Volume 72 1963 > Volume 72, No. 4 > Guardian animals of the Maori, by Erik Schwimmer, by 397 - 410
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- 397

THIS PAPER is based on field work among a small tribe called Ngati Wai who live in the Northland region of New Zealand, along the East Coast from the Whangarei Harbour to the Bay of Islands. Only a strip of land a few miles wide along this coast is Ngati Wai territory, the rest belonging to its mightier neighbour Ngapuhi. Like other Maori tribes, the Ngati Wai have sold the greater part of their ancestral land to Europeans, many have migrated out of the district and the rest can find little paid employment on their isolated rocky strip of coast land.

The most populous part of Ngati Wai territory is Whangaruru, the area with which this study is specially concerned. The Whangaruru district covers the following localities: 1 Mokau, Oakura, Whangaruru North, Whangaruru South, Punaruku and Ngaiotonga. These localities all surround the Whangaruru Harbour which opens to the sea in the south and is closed in by a peninsula in the east. The 1961 census showed a Maori population of 310 and European of 110, a considerable reduction since 1956 when the figures were respectively 371 and 129. If one includes people who regularly visit Whangaruru at weekends, there were 370 Maoris in Whangaruru in 1960.

Structurally, this population used to be divided into a great many hapu or sub-tribes. Nine hapu used to have settlements in the Whangaruru district. Today, the names of these hapu are still remembered by some but only two remain to some extent a basis of political division; the present tendency is to forget the traditional hostility between these two hapu and seek to fuse them, which will be easy now that hardly anyone is left who cannot claim descent from both. The two hapu are Uri o Hikihiki, which lives along the western side of the harbour, and Ngati Tautahi, which lives on the peninsula and in the northern part of the district. The other hapu have fused into these two. 2

As in other parts of New Zealand, traditional religion has been almost entirely replaced by Christianity, 73% of the Whangaruru population being Mormon. One of the few features of Maori religion to have survived is the belief in guardian animals which is described in this paper. Even this is to some extent involved with Mormon belief, for some guardian animals punish offenders by causing demonic possession and the cure against this has for the last two generations been a Mormon blessing carried out by two elders, usually tribesmen. In spite of these new techniques for dealing with spirit possession, the basic pre-European conception of the guardian animals has remained.

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I first became aware of the importance of the guardian spirits when I asked my informants (in 17 households) the question: ‘What is mana?’ I had included this question on my list in order to learn about the world picture of this community. In many districts nowadays the word mana has extended its original meaning to include almost any kind of community status. I have often heard it said that, in order to obtain mana, it is sufficient to become secretary of a tribal committee. How common this debased usage is among Maoris I really do not know, but the fact that Europeans use the word indiscriminately to denote ‘status’ may have had an influence on some Maori people as well.

In Whangaruru, such use of the word, when I suggested it, was rejected with some horror. I was told only a very few exceptional people “had” mana; the word used in this sense denoted a quality of these people. In addition most informants described, in answer to my question, the guardian animals of Whangaruru to whom they gave the collective name of mana; the word therefore also connotes a class of divine beings. I did not find the word used in any other than these two senses. It was always associated with supernatural power. Some used it to connote the power of the Christian God, but for this they have Biblical authority. 3

In order to understand the power of the guardian animals, it will be helpful to show what the people of Whangaruru mean by “having mana”. First, here are some verbatim statements from informants:

  • Inf. 29: A powerful thing in the olden days—you could do nothing without it.
  • Inf. 40: A sort of will-power.
  • Inf. 3: People who have it think no one can question them or discuss any matter concerning their lives or background. Examples: get facilities for the tribe from the government; supply wants of the people out of one's own pocket; on the marae can run you down to nothing; are successful at anything they lay their hands on; may lose a case in Court but somehow will get their way in the end; always win in debate, even against missionaries. If he wants something, you'd better give it to him quickly; he'll get it in the end.
  • Inf. 8: An educated person would never believe a man had that power: ‘you'll die tomorrow’. People used to say that—mana.
  • Inf. 12: Second sight, knowing when trouble comes.

In all these examples there is, on the one hand, a powerful human being; and on the other hand, an area of life where there can never be certainty, where fate (aitua) operates, over which the mana-imbued person prevails.

