maori legends

The many Maori legends and myths in New Zealand offer an interesting take on the creation of the Earth and the country’s origin. There are several different stories about nature, gods, mythical creatures and astronomy.

If you love reading stories about a place’s myths and legends, you’ll be in for a real treat. We have listed here ten of the interesting and fascinating Maori legends and myths that are still told today.

Fascinating Maori Legends and Myths

So without further ado, here are ten tales that will show you the rich cultural tradition of New Zealand.

  • Tāne Separating the Sky And The Earth
  • Māui Fishes Up The North Island
  • All About The God Of The Weather – Tāwhirimātea
  • Māngōroa And The Milky Way
  • The Discovery of Wood Carving
  • Ngātoroirangi And His Sisters
  • Taniwha, the Legend
  • The Battle Between The Mountains
  • The Origins of Matariki
  • Paikea, The Original Whale Rider

Tāne Separating the Sky And The Earth

Who is Tāne, you ask?

Tāne is where human life and the entire world originated from. In the local legends, he is given several names depending on his role. However, the most commonly told story which involves Tāne is separating his parents. His parents were the earth mother named Papatūānuku and the sky father named  Ranginui. In doing so, the world became brighter since his parent’s embrace was what caused the world to be in darkness.

Māui Fishes Up The North Island

Among the many Maori legends, this is probably the most famous. If you watched the Moana Disney film, the name Māui might be familiar to you.

However, this character is directly associated with how the country was created. According to the legend, the South Island is Māui’s canoe. The North Island is the fish he caught from the Pacific Ocean while the Steward Island was the anchor of his canoe. Now, isn’t that interesting?

All About The God Of The Weather – Tāwhirimātea

Tāwhirimātea was one of the sons of Papatūānuku and Ranginui. He was the one that separates his parents. One time when he was angry, he asked his children, the four clouds and winds, to go and wreak havoc on Earth. His sons went and destroyed the forests of Tāne with thunderstorms and rains. In the end, however, Tūmatauenga – the ‘god of people’ defeated his sibling.

Māngōroa And The Milky Way

Just like the Polynesian tradition, sharks are seen as guardian spirits in Maori mythology. One of the most famous of these tales is the Te Māngōroa. One of the Maori legends tells of the story of how Māui placed the shark Māngōroa in the sky. Later on, the shark formed the Milky Way as we know today.

The Discovery of Wood Carving

In the Maori tradition, wood carving is very prominent. One of the Maori legends surrounding it is fascinating. During Ruatepupuke’s journey to go and rescue his son, Te Manuhauturuki, he discovered the art form. He found carved posts talking to each other where his son was mounted on the gables of the sea god’s house.

Ngātoroirangi And His Sisters

The tribe of Ngāti Tūwharetoa found in the central North Island has their very own stories explaining how the volcanic plateaus, geysers and mud pools in their area were formed. According to one tale, the high priest Ngātoroirangi and his two sisters – Te Pupu and Te Hoata took fire from the ancestral homeland, Hawaiki, and brought it to New Zealand.

During one of his travels, the high priest discovered Taupōnui-a-Tia and Onetapu. Due to the extreme cold weather, he called out to his two sisters. Te Pupu and Te Hoata then came out from under the earth in the form of fire. This then formed the geothermal attractions found in today’s tourist spots.

Taniwha, the Legend

Think of monsters and supernatural creatures. These are called taniwha in the Maori legends. Some are just like giant lizards while others are like whales and sharks. Until today, many Maori people believe that these creatures still exist – most especially in waterways and rivers.

One of the most well-known taniwha is Tuhirangi. He was the guardian of Kupe as he went on to explore Cook Strait and later on became the first ever Polynesian to have reached the shores of New Zealand.

The Battle Between The Mountains

According to legends, the formation and positioning of mountains in New Zealand were caused by the warfare. During the early years of our planet Earth, Taranaki, Tongariro, Tauhara and Pūtauaki – the four mountain warriors fought one another for the maiden mountain Pihanga’s affection. In the end, Tongariro won, and the defeated mountains went on different ways.

The Origins of Matariki

Matariki is used in two different things: a constellation and the mark of Maori New Year. The constellation is referred to in English as the Pleiades. When translated, Matariki is the ‘eyes of god’. This name came from the myths connected with Tāwhirimātea. When his earth mother and sky father was separated, the weather god was believed to have gouged out his own eyes. He then hurled them up high onto the heavens – thus the name ‘Matariki’.

Paikea, The Original Whale Rider

Ever heard of the novel ‘The Whale Rider’? Yes. I’m talking about the best selling novel of Witi Ihimaera. Did you know that one of the many Maori legends inspired this book?

Paikea, a Maori ancestor once went to New Zealand riding a whale called Tohora. When his brother sank the canoe they were in on, he was sent a whale. Paikea was one of the descendants of Tangaroa, the god of the sea. Time and again, his brother tried to sabotage his trip but failed miserably. Paikea managed to arrive safely in the North Island’s East Cape.

And that’s about it for our storytime today. The Maori legends are quite an interesting bunch to read.

Did you like our list? Which one is your favourite? Do you know of other Maori legends? Let us know in the comments below. We love hearing from you.