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The Maori: Water and Spirituality

Updated on February 8, 2020
The Whanganui River - ruapehu.com
The Whanganui River - ruapehu.com

The Maori and the Importance of Water

An old adage describes the Maori people from the Whanganui river in New Zealand:

"Ko au the awa, ko the awa ko au."

"I am the river and the river is me"

This proverb sums up the importance of water and culture for the Maori people. After 140 years of negotiation with the New Zealand government, the Whanganui river is now a ‘living entity’. This indicates how deeply valued water and the environment is to the Maori. The indigenous people of New Zealand, have a strong connection to all lakes, rivers and streams - they are guardians of these natural treasures.


Water and the Effects on People

The indigenous people around the world have always had a 'water conscience'. Nearly one billion live without clean drinking water. In the industrialized countries a cup of clean drinking water is on tap nearby. In the developing countries women and children hike for hours to fetch water from an unsafe water source. Water is the source of life; if there is no water - there is no life.

The Water Baptism of Jesus

The son of God, Jesus, told John the Baptist that, "I need to be baptized by you ..." When Jesus was baptized, he came up out of the water and the heavens opened up upon him. And the spirit of God descended upon him. Water baptism is publicly declaring ones faith and commitment to God. This water ceremony binds the union between man and God.

A young Maori pilgrim from New Zealand prays as he is about to be baptized in the Jordan River in Israel. Photo by Gali Tibbon
A young Maori pilgrim from New Zealand prays as he is about to be baptized in the Jordan River in Israel. Photo by Gali Tibbon

Water, Culture and Spirituality

Water is a key component in religious ceremonies. Cultural and spiritual beliefs hold a deep affinity with water. In every culture a spiritual dimension exists within the group, spirituality is strongly linked to water and water rituals.

A spirit that has not reached its destination and chooses to live on various locations on earth. That spirit can create conflict with people. A leader of a religious group will be sent to remove the spirit through prayer and usually water is used to cleanse the area. Religious traditions acknowledge water and understand its importance in water ceremonies to purify, cleanse, renew, calm and so on.

Biblical Laws for Water Purification

In the bible, Numbers 19:1-10, states that anyone who touches a dead body is unclean. He must clean himself with water on the third day and seventh day after contact. If this is not undertaken then that person will be cut off from the community. This law eliminates impurities associated with death through water purification.

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Water and Health

A number of water related diseases, for example, typhoid, diarrhea, cholera and other bacteria is unhealthy for human consumption. Some people do not have a choice and are forced to drink contaminated water, it is used for cooking and drinking in developing countries. The aged and the young are the most vulnerable to water borne diseases and death fatalities are high. This contaminated water is primarily in developing countries. But now all countries water supply is becoming steadily tainted.

“What can be done?” Governments of these developing countries are equipping the people with knowledge and the necessary tools to harvest water. Christian groups and other agencies are erecting water wells.

Water is fundamental to our health and existence the quality of our drinking water is a significant health determinant. Sustainable management of drinking water is crucial in maintaining good health and the survival of humans.

Are you drinking enough water? There are many benefits to drinking water it can lower blood pressure and cholesterol. Headaches are sometimes caused by dehydration. Again the importance of clean drinking water is the root to good health.

Maori believe that water carries its own mauri (life-force) a healthy mauri will sustain a healthy ecosystem. And supports cultural practices, such as food gathering and water rituals. The mauri is defenseless against natural causes, for example, food sources plundered by the hand of people or through contamination. The mauri of the water will diminish.

Management and restoration of waterway by the guardians old traditional restorative methods can be effective. Kaitiakitanga control the relationship between the people and the natural world. People must not abuse the river, for example, no use of soap in the water and do not transport tramp animal waste into the water. Wai tapu - Maori will protect waterway with a tapu status. And Rahui prohibits access to the tapu area. Karakia (prayer) is accompanied with each of these steps, they are oral traditions that are passed down the generations.

Down the Drain

Water is a precious commodity; everyone understands this statement. Imagine waking up, going to the tap for a cup of water, only to find there’s no water. It could now be over the billion range of people that do not have access to safe drinking water.

Bodies of water, around the world, are being increasingly polluted by human and industrial waste. “Does this only affect people in developing regions?“ No, this is a myth. These are targets for every country in the world. This is something that people don’t realise in developed countries. People produce large volumes of waste water everyday. Every amount of water put down the drain reduces water quality. Use water efficiently and reduce waste water. We need better technology to clean and reuse this water.

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© 2014 Rangiiria

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