The examples are all very close to what we have come to understand of mana, from the classical literature. The fisherman who catches fish has mana, because success in fishing is essentially uncertain. The soldier who wins a victory, the witchdoctor who cures a patient are all, in their own spheres, prevailing over a fateful hazard. Lehmann accepts that a man with great mana will succeed where by human reckoning he ought to fail. 4

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Raymond Firth, analysing the concept of mana in Tikopia 5 shows similarly that mana is “correlated always with concrete situations”, of which he instances: falling of rain, growth of food, advent of calms, relief of sickness—all of them events over which man's control is peculiarly incomplete.

Furthermore, the quality of mana is ordinarily continuous in the people who have it. Unless someone destroys their mana or they transgress a rule of tapu, they can expect, with constant effort, to retain their mana and even increase it. It is part of their identity. There is a European saying that it is hard to be a beautiful woman. Similarly, it is hard to be a man with mana. Maintaining it in all circumstances is a constant strain. As one informant said: “You can really see it in people who exercise it; they can't leave it alone.” They are not only strong, they must show their strength. 6

From what has already been quoted it is already clear that the Whangaruru Maori—including the majority of conforming Mormons—do believe that in the past there were Maoris with mana. It is harder to say whether they believe that members of their community have such power today. Nobody acknowledged that any specific named person still living in Whangaruru has mana. On the other hand, informant 8, rather modern in outlook in most of his other statements, said of the present elders of the tribe: “Some things they still think they can do. They have that mana.” He did not specify just what things they were, but elsewhere the same informant referred to black magic. In fact, nobody would dare to provoke the active hostility of one of the old men. There was one man who seemed to me to be exhibiting mana to some degree. He was of high descent, powerfully built, elderly; he always wore an air of command; was a valued leader of men in community enterprises, had quarrelled with the Mormon Church because he would not defer to its authority; if he grazed his horses in another's paddock or took another man's crops, nobody dared complain. His father, whom I was told he resembled, was revered and obeyed because of his mana. I am sure, all the same, that whatever awe still survives is far less strong than one generation ago. People are increasingly believing that human mana is illusory and that no educated man, no member of the Church, need fear it.

Guardian animals are deities who have entered a specific member of an animal species. They are named after an ancestor of the hapu whose members it is their function to protect. Best classes them 7 as gods of the lowest degree; he accords higher rank to Io (Class I), to the sons of Rangi and Papa (Class II), and to those gods who, though appearing in tribal genealogies, have become identified with natural forces (Class III: e.g. the rainbow gods Uenuku and Kahukura). It is odd that Best should have insisted on this ranking system, for the functions he assigns the “higher” gods—like ensuring good harvests and “impersonating” the thunder—are fairly remote from modern - 400 notions of God's concern with the world; whereas the guardians who guide and warn their descendants, support them in war and punish transgressions, are far closer to having a divine purpose as modern man understands it. The guardian animals, irrespective of their ranking, have survived in many districts of New Zealand as late as 1960, whereas the other gods have long disappeared.

In Whangaruru the guardians are always called mana. This term is not used throughout New Zealand; the Tuhoe tribe, for instance, describes the same type of deity as kaitiaki (guardians). The Whangaruru term mana expresses the belief that the guardians are the source from which human beings derive the power they call mana.

The relationship between human mana and that of the guardians was put clearly by one informant, who said in reply to my standard question (What is mana?):

Inf. 13: Mana are various spirits, a bird, a dog, a shark and so forth. People also have mana when they have the mana of the tribe visit them and give them the power. This only happens to a chief of the family or tribe and only to some chiefs, not all. Only if tapu is kept undefiled.

We should note here, in the second sentence, the word ‘also’. Evidently the informant considers human mana secondary to the mana of the guardians; furthermore, the guardians are in every case the source of the mana.

The other informants confirmed this. Morore Piripi, whose knowledge of the mana was the most extensive, explained that if the guardians, the mana, deserted a chief—for instance, if he had broken a tapu—then his mana (his personal mana) would also have disappeared. This is what happened after the Europeans came; access to the guardians was largely lost. “They are present everywhere; there may be one sitting outside the window here,” the old man told me, “but as we are not leading a pure (i.e. tapu) life, you and I would not see them.”

