Maori Perspectives

Inherent in Maori culture is the connection a person has with their tupuna and ancestors. Many historical research documents interactions of the Maori with their tupuna and other realities. It is important when dealing with voices to be aware of the cultural considerations involved.

Wairua, Mauri and the Voice-Hearing Experience Article 2 by Egan Bidois

“You take the Red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you just how deep the rabbit hole goes”

Morpheus - The Matrix

I love the movie ‘The Matrix’. Such different depths of understandings. The deeper perspective and growing realisation that the character, Neo, gains as he ventures further and further in the intertwined worlds beneath the obvious – as he peels away the onion-layers of his existence.

I am neither Morpheus nor Neo. I just like the movie.

In this article I wish to korero from a personal perspective. A perspective influenced most certainly from my own cultural understandings and learnings. Again I also wish to acknowledge and honour other people’s understandings and learnings – it’s not for me to claim this as the only one. This is but one.

But first of all, a quick language lesson:


Wairua is a kupu often spoken, often heard. Often it is used to mean ‘spirit’ or ‘spirituality’ (Wairuatanga).  It is a kupu that – much like the onion – has many layers of meaning to it.  One such meaning may be found within the kupu itself:

Wai = unique, special, unprecedented

For instance, we also use Wai to refer to a name. When we ask someone "Ko wai koe?" "Who are you?" "Ko wai tou Matua?" "Who's your Daddy?"

Rua = abyss, container

So ... Wai-rua in a sense could be seen as 'That which is unique, special, that is contained within'.

... brief tangent here. 'Wairua' can also be broken down into Wai = water, Rua = Two. Wairua = Two Waters ... Nga wai e rua.

This could be in recognition of the physical combining of the male and female 'waters' during procreation/conception that creates life and bring us into this physical embodiment. It can also be in recognition of the physical and spiritual waters combining to bring about embodiment.

However - back to Wairua = 'That which is unique that is contained within'.

What is it that is unique within us? What is it inside of us unlike any other person living, ever lived or yet to live?

There is nothing physical that would fit such a condition. But to me there is certainly something spiritual that would - YOU, your spirit, or in other terms your soul if you will. The essence of who you truly are. That constant inalienable undeniable. Spirit. Soul.


Mauri, like many kupu is also a construct. A kupu that contains other kupu. Through breaking it down a bit more you may gain a deeper understanding of what its meaning may be.

Mauri is often translated into English as 'life force', or 'life essence' of sorts.

Ma = To be connected to, bound to, linked to, joined to

Uri = Descendents. All things, seen and unseen

The important component there is the seen and unseen bit. It’s the combined consciousness of not just the physical/seen world, but the unseen (well, to most people) spiritual world also.

So from one perspective Ma-uri could mean 'Connection to all living (and non-living) things both seen and unseen'.

So, Wairua could in some ways be the *soul*, the inner-self.

So how does that fit in with Mauri? How do Wairua and Mauri relate to each other?

Mauri is the connection between the Wairua (as it exists in our physical body) and all things seen and unseenMauri is - in some regards - the way in which our Wairua relates and interacts with all things seen and unseen.  That connection is also a bit of a two-way’s a two-way line of communication.

Read more: Wairua, Mauri and the Voice-Hearing Experience Article 2 by Egan Bidois

The Importance of Whakapapa - An Explanation by Egan Bidois

For Maori – indeed for all cultures – the integral questions of “Ko wai au?” “Who am I?” and “No wai au?” “From whom do I come?” hold importance beyond a basic surface level.

Those questions are the cement of our existence, the foundations upon which we stand – they are our reason, our relevance and relationship. They are ultimately our right to be.

Within Whakapapa/Pepeha are names, are places and events that serve as timelines and locators of where we, where our people, where your people came from and where they exist today. Often included are geographical features such as maunga/mountains, or awa/rivers. Names of Iwi/tribal rohe/areas. Names of tipuna/ancestors from whom we descend.

All bring about an increased understanding within those who listen to and experience your Whakapapa of ‘Ko wai ia’ ‘Who is s/he’ and ‘No wai ia’ ‘Where does s/he come from’. It is through this exchange of Whakapapa that connections are made and reaffirmed.

Another perspective on the importance of Whakapapa can be found by examining the word itself.

