Significance of Kauri to Māori Culture
Kauri have had a large part to play not just in the landscape and early history of Aotearoa, but the important role kauri has for Māori.
Kauri are considered a taonga by many New Zealanders, particularly Māori, who see the health of kauri as a sign of general wellbeing of the ngahere (forest) and the people - hence the value cannot be understated.
Māori Creation Beliefs
At the beginning of the world, Tāne, along with his siblings, lived in the darkness between their coupled parents. Tāne and his siblings separated their parents, Ranginui (the sky father) and Papatūānuku (the earth mother), creating light and life to exist and prosper. So began time, the world of light, and the title of Tāne Mahuta, god of the forest and all its living creatures.
Such is the nature of life and the position and role of kauri as the greatest rangatira of our forests. Kauri is known to Maori as Te Whakaruruhau - the great protector of the forest - referring to the many species that shelter in the ars of kauri. Te Roroa of Waipoua regard the legs of Tāne as being giant kauri, as do many other iwi.
Many large kauri trees were given names and revered as chiefs of the forest.
Tāne Mahuta separating his parents. Jane Crisp.
Maori also link the kauri tree with tohora (whales). According to Maori whakapapa (genealogy), kauri and the tohora are brothers. It is believed that Tᾱne (God of forest) gifted the whale to Tangaroa (God of sea) which is how kauri have its unique ‘scales’ for bark. Maori elders now often link the stranding of whales to the struggles of the kauri tree vulnerable to the killer dieback disease.
Uses of kauri
Due to their size, strength and ability to withstand seawater, kauri were used to make waka (canoes). Some of the greatest Māori waka taua (war canoes) were constructed out of single massive kauri trunk. Some of the larger canoes could hold up to 180 warriors.
Kauri gum (kāpia) had many key functions and was arguably more valuable to Māori than the timber. It was burned as an insecticide in kumara plots, wrapped in flax to make torches for night-fishing and even used as chewing gum.
Kauri gum was also burnt to get soot, which was mixed with animal fat and/or charcoal and used for tā moko (tattooing).
Ta Moko. Painted by Charles Goldie, 1934
Kauri Waka, Waitangi Treaty Grounds