Concept of Maori Mana

Tikanga Maori (Maori cultural practices) guides Maori in social relationships and helps them to understand the world. Mana, the “authority, power, control, influence and prestige” (Ka’ai & Higgins 2004: 17) a person has, is one of these concepts. Every aspect of Maori culture is interwoven and their deeply holistic world view (Boyes, 2010a) keeps Maori connected to not only te tana kikokiko, physical aspects of the world, but te taha Wairua, spiritual aspects of the world (Ka’ai & Higgins 2004: 13).

Mana whenua (gained from being responsible for a piece of land), mana atua, power extended from the gods, mana tupuna power passed on from ancestors and mana tangata, power gained by your achievements, reflects the rich connection Maori have with each other and their environment (Boyes, 2010a). Whakapapa (genealogy) is an intrinsic part of Maori society and the belief that their “people descended from the atua (gods)” (Ka’ai & Higgins 2004: 14) gives great mana to their whakapapa.

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This rich connection with the physical and spiritual produces a close relationship with the atua and the mana extended from them. The belief that all aspects of the physical world came from the atua, such as Tanemahuta’s forests, means that a person has much mana whenua when they have kaitiakitanga (stewardship) over land (Williams, 2010). Mana tupuna and mana tangata are important in Maori leadership and create a stable relationship between leaders and their people.

The eldest or tuakana of a whanua (family) is seen to be more directly related to the atua, and therefore inherited the most mana tupuna out of their siblings. The kaumatua (family elder) would have much mana tupuna and be well respected in his family as the most senior descendent (Boyes, 2010d). Usually the kaumatua, Rangatira (clan or hapu leader) or Ariki (iwi or tribe leader) would be tuakana of their whanau (Boyes, 2010b). However mana tupuna is not enough to become a leader in Maori society, being able to provide, protect and bring pride to a hapu or iwi, is essential.

Through mahi kai, the production and supply of food, having courage in war, a gift in oratory, an extensive knowledge of the traditional practices, as well as being able to mediate between whanau, hapu or even iwi a chief can prove himself to have great mana tangata (Boyes, 2010b). A concept that underpins all aspects of tikanga Maori is manaaki or the common good (Boyes, 2010c). Maori chiefs would gain much mana by showing hospitality to neighbouring hapu or iwi. This ideal is so important to Maori that we still see it today with the sharing of Kai(food) when at marae(meeting house) or entering their homes.

Just as mana can be gained it can also be lost. A person “loses mana when he dissapoints expectations or fails in an enterprise, when he does wrong, or when he is criticized or ‘put down’ by others” (Metge, 1976:65). During battle an iwi could be badly beaten, their warriors would lose mana. The dead were often hidden before being buried, to protect the mana of that person and their whanau, If warring with a neighbouring hapu or iwi. Enemies would come and get utu (revenge) on the dead by eating their flesh, in doing so taking away their mana (Boyes, 2010c).

When a persons mana is threatened they can fight to rebuild it, by acceling at important tasks or going after the person who took their mana. Mana atua shows how tapu (sacred) leadership is. The conduct of a Maori community shows that the rangitira, who has both mana tupuna and mana tangata, is respected and has clear control. This respect is not gained through fear, but by the mana that leader has both inherited and achieved. It could be thought that traditional leadership and the mana needed is no longer relevant in contemporary Aotearoa.

However countless Maori leaders of today show the mana tangata traditional Maori chiefs needed to serve their people (Boyes, 2010b). To be a Maori leader today you must show many qualities, including strategising and planning for the future well-being of the people they manage, an ability in te reo (the language) and tikanga Maori, good negotiation and facilitation skills, active participation in the Maori world, being a role-model, and having effective communication (Boyes, 2010b). All of these qualities describe a person with great mana who can really work for the collective.

Professor Sir Mason Durie of Rangitane & Ngati Kauwhata is a contemporary Maori leader who shows much mana tangata. He is DVC & AVC at Massey University, and has contributed much too Maori health programs as well as being a world leader in Indigenous Development & Health (Boyes, 2010b). His ability to show manaaki and his numerous achievments, prove he has great mana. The mana of a person is measured by many things, the land they hold, their ancestors before them and the feats they have achieved. Most importantly mana is assessed by those around you and the people you are working to aid.

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Concept of Maori Mana. (2017, Apr 01). Retrieved from