Waiata oriori (lullabies) were sung to the babies to reinforce the purpose and the spiritual nature of the child’s life. They are beautiful poems, and were composed to build up and mould the child as a useful member of the whanau and hapu, that is, they were a socialising tool. They linked the child to the gods as their spiritual helpers. The child’s grandparents or parents usually composed an oriori for the baby. It was sung repeatedly so that all listeners learned it and all knew the  whakapapa and qualities of the child and thus, the special treatment they required. They were a poetic and repetitive way to fix personal, whanau and cultural messages in the minds of the listeners.

Some of the lullabies were centred on utu; some instructed in history and geography; and some were to identify other inherited taonga of the child41. What follows is a summary of a selection of six oriori as recorded by Apirana Ngata in Nga Moteatea and Elsdon Best in Te Whare Kohanga and its Lore.

Selection of oriori in Nga Moteatea

1. The oriori by Hinekitawhiti42

This is of the genealogical-geographical waiata. The composer, as a grandmother,
tells her granddaughter, Ahuahukiterangi of Te Ariuru, northern Tokomaru Bay, how tapu or special she is.

“Kia tapu hoki koe na Tuariki,e!
Kia tapu hoki koe na Porouhorea! e!
Kati nei e noa ko to taina
Whakaaingi i runga ra he kauwahau ariki e,
Koi tata iho koe ki nga wahi noa.

May you be set apart, as is fitting for a descendant of Tuariki
May you be set apart, as is fitting for a descendant of Porouhorea
Let only your younger relative be free from restriction.
Soar gracefully on high, O chieftainess,
And do not descend too near to the common places. ”

HinekitawhitiPublished by Ngata and Jones Nga Moteatea 2-7

The high ranking grandmother has detailed the treatment her mokopuna must have because of the fame of her tipuna who are named. The girl is exhorted to keep her vision high and remember how special she is. She speaks of the significant maunga (mountains) in their rohe whenua (homelands) from Tokomaru bay  to Raukokore, and the associated tipuna of the senior genealogical line of Ngati Porou with whom she would become acquainted should she visit the places named.

From verse 2:

“ ... Ana, e koro! Auaka e whangai ki te umu nui,
Whangai iho ra ki te umu ki tahaki, hai
Te ponga matapo hei katamu mahana...

Do not, O sir, give her food from the common earth-oven,
But feed her from the oven reserved for her kind,
With the dark-fleshed taro, that she may chew with relish ...”

HinekitawhitiPublished by Ngata and Jones Nga Moteatea 2-7

Everyone is being told how tapu this girl is and that she must have the best foods available as a mark of her status. The cooks are also being told how and what they are to feed her.

And from verse 4,

“Hau te mau mai I nga taonga o Wharawhara, hai
Tohu ra mohou, koi hengia koe, ko
Te Paekura ki to taringa, ko Waikanae ki to ringa, hai
Taputapu mohou, e hine!’

You are bedecked with the ornaments of Wharawhara
To signify that no one may mistake you,
Te Paekura pendant from your ear, Waikanae in your handPrecious
things for you little maid!”

HinekitawhitiPublished by Ngata and Jones Nga Moteatea 2-7

The iwi heirlooms are explained to the girl and the fact that she may wear them as is her right. The whole waiata bursts with pride and love as this Kuia wants only the best for her mokopuna. All the listeners also know how and why they are to treat this girl as tapu and accord her respectful behaviour. Later the girl will know that such a special whakapapa meant that she will be expected to marry someone not from ’common places’.

2. The oriori to Tu-tere-moana43 a grand nephew of Tu-hoto-ariki

This has eight long verses. It tells of the child’s mana and their turangawaewae. Their whakawhanaungatanga (genealogical links), their wairua (their spiritual links) and their responsibilities were detailed.
Each verse welcomes the baby and each verse refers to a different aspect of their coming life and urges the baby to aspire to the achievements spoken of. This is a ritualistic oriori and has passages from the teachings of the Whare Wananga. It has the lines of descent from the south of the north island up to the East Coast tribes. It refers to the purakau which, when constantly repeated, will be remembered, as examples to follow.

“Nau mai, e tama, kia mihi atu au;
I haramai ra koe i te kunenga mai o te tangata
I roto i te ahuru mowai, ka taka te pae o Huaki-pouri;
Ko te whare hangahanga tena a Tane-nui-a-rangi
I te one i Kura-waka, i tataia ai te Puhi-ariki ...

Welcome, O son, let me greet you;
You have indeed come from the origin of mankind.
From the cosy haven emerged, out from the barrier of darkness-ajar,
Out of the abode fashioned by the Renowned-Tane-of-the-heavens
On the sands at the Crimson Bowl, wherein the Exalted-one rejoiced,..

