselves at risk of death.

Tapu can be interpreted as "sacred", as "spiritual restriction" or "implied prohibition"; it involves rules and prohibitions. There are two kinds of tapu, the private (relating to individuals) and the public tapu (relating to communities). A person, an object or a place, which is tapu, may not be touched by human contact, in some cases, not even approached. A person, object or a place could be made sacred by tapu for a certain time.

In pre-contact society, tapu was one of the strongest forces in Māori life. A violation of tapu could have dire consequences, including the death of the offender through sickness or at the hands of someone affected by the offence. In earlier times food cooked for a person of high rank was tapu, and could not be eaten by an inferior. A chief's house was tapu, and even the chief could not eat food in the interior of his house. Not only were the houses of people of high rank perceived to be tapu, but also their possessions including their clothing. Burial grounds and places of death were always tapu, and these areas were often surrounded by a protective fence.

Today, tapu is still observed in matters relating to sickness, death, and burial:

  • Tangihanga or funeral rites may take two or three days. The deceased lies in state, usually in an open coffin flanked by female relatives dressed in black, their heads sometimes wreathed in kawakawa leaves, who take few and short breaks. During the day, visitors come, sometimes from great distances despite only a distant relationship, to address the deceased. They may speak frankly of his or her faults as well as virtues, but singing and joking are also appropriate. Free expression of grief by both men and women is encouraged. Traditional beliefs may be invoked, and the deceased told to return to the ancestral homeland, Hawaiki, by way of te rerenga wairua, the spirits' journey. The close kin or kiri mate ("dead skin") may not speak. On the last night, the pō whakamutunga (night of ending), the mourners hold a vigil and at sunrise the coffin is closed, before a church or marae funeral service and/or graveside interment ceremony, invariably Christian. It is traditional for mourners to wash their hands in water and sprinkle some on their heads before leaving a cemetery. After the burial rites are completed, a feast is traditionally served. Mourners are expected to provide koha or gifts towards the meal. After the burial, the home of the deceased and the place they died are ritually cleansed with karakia (prayers or incantations) and desanctified with food and drink, in a ceremony called takahi whare, trampling the house. That night, the pō whakangahau (night of entertainment) is a night of relaxation and rest. The widow or widower is not left alone for several nights following.
  • During the following year, the kinfolk of a prominent deceased person will visit other marae, "bringing the death" (kawe mate) to them. They carry pictures of the person on to the marae.
  • Unveilings of headstones (hura kōwhatu) are usually held about a year after a death, often on a public holiday to accommodate visitors who could not get to the tangihanga. The dead are remembered and more grief expressed.


In the early 19th century, many Māori embraced Christianity and its concepts.[1] Large numbers of converts joined the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church, both of which are still highly influential in Māori society. The Māori aspect of the Church of England in New Zealand has long been recognised by the ordination of Māori priests as Bishop of Aotearoa; a well-known and sometimes controversial holder of that title was the late Rev. Whakahuihui Vercoe, who is remembered for a frank speech he delivered in the presence of Queen Elizabeth II during a Waitangi Day ceremony. The Roman Catholic Church also ordains Māori to high positions. Other churches were also locally successful in the 19th century, including, among others, the Presbyterian Church. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was also very successful in gaining Maori converts from the 1880s on, and by 1901 there were nearly 4,000 Maori members in 79 branches.[2][3]

Today, Christian prayer (karakia) is the expected way to begin and end Māori public gatherings of many kinds. Prayers are also made at the beginning of many new projects, personal journeys, and endeavours.

Syncretic religions

Ratana Church Raetihi
Rātana church near Raetihi

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, several new syncretic religions arose, combining various aspects of Christianity with traditional and non-traditional Māori philosophies. These include:

In the 2006 New Zealand Census,[6] 16,419 people stated their religion as Ringatū, and 50,565 Ratana. The Ratana Church also has considerable political strength.[7]


The proportion of Māori followers of Islam is low. Although the number of Māori Muslims grew rapidly at the end of the 20th century to 1,074 at the 2006 census,[6] the total number of New Zealanders identifying as Māori was 565,329.[8] Thus, the total number of identified Māori Muslims was 0.19 percent of the Māori population.