According to this conception, mana does not lie simply in the chief as a man, but is given by the spirits. As this is also believed by the Tikopia 8 we need not doubt a priori that the Whangaruru statements conform to classical Polynesian thought. On the other hand it is hard to reconcile them with Johansen's Durkheimesque presentation where society is the source of mana and where the phenomenon of spirit mana is disposed of in one, not very satisfactory, example. 9

During interviews in 17 Whangaruru households only six animal guardians were reported and most of these repeatedly, so that I must assume that all the others have been forgotten. Two of them are sharks, the others are: a stingray, a morepork, a dog and a shag. - 401 These guardians can be recognised by special marks which distinguish them from others of their species and by their behaviour which is free from the fear wild creatures usually have of man. They come very close, show themselves deliberately, utter unusual cries. Their behaviour closely resembles the God-inhabited animals in Tikopia described by Firth. 10

I know of no ritual which will either summon forth the guardians or propitiate them. They come of themselves; their appearance always has a specific and important meaning for those who see them. Though as guardians they do not receive sacrifices, Tautahi (a shark) as protector of the fishing and shellfish grounds is said to be ‘eating’ them during the off-season when the grounds are tapu. Killing the guardians is thought to be impossible; for instance I was told of Tautahi that no gun could shoot him. A shark identified as Tautahi by his markings appeared in the Whangaruru harbour in the summer 1960-61. The European holiday-makers tried to kill him from launches while the Maoris watched excitedly from the shore. To their amusement, the shark managed to evade his pursuers every time, confirming that he was immortal.

The guardian animals fall into two categories according to their sex. The male guardians (shark, stingray, shag, dog) all belong to edible diurnal species. Though they provide members of their hapu with certain forms of protection, warning, help and advice, they also have the capacity to kill offenders, whether they are members of the hapu or not. There is nothing sacred or fearful about the ordinary members of the species to which, these guardians belong; the tapu individual stands apart from the others which are regarded without special respect.

In the other category is Hineruru, a female spirit, embodied in a morepork. She belongs to a nocturnal species, never eaten and generally regarded with some fear, as likely to contain ghosts and bring evil. Hineruru can protect, warn, help and advise but she cannot kill. The worst punishment she can inflict is to withdraw her support. There is, too, a difference in the kind of messages she imparts. The other mana are concerned with events of everyday life, getting lost at sea or in the bush, Tautahi's right to part of the food supply, and so on. Hineruru, however, is a messenger from the world of death, for it is she who appears when people are dying or when visitors are arriving—which in Maori symbolism is a kind of return from the dead.

Thus the guardians reflect the Maori dichotomy between the spheres of day and night, male and female, life and fate, tapu and noa. 11 In this universe the female and nocturnal aspect is not always unpropitious and free of tapu; on the contrary, the female had her own dangerous, though intermittent, tapu, and if her sexuality was denoted as the “whare o aitua” (the house of destiny or death) it was at the same time the house of fertility and communion. This propitious aspect of femininity is strongly present in Hineruru. The relationship - 402 between man and the male mana is formal; they only appear and are regarded, shall we say, for business reasons. For Hineruru people have a deep affection. They love having her around and like to talk about her as though she is part of the family.


Tautahi: The ancestor Tautahi comes from the Kaikohe district, some 60 miles from Whangaruru and flourished, according to the genealogies, around 1700 A.D. He was at most a transient visitor to Whangaruru. In the 19th century, his descendant Te Kauwhata settled there; his descent from a senior line of Ngapuhi, and his personal qualities made him extraordinarily influential. When he married Huke, from a senior Whangaruru family, he intended to call his first son Tautahi after his ancestor. But the child was still-born; his mother threw the body into the water. The child was then believed to have turned into a taniwha, a shark which is also called Tautahi.