Haramai, e tama, whakaputa i a koe
ki runga te turanga matua ...
Haramai, e mau to ringa ki te kete tuauri,
Ki te kete tuatea, kit e kete aronui ...

Come now, O son, show yourself
Upon the threshold of your parents’ abode ...
Come, grasp in your hand the kit of sacred knowledge,
The kit of ancestral knowledge, the kit of life’s knowledge ...

Haramai, e tama, i te ara ka takoto i a Tane-matua;
Kia whakangungua koe nga rakau matarua na Tu-mata-uenga;
Ko nga rakau tena i patua ai Tini o Whiro i Te Pae-rangi;

Come, O son, upon the pathway of Tane-the-parent;
To your dedication with the two-edged weapon of Tu-the-war-god,
Those were the weapons that smote the hordes of Whiro-the-evil-god
at the barrier-of-the-heavens ...

Haramai, e tama, puritia i te aka matua,
Kia whitirere ake ko te Kauwae-runga, ko te kauwae-raro,

Come O son, hold fast to the parental vine,
And awaken the Celestial-knowledge and Terrestrial-knowledge…”

Tu-hoto-arikiPublished by Ngata, A. T. and Pei Te Hurinui Jones. Nga Moteatea. The Songs. Part Three. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2005. 2-19.

This oriori exhorts the boy to attain the path and deeds of Tane and thereby learn all of the knowledge available, particularly the special knowledge of the Whare Wananga. Geographical features are linked to the distant past. The boy is urged to match and surpass the achievements of his tipuna. In short, the child’s mind was to be opened to all possibilities of life, and how he could attain them.

3. Nohomaiterangi of Ngati Kahungunu44

This sings of the love and concern he has for his two sons which competes with his desire for his boys to take their places as warriors. It is a poignant oriori and full of apprehension of a father’s protective love competing with a father’s duty to prepare his sons for battle. His tipuna toa have set examples for him.

“E tama i whanake i te ata o Pipiri,
Piki nau ake, e tama,
Ki tou tini i te rangi.
O son who arose in the winter’s morn,
Ascend and proceed onward, O son,
To your myriad (kinsmen) in the heavens.”

Nohomaiterangi of Ngati KahungunuPublished by Ngata and Jones Nga Moteatea 130-133

He fears for their lives in the present time of constant battles in Heretaunga (Line 5) and he hopes that they learn well the skills (Line 6) of their illustrious and brave ancestor, Te Whatuiapiti45, as he doesn’t want them to die. ‘Taku tamaiti, hohoro te korikori’ is a desperate plea that he quickly ‘get going’ – a fatherly plea to his son to start learning-“My son bestir yourself betimes”.

“E puta ranei koe, e tama,
I te wa kaikino nei?
Taku tamaiti, hohoro te korikori;
Kia tae atu koe ki te wai ahupuke i o tipuna;
Kia wetea mai ko te topuni tauwhainga,
Hei kahu mohou kit e whakarewanga taua.

Will you, O son, survive
These times of bitter strife?
My son bestir yourself betimes
So that you may reach the sacred mountain waters of your ancestors;
And they will unfasten and present you with the prized dogskin cloak.
A mantle ‘twill be for you in the warrirors’ ranks.

Ko te toroa uta naku i tuatara
Kite akerautangi;
Ko te toroa tai naku I kapu mai
I te huka o te tai;
Whakangaro ana ki nga tai rutu i.

The plume of the land I have already point fastened
To this trusty weapon;
The plume of the sea I did pluck
From the surging waves;
It was about to disappear in the stormy seas.”

Nohomaiterangi of Ngati KahungunuPublished by Ngata and Jones Nga Moteatea 130-133

Lines 7 to 14 reveal the father’s hope that his sons learn skills well enough to carry out deeds to receive the mantle (the dogskin cloak) and ornaments of warriors (the feathers under the Kaka’s wing and feathers from under the wing of the albatross) which he has already gathered, at great effort (in surging waves) and attached to the weapons they will use. Unspoken is the father’s desire to do right by his son by giving them the best of everything while worrying about their ability and performance.

Best identifies several oriori in his book The Whare Kohanga and its Lore which were considered to be instructions to parents and caregivers. He does not always provide the source or the name of the oriori, nor a translation on the grounds of unknown words and archaic references.

4. Welcome to baby girl

One, which Best does not identify, was to a girl baby being “welcomed to the world of light” and her birth, Best says, being compared with Tane’s efforts to bring back the three baskets of knowledge from the heavens to Wharekura46.

“Nau mai, e hine! Ki te aoturoa a to tipuna a Tane-matua;
I tiki ai ki roto o matangi-reia i a Io mata ngaro; i roto o Rangiatea e whata ana
Mauria mai nei ko te kete tuauri, ko te kete tuatea, ko te kete aronui, e hine!”

