Traditional Māori ritual and ceremonies to honour the tapu and mana of a new pēpi.

Hokia ki ō maunga kia pūrea koe e ngā hau a Tāwhirimatea.
Return to your mountains so you can be cleansed by the winds of Tawhirimatea.

Mokopuna are tapu – gifts from the atua and tipuna. Traditionally their safe arrival was a time of celebration for whānau Māori. After the birth of pēpi, ceremonies or rites took place to welcome the piripoho (newborn) to the world. Four rites emphasised the tapu of the mokopuna, especially those high-born mokopuna. Each of these rites, with their positive messages, strengthened the connection of the child to the whānau and the whānau to the child. Adults were reminded of the mana of the child.

Traditional Māori birth rites

Mana Ririki reviewed literature of traditional Māori child rearing practices in pre-European times.

Research | Mana Ririki(external link)

They discovered four rites (nga kawa) which included:

  1. Tua Rite – ‘Cutting of the cord’ during which karakia was said, telling the mokopuna of their special abilities and affirming how they would help them achieve their life goals (often male and female roles).
  2. Koroingo or Maioha – ‘Greeting of the infant ceremony’ took place once the pito had dropped off, usually about a week after birth. Whānau would make speeches of welcome, waiata and pao (chants) were sung, linking their birth to the creation of the universe. Parents were congratulated. If the child was a first born, gifts would be given.
  3. Tohi Rite – 'Dedication to the atua' ceremony, where parents chose an atua who would help the mokopuna – often it would be Tumatauenga, Rongo or Tangaroa. Pēpi would be taken to a stream where the tohunga would sprinkle them with water. A branch of the karamu would be used as chants were recited to summon ‘manly’ qualities for boys of strength and bravery and domestic crafts and skills for girls. During the tohi, boys were often dedicated to Tūmatauenga, the god of war; and girls to the goddess Hineteiwaiwa, atua associated with pregnancy and birth.
  4. Pure Rite – ‘Confirming the mana’. This rite was to ‘fix the spiritual powers or make the mana permanent’. Held in the parent’s house, the whānau taonga (cloaks, patu, pounamu etc) would be laid out as the tohunga chanted the ritual, with mythological references. This laid the foundation for the knowledge the child was to acquire. Hākari would follow the speeches.

Some whānau will use the traditional tohi rite while others may have rituals like baptisms, naming ceremonies, or christenings to bless and welcome their pēpi to the whānau.

In some tribal areas, pēpi may be held to the four winds – a ritual designed to settle their mauri and help them to adapt and adjust to new environments.

Te Pihinga 1 (page 7) suggests that whānau:

Hold pēpi and let her breathe in the four winds. Take a few deep breaths yourself too – there’s nothing like oxygen for the brain to clear your thinking and calm your tinana.

Ka whakatutu koe i te ihu o pēpi ki ngā hau e whā, hei whakatau i te mauri a pēpi.

Other resources

Traditional Māori religion: Rituals and ceremonies | Te Ara – The Encyclopaedia of New Zealand(external link)

Read more on traditional ritual and ceremonies associated with welcoming a new pēpi:

The Whare Kohanga (the Nest House) and its lore – Tohi rite | Victoria University of Wellington(external link)