Tautahi is still in the harbour today, a shark with a ring on its side like a John Dory. Another version says he has seaweed on his back. As guardian of the fish and shellfish in the harbour he punishes anyone infringing his tapu. He is thought responsible for the disappearance of a child who was playing along the water in the nineteen thirties, for the child had previously broken a tapu. Tautahi guides his descendants—but no one else—to safety if they are in trouble at sea. People feel reassured to see him swimming behind their boat. His genealogy is:

Family Tree. Rahiri=Whakaruru, Tangaroa=Pariroa, Rawhakitua=Whakaoko, Moerangaranga=Hauaraki, Tomuri=Tanehaeata, Te Rehu=Tautahi, Whango=Urutakina, Taiomanga=Huha, Whakatara=Waikahia, Huamoa=Kiwa, Komako=Te Hae, Te Kauwhata=Huke, 1. Tautahi II (still-born), 2. Ruiha, 3. Ritihia, 4. Hone Tautahi, Ruiha=Pita, Hohepa=Harata, Waitai

This genealogy opens, as customary, with the ancestor of the tribe, in this case Ngapuhi. The human Tautahi lived nine generations before the present day, but the still-born child dates from only three generations before Waitai. Tautahi as shark came into existence at that time. So did the hapu Ngati Tautahi whose establishment coincided with the ascendancy of Te Kauwhata and the appearance of Tautahi as a tribal mana.

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The other fish mana I noted are:

Te Mauri, also a shark, also a still-born child, also an ancestor. Like Tautahi, he guards the shellfish in the harbour but has been little heard of since Tautahi came.

Te Whenua, also an ancestor, is described variously as a stingray or flatfish. He is the guardian of, among other things, a cemetery at one of the beaches. If anyone violates that cemetery, he possesses that person who sprawls on the floor, quivering like a fish; makes his way to the nearest water and splashes round in it, but dies soon after. The one case on record concerns a visitor who picked up a bone from the cemetery when drunk and carried it on his lapel. His death was averted by a Mormon blessing.

Of the two bird-mana, Hineruru is the most beloved: she above all is “the bird” of Ngati Wai. A colourful picture of her activities as family friend in modern days is provided by a daughter of Morore Piripi (Mrs. Raukura Robinson) who told me in a letter:

“Usually one of the mana is seen when someone of the tribe passes on or is due to pass on and when any one of them is visiting other tribes down south. The screech owl is seen quite plainly flying ahead or walking along the road. This is usually a sign of danger. She is there as a protector, recognized by her grey colour with white underwings. White girls and boys who marry into the family recognize and know of it [sic] as the family bird and believe in its various activities, not as a ghost or hoodoo but as part of the family.”

According to another version, Hineruru was bigger than the usual morepork, reddish brown, with shining feathers. It is hard to get the descriptions to agree. If she makes a high piercing call this is bad news; an ordinary owl call is good news. If she flies straight in front, there is no danger; if she crosses your way, there is danger. She announces death and the arrival of visitors.

I was given the following genealogy:

Family Tree. Uwea=Kahumoana, Houtana=Te Uriwatuhi, Hikihiki=Raukamatea, Kaoa=Hinetekura, Puaheuea=Hineteruru, Teuruwhoro=Te Puruhi, Huruiki=Te Ripongahau, Papa=Tunana, Ritihia=Piripi, Henare=Rora, Morore

This is the chiefly line of the hapu called Uri-o-Hikihiki, one of the two principal hapu of the district. Morore is the present chief.

Kawau: This bird, though he gives warnings to his descendants, is mainly feared because of the way he possesses those he wishes to punish. They shriek, wave their arms like wings and attack people with these wings, causing great fear. He, far more than any other mana, seems to the modern Maori a materialisation of the devil. Those possessed by him cry out his name “Kawau”. A man described how an - 404 old woman had once cried out that way while waving her arms and pouncing upon him. But the word sounded to him like “Ko wai au?” (“Who am I?) which scared him dreadfully and he ran outside. He thought it really was the devil.