UnknownPublished by Best, Elsdon. Whare Kohanga 51

The oriori continues for the next 30 lines, telling the story of Tane and Hinetitama and her descent to Rarohenga. Hinetitama was an excellent example for the girl to follow given Hinetitama’s qualities. The story of the formation of the relevant stars were explained. Best thinks the oriori is inappropriate for a child47 and so completely misses the point of their composition.

5. The oriori of Tamahau, of Ngati-Hikawera, from the Wai-rarapa district

This was composed “in retaliation to some offensive remarks made by a named man … [with the intent that] his infant [would] square the account”48. This type of oriori focused on utu, with the expectation that the son would exact revenge when an adult. Indeed, if the insulter were to die earlier, then the son was to make sure his descendants paid. The repetition of this oriori would make the insult and the utu known to all: the whanau of the offended person and the whanau of the offender.

6. In Po! Po! Po!49 from Te Aitanga-A-Mahaki, Ngati Porou by Enoka Te Pakaru

Te Pakaru was a kaumatua and seer from Turanga. It is an oriori which has 60 lines and was composed for a potiki (youngest child) hence the ‘po’ repetition. The child is crying and the kaumatua calls for food – not just ordinary food but special tasty foods gathered for a feast. Seafood, kumara and whale, all treasured foods from the tipuna to be chewed by the mother to make them palatable for the baby (“waiu”). This baby is very special.

“Pō! Pō! E tangi ana Tama ki te kai māna!
Waiho me tiki ake ki te Pou-a-hao-kai,
Hei ā mai te pakake ki uta rā. Hei waiū mō Tama!

Baby! Potiki! The boy is crying for food!
Let it be fetched from the pile of netted seafood,
And the whale be driven ashore. As mother’s food to make milk for the boy!

Kia mauria mai e tō tipuna, e Uenuku! Whakarongo! Ko te kūmara ko Parinui-te-ra.
Ka hikimata te tapuae o Tangaroa, Ka whaimata te tapuae o Tangaroa.
Tangaroa! Ka haruru!

Let it be brought by your ancestor, the rainbow-god Uenuku! Listen! The
kumara is from the Great Cliffs of the Sun.
The footsteps spell of the sea-god Tangaroa is begun,
The stamping ritual of Tangaroa is performed.
Tangaroa! The steps resound!”

Enoka Te PakaruPublished by Ngata, A. T. and Pei Te Hurinui Jones. Nga Moteatea. The Songs. Part Two. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2005. 216-227.

The child is part of the journey of the kumara to New Zealand because of the tupuna who brought the kumara.

Analysis of Oriori

These waiata were motivational and inspirational and showed the children what the desired behaviours were. Boys and girls were urged to learn esoteric and practical knowledge. The principle of tapu was primary in these oriori. Children were tapu. The mention of Io and the atua in the oriori indicated the spiritual connection. As a child, these restrictions were not strictly adhered to with other children but adults were always mindful. Tohunga, priests and experts, chiefs and ariki imposed the rules of tapu and maintained them, therefore children were protected by all adults.

Oriori referenced the main goals that were to bring up children to be bold, brave and independent of thought and action within the whanau/hapu. The idea was that when the child was ready, they would ask about any information which signalled the beginning of children’s education.

Oriori repeated the glorious deeds of the tipuna, which the child was encouraged to emulate. At times they were instructed to avenge a wrong done to a relative. Features of the child’s turangawaewae were always referenced and these were linked to purakau. Adults who were listening, including the parents and whanau members, were reminded who the children were and the whole hapu and iwi were reminded of their whakapapa.

Children of tutua (commoners, free people) and taurekareka (slaves) learned waiata. While the oriori emphasised the attributes of the ariki (highest ranking chiefs) and rangatira (chiefs) classes, the majority were further from the direct chiefly lines. Hopes and aspirations for the children of tutua were expressed in their own whanau with simple celebrations to express their happiness. The children were not treated harshly but joined with the chiefly children in daily life together as whanau. As Buck stated, “[T]hey had no inheritance of mana or tapu and no prospects of power and prestige”50, but there were exceptions. Many tutua had exceptional skills. Best found that it was sometimes hard to find a commoner51.


42 Ngata and Jones Nga Moteatea 2-7.
43 Ngata, A. T. and Pei Te Hurinui Jones. Nga Moteatea. The Songs. Part Three. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2005. 2-19.
44 Ngata Nga Moteatea 130-133.
45 Ngata Nga Moteatea 131.
46 Best, Whare Kohanga 51.
47 Best Whare Kohanga 51.
48 Best, Whare Kohanga 52.
49 Ngata, A. T. and Pei Te Hurinui Jones. Nga Moteatea. The Songs. Part Two. Auckland: Auckland University
Press, 2005. 216-227.
50 Hiroa, Coming of the Maori 350.
51Best, Elsdon. The Maori as He Was. Wellington: Government Printer, 1952. 340.

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.