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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.


Maata Wharehoka (Ngati Tahinga, Koata, Luia)

Hospitable and generous, she received me in her house on the last afternoon I was in the Taranaki region. A welcoming, maternal house, full of photos of relatives, especially her descendents.


Maata writes:

Born 22/12/50, at a little place called Whakamarama, Tauranga to the tribes of Pirirakau of Tauranga, I live at Parihaka, Taranaki, New Zealand, where my husband is from.  Been here for 21yrs. I have 5 children and raised many foster children.  I have six mokopuna. My working background is Health and Education whilst my interests are many from weaving, writing, keeping tikanga Maori at its optimum. I enjoy and highly respect what Papatuanuku provides  - food to eat and fibre to weave which ultimately provides me with a little bit of money with which to have fun. I enjoy restoring things to their former glory or making something out of nothing.


My favourite proverb is:

He maru ahiahi, kei muri te maru awatea

He paki arohirohi kei mua

After the shades of evening comes the dusk of dawn

Whilst before lies the shimmering glory of a fair day.



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.


Phillip Putu (Ngati Tukorehe of Tapapa and Kuku)

Also called out of affection and respect Uncle Phillip, he belongs to the Kuku community. He’s a very courteous and happy person. He takes part in many of the community activities centered on the Community House or Marae. There Phillip performs a daily routine of guided physical exercises, in which many other men and women of retirement age also take part. This is one of the many activities that the Community House runs and offers to the community that maintains it.




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.


Jason Ropata (Ngati Toarangatira, Porirua; Te Ati Awa, Waikanae; Ngati Raukawa, Otaki)

Another participant in the educational environmental meetings for Maori students of Kaitanga, at Kuku. He is always in a good mood, in spite of his ‘volcanic’ appearance. He accompanied us (?) one morning to see a coastal wetland area. On that sunny day, he was the first I photographed, dazzled by his tattoos.




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.


Kahu Ropata (Ngati Toarangatira, Porirua; Te Ati Awa, Waikanae; Ngati Raukawa, Otaki)

A natural leader, he is also a participant in the educational environmental meetings for Maori students of Kaitanga, at Kuku. He has developed in his region a project for the recovery of the soil and environment of an impoverished area. When I was leaving, he addressed a few words to me and said goodbye in the name of the Kuku community, in both Maori and English. Finally he gave me an envelope with a hundred dollars, as part of the farewell ritual. He said that earlier people were given food for their journey, but that now they were giving me that money so I could eat what I wanted.




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.


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.


Maikara Marsden

Maikara was the person around whom this project was woven. He was born in the north of Aotearoa, in a town near the place where the true Tane Mahuta is to be found: a huge kauri tree more than 1,250 years old, the biggest in existence. Maikara was one of the few young people of his generation who had Maori as his mother tongue. In our long conversations he gave me a lot of important information for developing this tree. He has a great knowledge of Maori history and mythology and is an activist in defense of his people’s rights. His facial tattoo, done by Heemi te Peeti, shows his genealogy and origin. Artist and potter, he sometimes teaches young people and children about Maori tradition and culture.




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.


Atiria Reid

A calm, reserved woman, she also takes part in the educational environmental meetings for Maori students of Kaitanga, at Kuku. Since she lives far away she also slept – as did Dr.Smith and I – in the ancestors’ house. That night it was very cold and there was a storm with thunder. They commented that the meeting of our ancestors must be powerful, because it was an unusual storm. While we rested, we talked about Maori mythology, and she told us about the importance of the female deities, the goddesses, especially Hine-ahu-one, whom she represents here.




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.


Hori Rolleston (Te Arawa)

Another of the students of the educational environmental meetings for Maori students of Kaitanga, at Kuku. In his region he has managed a project for the restoration and reforestation of an area of wetlands and forests that had been damaged and polluted. It has had encouraging results. Participation in the workshop gives him additional tools.



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.


Te Miringa Hohaia (Taranaki Tuturu and Taranaki Whaanui)

Te Miringa was one of the people who helped me most in my work, giving me a lot of valuable information. As a musician, activist and historian, he was a prominent figure in cultural and political spheres in Taranaki, and in the revival of the traditional song and dance of Parihaka. For decades he had been a passionate advocate of Maori land rights. He lived on the coast of Taranaki, near the Parihaka fort. He was the custodian of the house of the ancestors at Parihaka and has long been involved with this locality. He edited the book Parihaka: the Art of Passive Resistance, and helped curate the exhibition of the same name. He was also director of the Parihaka Peace Festival, held annually in that town, in which musicians from all over the world take part.




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.


Hape Roera (Ngati Kikopiri of Muhunoa, Ohau)

He was in the army and has had several jobs. At present he is active in the educational environmental meetings for Maori students of Kaitanga (a Maori group for the conservation of nature and culture), directed by Dr.Huhana Smith at the Kuku Community Center. In these workshops the students present, develop and carry out projects for restoration, conservation and development of the environment in different ecosystems. During the weekend when they kindly received me in the workshop, Hape was one of the most attentive and generous, and his books were very useful to me; he gave me one of the books that has given me most information about the Maori culture.



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…


Tania Te Whenua (Ngati Tuhoe, Te Whakatoea)

I met Tania at the dawn of my journey, as soon as I arrived in New Zealand, at the Te Papa Museum, and I was surprised by her outstanding beauty and friendliness. I thought at that moment – before I had gone more deeply into Maori mythology – that I would like to photograph her to portray her as the most beautiful female deity. One month later, the day I was leaving, I took her photo, the last of the series.


Tania writes:

Senior Researcher at New Zealand's national museum (Te Papa Tongarewa) who supports the repatriation of Maori ancestral remains from overseas institutions to New Zealand. Tania was raised by her Mäori community on her homelands on New Zealand's northern east coast. Now herself the mother of two children, Tania has completed a Bachelor of Arts (Mäori Resource Management) and Bachelor of Laws from Victoria University of Wellington and is currently completing a Masters in Law focusing on indigenous cultural property rights. Tania also provides professional development to New Zealand's public sector on the Maori language, culture and the Treaty of Waitangi (New Zealand's founding constitutional document).




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…


Takarea Rawhiti Rangataua

Takarea is a sweet, serene woman, helper and companion of Heemi Te Peeti. Like him, she gave me important information about Maori mythology. She received and fed me in her home, and was Heemi’s assistant during the long process of the tattoo. Together they are carrying on a crusade for the revival, defense and appreciation of Maori culture in its most traditional forms.


Takarea writes:

I was born and raised in the nurturing arms of my people of Ngati Turangitukua, Ngati Karauia, Turumakina, Te Maunga, Ngati Tutemohuta, nga hapu o Tuwharetoa.


Te whaariki-(Maori woven- mat), that cushions my feet as I tread the pathways of my Tupuna-(ancestors) before me. It reveals the intricacies of time, labour of love, and designs of ancient thoughts and movements of a people. Of which I adhere to and apply too, in my life as a weaver, wife, mother, and kuia of my mokopuna- descendants, who will walk my future. This is who I am.

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