Family Tree. Te Ranga=Wainiko, Raropo=Pareruru, 1. Pii, 2. Kawau, Pii=Hinewera, Wepiha=Te Paea, Mita=Ngapera, Ngahuia=Waitai

While all these animal guardians are identified with human ancestors, it is different with Poiha who was always what he is now: a dog. He belonged to a great chief and tohunga named Te Hoterene Tawatawa. Because the chief was greatly charged with mana, and the dog ate the remains of his food, the dog became dreadfully tapu; when Hoterene died, people killed him, frightened he might bite someone, which would surely cause that person's death. Poiha then became a mana. A young man in his twenties was lost in the bush and says he was guided home by Poiha. The people he protects in this way are the relations of his master, whose genealogy is:

Family Tree. Puru-Rahiri, Taiharuru, Te Rangiwahia, Te Kotuku, Taupea=Pohuri, Te Hoterene Tawatawa=Ngamuka, Te Tawaroa=Raiha, Mihiterina=Hepi, Waaka

Morore Piripi states that all six mana, except Tautahi, are his protectors. The genealogies I have quoted link Hineruru, Kawau and Poiha to his own hapu, Uri-o-Hikihiki. The same could be done with the others except Tautahi. He told me that the guardian relationship only existed between the mana and his “descendants”, but by this he did not mean only linear descendants. Morore is no direct descendant of Te Hoterene Tawatawa, nor of Raropo or Pareruru. All one can say of these ancestors is that they belong to the same hapu.

I was always told that guardians belong to “certain families” only, not to the whole community. Thus Poiha belongs, according to informants, to Waaka's family, Morore's family, Mita's family and to another family called the Matenga's, also linked with Uri-o-Hikihiki. The group of descendants is neither larger nor smaller than the hapu.

None of the stories I was told included any personal experience of the flow of mana, from the guardians to human beings, nor any deliberate procedure to contact the guardians. Yet such processes used to occur and were, indeed, the core of the relationship in pre-European and even in early post-European times. Thus we find in Nga Moteatea - 405 (Part II) 12 a reference to Potatau Te Wherowhero seeking out his guardians before deciding to accept the Maori kingship. In Pei Jones's translation:

At Repanga are the wise birds
Mumuhau and Takereto,
Veered off are they to avoid the toil.

Noting this, Te Wherowhero at first refused to accept the kingship: his ears were not beguiled, he said.

The Whangaruru people of today do not have this access to the guardians, and the reason they give for its loss is that they no longer lead a “pure life”—they do not observe the tapu wherefore, they say, no mana exists today.

This explanation, as we have seen, is not quite adequate as people have had some access to mana and guardian animals long after tapu was abandoned. The difference is that the mana of man and guardians is no longer part of a coherent world-view. Once the pre-European structure of thought collapsed, two alternatives remained: a syncretic fusion with Christianity or a fragmentary survival. It is characteristic of the post-European Maori that syncretism is chosen far less frequently than independent survival. This indicates the strong pressure towards complete assimilation, resulting in the Maori keeping European and Maori ideas in separate compartments.


Unlike the animal atua of Tikopia, 13 the guardians of Whangaruru are definitely regarded as members of the human group. The process by which the spirits of dead persons were materialised helps to show how the relationship was conceived.

Morore Piripi informed me that the elders of Ngati Wai used to meet after a death and “in the greatness of their sorrow held an open discussion. One of them was inspired to voice the form of animal, bird, fish, etc., the dead person was to enter”. This used to be done after every death but as the practice died out in the 1890's when Morore was in his teens, he does not remember in detail what happened. Of the existing six mana, Tautahi, Te Whenua, Kawau, Poiha were created three generations ago, not too long before the 1890's. The reason why there are comparatively few mana today lies in the forgetting of the less important ones and the fact that for over 70 years no new ones have been created.

The nature of the identity of the guardians can be best understood by considering Tautahi who, more than any other of the guardians, has kept his dual character of ancestor and animal. While the others are not remembered as ancestors except in the genealogies, Tautahi is the originator of a hapu. He is depicted by his descendants—in human shape—on ornamental walking sticks. At the same time he is monster and guide in troubled waters. Both images are still wholly real.

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At a Mormon priesthood meeting, a standard lesson was given contrasting pagan and moral gods. Following the textbook, the teacher began to write the characteristics of each on a blackboard, in parallel columns, in this fashion:

Pagan gods evil in animal image Moral God good in man's image

At this point a general discussion started during which I asked: “Is Tautahi a pagan god?”. (This was shortly after he had been chased by the holiday makers.) One man answered: “Tautahi was a good man for those days. He was an ancestor of Waitai (who was present). Tapu and makutu could be for good purposes, for instance when they had a tapu over mussels they used to say ‘Tautahi is eating them’ and this makutu was valuable; it helped to preserve the mussels.”

