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Tikanga, or societal lore within Māori culture, can best be described as behavioural guidelines for living and interacting with others. Tikanga tends to be based on experience and learning that has been handed down through generations, also deeply rooted in logic and common sense. While concepts of tikanga are constant, their practice can vary between iwi and hapū. For example, the way in which a hapū greet and welcomemanuhiri (visitors) may differ from the way another hapū extends greetings to its manuhiri. However, both will ensure that they meet their responsibilities of manaakitanga (hospitality) to host and care for their visitors.

Participating in a different culture requires a base level of awareness and understanding, which takes both time and patience. If you are unfamiliar with tikanga, learn as much as you can from as many sources as possible; this will enrich your experiences with the culture and improve your ability to participate more fully, and with greater confidence . Remember, 'When in Rome, do as Romans do!'

This equally applies to Te Ao Māori:

  • Take time to quietly observe how things are done;
  • Ask any questions you have in an appropriate way at a suitable time, directed to the right people;
  • Tread carefully with new learning to ensure it is applied appropriately (i.e.: ensure that what little knowledge you may have does not become a dangerous thing!);
  • Retain your humility at all times.

This section contains information about various aspects of tikanga which regulate aspects of Māori culture, providing discipline and direction for iwi Māori, as well as others who participate in aspects of the Māori world. While tikanga provide guidelines for daily living and interaction with others, they can also be depicted as 'rules' in a system of social control, but rules which have a deeply spiritual basis.


Tapu is often described or framed as meaning 'sacred', and indeed many aspects of tapu might be considered as such. For example, an urupā (graveyard) might be considered sacred, as may be a Whare Karakia (Church); both could certainly be described as tapu. However, a poisoned waterway could also be considered tapu, but not sacred. We can therefore define tapu as, 'not ordinary' or 'special'.

Some people and places are always tapu, but for others their status of tapu might be shorter. For example, a rangatira (leader, or chief) is always tapu and there are aspects of lore that determine day-to-day interactions with the chief. Similarly, tohunga whakairo (carving experts), are extremely tapu due to the nature of their work. They must not be approached while carving and food cannot be eaten near the carvings. The practical reasons are that all focus of the tohunga whakairo is on the job, ensuring that when they are carving, no mistakes are made. In addition to the tohunga whakairo being tapu, so too are the materials they work with; any waste, such as the chips, are not discarded or used in fires.

Some people and places are tapu for a period of time. For example, a place where someone has drowned may be said to be tapu until a ceremony is carried out to lift the tapu. Another example are manuhiri welcomed onto the marae; manuhiri are tapu, unknown or special, until a ceremony is carried out to remove the tapu. This ceremony is called a pōwhiri, a process which determines who the visitors are, what connections may exist between the visitors and the host marae, and what their purpose is in visiting the marae; this process also removes the tapu from manuhiri, making them now ordinary, or 'noa'. Once this is established, the ceremony ends with handshakes and hongi, the pressing together of noses and the sharing of breath, after which time food is eaten together (concluding the removal of tapu in this process).


Noa is the opposite of tapu and means 'ordinary' or 'free from restriction'. The only observance with noa is that noa and tapu things are not to be mixed.


Wairua refers to the spiritual realm, which includes the spirit of someone or something. Translated literally, 'wai' is the Māori word for water and 'rua' the word for two. Wairua is thus a word referring to the 'two waters' that flow within; the pure and polluted, the positive and negative. Finding balance between the two is necessary to maintain equilibrium and promote harmony and wellbeing. Wairuatanga permeates everything we do – it commands our respect and acknowledgment. Māori see the physical and spiritual world as integrated; There is no division between the human world and the natural world.


Mauri is a key component to understanding wairuatanga or Māori spirituality; it literally means 'life force' or 'life principle', and as such, everything has a mauri. Mauri applies to both animate and inanimate objects; plants, rivers and mountains all have a life force, as well as people. This life principle teaches us about the need to respect and care for all things on earth; its existence does not elevate people above their natural surroundings, but makes them equal. Mauri acknowledges connectedness and the way in which all things on earth are in some way interrelated and reliant on each other.


Mana is an abstract concept which implies authority, influence and prestige. Mana is not automatically associated with an elevated position; rather it is something that is bestowed on someone or something by others, whether it be a community or a group of peers. Mana can also be collective and groups such as whānau, hapū or iwi can be recognised as having particular mana because of their accomplishments, expertise or knowledge. It is also important to remember that some mana is inherited through strong whakapapa lines to rangatira (leaders or chiefs).


A concept related to mana is that of manaakitanga, which sources its origins from the word mana. It loosely translates to mean 'caring for' and raising or upholding the mana of others. It generally refers to host responsibilities either on the marae or in the home and describes the way in which visitors are greeted and catered for to ensure their comfort and wellbeing. When we invite visitors to our house we extend manaakitanga to them and provide greetings, food and shelter.