See also


  1. ^ Sutherland, Ivan Lorin George (1935). The Maori Situation. Wellington: Harry H. Tombs.
  2. ^ R. Lanier Britsch, "Maori Traditions and the Mormon Church", New Era, June 1981.
  3. ^ A Maori View of the Book of Mormon - Maxwell Institute JBMS
  4. ^ "PEACE STATUE", Masterton District Library & Wairarapa Archive
  5. ^ "Patete, Haimona", Te Ara
  6. ^ a b "Religious affiliation", Table Builder, Statistics New Zealand
  7. ^ Stokes, Jon (21 January 2006). "Enduring attraction of Ratana". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 12 September 2011.
  8. ^ Statistics New Zealand. (2007). QuickStats about Māori. Retrieved from [1]

Further reading

  • Owens, J. M. R. (April 1968). "Christianity and the Maoris to 1840" (PDF). The New Zealand Journal of History. 2 (1): 18–40. [sic]
  • Morrison, Hugh Douglas; Lachy Paterson; Brett Knowles; Murray Rae (2012). Mana Maori and Christianity. Huia Publishers. ISBN 9781775500124.
Brown Turei

William Brown Turei (12 December 1924 – 9 January 2017) was the Archbishop, Te Pīhopa o Aotearoa/Bishop of Aotearoa (senior bishop of the Māori Tikanga) and Primate/Te Pīhopa Mataamua of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia. He shared the primacy with Philip Richardson, archbishop for the New Zealand dioceses, and Winston Halapua, Bishop of Polynesia.

Christian Maramatanga Society

The Christian Maramatanga Society is a small Christian-based denomination originating in New Zealand in mid-1920s.


Mākutu in the Māori language of New Zealand means "witchcraft", "sorcery", "to bewitch"; and also a "spell or incantation". It may also be described as a belief in malignant occult powers possessed by certain people.

Elsdon Best (1859-1931) portrayed the belief in mākutu as "universal and prominent in pre-European times", stating that it acted as "a disciplinary force in the old days; it was one of the substitutes for civil law that preserved order in a Māori community". Best noted that the effectiveness of mākutu was heightened by the fact that it could be carried out in secret; the element of uncertainty produced caution on the part of those who might otherwise transgress the laws of the community. It was widely believed that those expert in mākutu were able to use the art to kill people. But there were limits on their freedom to act: should an irresponsible practitioner of the dark arts become a nuisance to a tribe, the solution to the problem simply involved killing the errant magician without delay. The training undergone by an apprentice was long and difficult, involving secret rituals and tests.An October 2007 mākutu-lifting in the Lower Hutt suburb of Wainuiomata led to the death by drowning of a woman and the hospitalisation of a teen, allegedly due to attempts to remove such a curse.


Mauri may refer to:

Mauri people, people of the ancient kingdom Mauretania

Moors, North African people known in ancient Latin as Mauri

Mauri (life force), a concept in traditional Māori religion

Mauri, Estonia, village in Misso Parish, Võru County

Mauri River, in Bolivia and Peru

AB Mauri, a division of Associated British Foods

Mauri (film), 1987 New Zealand film directed by Merata Mita

Mauri (fish), a Trichomycterus catfish found in Poopó Lake, Bolivia

"hello" in the language of the i-Kiribati

Māori Americans

Māori Americans are Americans of Māori descent, an ethnic group from New Zealand.

Māori Muslims

Māori Muslims are a small minority community in New Zealand.

Māori mythology

Māori mythology and Māori traditions are the two major categories into which the legends of the Māori of New Zealand may usefully be divided. The rituals, beliefs, and the world view of Māori society were ultimately based on an elaborate mythology that had been inherited from a Polynesian homeland and adapted and developed in the new setting (Biggs 1966:448).

