Tag Archives: Megalapterygidae

Are there Maori traditions about the extinct Moa(s)? part: 2

The Maori, the indigenous people of Aotearoa (New Zealand), have a very rich oral tradition that actually dates back to the time when their ancestors first arrived at the shores of the islands!

These traditions, however, have greatly been influenced by Europeans settlers, especially by missionaries, who tried to destroy the Maori by banning everything Maori: traditional clothing, traditional musical instruments, songs, religious beliefs, even the Maori language itself, everything was banned and violations were punished severely. 

No one can say how much knowledge was destroyed during these times.

Kotahi tonue tama 
Te tiaki whenua, 
Ko te kuranui
Te manu a Rua-kapanga, 
Itahuna e to tupuna, e Tamatea 
Ki te ahi tawhito, 
Ki te ahi tupua, 
Ki te ahi na Mahuika. 
Na Maui i whakaputa ki te ao 
Ka mate i whare huki o Repo-roa, 
Ka rere te momo, e tama e!

This is the end part of a large Maori poem that can be dated back to the 14th century, around the time when the first Maori settlers arrived at the shores of Aotearoa (New Zealand).

The poem mentions the kuranui, the bird of Rua-kapanga, which is said to have been the first person to have spotted the bird; te kuranui might be translated as ‘the large red one’, ‘the large precious one’ or maybe as ‘the most precious one’.

Furthermore it also informs us about the fate of these kuranui(s): “… destroyed by your ancestor, Tamatea, with underground and supernatural fire, the fire of Mahuika (a fire goddess), brought to this world by Maui; they were driven into the swamps and perished …” [1]



[1] Otto Krösche: Die Moa-Strausse, Neuseelands ausgestorbene Riesenvögel: Die neue Brehm-Bücherei 322. A. Ziemsen Verlag 1963


edited: 02.11.2021

Are there Maori traditions about the extinct Moa(s)?

This is a very interesting question that was asked by many scientists – what does Maori lore tell us about the now extinct megafauna of New Zealand? The results of all previous investigations are rather sobering, all so-called traditional accounts seem to date to the time following the arrival of the Europeans in New Zealand.

I want to mention only one of them here.

The first account dates from the middle of the 19th century.:

The natives speak of another member of this family, which they name the kiwi papa whenua, a still larger species, which they describe as having been full seven feet high; it likewise had a very long bill, with which it made large holes in the ground, in search after worms. This bird is now extinct, but there are persons living who have seen it. Rauparaha told me he had eaten it in his youth, which might be about seventy years ago [ca. 1785], and when that Chief died, his corpse was said to have been ornamented with some of its feathers.” [1] 


This second account refers to the first one and was made just ten years later.:

Kiwi Papa Whenua. Seven feet [ca. 2 m] high. One of the last birds to disappear. There are still men who have hunted it.” [2]


The Kiwi papa whenua accounts may indeed refer to one of the smaller or middle-sized moa species, one that was about 2 m tall and that may have survived longer than most of the other moa species, but probably not into the early- or middle 18th century; it might thus be referring to the so-called Upland Moa (Megalapteryx didinus (Owen)), a species that officially died out around 1500 AD.. However, when reading the first account, it is very clear that this description has been mixed with that of a typical kiwi, thus it is quite clear that these accounts are no eyewitness reports.

The term Kiwi papa whenua might be translated as ‘Ground kiwi’ or maybe ‘Kiwi of the land’ which is not very meaningful. It is furthermore rather unlikely that the Maori would have connected the diurnal, rather large, long-necked moa species with the completely distinct kiwi(s), thus it is very unlikely that the term ‘kiwi’ would have been used for any of these species.

Nevertheless, such old accounts remain very interesting, and I will go on posting more of them in the future.   



[1] Richard Taylor: Te Ika a Maui: or, New Zealand and its inhabitants, illustrating the origin, manners, customs, mythology, religion, rites, songs, proverbs, fables, and language of the natives: together with the geology, natural history, productions, and climate of the country; its state as regards Christianity; sketches of the principal chiefs, and their present position; with a map and numerous illustrations. London: Wertheim and Macintosh, 24, Paternoster-Row. 1855
[2] J. B. Ellman: Brief Notes on the Birds of New Zealand. The Zoologist 19: 7464-7473. 1861


edited: 01.11.2021