Tihei Mauri Ora!

Mauri is conveyed to us from early on in our whakapapa through the first woman, Hine-Ahu-One. According to Maori Marsden, “It [Mauri] is the force that interpenetrates all things to bind and knit them together and as the various elements diversity, mauri acts as the bonding element creating unity in diversity.” The first voice that begins the process of binding us together on the marae is always the call of a wahine, the kaikaranga. The second voice to join in and balance the binding process is the call of another wahine, the kaiwhakahokia. Through their calling all mauri of the people and relevant things are joined together and effectively acknowledges our physical origins in Hine-Ahu-One.

The third voice we hear is the voice of a male. “Tihei mauri ora!” Listen up! My life force is alive! In the ways of our tūpuna I wish to speak to you. What exactly is mauri? What does life force mean? The concept of mauri is a very Māori concept. There are different types of mauri and like a diamond each type has many facets. In this short essay a few simple aspects about mauri are discussed. Mauri is a complex concept and although it can be considered a metaphysical aspect of Māori life it does have useful practical application for our ordinary daily Māori life. It can serve as a useful tool to keep our life as a Māori alive.

When a Māori speaker announces that he wants to speak he will start with a ritual chant to get your attention, then he will request you to “listen up!” by calling out “tihei mauri ora!” His speech will from this point onwards follow a pattern handed down through many generations. Each part of this ritual is vital and represents his mauri or life force; a Māori life force, which has been passed along his whakapapa from the gods we are descended from. The speaker has a responsibility and obligation to ensure that whilst this mauri is his, he must care for it, respect it and enhance it. His mauri is his essential Māori life force and must be guarded and protected. In practice this means that he must take care of his wellbeing. But also, being Māori he has obligations to his kin and their wellbeing. He is accountable to his kin and thus must help them with their own mauri. In particular he must nurture the mauri in his tamariki and mokopuna. Though mauri is in everything and everywhere in the life of a Māori person we will only consider the mauri in a person.

The concept of mauri has its place in the metaphysical world and can be subject to much discussion and debate. A metaphysical discussion is great for experts and philosophers but we want something more practical. In our personal physical worlds mauri has a practical function. If we think of mauri as being something we all need in order to stay alive as a Māori person then it can become something real and practical to us in our daily physical lives.

So it can be useful to think of mauri as something regular in our daily lives that not only gives us life but must also be protected. There are many different types of mauri that are very useful for us to reflect upon as a framework for a modern Māori person who wants to live a Māori life in a complex contemporary world. Let us consider a small number of types of mauri.

Mauri ora, literally means mauri alive or life force alive. It is what gives us our get up and go. A Māori person with a Māori life force is alive to things Māori. Potential is being realized and activated. When you have mauri ora you are getting involved in many different ways with Te Ao Māori. You might be seeking out tohunga to help you with karakia, you may be organizing a whanau reunion, you may be becoming an active owner in Māori land rather than a passive owner, you may find ways to attend Māori gatherings, you may even go along to school Māori parent evenings for your tamariki or mokopuna, you may go to Māori weaving classes and so on. To activate your mauri ora is to be getting up and going in the Māori world.

Mauri moe, literally means mauri sleeping or life force sleeping. It is the latent potential we all have to pursue the knowledge and traditions of our tupuna if we choose to. This requires being proactive and working out ways to improve our knowledge and experience of Māoritanga. If we are thinking and reflecting about joining a kapa haka group or enrolling in a Te Reo Māori class then we are engaging our mauri moe. With mauri moe, we know we have the potential we just need to work out how we are going to awaken our latent potential.

We move beyond mauri moe when we start taking action, our mauri awake or life force awake is activated. When we join a Te Reo class we are utilizing our mauri oho. When we activate mauri oho we will be connecting with other Māori people and taking steps such as joining a mau rakau class or a mahi raranga class. Such initiatives require us to engage in Māori learning and with Māori people. We start Māori networking and Māori connecting. It is likely to send us on a journey to meet our koroua and other relatives. Mauri ora is about going beyond thinking about doing it, it is about being proactive, it is about doing it! Get out there and gently get involved in your beautiful Māori world, take action.

Tangihanga are an important part of Māori life. The expression “tihei mauri mate” is one that is sometimes heard at a tangihanga. It signals that powers greater than those of us alive have summoned the mauri of the deceased. Mauri mate is about crossing over the divide from the realm of the living to the realm of our ancestors. Once over that divide there is no way back to the realm of the living. It is at a tangihanga where the significance of mauri comes into its own. Behind that life is the mauri of the person. So the cry of “tihei mauri mate” is to signify that the spirit of the deceased has gone to Hawaiki nui and back to where it came from. It is a cry to speak to the deceased and his/her kin. Attending tangihanga although sad is also a time to learn and to be able to contrast mauri ora with mauri mate. Tangihanga is so important that we Māori will drop everything to be there if we can.

So the concept of mauri can serve us all well in our daily lives. Though it is complex and there are many facets to the different types of mauri, an understanding of its basics may help a young Māori person or an older Māori person on a journey to discover their Māori identity. There is no doubt that mauri is very much a core part of a Māori life and that it has applications in everyday life. This essay has presented a very simplified and short explanation of some aspects of mauri. Hopefully, it will stimulate some thought and maybe you might be able to link your current life into the discussion. Some people finish their conversation with: Mauri Ora!

Nā John Arohaina Riwaka Thorpe