In this speech man and shark are completely fused. Nobody saw anything incongruous about calling Tautahi a good man and then instancing not his human but his animal qualities. I am not sure whether one could say in this instance that the spirit existed “as a separate entity apart from the material form in which it is manifest”. 14)

Perhaps we are closer here to the world view of the Ojibwa where man can be a spirit, appearing in any form and where, as Hallowell points out 15 “multiform appearance is an inherent potential of all animate beings”. If we accept Tautahi as a multiform being, he can be reckoned as a member of the human group and at the same time inhabit a shark. At a coastal burial ground on Whangaruru Peninsula, he was at the same time animal protector and human “figurehead”. When people spent their fullest passion on the wailing for the dead at a tangi, they did this, so I was told, to satisfy Tautahi. Beyond ancestor and animal, he was spirit.

Even Poiha's identity is complex, though his only bodily form is that of a dog. This became obvious when I asked one man who was familiar with the dog to tell me his history. He advised me to see Morore, for “he has the genealogy of that kuri (dog)”. What Morore had was not, in fact, the dog's pedigree but the genealogy of its owner. My original informant was well aware of this but he did not see dog and owner as truly distinct spirits. The dog's spirit only came into being when some of the old chief's tapu entered the dog in his food; the spirit living in the form of the dog was therefore none other than Hoterene Tawatawa's spirit. Thus, here again, man and animal were totally fused.

A difference, at first sight crucial, exists between the creation of guardians at Whangaruru and in Tuhoe. At Whangaruru, a meeting decides that a dead man is to inhabit one animal rather than another. In Tuhoe, so I have been told, no such decision is necessary because the son always assumes the same form as his father; thus they have eel-families, lizard families, and so on. Superficially it would seem as - 407 though the Tuhoe conceived of a constant pantheon of guardians whereas the Whangaruru people had an ever changing collection, determined only by the inspiration of the moment.

In actual fact, the Whangaruru pantheon had its perpetuity too, though more circuitously established. Hineruru for instance is known throughout North Auckland; she certainly did not originate in Whangaruru six generations ago. There was obviously an older Hineruru; the ancestress Hineruru I would be reborn in Hineruru II and after the death of the latter, would enter into a morepork. Because the spirit of the original Hineruru never died, it does not matter at all whether it belonged to Hineruru I or Hineruru II; they are both the same spirit.

This process was just as possible if the name of the spirit changed. Tautahi took over the functions of Te Mauri, being like him a shark and like him the spirit of a dead-born child. Here the deity exists in duplicate, the earlier materialisation already half forgotten; and the two have different names. The constant element here is the nature of the deity. The morepork-god and the shark-god are probably of the greatest antiquity; they are the constant element. The names of the recent dead, by which they are called, are sometimes constant, but also sometimes variable.

Should one call the relationship between this set of animal gods and the hapu totemic? It depends on what one means by totemism. As Firth pointed out, relationships of this type do not constitute a dominant and essential tie between the members of the social body; clansfolk do not conceive themselves as being linked together through common interest in a natural species. 16 That function is performed by the genealogies. For the relationship we do find between animal and social group Firth coined the term “secondary totemism”.

We need even more refined concepts if we are to distinguish Maori totemism from that of Western and Central Polynesia. Lévi-Strauss points out the essential difference between the Maori universe and that of cultures like Tikopia. Totemic thought, he says, is essentially “plurigenetic”, i.e., it conceives of clans as having originated from different species whereas in Maori thought the whole material order is genealogically related, or “monogenetic”. He calls Maori totemism a “borderline case”. 17

Yet this does not yet help us to understand the old men who in their great grief for the dead were inspired to see them materialised in various animals. This is a world of dreams, of supernatural tokens, of prophesy. Firth evoked the atmosphere well when he asked himself why animals and never plants were chosen for the gods to inhabit. He wrote:

“The reason lies in the fact that the behaviour of the totem is usually held to give an indication as to the action or intentions of the God concerned. Plants because of their immobility are not of much interest from this point of view and the tendency is then for the more mobile species, endowed with locomotion and versatility of movement and often with other striking characteristics in the matter of shape, colour, - 408 ferocity or peculiar cries, to be represented in greater measure in the list of media which serve as outlet for the supernatural beings.” 18

Lévi-Strauss, while not totally condemning this explanation, criticises it on the grounds that it is based on physical and moral resemblances between man and animal, “thus transposing the empiricism of Malinowski from the organic and affective to the cognitive and evaluative plane”. 19 Furthermore, such an interpretation must be confined “to cultures which possess a well-developed ancestor cult, as well as a social structure of totemic type; and moreover, whose totemism is principally animalistic or even restricted to certain types of animal”.

