As mentioned in our article on the Matariki rituals and celebrations, the Maori believe in a very complex system of divinities, similar in organisation to the Egyptian or Greek gods and goddesses.

Oversimplifying, there can be identified two main subjects in Maori mythology. One relates the story of how New Zealand came to be inhabited (with two versions: in the first, a man called Kupe flew from an island called Hawaiki after murdering the husband of the woman he was in love with; in the second version, the original ancestor is called Tiwakawaka). The second strand of mythology is about gods and goddesses in a more traditional way, with Ranginui (just Rangi, for short) and Papatuanuku (Papa) being the originators of all divinities and being the father of the skies and the earth mother, respectively.

Other main gods and goddesses are their sons or nephews, with many of them very well known even in Western countries: Rongo, for example, as the god of peace or Tangaroa as the god of sea. The Maori mythology is strictly tied to the genealogy ritual of Whakapapa, as the original inhabitants of NZ believe they also are descendants of this “Olympus” of supernatural creatures. For example Kaitangata is in the family tree of all Maori gods as the son of Rehua, himself the son of Papa and Rangi: Kaitangata is not a god nor a semi-god but a mortal human being, and while he was married to Whaitiri, goddess of thunder, she taught him how to fish and he passed this knowledge to other men.

Overall, main Maori gods and goddesses amount to roughly 50 different characters, all of them representing a natural phenomenon, from death to water, and there are even different deities for cultivated or uncultivated food (not surprisingly, as Maori mythology draws heavily on Polynesian traditions).