Te Whanautanga mai/From the Birth

When a high ranking woman conceived, there was rejoicing in the village and community and special presents were made26 to mark the continuance of the aho ariki, the chiefly line27. In ordinary whanau, there were less civic displays of joy.

Indeed Maui could recite his brothers’ names to his newly found mother because he had heard their names when he was in her womb28, so the positive whanau messages were communicated to the foetus. This belief holds today. At the Hato Petera workshop conducted by Te Kahui Mana Ririki in Northcote in March, 2010, a young man said that his mother told him that she talked to him in Maori while he was in the womb and when he came out, he knew the language.

“The Maori word whenua-land, is the term used for both the land and the placenta or afterbirth. Therefore, the land has the same deep significance as the placenta, which surrounds the embryo. Giving it warmth and security, a mauri, a life force that relates to and interacts with Mother earth’s forces.”

Manuka HenareWAI 1040 B#3. The Paparahi o Te Raki Inquiry. In the matter of Waitangi Act 1975 Waitangi Tribunal. 2010. 21. (29)

This likeness of Papatuanuku and the placenta indicates the spiritual interaction of the two. Birth was recognised as a time of great significance as whakatauki indicate:

“He puta taua ki te tane, he whanau tama ki te wahine.
The battlefield with man, childbirth with women - As an attack by a war party to a man, so is giving birth to child to a woman.
He wahine ki uta, he kahawai ki te moana.
A woman on land, a kahawai (fish) at sea”


Both are ika toto nui (fish which bleed a lot) and, in times of stress, give the same evidence thereof. This is also an indication that childbirth was considered a dangerous time for the mother and the child and not a ‘natural, carefree’ event.

There were, but rarely, two whare built for the birth30. The first, roughly built whare kahu or kakahu, was pulled down and burned immediately the baby was born. The second was the more solid whare kohanga (nesting house) where the women usually gave birth with midwives and where the nursing of the baby took place. During the birth, the helpers chanted the same ritual chant as Hineteiwaiwa did in her birthing time, thereby including her in their lives31. After the birth, there were four ceremonies which emphasised the special and tapu nature of babies, sealed the path that the child was to take and emphasised positive messages to the baby about him or her self.

Nga Kawa/The Rites

The Tua Rite for the cutting of the cord

The first of these ceremonies was called the tua (the cutting of the cord). The
newborn babies, both male and female, would be told in a karakia how their special abilities would enable them to carry out the expected goals in life. In this example to a boy, the word tangaengae (navel cord) is repeated at the end of each line:

“Tohi ki te wai no Tu! Whana koe tangaengae, Ki te hopu tangata tangaengae, Ki te piki maunga… Me homai… Mo te tama nei… Whano koe… Kia riri ai… Kia niwha ai… Ki te patu tangata.. i te tomo pa… Ki te patu whakaara… Ki te tu parekura… Ki te mau patu.. .Ki te mau tao… Ki te mau patu kowhatu… Ki te mau taiaha… Me homai… Hei whakatapu… Mo te tama nei.

Sprinkle the water of Tu! Go thou-navel cord. To catch men-navel cord. To climb mountains ... Let these be given … For this male child … Proceed thou … To become angry… To become bold ... To kill men … To enter forts ... To slay sentries ... To stand firm in battle … To bear spears ... To bear stone clubs ... To bear double-handed clubs ... Give these ... To strengthen growth ... For this male child.”

Te Rangi HiroaComing of the Maori 494-495 (32)

There is also an additional list which was more peaceful and useful for kainga life:

  • to produce food for thyself, to build a large house, to build a war canoe, to welcome visitors,
  • to make nets, to catch fish, to net fish.

These personal and civic goals were for the growth of this male child32. For the sons of the well born, then, there were the double expectations – that of being a warrior and a domestic producer. They were taught early about group and whanau responsibility.

The tua incantation for a female child showed the wishes for females:

“Tohi ki te wai no Tu, Sprinkle with the water of Tu; Whano koe- tungaengae, Proceed thou-navel cord; Ki te mahi kai mau tangaengae, To prepare food for thyself ; Ki te whatu puweru, mou tangaengae, To weave garments for thyself; Ki te whatu kaitaka, mou tangaengae; To weave fine cloaks for thyself; Ki te karanga pahi tangaengae, To welcome visitors; Ki te waha wahie, mau tangaengae; To carry firewood on the back, for thyself; Ki te keri mataitai, mau tangaengae .To dig for shellfish, for thyself; Me homai tangaengae. Give these ... Hei whakatupu tangaengae. To help growth ... Mo te taiparu nei tangaengae. For this first born girl navel cord.”

Philip HoughtonFirst New Zealanders p118 cited in Belich, James. Making Peoples. Auckland: Penguin, 1996. p100, 103. Also They paddled war waka (Henare, He Whenua Rangatira 247.