Another important element of manaakitanga is aroha, which in its most basic form can be translated as 'love'. But just as the English word love may have many levels of meaning, so too does the word aroha. Aroha is something that is demonstrated and shown through action. It is about sharing good fortune and caring for your whānau, your community and beyond. In its purest form, aroha signifies much more than the concept of 'love'.

Ahi Kā

Ahi Kā, which means burning fire, expresses the concept of continuous occupation; rights to land by occupation. As previously alluded to, whenua (land) was not something traditionally owned by an individual, but held collectively by whānau, hapū and iwi groups, who maintained ahi kā to ensure their use and occupation rights were secured. Whakapapa, our genealogical connections, were – and continue to be – an integral part of this process.

Contemporarily, ahi kā refers to those who are present, 'at home', on the marae or in that community. They are visible and asserting their mana whenua (people upholding the 'mana' of the area) rights in that place .

Whatu ngarongaro te tangata, toitū te whenua
People will perish, but the land is permanent


Literally,tūranga (standing place), waewae (feet), it is often translated as 'a place to stand'. Tūrangawaewae are physical places/spaces where iwi Māori feel especially empowered and connected. They provide a strong foundation, a standing place in the vast world, a home. For example, pepeha traditionally acknowledge who we are as a person, demonstrating tūrangawaewae in a broader sense, encapsulating our mountain, our waterways and/or important ancestors:

Ko Aoraki te mauka
Aoraki is the mountain

Ko Waitaki te awa
Waitaki is the river

Ko Tahu Potiki te takata
Tahu Potiki is the founding ancestor

Ko Kāi Tahu te iwi
Kāi Tahu is the iwi

Here, the sense of tūrangawaewae is broadened into a region (Te Waipounamu, the South Island) and located within a wider world.

Tangata Whenua

Tangata whenua means people of the land, as many indigenous people might describe themselves. Māori have a deep spiritual connection with thewhenua through our whakapapa from Papatūānuku, our Earth Mother. As found elsewhere on this site, our creation stories depict the creation of the first woman from the earth, or flesh, of Papatūānuku and from her, all other humans came to be. This spiritual connection to the land, through whakapapa, is central to our core beliefs.

Mana Whenua

Mana Whenua literally means 'mana of the land', or the mana held by people associated with certain lands. For example, Ngāi Tahu are the mana whenua of this takiwā (geographical area/tribal boundary), Te Waipounamu (the South Island); Ngāi Te Ruahikihiki (Moki Tuarua and Kāi Te Pahi), a local hapū, are mana whenua at Ōtākou Marae on the Otago Peninsula. Mana whenua is obviously a concept closely linked to Ahi Kā.

Connections and relationships

While whakapapa is our link with the whenua and the tikanga or lore which derive from it, it is also about our connections to people and our relationships with them.

For example, the eponymous ancestor of Ngāi Tahu, Tahu Potiki, was the younger brother of Porourangi, who was also a founding ancestor (of Ngāti Porou on the East Coast of the North Island).

As happens with groups of people, one group may prosper and grow and as a consequence, resources may become stretched. In such instances, sub-groups may branch off, move elsewhere and begin new groups. This was the path taken by Tahu Potiki, who took his sub-group south, eventually settling in Te Waipounamu; this group become a 'new' iwi, Ngāi Tahu. Those close familial connections however were maintained with Ngāti Porou, and have been until this very day.

So, what does this mean for me as a staff member?

When making connections with iwi or Māori groups, organisations or otherwise, ensure you are talking to the person or people who are mandated to respond to your requests for information or support. You can do this by checking with the Office of Māori Development or your departmental Kaiāwhina Māori; if we don't know, we can certainly find out for you!

Moreover, it would be unfair to expect iwi or Māori groups to have the same views, attitudes, customary practices or approaches to business; similar to any 'like-group' we are not homogenous. Within iwi, hapū and whānau there will always be a divergence of opinion and outlook, and as always, it is important to respect these differences whilst also searching for commonality.

It is vital that time is taken to develop mutually beneficial relationships built on trust and openness. Remember to also ask yourself: who benefits most from this relationship? Also, are the people you are approaching/working with in a paid role mandated to do this work, or are they working with you in their spare time, over and above their current workload? (If the latter, it is important to consider how you compensate for this time, either through the provision of a koha or petrol vouchers, or some other form). Kia maumahara! Do remember that relationships take time and are based on forming a solid rapport with the other party or parties, which requires both a long term view of the relationship, coupled with vast amounts of patience.

There are regular workshops organised by Higher Education Development Centre (HEDC) on Tikanga/ Māori Culture, and on the Treaty of Waitangi, which all staff are encouraged to attend.

Whaia te iti kahurangi; me he tuohu koe, he maunga teitei.

Pursue that which you treasure the most; should you need to forfeit,
let it be only because of an insurmountable obstacle.

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