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Maori symbols - Maori meanings

Maori symbols - Maori meanings

Māori symbols come from the Māori tribes of the South Pacific. The Māori are the indigenous Polynesian peoples of New Zealand.
The Māori settled in New Zealand sometime in the 13th Century, likely arriving by boat from more northern Polynesian shores. Māori lived in distinct tribes, leading largely pacifistic lives built around canoeing, farming, fishing and hunting. As time passed and natural resources became less plentiful, the Māori developed weapons and a fierce warrior culture. They built forts and there were wars between opposing tribes.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, Europeans began to settle in New Zealand. The settlers were mostly British and, as with elsewhere in the world, colonial rule was detrimental to the indigenous population. The Māori became a minority population in New Zealand. However, much of Māori culture, mythology and tradition have survived to the present day.
Pre-colonial Māori had no written language, meaning knowledge and traditions were passed down through the generations orally or through art.
Māori mythology conveys a deep connection with nature, as well as themes of creation and renewal. Another important element is whakapapa (genealogy) and reverence for ancestors, forming a significant part of the Māori tradition.
Māori symbolism, including the famous haka, facial tattoos and wood carvings, as well as expressive iconography, provides insight into a rich culture, language and mythology.
Māori symbols feature spirals, curves, natural images and supernatural deities. The koru, which represents the silver fern native to New Zealand, is a recurring motif in wood carving and larger artworks. Each symbol conveys meaning, and often relates to the relationship of man to nature, or to ancestry.
Traditional Māori art and design form an important part of culture and identity, even today.
Modern day New Zealand has embraced elements of Māori culture to represent a larger national identity. Air New Zealand uses the koru as its official logo, while the national rugby side, the All Blacks, perform a traditional Māori haka before matches. The hei tiki can be found carved on mugs in cocktail bars around the world.

Urutengangana Maori Symbol


Urutengangana is the Māori god of light. He is the eldest of the children of Ranginui the Sky Father and Papatūānuku the Earth Mother. His children were the gods of the stars and the moon.

Tumatauenga Maori Symbol


Tū or Tumatauenga is the Māori god of war, hunting, food cultivation, fishing and cooking. The Māori would dedicate hunting trips and war-parties to Tūmatauenga.

Rūaumoko Maori Symbol


Rūaumoko is the god of earthquakes, volcanoes and seasons. He is the youngest son of Ranginui the Sky Father and Papatūānuku the Earth Mother. Although thought to be a kind god, Rūaumoko (like earthquakes and volcanoes) also represents danger and destruction.

Tāne Maori Symbol


In Māori mythology, Rongo or Rongo-mā-Tāne is the god of cultivated plants, or agriculture, especially the production of kūmara (yams). The Māori relied heavily on their harvests, and would offer the first kumara of the season to Rongo.

Rongo Maori Symbol


In Māori mythology, Rongo or Rongo-mā-Tāne is the god of cultivated plants, or agriculture, especially the production of kūmara (yams). The Māori relied heavily on their harvests, and would offer the first kumara of the season to Rongo.

Mangopare Maori Symbol


The Mangopare symbol depicts the hammerhead shark. It symbolizes strength, termination, strong will and fighting spirit. Māori believed sharks to be protective spirits, and shark teeth necklaces were common status symbols amongst tribe leaders.

Moana Maori Symbol


Moana means an open body of water – an ocean or sea. The term Moana, meaning ocean, is common to all Polynesian cultures. To the Māori, the sea was the source of all life, and the sea was relied on for sustenance, through fishing. The sea can be calm, energetic or dangerous at different times. These qualities are reflected in the meaning of the Moana symbol.

Koru Aihe Maori

Koru Aihe

The Koru Aihe inspired by dolphins symbolizes playfulness, harmony and friendship. Māori revered dolphins, as they did whales, believing them to be water spirits. Legendary tales tell of sailors being guided through treacherous waterways by gods who had taken the form of dolphins.

Koru Honu Maori symbol

Koru Honu

The Koru Honu depicts a sea turtle in the act of swimming. Turtles symbolize travel and navigation in Māori culture. Additional meanings include fertility, longevity, peacefulness and unity.

Wera Maori symbol


The Wera symbol represents the tail of a whale. Whales were tapu (sacred) to the Māori. They were thought to be descended from the god of the ocean and were therefore supernatural in nature. The Wera symbolizes the ocean and a guardian spirit, especially for those at sea.


Toki Adze Maori symbol

Toki Adze

The Toki Adze is a ceremonial chisel used by the Māori for occasions such as the felling of a tree in order to carve a canoe, or to produce carved symbols to adorn buildings and structures that are important to the tribe. As a symbol, the Toki represents strength and authority.

Pekapeka Maori Symbol

Pekapeka Maori

Pekapeka is the Māori word for bat. Bats are the only land mammal native to New Zealand. The Māori would hunt by kindling a fire in the hollow of a tree, catching the bats in the air as they tried to escape.

Hei Taiaha Maori symbol

Hei Taiaha

A Taiaha is a traditional Māori weapon. It is a short fighting staff weapon made for close-quarters combat. Carved from either wood or whalebone, these weapons represent treasured items. The Hei Taiaha symbolizes the Māori warrior culture.

Hei Tiki Maori symbol

Hei Tiki

The Hei Tiki is commonly regarded as a symbol of good luck and of fertility, representing the unborn human embryo. Hei Tiki is thought to be a representation of the first man. The Māori believe the wearer of a tiki talisman to be clear thinking, perceptive, loyal and knowledgeable.

Manaia Maori symbol


The Manaia symbol represents a mythological spiritual guardian, or messenger. It is traditionally depicted with the head of a bird, body of a man and the tail of a fish. The Manaia guards against evil and guides the spirit.

Pikorua Double Twist Maori symbol

Pikorua – Double Twist

The Pikorua double twist represents the joining together of two people, or two cultures for eternity. Although they may experience ups and downs, they will remain bonded by friendship and loyalty for life.

Pikorua Single Twist Maori symbol

Pikorua – Single Twist

The Pikorua single twist represents the path of life, it is the symbol of eternity. It represents the joining together of two people. The meaning of the Pikorua single twist is different from the double twist Pikorua.

Hei Matau Maori symbol

Hei Matau

The Hei Matau, or the fish hook, symbolizes prosperity. In their quiet corner of the South Pacific, fish stocks were plentiful, and the Māori knew that a man (or woman) who had the means to catch fish would prosper. The Hei Matau also represents strength, determination (required for good fishing), good health (acquired by good eating), and providing a safe journey over water.

Koru Maori symbol


The Koru motif is the cornerstone of much Māori art. It is not considered tapu (sacred) in and of itself, but recurs in sacred designs. It represents the young frond of the silver fern, which is native only to New Zealand. As such, in recent years the symbol has come to be used to represent New Zealand in many ways, not only Māori culture. The Koru symbolizes life, growth, strength and peace. Its shape conveys ideas of movement, latent and potential energy, creation and renewal, light and enlightenment.

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