Understanding oriori and singing with pēpi.

‘Oriori’ are traditional waiata that tell stories, and are often sung to children. They can be about ancestors’ journeys, geography or whakapapa. They may mark significant historical events including pregnancy, birth, retribution or reciprocity. Where they’re used to soothe a pēpi to sleep, oriori are sometimes called lullabies.

Tūpuna Parenting: Waiata oriori

Oriori for sleep and birth

The late Amster Reedy (Ngāti Porou) researched how oriori were traditionally used. He said that oriori can be a type of karakia. They were used to put children to sleep, and were also used to bring a child into the world.

Whānau can use a range of tikanga Māori practices during the birth of their pēpi. The singing or chanting of oriori might be one of these, as a newborn emerges and is welcomed into the ‘world of light’.

Oriori for spirituality, socialisation and language

In traditional Māori culture both boys and girls were urged to learn both esoteric and practical knowledge. Waiata oriori reinforced the purpose and the spiritual nature of the mokopuna, and their link to the gods and their spiritual helpers.

Meanwhile, motivational and inspirational oriori showed mokopuna what desired behaviours were. They were encouraging and uplifting, and were used as a socialisation tool. Through repetition, oriori reinforced messages about desired qualities in mokopuna, and sometimes acknowledged what their needs might be.

Oriori are also a valuable tool used to pass on te reo Māori to mokopuna.

You can find a simple description of oriori in the Tākai Whakatipu booklet Te Kākano, on page 20.

Watch Waka Huia (TVNZ 2011): Part 1 of 2 — Māori oriori, or lullabies(external link). This documentary examines the extensive research undertaken by respected kaumātua the late Amster Reedy on traditional Māori oriori (lullabies). It includes how to use them as a framework for strengthening whānau and raising our tamariki.

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