An Annotated & Illustrated Collection of Worldwide Links
to Mythologies, Fairy Tales & Folklore
Sacred Arts & Traditions

Kathleen Jenks, Ph.D.




Indigenous Peoples:  THE MAORI


 "Greenstone" [Jade] Maori Hei Tiki
Otago Museum, Dunedin, New Zealand
(Photo by Ron Johnson,
originally from a now defunct eNZed art page, see below)

Maori Folklore and Books

Pakiwaitara:  A visually arresting and wonderful "Story Index" of 20 Maori storytelling sites; 19 of them offer one tale each, many told by Hana Weka in evocative, powerful prose (several of the others are nicely illustrated with photos of geological features "explained" by their myths).  Near the bottom of the list is "Legends from Rotorua": -- if you click on this one, you'll access 12 more tales at a site called "Maori Memories, Legend and Folklore."  For yet one more additional tale, look near the top of the list for "How the Kiwi Lost His Wings" (a great little tale! -- to save the trees, which were being killed by bugs, the little kiwi sacrificed his wings in order to remain grounded forever, eating the bugs): if you click on this tale and read to the bottom, its homepage link will give you access to yet one more story, "Te Houtaewa," about a swift running trickster.
Note:  see under "COMMON THEMES: Earth Goddesses" for direct links to three of Hana Weka's narratives about the Earth-Mother and her offspring; and "COMMON THEMES: Sky Gods" for  Hana Weka's re-telling of the "forgotten brother" who stayed with his Sky-God father.
This site has 12 tales, all by Hana Weka, and many of them duplicates of those found at the above site.  There are a few new ones, however, including one on a Maori Snow Maiden.  For the inexperienced, there's no obvious place to click on the homepage: scroll past the cobalt blue letters on the black background until you reach red letters.  Click on any of these and the list of 12 emerges.  I don't know how authentically Maori  these tales are, but the writing style is evocative, simple, powerful.  As stories, they work beautifully.  (FYI: I've e-mailed many Maori and New Zealand sites asking for a way to contact Hana Weka for biographical data; all tell me they have no idea how to reach her.)

This is the Index of Maori Theology with three narratives listed.  One, "The Maori Supreme Being," is about Io, a being so holy and secret that even most Maori once had no knowledge of him; the essay dates from 1927.  Another, "Ratana Pa," is about a Christian church founded by a Maori visionary, T.W. Ratana (d.1939); it includes color photos of the church-temple, the area, the people; if you follow through to the end, there's a large section of links to other related sites -- some are sites I've already bookmarked for these pages; others are new, and you might wish to explore these on your own.  The last of the three narratives, "Maori Theology," is by the late Michael Shirres, Ph.D., who died in November 1997 of a nerve disease (friends keep his site going).  Because his site is so rich, I'm giving it a direct link (see below)....

Maori Theology:  This is a site by Michael Shirres, Ph.D. (see above).  The design has a "busy" look but don't let this hinder you.  Shirres offers a number of unusual essays on Maori-Christian views on death, violence, and Christ -- his personal anecdotes are engaging and wise.  He includes a chant for a newborn Maori child, as well as one for the dying.  In an especially rich essay "What is Maori Theology?", he explores his topic briefly but the real value lies in his series of amazing, lengthy links to sites within sites on the three baskets of knowledge, mana, tapu, noa, and other Maori terms -- these long essays-within-an-essay contain a wealth of fine scholarship, mythic lore, chant, history, and insight as one winds more deeply into their heart.  Although I've only had time to explore a few of these linked-essays -- they open a fascinating window on Maori thought and I look forward to returning often.

This is the Maori Literature Index.  It includes Maori holdings in the National Archives, the National Library, Auckland University, and a number of other places.  It also includes on-line book services (with search engines) for those interested in buying books on the Maori.  Like many Maori websites, this one is attractive, and bold (white text and red and white Maori patterns on a black background).

Books Pasifika Ltd.:  this on-line bookstore is a specialist in Maori books for all ages, both in English and Maori.

Maori History


Carved Prow of a Maori Canoe
(Source unknown)
This is the Index of Maori History, another handsome site in the "Index of Maori..." series.  The handful of sections are useful, although generally brief.  Suggested readings may be found at some sites, as well as links to related topics.  The bottom section, called "Maori History" (one of three at this site with the same name) offers an opening portion on folklore, which touches on themes also used by Hana Weka.
This is another collection of links to Maori and general New Zealand history, ancient and modern.  It is huge.  One could spend days here.

Maori Sacred Arts & Craftsmanship


Detail of Tattooed Maori Warriors
(Artist Unknown but taken from "Maori Tattooing: Moko" website: see below)

"How to Read Carving":  This informative little site looks at Maori carving as a form of historical record dating back 500 years.  In a series of eight B&W sketches, it demonstrates how to distinguish various types and origin points based on overrall shape plus specific eye, ear, and forehead ("peak") patterns.  Unfortunately, the site raises more questions than it answers: it gives one a sense of the complexity of using these carvings as a historical record, but it gives no clearcut example as to how this might actually work in practice.  Nevertheless, it's worth a visit, if  for no other reason than to be humbled and dissuaded from ever attempting to interpret a Maori carving too quickly.

