The Maori of New Zealand: Religion, Spirituality and Rights of Passage

Many modern Maori live in poverty in urban centers and have adopted both European virtues and vices. Those more remote maintain their tradition of high birth and its’ obligations. As in North America missionaries, in spite of their good intentions to Christianize the Maori people caused a great deal of harm to their culture. They decried violence and coarseness they found in Maori culture, while ignoring these traits within their own. As Tregear pointed out, their biased view shows a failure to understand the underpinnings of Maori culture. Their societies are ruled by heredity chiefs who govern all aspects of Maori life. It is unclear how the original chiefs came into being, but presumably they were individuals who demonstrated leadership abilities and were thought by others to have sacred powers and the ability to communicate directly with the gods. It was assumed that since nature regenerates itself, such powers would be passed on to the chief’s descendants and thus rule by religious aristocracy was established. Religious Practices Without the benefit of modern scientific knowledge of nature, the Maori invented a plethora of gods to explain and hopefully control their universe. This was done through a wide range of myths, rituals, feasts sacrifices including human. Charms and spells. Most objects, whether inanimate or not, or activity was thought to have “tabu”, that is a sacred potency for either good or evil Duffie 17). Those having prestige because they were considered to be tied to the power of gods with life giving and taking powers such as chiefs were said to have “mana” (Duffie 18). In the Maori world, religion assumed the role of science and permeated all aspects of traditional Maori life. Their mythology and religious practice was based on a 2 tier system. The commoner was taught that the world began with Heaven and Mother Earth and he (she) was a descendant of their union (Tregear 457). However, for those “wise and instructed” or in other words, the hereditary chief and religious elite, the world originated before this event in a more abstract form, possibly by the Supreme Being “singing” it into existence. For the average person this mythology, rituals and relics were shrouded in secrecy and known only to the elite who had direct communication with the gods. I believe this control of the sacred knowledge, etc. was a way to consolidate their power and position in the same way that in the Middle Ages the Catholic Church allowed theBible to be published in Latin only to ensure that only the Church had direct access to God. Religious Beliefs Although the Maori shared with Christianity the belief in a Supreme Being and afterlife, on a daily basis they were much more concerned with their relationship with their lesser gods of various rank and below them a plethora of spirits, who they believed carried out various functions.(Tregear 454). Although unseen, the Maori projected that the gods and spirits lived around them in a world parallel to their own with similar emotions of love and hate, similar institutions ( for example marriage) and that they also copulated and bore children who became new gods, etc. Their relationship with their gods differed from that of Christianity. Instead of the Christian’s reverential obedience to what he(she) considered to be God’s command, in the hope of earning general personal earthly and/or heavenly rewards, the Maoris’ approach was more pragmatic.

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