Here we must interpose that though the Maori social structure is not totemic, Firth's explanation could fit the Maori situation just as well as that of Tikopia.

This, of course, in no way invalidates Lévi-Strauss's final conclusion that “so-called totemism is no more than one way of expressing correlations and oppositions which can be formalised in other ways; for instance, in certain North and South American tribes by oppositions of the type: sky—earth, war—peace, hill—valley, red—white, etc., and of which the most general model and most systematic application is probably found in China in the opposition of the two principles of Yang and Yin”. 20

By thus widening the conception of totemism, we may be enabled to understand the Maori guardian animals and similar phenomena. Our first problem is to find the basic opposition in Maori philosophy. This can only be done hypothetically, but if the basic opposition is found, we should be able to recognize it in products of Maori philosophic thought, including those dreams and prophesies—of which the guardian animals provide an excellent example—where the basic opposition is introduced quite unconsciously.

I shall end this article with one such hypothesis. To justify it even partly, a further long paper would be needed. I shall therefore simply begin by stating what I take the basic opposition to be. I shall then show that it does in fact enable us to discover a structure in the visions by which the guardians of Whangaruru came into being.

  • 1. The basic opposition in Maori philosophy is between ora (life) and aitua (fate). 21
  • 2. From published sources it is possible to express this dichotomy in the following table of equivalences:
Ora (life) Aitua (fate)
Sky Earth
Spirit Body
Day Night
Tapu Noa
Man Woman
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Right Left
Even Odd
Propitious Unpropitious

3. If we divide the guardian animals of Uri-o-Hikihiki into two categories, according to the sex assigned to each mana, we can compile the following table of equivalences from evidence already presented:

Mauri, Te Whenua, Kawau, Poiha Hineruru
Male mana Female mana
Species not sacred Species sacred 22
Species eaten Species not eaten
Day animals Night animal
Functions: protective and punitive Function: protective only
Messages pertaining to life Messages pertaining to death and destiny
Manipulative relationship with man Communion relationship with man

It can hardly be a coincidence that seven fundamental qualities are shared by four of the animals and that Hineruru has in every case an opposite quality. There are therefore two types of guardians with opposite symbolic functions.

Do the terms in the two tables of equivalences correspond? We find in both tables: day—night, tapu—noa, male—female. The other major opposition in the second table (manipulation—communion 23) is not explicitly stated in the first table, because so little study has been done on it. We should remember however that the prototype of aitua is the sexual act in which the male principle dies, and that thus aitua becomes an equivalent to communion.

Some terms are on the left column of the first list and on the right column of the second list. This applies particularly to the opposition noa—tapu. On this type of reversal, Lévi-Strauss comments: “The contents of the oppositions counts less than the fact that oppositions exist, and there would have to be rather heavy odds for the social and the natural order to lend themselves at once to a harmonious synthesis.” 24

We therefore find enough correspondence between the two tables of equivalences to conclude that the qualities of the guardians were structured by the basic opposition between ora and aitua. This finding does not by itself reveal to us with any finality the structure of Maori thought. It may, however, arouse some interest and suggest a method of study. As guardian spirits are the only deities on which one may still obtain data in the field, they offer some realistic possibilities for further discoveries about the Maori ethos. The present material is only - 410 the by-product of a study on quite a different subject. A full-scale research would need to include a collection of animal tales and data on the ethnobiology of the district studied.

The interest of animal guardians is not purely antiquarian, even though they seem like a primitive enclave in a culture already largely modernized. The mode of thought which sees a god like Tautahi as multiform will never die out. It is rooted not only in mythology but also in the dreams and in the poetry of civilized man.

