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Legends to the characters (and landscapes photographed) of The tree of Tane


Te Kore


In the beginning there was no sky, no sea, no earth, no gods. There was only Te Kore, Nothingness, the Void. The real beginning was out of nothing. From this void the original parents arose.




Mother Earth

Her name means foundation, flat surface. She’s earth expanding beneath her husband Rangi, the sky. Papa has many extended names, such as Papa-tu-nuku (Papa the widened). She supports and sustains her human sons, providing food and the conditions necessary for life. Darkness is inside her and her children enter her body when they die.


Photo: The Taranaki region, with its fertile volcanic soil.




Father Sky

His name means sky. Since he is the first male figure, men owe their nature to Rangi. Men in general are tall and like him are associated with light. Since his forced separation from Papa, only his son Tawhirimatea, the wind, accompanies him.


Photo: The changing sky of the Kuku region.




God of earthquakes and volcanoes

He is the youngest of the sons of Papa and Rangi. He had not yet been born when they were separated, so that he remains in his mother’s womb. His movements inside her are the cause of seismic and volcanic activity.


Photo: The volcano Taranaki, hidden behind the forest that surrounds its base.




God of the ocean

He is father of fishes and marine creatures. After the separation of the parents he was attacked by Tawhirimatea – lord of the winds – so he was forced to flee and hide at the bottom of the sea. The reptiles, whose ancestor he also is, took refuge in the forest. Since then, Tangaroa has been an enemy of the god of forests, Tane, since he took in his fugitive sons. This antagonism represents the eternal battle between the ocean and the earth, of which Tane is lord since he is master of the forest and its creatures.


Photo: The imposing Tasmanian Sea, seen from Taranaki toward the Antarctic




God of war

This fierce warrior is the son that proposed killing the parents Papa and Rangi in order to separate them. Since the beginning of time he has had human form, and was the creator of men. Tawhirimatea (god of winds) in his fury attacked his brothers on earth, and only Tumatauenga stood up to him. All the others fled (Tane to the forest, Tangaroa to the bottom of the sea and Rongo and Haumia inside their mother earth), so that he had to fight alone. After that he turned against his brothers and killed them. Tumatuenga thus set the pattern for the future, and the brothers he killed (who represent respectively birds and trees, fishes and reptiles, cultivated and wild plants) became the creatures and plants on which humans depend for survival. That is why as sons of Tumatauenga we are lords of forest and sea, and if we perform the right rituals we can safely use the children of Tane, Tangaroa, Rongo and Haumia. But Tumatauenga is not only a god of war. He is also a great orator, a purveyor of knowledge. He is a god of wisdom.


Photo: Heemi Te Peeti

Heemi Te Peeti was one of the central figures in this project. I traveled to his town, not only to meet and photograph him, but also to get him to give me the tattoo I had been waiting years for. He’s a historian and expert in Maori traditions and culture, as well as a teacher of traditional martial arts, including making the weapons. But above all, he’s an artist who has received from his ancestors the traditional training in wood carving and the art of Maori tattoo. His tattoo studio is in his home, and he also teaches a few pupils there in this traditional art. The studio is completely covered in photos and reproductions of Maoris tattooed in various distinctive ways, who seem to be watching and encouraging the people about to submit to the painful ritual, which is a sort of rite of initiation.


Heemi writes:

I was raised in Shannon within the tribal boundries of Ngati Raukawa te au ki te tonga , other tribal connections are Te Arawa , Te Ati Haunui a paparangi,Ngai Tuhoe,ngati hine ki te taitokerau,ngati apa ki te ra to, ngati kuia ki te waipounamu Native speaker of te reo maori,orator,traditional maori wood carver & ta moko artist traditional tools(uhi/bone chisel) & contempary techniques using modern tattoo machines, now residing in foxton , running various schools of learning known to the maori people as Te Whare Wananga...


Ko nga uri o Tumatauenga ko nga uri o te po....

kia u ki to mana motuhake,

ko te iwi maori,

Toku tino rangatiratanga,

ko tona huarahi ko te whakaiti.. ko te whakaiti...

he aha te mea nui o te ao..

he tangata... he tangata... he tangata.....



We are the decendants of Tumatauenga... our realm is the night....

Hold fast to the essence of being maori the true pathway of chiefs before

you....for it is humility... for it is humility.....

what is important in the world... it is is people



Tane Mahuta

God of forests

This was the god who succeeded in separating his parents. He found the lights to adorn his father – he threw up the stars, the sun and the moon, until finally Rangi was beautiful. Being the ancestor of trees and birds, Tane is present in his descendents, so that he has to be propitiated before cutting down a tree. Since houses are built of wood, they also belong to Tane. And birds singing at dawn are Tane’s mouth. He is the lord of earth.


Photo: Forest in a protected area on the slopes of Taranaki




The woman of clay

She was created by Tane out of red clay, according to the instructions of her mother Papa. Then Tane clothed the figure and breathed into her mouth, so that life entered her.


Photo: The wild coast of Taranaki




God of cultivated foods

He is one of the greatest gods, being the father of agriculture, and especially father of the kumara (sweet potato), a vitally important crop. He is a god of peace, since agriculture brings peace to humanity.


Photo: Cultivated lands in the Kuku region, near Levin



Haumia Tiketike

God of wild foods

He is associated especially with the tree fern and its sugary rhizome, which was an important part of the Maoris’ diet in early times. His brother Tawhirimatea would have killed him if he hadn’t taken refuge inside his mother, as his brother Rongo also did.


Photo: Tree ferns near Waikanae




God of winds.

Father of all winds – which he keeps in the hollow of his hand – he opposed his brothers’ separation of their parents. He’s a powerful god who makes them suffer the fury that the separation caused him.


Photo: The relentless wind moves the flax plants, in the Parihaka region.



Hine Titama

The dawn

She was the first daughter of Tane and Hine-ahu-one, represented by the light of dawn. Her beauty was so great that in ancient times a beautiful woman could be told as a compliment, You are Hine Titama and just to see you brings tears to my eyes…


Photo: Dawn on the coast of Kapiti




Goddess of night and death

This is the goddess of darkness, of the underworld, where she fled when she discovered she was married to her own father. She is a beautiful woman, very maternal, who brings together and looks after her children after their death. When she fled from Tane he followed her, but she prevented him entering her new realm, telling him he must bring up their children on the earth. Tane went back and she remained below, waiting only for Maui – the mythological trickster hero – in order to bring death into the world and thus begin the endless procession of mortals to her realm. Her beauty is related to the idea that Maui’s death represents the end of pride and stupidity, since it was Maui’s lack of respect for Hine-nui-te-po that brought it about. But that is another story, which we won’t go into now…

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