The Spiritual Connection
The National Aquarium of New Zealand
Te Whare Tangaroa o Aotearoa – the house of the guardian of the ocean of New Zealand
Maori spiritual concepts and tribal history are an important part of New Zealand’s cultural history and education. As you come eye-to-eye with the thousands of strange and wonderful creatures that live in the National Aquarium of New Zealand, your experience will involve you in an enthralling, captivating Maori legend.
There is a unique story of a powerful connection linking Napier and its people to mythological deity. The story is one of proud ancestry that traces the evolution of New Zealand’s Maori people and their special bond and respect for the ocean, to modern day families, their spiritual beliefs and links to earlier generations.
Maori mythology is always supported by local whakapapa (genealogy). Ancestral bonds are precious; there is a special, close attachment with every generation, back to the dawn of all time. The whakapapa is treasured by all, and remains as spiritually and historically strong with today’s descendants as it did with ancestors of past centuries. A recurring feature of Maori tradition is the genealogical link from the gods to themselves.
Our story is of Tangaroa, God of the Ocean and his special connection to this Napier (Ahuriri) area through Pania.
Tangaroa was one of the offspring of primal parents, Rangi and Papa. Tangaroa is God of the Ocean and all things that live in the sea are his children. His waves crash on the shore; he keeps fishermen’s boats safe on the sea. He ensures his children of the sea are kept safe and the laws of the ocean are followed by all that come to her. He is guardian or poutiriao of Hinemoana, the ocean. He is of Ponaturi, the sea dwellers, but his powers extend to the earth people, Patupaiarehe.
Pania is one of Tangaroa’s sea people. Her tragic love story continues to be handed down from one generation to the next, shared by Maori and Pakeha alike.
Pania was said to be a beautiful sea-maiden who swam daily to the Napier shore at the setting of the sun to drink the clean, fresh water from a spring at the northern end of Napier’s Marine Parade. She would return to her sea people before the break of day, every day. While on shore she would hide herself in a clump of flax beside the freshwater spring. One evening a Maori chief came to drink at the spring and found Pania resting in the flax. He took her home and they became man and wife. Every morning Pania would return to her sea people. Every evening she would come back to her husband.
Pania gave birth to a son, named Moremore. But in this tragic love story, Pania was eventually drawn back to her people, taking Moremore with her. The heart of Karitoki was broken.
The sea people are said to have petrified her body into the reef off Napier’s breakwater, now known to all as Pania Reef. Divers and fishermen today still claim to be able to see the shape of Pania’s body lying beneath the water, with her arms out-stretched towards the lover she reluctantly left on shore. Her glorious long, dark hair drifts like seaweed, with the current.
Pania’s son, Moremore, is said to have been turned into a taniwha and lived in the waters around the reef off Hukarere and at the entrance to Napier’s inner harbour. Moremore functioned as a kaitiaki, or protector of the Maori people while they gathered their kaimoana (food).
Pania of the Reef is a most fascinating and enchanting legend. She is commemorated in statue, song, literature and most strongly, in the minds of Maori people. Her bronzed statue in her memory can be found along Marine Parade.
As you leave the aquarium, look across the ocean for Tangaroa and see the spectacular geological formation of Cape Kidnappers which, according to Maori mythology, is the hook used by Maui when he fished the New Zealand islands from the ocean.