Pai Mārire

The Pai Mārire movement (commonly known as Hauhau) was a syncretic Māori religion or cult founded in Taranaki by the prophet Te Ua Haumēne. It flourished in the North Island from about 1863 to 1874.Pai Mārire incorporated biblical and Māori spiritual elements and promised its followers deliverance from 'pākehā' domination. Although founded with peaceful motives—its name means "Good and Peaceful"—Pai Mārire became better known for an extremist form of the religion known to the Europeans as "Hauhau". The rise and spread of the violent expression of Pai Mārire was largely a response to the New Zealand Government's military operations against North Island Māori, which were aimed at exerting European sovereignty and gaining more land for white settlement; historian B.J. Dalton claims that after 1865 Māori in arms were almost invariably termed Hauhau.Governor George Grey launched a campaign of suppression against the religion in April 1865, culminating in the raiding of dozens of villages in Taranaki and on the East Coast and the arrest of more than 400 adherents, most of whom where incarcerated on the Chatham Islands. Elements of the religion were incorporated in the Ringatū or "Raised hand" religion formed in 1868 by Te Kooti, who escaped from the Chatham Islands after being incarcerated there.In the 2006 New Zealand Census 609 people identified "Hauhau" as their religion.


The Ringatū church was founded in 1868 by Te Kooti Arikirangi te Turuki, commonly called Te Kooti. The symbol for the movement is an upraised hand or "Ringatū" in Māori.


In Māori culture, a rāhui is a form of tapu restricting access to, or use of, an area or resource by the kaitiakitanga of the area. With the passing of the 1996 Fisheries Act, a rāhui can also be imposed by the New Zealand Ministry of Fisheries. In the Cook Islands, Raui (rahui) have been put in place by the National Environment Service.Rāhui may be imposed for many reasons, including a perceived need for conservation of food resources or because the area concerned is in a state of 'tapu', due, for example, to a recent death in the area, out of respect for the dead and to prevent the gathering of food there for a specified period. Rāhui may be placed on land, sea, rivers, forests, gardens, fishing grounds, and other food resources. A rāhui is given its authority by the mana of the person or group that imposes it. (Barlow 1994:104).

An area may be set aside for a special purpose or function. Trees may be set aside as a carving resource; or flax bushes for the weaving of a special cloak for a chief. Areas may be placed under rāhui requiring them to be left to lie fallow so that the resources may regenerate.The custom of rāhui is still used today, and it has similarities to the bans imposed by the present day legal system on the gathering of food resources for conservation purposes; however Māori often perceive such bans on the gathering of traditional resources such as shellfish and native birds as 'another denial of their customary rights.'A sign or physical symbol may be displayed to show that a rāhui has been imposed. Sometimes a carved or decorated wooden stick or post may be placed in the ground. Natural features of the landscape can indicate the boundaries of the area that is under restriction. Additionally, people will be informed about the placing of the rāhui.The imposing of rāhui by Māori iwi has no official legal standing, and penalties are not formally imposed upon anyone breaking a rāhui, but it is seen as culturally insensitive to do so, and in general all members of the public tend to respect the tradition.


The Rātana movement is a church and pan-iwi political movement founded by Tahupōtiki Wiremu Rātana in early 20th-century New Zealand. The Rātana Church has its headquarters at the settlement of Rātana pā near Whanganui.

Tapu (Polynesian culture)

Tapu or tabu is a Polynesian traditional concept denoting something holy or sacred, with "spiritual restriction" or "implied prohibition"; it involves rules and prohibitions. The English word taboo derives from this later meaning and dates from Captain James Cook's visit to Tonga in 1777.

The concept exists in many societies, including traditional Fijian, Māori, Samoan, Kiribati, Rapanui, Tahitian, Hawaiian, and Tongan cultures, in most cases using a recognisably similar word, though the Rotuman term for this concept is "ha'a". In Hawaii, a similar concept is known as "kapu".