The girls were also under the influence of Tumatauenga. This incantation did not mention the skills she might need for war activities. She was also expected to sometimes carry firewood, a task usually reserved for slaves. Women were also sometimes paddlers of waka which women often did when they were out line and net fishing.33

The Koroingo or Maioha or ‘the greeting of the infant’ ceremony

The second ceremony Koroingo or Maioha was “the greeting to the infant” ceremony after the iho or cord dropped off, after about 8 days. The highborn mother would sit in the porch of the house with the newborn on her lap and the welcome speeches were made and waiata and pao (chants) were sung which linked the child’s birth to the creation of the universe.

“Haramai, e tama! Puritiai i te aka matua
Kia whitirere ake koe ko te kauwae runga, ko te kauwae raro
Kia tawhai, kia tamaua, kia ita i roto i a Rua-i-te-pukenga,
A Rua-i-te-horahora, a Rua-i-te-tahanui, a Rua-matua taketake a Tane
Naumai, e..kia areare o taringa ki te whakarongo
Ko nga taringa o Rongomai-tahanui, o Rongomai-taha-rangi, o Tupaiwhakarongo-wananga
Ka taketake i konei ki tipuaki o Rangi
Welcome, O son! Learn the high teachings;

Be clear minded, and quick to acquire knowledge of celestial and terrestrial lore. Firmly retain the knowledge represented by the various Rua.
Welcome. Be open-eared to listen,
as the ears were of the beings named,
that your thoughts may be with the beings of the uppermost of the twelve heavens”

Elsdon Best The Whare Kohanga and its Lore. Wellington: A. R. Shearer, Government Printer, 1975. 22.

The next lines talk about the food crops, usually those gifted to the child on the day, and the maramataka (calendar) of the crops which were a necessary part of skills the child would need. The parents were congratulated and if it was a first-born boy or girl, then special gifts were given34.

The Tohi Rite or the dedication to the atua

The tohi rite was a dedication ceremony where the parents chose which atua would help the boy in this world, usually Tumatauenga, the god of war, or Rongo, the god of peace and agriculture, or Tangaroa, god of the sea. The baby was taken to a stream and ritually sprinkled with water with a branch of the karamu. The tohunga then recited an incantation “which invoked manly qualities of strength, endurance, and bravery for a male child, skill in domestic crafts for a female…”35. The girl was ritually dedicated to Hineteiwaiwa and Tumatauenga and others like Rongo and Haumietiketike. Best36 says that the child was named at this ceremony but Buck37 says that this was not always the case. Marsden38 says that this consecratory act endued the person with mana.

Maori Baptism Ceremony by Louis Auguste de Sainson

Maori Baptism Ceremony by Louis Auguste de Sainson. Image credit: https://natlib.govt.nz/records/22728764

The Pure Rite or confirming the mana

The pure rite was invoked to fix the spiritual powers or make mana permanent and was held at the parent’s house. The cloaks and clubs of the family wealth were laid out and the tohunga chanted the ritual chant with mythological references which laid the foundation of knowledge the child was to acquire. The boy was called to enter the tapu sphere of the Supreme Being and learn the higher knowledge contained in the three kete of knowledge.

“Naumai, e mau to ringa ki te kete tuauri, ki te kete tuatea, ki te kete aronui

Welcome, hold in your hand the knowledge of peace, love and goodness; the knowledge of prayers, incantations, rituals; and the knowledge of war, agriculture, wood and stone and earth work”

Te Rangi HiroaComing of the Maori.

Similarly, the girls were exhorted to follow the same paths. After the speeches there was the hakari or celebratory feast.

All of these birth rites bound the child to the whanau and the whanau to the child. The baby was surrounded by positive messages which showed that the parents and whanau knew what they wanted for the baby and their life. The adults, too, were constantly reminded of the special nature of the child. Hineteiwaiwa was thought to be the first woman to become a ruahine, a high ranking woman who removed an excess of tapu. A house could be made safe to live in through this action.40


26 Best Elsdon. The Lore of the Whare Kohanga. Wellington: Dominion Museum, 1973. 12.
27 Henare, He Whenua Rangatira 246. Namely Ngapuhi and Ngati Porou.
28 Grey, Legends of Aotearoa 12.
29 Henare, Manuka. WAI 1040 B#3. The Paparahi o Te Raki Inquiry. In the matter of Waitangi Act 1975 Waitangi
Tribunal. 2010. 21.
30 Best MaoriReligion 12-13.
31 Henare, He Whenua Rangatira 237.
32 Hiroa, Coming of the Maori 494-495.
33 Houghton First New Zealanders p118 cited in Belich, James. Making Peoples. Auckland: Penguin, 1996. p100,
103. Also They paddled war waka (Henare, He Whenua Rangatira 247.
34 Best, Elsdon. The Whare Kohanga and its Lore. Wellington: A. R. Shearer, Government Printer, 1975. 22.
35 Hiroa, Coming of the Maori 352.
36 Best, The Whare Kohanga 28.
37 Hiroa, Coming of the Maori 353.
38 Royal, The Woven Universe 124-5.
39 Hiroa, Coming of the Maori.
40 Henare He Whenua Rangatira 238.

The content of this web page was originally published in the Traditional Maori Parenting report published in March 2011 as commissioned by the Office of the Children’s Commission (OCC). The content is republished here with their permission as copyright owners of this work.

You can download the whole report from the OCC website.