Te Ika-a-Māui

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Te Ika-a-Māui is the Māori name for the North Island of New Zealand.[1]

It is translated as "the fish of Maui", from the story of Māui, who hauled up the North Island on his waka (canoe). The name te Ika nui a Māui, "The great fish of Maui", is also used.


According to the legend, Ranginui (the Sky father) and Papatuuanuku (the Earth mother) were lovers and embraced each other. They had six sons who lived between them. These sons were the gods of the sea, winds, forest, wild foods, crops, and man. Because these sons were crushed between their parents, they lived in darkness. The sons conspired to separate them and allow light into their world. The god of the forests, Tane, pushed the heaven from the earth, separating his mother and father. To this day, Māori tradition states that trees are actually upside down, with the leaves as their feet and roots and their backs, pushing the sky away from the earth. Rain is the tears of the sky father greeting his wife, the earth. Mists are the greetings through which Papa returns the longing as they rise up into the sky. In the light, the gods ornamented their parents with trees and ferns for their mother and stars pinned to their father's cloak. Tane created a woman from the earth and mankind was their posterity.

Maui was also a god at this time. He was the last-born in a family of five sons and was an outcast and hated by his brothers. Despite this,he accomplished many things including taming the sun, capturing fire, fighting death, and fishing up New Zealand.
The story has it that Maui was not a good fisherman. He seldom went fishing with his brothers. One day, Maui decided to go fishing with them. The brothers told him that he was not allowed to come so Maui hid in the bottom of the boat Te waka-a-Maui. Once they were out to sea, Maui jumped out and surprised them. They refused to give him bait with which to fish so Maui broke his nose and dripped blood onto his grandmother's magical jawbone. He then cast it out to sea and caught the biggest fish of all—Te Ika-a-Maui, or, the North Island of New Zealand. Legend maintains that Mount Hikurangi (Gisborne) was where the jawbone caught the fish. It was the first part of Te Ika-a-Maui to see the sun, and continues to be the first part of the world to see the sun each day.

Alternative names[edit]

Another Māori name for the North Island is Aotearoa, although this is now more often used to mean the whole of New Zealand.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Williamson, Maurice (10 October 2013). "Names of NZ’s two main islands formalised" (Press release). New Zealand Government.