Maori Kawhaiwhai Pattern and Cultural Lineages

Updated: Jan 12

Have you ever wondered where you came from and how your blood ancestors conducted daily activities? I don't often do that until late in my 20s. I was quite rebellious is my childhood years. Like most, I would do the opposite of what was told, abeit... secretly. The frequency of me being reminded of my ancestors and their significant gift bestowed upon me was suffocating. Love and gratefulness have got to come naturally, otherwise how it be genuine? I enjoyed most of the death anniversary celebrations because of the food, not the sitting around and telling old stories.


Throughout the years of living abroad alone, I don't feel much in touch with my root except for my body and the food that comforts my soul when things get tough.

No prevailing pattern calls out to me or for my subconscious mind to trace along.

As for some Maori people, if they leave home, some still bring the homeland with them through traditional tattoo, necklaces, and carved work of art. In a way, the Kowhaiwhai motif is deeply integrated into their identity where they draw strength and support.


The story of Maori and genealogical pride

The aboriginal people of New Zealand pride themselves in being the direct descendants of Sky Father Ranginui and Earth Mother Papatuanuku. Like many origin stories, human deem their creators to be from the Sky and the Earth. For Vietnamese, it was the Dragon Father of the Land and Sea with the Fairy Mother of the Sky. Unlike Vietnamese, many Maori today and Polynesian groups still carry on the lineage names through oral transmissions to the oldest child. In other words, the veil between the living and the passed away is very thin.


The Maori were children of the Hawaiki, traveling through the ocean and islands. They wanted to record their point of origin. If you have watched Disney's Moana, it is easy to understand their emphasis on genealogy, or whakapapa. They want to remember who they are regardless of where they go. Knowing how they relate to the physical and spiritual planes, ancestry knowledge acts as a stable ground for one to root down and grow up to reach his/her full potential


Whenever one is in pain or suffering (for example when getting tattoo), they can call on their ancestors to transform, and transfer the experience. What a wonderful way to be connected with the past! Elizabeth Gilbert in her book The Signature of All Things presents the idea of reciting one's lineage as the most beautiful display of power and heritage. In many cultures of the Polynesian, there is a dedicated person who run after warriors during battle and recite their family tree names to stimulate their fighting spirit.


The power this intimate family connection in the blood is expressed in the Kapa Haka performed by the native people. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BI851yJUQQw . Because of their thin veil and inseparable identity with the ancestors, they could channel the thousand stomps and earth shattering chants of the past into the show of only dozen of performers. Imagine how intimidating to face off with such fierce and aggressive exhibition of pure power. You can check it out in soccer pre match moment of the All Black New Zealand team to get an idea https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7lhgJXdrWCE

Koru Pattern and the environmental influences on the Maori

The long line of descending humans in one's personal history can be visualized as the unfolding of the silver fern, a national symbol of New Zealand, called the Koru.

Koru is the never-ending growing and multiplying of similar units of the silver fern that always go back to the center.

This pattern can be found in most native design of this country. It is integrated into the marae (sacred gathering places), head of a warrior sculptures, whale bone necklaces, or proudly tattooed onto people's faces to indicate their bloodline and integrity, called Ta Moko.

Most Ta Moko designs include essential elements such as the main Manawa Lines (the negative space on tattoo where skin shows through), Main Koru coming out of the Manawa Line to identify their people tribe, then Koru shoot stemming out from there. The Manawa is best translated into honor, charisma, and spiritual power. Tribes of the past went to wars to control more land thus drawing more mana from Mother Earth. Meanwhile, the Koru signifies new beginning and new life. Every new koru can represent the wearer's relative like children, spouse, family and even friends.

CC Copyrighted Jon Radoff


Apart from the beauty of Ta Moko, another important graphic design can be said to be the Hei Matau, the fish hook made from jade or bone. It has many meanings such as strength, land, fertility, safe sea voyage. It is a talisman pointing to their tradition of fishing and their respect for the sea god, Tangaroa. Other design includes flukes for unity, twists for many paths one must take in life, Manaia for the ancient mythical creature with bird head and human body, closed circles to refer to life, the tiki (first man of the world from the stars) for good luck. It is clear that their creative input is heavily inspired by mother nature and what their ancestors hold as important for survival or sacred for the thrive of spirits.

Pattern and blood "transmitted"

Kind of like GPS, you need to locate yourself on the map before extending your awareness into the surrounding environment. In the case of genealogy, your "location" is a point that have different expressions or dimensions during different time periods. To have access to that vast library of possibilities, you will better understand your gift, your shadow, and tendency to react to the external world. In learning more about thyself and history, you can either replace the program, enhance it, or completely ignore their existences and let them run your life.

‘Pause and look within. Stretch your mind and heart and see beyond the threads and separate colours to the greater weave. Find your Excitement. I say again, Find your Excitement and follow it. Honour only that which gives you Joy and brings Energy and Purpose into your life. Then you walk the truth of who you are. Then you walk the Magic and the Dream.’ _Barry Brailsford, Song of the Circle, p.79.

In my opinion, identity is important, yet it is also just another construction of the minds, if left unchecked will lead to strong attachment and separation. This was not the intention of the Maori as explained in their word Whanau (family, kinship including family and strangers). To use our blood lineage knowledge wisely, we have to go within along side with going back in time and space, keep the analytical mind on while doing intuitive investigation. Not easy!


In conclusion, remembering your lineage help us strengthen our connections to each other throughout all timelines and the earth, keep records of where we have been, what we have learn collectively, so we can expand and go beyond the old territories with the hard earned wisdom in mind.


Read more on


#maoripattern #kowhawhai #tamoko #manawa #newzealandpattern #newzealandculture #studyabroad

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