  • BEST, E., 1924. Maori Religion and Mythology. Wellington, Government Printer.
  • DEPARTMENT OF STATISTICS, 1962. Population Census 1961. Wellington, Government Printer.
  • FIRTH, R., 1931. “Totemism in Polynesia.” Oceania, I, 3 and 4.
  • — — 1941. “The Analysis of Mana.Polynesian Anthropological Studies. New Plymouth, Thomas Avery & Sons.
  • GREY, Sir George, 1953. Nga Mahi a Nga Tupuna. Wellington, Maori Purposes Fund Board.
  • GUDGEON, W. E., 1905. “Mana Tangata.” JPS., Vol. XIV:49-66.
  • — — 1906. “Tipua Kura and Other Manifestations of the Spirit World.” JPS., Vol. XV:27-57.
  • HALLOWELL, A. Irving, 1955. Culture and Experience. Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press.
  • HANDY, E. S. C., 1927. Polynesian Religion. Honolulu, Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, Bulletin 34.
  • HORTON, Robin, 1960. “A Definition of Religion and Its Uses.” J. Royal Anth. Inst., Vol. 90, Pt. 2:201-226.
  • JOHANSEN, J. Prytz, 1954. The Maori and His Religion. Copenhagen, Ejnar Munksgaard.
  • KO TE PAIPERA TAPU, 1958. London, British and Foreign Bible Society.
  • LEHMANN, F. R., 1922. Mana. Leipzig, Otto Spamer.
  • LEVI-STRAUSS, C., 1962a. Le Totémisme Aujourd'hui. Paris, Presses Universitaires de France.
  • — — 1962b. La Pensée Sauvage. Paris, Plon.
  • MANING, F. E., 1956. Old New Zealand (7th impression). Wellington, Whit-combe & Tombs.
  • NGATA, Sir Apirana T., 1961. The Songs (Nga Moteatea), Part II. Wellington, Polynesian Society.
1   Department of Statistics, 1962.
2   I hope to publish fuller details regarding the hapu of Whangaruru later.
3   See Ko te Paipera Tapu, 1958; for instance I Nga Whakapapa 29, 11.
4   Lehmann 1922:9; Gudgeon 1905:62.
5   Firth 1941:203.
6   Maning 1956:84, demonstrates entertainingly that ‘suaviter in modo’ was incomprehensible to the Maori. Also Gudgeon 1906:61.
7   Best 1924:86-8, 127-35.
8   Firth 1941:200-1.
9   Johansen 1954:84f., especially 97. For the suggestion that Puarata's carved head could be carried off by a hostile tribe and used as a mana for a different one would need far more evidence. The stealing of Puarata's head does not succeed (Grey 1953:147) and the attempt to steal the knowledge bird Tanemitirangi (Gudgeon 1906:38) ends disastrously. Spirits can only be conquered by other spirits, as happens with Puarata's head (Grey 1953:148-9). They are indissolubly linked with their own tribe and cannot, as far as I know, be made to serve another one. Lehmann 1922:56-7 argues cogently that all forms of mana can be reduced to spirit mana.
10   Firth 1931:306.
11   Best 1924:71; Johansen 1954:221f; Handy 1927:34f.
12   Ngata 1961:195-6.
13   Firth 1931:387.
14   Firth 1931:395 appears to apply this phrase to all materialisations of Polynesian gods in animal form.
15   Hallowell 1955:177.
16   Firth 1931:388.
17   Lévi-Strauss 1962a:41f.
18   Firth 1931:393.
19   Lévi-Strauss 1962a:109.
20   Lévi-Strauss 1962a:127-8. This theory is worked out in far more detail in id., 1962b, which inspired the hypothesis with which I conclude this article.
21   This is argued, for instance, by Handy 1927:34ff. and supported, with reservations, by Johansen 1954:221f.
22   I mean no more by this term than that members of species such as moreporks are frequently inhabited by ghosts (kehua) and that the species as a whole is therefore dreaded. Such species resemble the ata of Tikopia (Firth 1931:317).
23   The useful opposition between manipulative and communion religious relationships was developed by Horton 1960.
24   Lévi-Strauss 1962b:126-7.