One of the beautiful aspects of our language is the depth and layers of meaning that are contained within the words we use. Our words – our kupu – did not just appear out of thin air. They were created. They were formed. Often they are combinations of other kupu, other contexts.

Let’s take the kupu whakapapa. Bearing in mind that we all have our own understandings, our own knowledges, and so I acknowledge other understandings and knowledges – this is just one.

Whaka can mean ‘to create, to cause, to bring about, to action. Motion’. For example: Whakapai – To make good, to improve. Whakahaere – to make go, to drive (Kaiwhakahaere – Manager)

Papa can refer to firmament. Ground. Solid base. (Papatuanuku – Mother Earth)

From one perspective and understanding, Whaka-papa can be seen to mean ‘To bring about grounding’ ‘to provide a solid base’.

A solid place to stand, solidity and security below our feet is often the first requirement to recovery when all else around you is shaky and insecure.  Having that firm foothold upon which to stand, to walk and to journey upon can facilitate forward movement. Whakapapa is our certainty when all else may be questionable.  Whakapapa is our truth during those times our hold upon such may slip.  Whakapapa is the anchor and the rock upon which we can tether ourselves to in the storms of confusion that may come during times of crisis.  Hence the importance of Whakapapa to Maori.

Read more: The Importance of Whakapapa - An Explanation by Egan Bidois

Spiritual Practices and Mental Concepts of the Maori - excerpts from the book by Elsdon Best

The book "Spiritual and Mental Concepts of the Maori" by Elsdon Best was written in 1922, and is a brief run down of the spiritual concepts of the Maori. However one notes that there are many concepts described here that relate to the spiritual welfare or states of a person. Which while we may disagree upon the cause of them shows - that they have always existed, but were treated in different ways amongst early communities.

Many ancient peoples believed in a spirit world - a dimension that interacted with us. Can this just disappear when a majority decide that this is no longer the case? Is this the price of democracy? The price of 'civilisation? The experiences and views of the many override the experiences of the individual as unusual or irrelevant.

If everyone doesn’t experience it then it doesn’t happen? Or there is something wrong with them, their beliefs or faith. Yet wind the clock back 200 years, and they were seen differently.

Here are some excerpts I found interesting from this book.

Pg 7

The conclusions he arrived at (the Maori) at from what he considered clear evidence were - that man possesses a spiritual quality that leaves the body during dreams, and quits it for ever at the death of the physical basis (this is the Wairua)."

... The wairua of the Maori is a sentient spirit, the soul of precise anthropological nonmenclature. It leaves the body at death, but it can also do the same during the life of its physical basis. Thus it leaves the body during its dreaming hours to wander abroad, apparently with the object of detecting any impending danger to the body. It will hasten back to the body to warn it of any approaching danger, and this is why the Maori placed such faith in dreams ...

... Curiously enough, the wairua can be seen by humans eyes, at least by those persons who are matakite (seers, persons possessed of second sight). The Matatua folk have a singular expression - tira maka - to denote a company of wairua seen passing through space ...

We shall see anon that wairua can not only be seen by man, but also slain by him, and that they appear to possess material bodies in the underworld of spirits ...

Read more: Spiritual Practices and Mental Concepts of the Maori - excerpts from the book by Elsdon Best

Four Maori Korero about their experience of Mental Illness

The following excerpt is taken from a document prepared by Liz Fenton and Te Wera Te Koutua in the Mental Health Commission recovery series. It is copyright free. Written in March 2000.  It contains general information and recommendations for recovery as well as four personal stories.

“For Maori tangata whaiora the recovery process is more a journey of rediscovery. Ko wai? No whea? Naa wai? (Who are you? Where do you come from? Who are your parents?) Knowing the connections that make them who they are is the foundation of recovery. For many, this foundation is missing because the traditional tribal nature of Maori culture has been gradually eroded by the effects of colonisation and urbanisation. Along with the loss of identity and separation from nga tikanga o ratou maa, the mental health system has mistakenly diagnosed experiences such as hearing voices or having visions.

Our old people believed these experiences were te ao wairua which connected us to past, present and future. This ability to communicate with our tupuna was once viewed as very important. Today there is a resurgence of returning to the old ways, yet it is disturbing to see the negative impact the western medical model still has on Maori tangata whaiora.”

Download entire PDF below.


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