"Background of Maori Carving":  This site, related to the above, discusses the background of carving materials (wood, jade, bone, and basalt) and it also gives carving tips for those so inclined.  I found it fascinating -- even the information on chisels ("...don't grind them unnecessarily -- ten seconds on a grinder takes off one year of  life") and on carving with the grain ("Always work with the grain and have patience -- for the grain goes where it wants to go, not where you think it should").  There is also excellent data on the trees used in wood carving -- the rarest wood of all, for example, the totara burl, is produced only by "bad growth years" -- a fact resonant with psychological implications.

In an eerie sense, at least to most Westerners, carving in wood, jade, bone, and basalt, is also related by the Maori to carving human bodies.  Among the Maori, this art form is called moko, and it was a sign of high rank and spiritual commitment, both for men and women.  In a warrior society, it was also a very practical art because tattooed warriors inspired great fear in their enemies -- their bodies were proof that such warriors could withstand intense pain.  Further, if a body were decapitated (and heads were of great value here, just as they were among the Celts, Scythians, and nomads of Eurasia), it could still be identified by the tattooing on its thighs, buttocks, legs.
This website, "Moko & Muskets: Tattoo History Source Book, New Zealand," offers 19th century data on this art (including 5 good references).  Much of the data comes from the 1896 book of a British officer, Major General Robley (also see below), who fought the Maori but also respected their warriors, and apparently their women, for he fathered three part-Maori children.
Since tattooing is a current fad in the West, it should be pointed out that Maori tattooing is distinguished by the kind of carving one would expect in such non-human raw materials as wood, bone, jade, stone --that is, it is distinguished by its "scarred ridges and grooves."  Thus, a major characteristic of moko is intense pain and blood.  Maori men and women did not subject themselves to this because it was a fad; nor was it a way to rebel against societal standards.  For them, moko was part of a revered and ancient socio-religious context.
Note:  this site offers links to worldwide tattooing history, both ancient and modern.
Maori Tattooing:  "Moko":  This site offers a lengthy and intriguing essay on moko, or Maori tattooing.  It looks at it in terms of a rite of passage for both genders; it is seen as one's signature, or identity, recognizable by all, even when reproduced on a piece of paper.  In some instances, the moko design is an exact replica of plaitwork mats, which suggests an obvious correspondence between the human and vegetative realms.
This essay discusses the trade in tattooed human heads once the Maori realized that the British were avid collectors of such "curios."  These post-contact heads often belonged to commoners who were tattooed after death solely to satisfy trade demands.  Even Major General  Robley (see above) was photographed c. 1902 at his home in England against a backdrop of  "33 tattooed Maori heads hung on butcher hooks."
Again, it should be noted that Maori faces were carved , not punctured (a puncturing technique was reserved for other parts of the body); in some cases, the process was so lengthy and painful that only those who could afford servants to feed and tend them after the ritual procecure could afford moko.
In more ancient times, moko has been dated back to the Oceanic culture of the 2nd millennium BCE, where it is speculated that tattooing created and maintained a spiritual link with the ancestors.  In this regard, the essay discusses a wonderful legend in which mako is related to the art of weaving, or plaiting threads, an art which, along with moko, originated in the underworld.
Note: on my browser, only the link called "other areas" came through (a detail of its  B&W photo is reproduced at the start of this sub-section); all the many other links failed to connect.
Expressions: Ta Moko:  this is the final moko site I'm including here.  It's a bit fragmented and awkward to navigate, but in addition to looking briefly at the religious significance of the Wharenui, or meeting house, it has several fine photos of  trees used for carving as well as of tattoos on male and female faces; finally, it conveys a sense of the sacredness of the ritual art of moko.  As the unknown author writes, after offering to answer e-mailed questions, some things he or she "...cannot discuss due to this subject being very Tapu (Sacred)."  A link on tapu then connects one to a lengthy and fine essay written by the late Michael Shirres, Ph.D. (see above under "Maori Folklore Books").

 Maori:  General

Fjord in Milford Sound of South Island, New Zealand
(Source Unknown)

Native Web "Listings for Maori."  This is another in an excellent, very rich series on indigenous peoples created by Native Web.  There are subcategories here as well as a search engine -- if you do a search on a Maori topic, however, remember to specify "Maori" somewhere in the parameters or you'll get data from the entire body of indigenous references based at this site.  There is even a Maori-English/English-Maori dictionary at this site.

This is the site for eNZed: New Zealand Information.  It is extensive, including frequent daily news updates at some sites; also information on such changing categories as wildlife, history, travel, humor, newspapers, magazines, government, immigration, business, livestock, weather, earthquakes, authors, books, libraries, awards, TV, film, music, art, and journals.  If you want to explore New Zealand in general, this is the site for it.

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Copyright 1998 by Kathleen Jenks, Ph.D.