[Edit: 18 Sep 2019 – It’s been a year since we wrote this, so we’ve given it a tidy-up and made it more succinct. Enjoy!]

Our tūpuna/ancestors had 4 key traditions they would do for every baby born and you can do them too. We’ll explain what our tūpuna used to do for these, but we’ll also show you how to do them at home with your whānau and friends. This post provides a straightforward guide to doing these AND a programme template that you can print as well. Click here to grab the Te Rite Tūā Template as an editable form.

These 4 traditions were all part of Te Rite Tūā – The Naming Ceremony (pronounced Teh Reeteh Too-aah). It set the path for pepi’s whole life and was a reminder to everyone that pepi were special and tapu. Our tūpuna wanted pepi to be protected and treasured so they would grow into strong, skilled, productive members of the iwi.

The traditions we’ll outline are like the naming and initiation practices from all over the world, but these Māori practices add these wonderful beliefs:

  1. Pepi come from atua/gods and is a spiritual being not just a physical body
  2. Key atua/gods will help pepi achieve their goals in life
  3. Pepi is born with special mana of their tūpuna passed on and living in their parents/mātua.
  4. Pepi names have a whakapapa/history setting a life path of hopes for pepi

For each tradition, we’ll explain what our tūpuna did and why. But then, we will suggest a combined ceremony that you and your whanau can do at home to welcome your pepi and present them to your whanau. 

What Our Tupuna Did

1.   Tāngaengae – Cutting The Cord

Once the pepi was born, they would be told in a karakia/prayer or an oriori/lullaby about all the skills and accomplishments they will have in life. The karakia would be said during and after the umbilical cord (iho/mid-cord) was cut. For boy pepi, the karakia often focused on strength and warrior skills and more peaceful skills like being a good father, building a house and catching fish. Fatherhood is a very important skill for iwi because fathers were responsible for looking after their sons once they were off breastmilk. For girl pepi, the karakia would be more domestic, focusing on childcare, preparing meals, weaving garments and carrying firewood. Sometimes girls would be called to be good warriors too. 

2.  Te Maioha o te Pepi  – Greeting the Infant

This ceremony took place after pepi’s pito/cord came off, about a week or so after birth. The pito could be disposed of at the time or kept until the next ceremony. The disposal was by burial under or in a tree or a rock special prayer to acknowledge its essential function in keeping pepi alive in the whenua/womb and it was returning to its beginnings.

Mama and pepi received manuhiri/visitors for a ceremony to ‘greet the baby’, which included speeches, waiata, oriori and gifts. The waiata and oriori were delivered by both the father’s and the mother’s whānau. These welcomed the child and traced their journey from the atua/gods to the whānau union of the kikiri/embryo to birth. The pepi was encouraged to learn and grow with the wisdom of the different atua, the tūpuna mana and the whānau. There was no meal or feast at this ceremony. All the gifts and food were put aside until the next ceremony, Te Rite Tohi.

3. Te Rite Tohi  – The Naming Ceremony

Again, after the pito/ cord dropped off the Tohi ceremony began. The parents would select which atua would help the baby during its life. The pepi, nga mātua, nga tūpuna and tohunga/priests went to a nearby stream where the baby would be ritually sprinkled with water or dipped in the water as the tohunga asked the atua to give the pepi the named qualities  The tohunga presented the chosen names of pepi to the atua.

There were signs for acceptance of the names by the atua noted by the tohunga. The pepi was wrapped and taken to the whare.

At the end of the ceremony, the pito was buried in a hole in a flax woven container where the ceremony had taken place. The timing of this practice differed with iwi or whānau. Usually, the pito was buried in a special place at the time of its dropping off or stuck in or under trees or rocks. These were isolated tapu areas.

Maori Baptism Ceremony by Louis Auguste de Sainson

Maori Baptism Ceremony by Louis Auguste de Sainson. A French artist and explorer, this image isn’t historically accurate, as he’s applied French fashion to the characters and a Christian alter for the baby, which would’ve been unlikely at the time. Image credit: https://natlib.govt.nz/records/22728764

4. Te Rite Pure – Clearing the tapu

This ceremony was to clear the tapu of the birth and to make the pepi’s mana permanent for their lifetime. They are acknowledged as a person to be respected and listened to right from being pepi.

