Pūrākau – Māori creation story

Pūrākau are powerful. They inspire and affirm us. Māori ancestors left us rich pūrākau to help us understand our origins. The Māori creation pūrākau does just that; it provides us with information about who we are, where we come from, what our purpose is. It also provides us with guidelines to help us achieve oranga (well-being) during life, and in death. Tribal variations of the creation pūrākau may have their own names for the atua/deities, or attribute different actions to different atua. We have chosen to focus on some universal elements to inform and guide how we share what we have learned from the whānau who participated in the Pae Herenga study.

"Stories (pūrākau) are powerful. They inspire and affirm us. Māori ancestors left us rich pūrākau to help us understand our origins."

Māori creation pūrākau speak about our heartfelt connections with others and how we naturally respond with deep grief when we lose someone we love. The transformations and transitions that take place are an important part of the living and dying journey. There are several important pūrākau sitting within the creation pūrākau; collectively, we reflected on these to frame the themes within the koha (gifts) of story given by whānau manaaki who participated in the Pae Herenga study. Māori creation pūrākau speak about love, loss, grief, empowerment, leadership, and the ability to navigate life’s transitions and embrace the spiritual changes and transformations that take us beyond the veil of death. All of these are part of the natural cycle of life and death that have been handed down, tūpuna to tūpuna (ancestors to ancestors), until they eventually made their way to us.

Ranginui (Sky Father) and Papatūānuku (Earth Mother)

The first pūrākau belongs to Ranginui (Sky Father) and Papatūānuku (Earth Mother). The couple were entwined in such a close and intimate embrace that their love smothered their children. It was a time of intense darkness, known as Te Kore. Many of their children, but not all, wanted to bring light to their world. For example, Tāwhiri-mātea (God of weather patterns) did his best to try and stop Tāne Mahuta from achieving his goal of locating and retrieving knowledge.

Despite numerous attempts by different siblings, Tāne finally separated their parents (he is known by many names including Tāne Mahuta, God of the Forest). Upside down, Tāne Mahuta placed his hands on his mother’s body and his legs against his father and used his strength to push his parents, Ranginui and Papatūānuku apart. Te Kore (the intensely darkest night) was slowly transformed, shade by shade, into Te Pō (the night) and Te Pō was slowly transformed, shade-by-shade, into Te Ao Mārama (daylight).

Not only is this pūrākau the first love story recorded, it is also the first story of heartbreak and loss. Torn from the arms of Papatūānuku (Earth Mother), Ranginui now looked down upon his beloved from the skies. Their love was unending, and their loss brought great mamae (emotional pain) creating never-ending tears. There are many references made within speeches and songs about this great love connection and the pair’s deep grief for each other.

Over time, the Earth became populated with many creatures, animals, insects, sea life, plants and birds. Before long, Tāne began searching for a human female companion. His mother Papatūānuku revealed Kurawaka, the place where she kept her sacred earth. Kurawaka would provide the red clay to form a wāhine her for son. Tāne took the red clay and sculptured the first woman from his mother’s earth - he breathed the breath of life into her and she became Hine-A-Huone (earth-formed woman).


Tāne and Hine-A-Huone had a daughter, Hine-Titama, who is known as the first natural born woman. After Hine-Titama had given birth to many children, she suffered a great heartache when she became aware that her husband Tāne was also her father. Deeply hurt by this, Hine-Titama’s mamae (emotional pain) was so great she made a decision to leave the Earth realm by transforming herself into Hine-Nui-Te-Pō (often translated at the ‘Goddess of Death’).


Hine-Titama took control of her destiny and informed Tāne that she would leave the Earth realm and transition to Te Pō (which some call Rarohenga), the realm beyond this time and space. In her newly transformed state she used her power to evolve into Hine-Nui-Te-Pō. As the eternal loving mother who resides in the underworld (some refer to this place as the ‘heavenly realm’), Hine-Nui-Te-Pō waits to receive her children when they leave their earthly form and depart from their earthly home. She instructed Tāne that his role was to remain on Earth to care for and protect their living children.

Tāne retrieves three baskets of knowledge

Tāne set out to ascend the 12 heavens on an important mission to bring divine knowledge and wisdom from the Atua (Gods) back to Earth to guide humanity. Tāne’s journey was difficult and at times and he was faced with many wero (challenges) and obstacles to test him. His quest was supported by the atua and heavens because his cause was to help others, not himself. He was almost defeated by those who wanted to stop him. However, Tāne used his strength, determination and resilience to outsmart his enemies and determine his goal – he overcame every challenge he met on his travels. Finally, he was successful in bringing three baskets of knowledge back to Earth to help humans reach their potential and live well; Te Kete Tuauri, Te Kete Tuatea and Te Kete Aronui.

Tāne retrieved:

‘Te Kete Tuauri’; this kete (basket) contained the sacred knowledge of creation, the natural world and energy formations that lie beyond our physical perceptions (sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell). This kete belongs to the realm of tohunga (spiritual practitioners/experts).



Tāne also retrieved ‘Te Kete Tuatea’; this kete contained restricted spiritual knowledge and practices.






The ‘Te Kete Aronui’ kete (basket) he retrieved contained knowledge of aroha (love, care, compassion), arts, crafts and rituals which benefit humankind and all living things. Through careful observation of the environment this kete holds all manner of practical knowledge for living well and prospering on earth.

Tāne’s actions highlight that the journey for well-being is for all Māori people not just ourselves. Facing challenges and overcoming them is for the benefit of everyone. The knowledge and wisdom contained in the baskets are what guide Māori health and wellbeing tikanga and kawa.

This Māori creation pūrākau is a deeply spiritual story about the cycle of life. It combines both the physical and spiritual elements; at birth, the wairua (spirit) arrives within the physical form and at the end of life, it fulfils its mission when it transitions beyond the ārai (veil) to return home.

© Copyright 2024 Te Ipu Aronui

Website crafted by bocapa. Design by Sasha Maya