Image: Colin Anderson/Getty Images

Understanding the world through whakapapa: introducing our new Māori lifestyle column

‘Trust the process’ is more than a tagline for self-love or enlightenment. In her first Spinoff column, Hana Tapiata uses the Māori creation story to reveal a blueprint for living well and realising potential.

It’s easy to be grateful when life is good, when everything is going the way you want it to. You often can’t think of anything more, or less, because your blessings are neatly wrapped and flowing to you one after the other. But what about when Tāwhirimātea decides to blow the wind into your sails in a direction you had no intention of heading? When the universe presents those blessings a little differently, like: ‘I’m giving you no obvious signs that it’s gonna get better anytime soon but, trust me, trust the process.. oh, and remember to be grateful and look for the opportunities. K, bye.’

It’s not until after you’ve clawed your way out of the darkness, after being upset at how unfair life is, after freaking out because you didn’t know how you were going to make it work, that something clicks and the bigger picture starts to take shape. You start to see the blessings and opportunities after all.

You reflect on what you’ve been going through and begin to appreciate that if you hadn’t struggled, there would be no depth to your character, no perspective, no compassion. You wouldn’t be who you are today. You might learn you’re more capable than you once thought and maybe there’s something to ‘trusting the process’ after all.

What is that process though and why should we trust it?

In te ao Māori, the whakapapa (process) of creation begins with Io: the Supreme Being, energy and existence itself. Then comes Te Kore, which technically means ‘the nothingness’, but c’mon now, there’s never nothing in life. Te Kore encompasses the space, the formless, the thought, the realm of possibilities, the infinite potential. This potential manifests and evolves into Te Pō – the darkness, the night. In this phase, the formless begins to transform and assemble for the next phase in the process: Te Ao Mārama, the world of light. The physical world as we know it today.

In the beginning of creation, Ranginui and Papatūānuku were in a tight embrace, their 70 or so children between them. With no crowd control procedures yet in place, the children became restless and uncomfortable, devising plans to free themselves from the prison they’d been born into.

Tūmatauenga (atua of people and war) suggested to kill their parents, but was convinced that while there are no dumb ideas, that one was borderline. Each of the brothers had attempts at pushing their parents apart and failed. They pushed with all their might; they dug their heels into the ground and pressed their shoulders up against the sky, to no avail.

That was until Tāne Mahuta changed it up. He laid down on the ground, lifted his feet up and placed them on his father’s chest, with his shoulders firmly against Papatūānuku. The change of position meant he could absorb more weight and generate enough force to push apart and, finally separate his parents. Cue, Te Ao Mārama.

Te ira atua were then free to stretch themselves, to grow and reside over the different domains we know as our natural environment today. From there, we can trace whakapapa down to us, te ira tangata.

Stories such as this have been handed down through generations for a long time. Often they’ve been treated as nothing more than myths and legends. When in reality, my tūpuna wove layers upon layers of metaphor, insight and wisdom about the world, into the arts. They left a literal blueprint of how to live well and how to realise potential. They knew the most powerful and effective way to transfer this knowledge and information, was through storytelling.

The lesson from our creation story that can be applied to almost anything goes:

An idea (Te Kore: formless, potential) > developing phases (Te Pō: takes on form) > actualised and created (Te Ao Mārama, realisation)

Our confidence and willingness to trust what comes our way comes from understanding that we also underwent the same process to come into this world.

Hana Tapiata is a lifestyle blogger who writes about matauranga Māori (Māori knowledge), organised by a new kaupapa at the beginning of each new moon cycle. 

Related:


The Spinoff is made possible by the generous support of the following organisations.
Please help us by supporting them.