Karakia are prayers, chants or incantations and are often part of tikanga Māori. They can be said for a range of purposes and to different spiritual beings, although in modern times, they may have a Christian form.

Karakia are prayers, chants or incantations often included in Māori ritual and ceremony. They are also used in more informal ways within whānau or by individuals to give thanks or ask for support or direction. There are many types of karakia. They may be recited to bless or give acknowledgment for kai, to keep tamariki and whānau safe or to bring a group together with a shared focus.

Karakia can ask ngā atua for intervention into one’s life, to ask for favour, for guidance, assurance and blessings within various undertakings. Karakia may be part of daily ritual to bless whatever the new day brings or to give thanks for blessings received at the close of each day.

In ancient times, all people used some form of karakia both in their daily lives and on special occasions. No matter your ranking in a traditional Māori society, whether you were mokopuna or kaumātua, layman or tohunga, you would have known a number of karakia for use in differing situations.

Some karakia were used for particular purposes, perhaps in rituals involved in cleansing, protecting or ordaining. In pre-Christian times, karakia were more often sung or chanted using poetic language. They were recited to the spirit world and the many atua Māori.

A Māori worldview sees no separation between the physical and spiritual dimensions of a person. Ngā iwi Māori are just another part of the natural world governed by the atua. The power of karakia comes from the atua, and through karakia, the sacredness of the person and their links to atua are confirmed.

There are karakia for all occasions – birth, death, sickness, warfare, waka building or the growing and harvesting of kai. Through karakia, a bond is made between the person reciting the karakia and the spiritual dimension they are identifying with.

Karakia can be very personal and be in line with an individual’s beliefs, faith, spiritual or religious following. Whether it's said out loud or silently, to a specific god or to somewhere out into the universe, it will depend on the individual. Karakia might also be shared as part of a group who come together under common practices and beliefs.

In more modern times, many karakia have taken on a Christian style and are offered to a Christian god. Christian theology speaks of a time known as the resurrection, where at a time after death, the body and soul will reunite. Many karakia, especially those shared during tangihana, refer to an afterlife when the wairua will return to the atua from which it came.

Karakia can provide opportunities to regularly use te reo Māori.

Other resources

The University of Otago | Te Ao Māori – Karakia (external link)

Te Ara The Encyclopaedia of New Zealand | Traditional Māori religion – ngā karakia a te Māori (external link)

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