The return from the Tohi ceremony at the stream began the Pure ceremony which was usually held at the marae whare.

Whānau laid out their taonga and heirlooms, such as korowai/cloaks, mats, clubs and tools for the baby to be lain on as symbols of what pepi will learn to use. A tohunga chanted a ritual chant confirming that the baby will learn those parts of higher knowledge in the three kete/baskets of knowledge they will need in life:

  • The knowledge of peace, love and goodness
  • The knowledge of prayers, incantations and rituals
  • The knowledge of war, agriculture, wood, stone and earthworks

Waiata were sung and speeches made. The oriori written for the pepi was also sung or said repeatedly so everyone would hear it and remember it.

A hakari/feast completed the tapu removal – cooked food has the power to make tapu ineffective. A new pepi was a reason to celebrate, so hakari could be quite lavish affairs.

Hakari/Feast at Matatā, mid-19th century. Image credit: https://teara.govt.nz/en/maori-feasts-and-ceremonial-eating-hakari

What You Can Do

I’ve only learnt about these traditions from my mother since my 2 babies were born. Mum and I have worked together to design the ceremony below for whanau to do at home. Hopefully you feel confident enough to do them – I’m sure your parents and grandparents will be on board if you tell them about it all!

Firstly, the Tungaengae tradition – Cutting the Cord

This tradition is meant to be done while cutting the cord after baby is born. Really, this tradition is to acknowledge that pepi is now separate from mum and is their own little person to encourage and love. A karakia for your baby like this doesn’t have to be long or complex. (I’ve put my attempt below!) Prepare one well before labour and the Dad could say it or your support person.

But you know what? If you don’t feel like saying exactly what you wrote when pepi is in your arms, just go with it. Whatever you feel like saying when baby is lying on your chest, or is in Dad’s arms, is exactly the right thing to say. You can always share or read out your prepared one later.

I’ve written the below karakia for my own son and daughter, after the fact, of course.

For our son and daughter, we hope

  • You will be an independent, curious, brave and loving person.
  • You will try to make the world a better place every day.
  • You will strive to succeed at anything you attempt, and take each failure as an experience to learn from.
  • You will be happy and loved, and share that positivity with everyone around you.

Do write one for your children, if only to remind yourself about the adults you’d like them to be someday, and how you can help them get there.

Combining the Maioha, Tohi and Pure Traditions

We think that these 3 traditions could all be done at the same time at home. And they don’t have to be a formal ceremony with speeches or anything. We’ll outline what you need to do in simple steps and provide a programme for you to update and print for the day as well. Simple!

1. Plan A Get Together

When you’re ready after baby’s born (give yourself a couple of weeks to find your feet), you could have a small gathering of your dearest hoa/friends and whānau to meet the baby – Te Maioha o te Pepi. Pepi sleeping and feeding will determine the length of the party. Schedule it during the day when pepi is less likely to be fussy – mid-morning is often good. Just by having people turn up and meet the baby, you’ve completed this tradition.

2. What To Say

To do the Te Rite Tohi, it can just be a simple naming ceremony, and telling everyone:

  • What your baby’s name is and why you chose it
  • Your hopes for your child and acknowledging the atua/gods that will help them achieve those hopes
  • You can also read your Tungaengae karakia you wrote, if you feel up to it.
  • Invite your grandparents or other whanau to say their wishes for the baby. Give them time to prepare these. This helps encourage everyone around you to know how special you think your baby is, but how special they think the baby is too.

You don’t have to do the Tohi part if your whanau do a religious naming ceremony or baptism. Pepi will be named and be dedicated to the chosen religious God.

3. Have A Feast!
To do the Te Rite Pure, it just means that you should have a hakari/feast (by means of a pot-luck meal) with a karakia/food blessing. This lifts the tapu of the birth and completes the whole Te Rite Tūā. Ka pai!

Read the Research

Ka pai! Glad you enjoyed our write-up but we have so much more to share! We have a Research section on our website with all the detail and more academic write-ups about this kaupapa.

We’ll be sharing more and more about the parenting practices of our tūpuna because there’s so much to learn from them. Join our mailing list to get notified when we post something new.

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