Te Pīhopa o Aotearoa

The Bishop of Aotearoa (Te Pīhopa o Aotearoa) is a bishop in the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia. The post was created in 1928. The Bishop of Aotearoa is the most senior bishop and head of the Māori Anglican Church. The Bishop of Aotearoa is recognized as the Spiritual Leader of the Māori people. Along with being the Metropolitan of the Māori Anglican Church, he also holds the title of Primate and Archbishop of Aotearoa New Zealand & Polynesia. The office of Bishop of Aotearoa is currently held by Archbishop Donald Tamihere, who was installed in April 2018 at Manutuke Marae.

Te Runanga Whakawhanaunga I Nga Hahi O Aotearoa

Te Runanga Whakawhanaunga I Nga Hahi O Aotearoa (Māori Council of Churches) is an autonomous ecumenical organisation for Māori persons. It was formed in 1982, and has Anglican, Baptist, Roman Catholic, Methodist and Presbyterian membership. It is a member of the World Council of Churches and the Christian Conference of Asia.

Te Whiti o Rongomai

Te Whiti o Rongomai III (c. 1830–18 November 1907) was a Māori spiritual leader and founder of the village of Parihaka, in New Zealand's Taranaki region.


In the culture of the Māori of New Zealand, a tohunga is an expert practitioner of any skill or art, either religious or otherwise. Tohunga include expert priests, healers, navigators, carvers, builders, teachers and advisors. "A tohunga may have also been the head of a whanau but quite often was also a rangatira and an ariki". The equivalent and cognate in Hawaiian culture is kahuna.

Wainuiomata mākutu lifting

In October 2007, 22-year-old Janet Moses died and a 14-year-old female relative was injured during a mākutu lifting (or exorcism) in the Wellington, New Zealand suburb of Wainuiomata. In 2009, nine members of Moses' extended family, all siblings of her mother or their spouses, were charged in relation to the event. One uncle and four aunts were subsequently found guilty of drowning Moses.The mākutu lifting and subsequent trial were notable for bringing makutu into the public consciousness in New Zealand; and the large number of independent people who stepped forward to distance mākutu lifting as they knew it from the events in this case. Unprecedented media attention was paid to mākutu, mākutu lifting and Māori religion.

Whakahuihui Vercoe

Whakahuihui "Hui" Vercoe (4 June 1928 – 13 September 2007) was an Anglican bishop in New Zealand. He was the Archbishop of New Zealand from 2004 to 2006, the first person from the Maori church to hold that office. He was also Bishop of Aotearoa from 1981, the first person to be elected to that position by the congregation rather than being appointed by the church hierarchy. He held both offices until his retirement in 2006. He was also the first person to become a Principal Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit after the rank was introduced in 2000.

Whitehead (bird)

The whitehead (Mohoua albicilla; Māori: pōpokotea) is a small species (15 cm in length, 18.5/14.5 g.) of passerine bird endemic to New Zealand. It is classified in the family Mohouidae. The male whitehead's upperparts, wings and tail are a pale brown in colour, while the head and underparts are white – in the case of the male an almost pure white in colour. Females and juveniles have similar colouration except that the nape and crown (top of the head) are shaded brown. The black beak and eyes contrast with the white head and the feet are bluish black in colouration.

Formerly quite common and widespread in native forests in the North Island, the whitehead has suffered a marked decline in the past two centuries since European colonisation and today is restricted to a fraction of its former range. Historically, deforestation has destroyed large areas of habitat for this species but today the greatest threat is from predation by invasive mammalian species such as rats and stoats. It has been the subject of an active conservation campaign and has been successfully reintroduced into reserves near Auckland and Wellington respectively. In the past whiteheads held a special place in Māori culture. As well as the species appearing in many legends, whiteheads were viewed by Māori to have roles as messengers of the gods and as fortune tellers or seers – and because of these beliefs, live birds were caught and used in several different kinds of ceremonial rites.


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