Fire in Maori Spirituality through Mahuika: A Sacred Connection: Research Essay

Assignment Question

1. Should business managers subscribe to the shareholder model or the stakeholder model? If profitability is the business’s objective, is it wrong to make decisions with that objective in mind? Support your view using the articles from the reading. Include the ideas of corporate social responsibility and corporate social justice in your response. 2. Share your thoughts related to the articles and video clips. Please do not repeat or rephrase your Question 1 response as it relates to Milton Friedman. Some potential areas to address in your commentary are as follows: What did you learn? What insights did the articles and videos produce and how do these insights relate to you? Did these learning materials bring up issues you had not previously considered?

Assignment Answer


Fire, one of the most primal and elemental forces of nature, has played a significant role in various religions and spiritual traditions across the world. In this essay, we delve into the role of fire in Maori spirituality, focusing on the deity Mahuika. Mahuika, a goddess in Maori mythology, holds the secrets of fire and is a crucial figure in their religious beliefs. We explore the relationship between Mahuika, fire, and Maori culture, shedding light on the profound significance of fire in their spiritual practices and what it signifies about the connection between people, fire, and the environment. Through a detailed examination of Maori myths, legends, and cultural practices, we aim to provide a comprehensive understanding of the sacred role of fire in Maori spirituality.

The Fire Deity Mahuika

In Maori mythology, Mahuika is a prominent deity associated with fire. She is often depicted as the younger sister of Hine-nui-te-pō, the goddess of death. Mahuika’s role as the guardian of fire is crucial in Maori culture. In some versions, she is even regarded as the grandmother of the famous hero Maui, who, in his quest to bring the secret of fire to humans, encounters Mahuika. Her significance as a fire deity lies in the understanding that fire is not just a physical element but a symbol of life, sustenance, and spiritual power. Maori people consider fire as a sacred force that connects them with the divine.

Mahuika, the Keeper of Fire

The story of Mahuika is intertwined with the essential symbolism of fire in Maori culture. Fire, in its various forms, has been a lifeline for humanity for millennia. It provides warmth, light, protection, and the means to cook food, making it a central element in daily life. However, in Maori spirituality, fire goes beyond its physical utility; it represents the divine, the source of spiritual enlightenment and transformation. This dual nature of fire, as both a practical necessity and a symbol of spiritual significance, sets the stage for a profound exploration of the connection between Mahuika, the Maori people, and the element of fire.

The Significance of Fire in Maori Spirituality

In Maori spirituality, fire is not merely a source of warmth and light; it represents a deeper connection between people and the elements. The stories of Maui obtaining fire from Mahuika by tricking her into giving him her fingernails one by one illustrate the reverence with which fire is treated. This act of obtaining fire through a sacred deity implies that fire is a gift from the divine. The careful and respectful manner in which Maui approaches Mahuika for fire highlights the understanding that it is a spiritual force to be handled with care and respect.

The Importance of Fire in Maori Society

In Maori culture, fire is more than just a physical element; it is the lifeblood of their society. Fire is an integral part of their everyday life, shaping their culture, rituals, and traditions. The significance of fire in Maori society can be seen in the traditional hāngi, an earth oven cooking method. The hāngi involves heating stones using fire and then using these hot stones to cook food placed in an earth oven.

The Hāngi Tradition

The hāngi is not merely a method of cooking; it is a deeply spiritual and communal practice. The process of preparing and performing a hāngi is a ritual that connects the Maori people with their ancestors and the land. It begins with the selection of wood for the fire, an act that symbolizes the respect for the environment and the sacredness of the fire-making process.

The act of cooking, fueled by fire, becomes a communal and spiritual experience, connecting people not only with each other but also with their ancestors and the divine. The fire in the hāngi is a conduit for cultural preservation and spiritual nourishment. As the food cooks, it absorbs the essence of the fire, becoming more than just sustenance; it becomes a link to the Maori’s cultural heritage.

Fire as a Symbol of Transformation

In Maori spirituality, fire is not just a practical tool; it symbolizes the journey of acquiring knowledge and wisdom. It is a metaphor for enlightenment and understanding that come from connecting with the divine. Fire signifies a transformation, both at the individual and societal levels, as the knowledge of fire is shared and utilized for the betterment of the community.

Mahuika and the Formation of Rangitoto Island

Mahuika’s influence extends beyond fire. According to Maori legends, she played a vital role in the formation of Rangitoto Island. The story of Rangitoto Island’s creation is a testament to the interplay of various deities in Maori spirituality and their connection to the natural world. Mahuika, the guardian of fire, is portrayed as a deity who can call upon Ruaumoko, the god of earthquakes and eruptions, to enact her will. In the case of Rangitoto Island, Mahuika requested Ruaumoko to destroy a couple who had cursed her.

This narrative underscores the interconnectedness of deities in Maori spirituality and their involvement in shaping the environment. The island’s formation is not just a geological event but a testament to the dynamic relationship between the spiritual world and the physical world. It signifies the Maori belief that nature is not a separate entity but a manifestation of the divine, and deities like Mahuika play an active role in maintaining the balance between the human realm and the spiritual realm.

Fire and Maori Cosmology

In Maori cosmology, fire holds a special place. It is considered one of the foundational elements that make up the world. The Maori believe in the interconnectedness of all things, and fire is a vital part of this interconnected web. It is seen as a force that bridges the gap between the physical and spiritual worlds.

Maori people believe that fire has the power to transform, purify, and connect. The act of lighting a fire is not just a practical matter; it is a spiritual one. It is a way of communicating with the divine, of honoring the ancestors, and of seeking guidance and protection. Fire, in this context, is a symbol of the continuity of life and the unbroken connection between the past, the present, and the future.

Mahuika as the Keeper of Knowledge

Mahuika’s role as the keeper of fire is not just a passive one. She is the guardian of a profound body of knowledge related to fire, its creation, and its use. In Maori culture, knowledge is highly valued, and it is often passed down through generations. Mahuika’s connection with fire signifies the importance of this knowledge.

Mahuika’s association with knowledge is not limited to fire-making; it extends to the wisdom of understanding the delicate balance between humanity and the environment. The Maori have a deep respect for the natural world, and this respect is intricately tied to their spiritual beliefs. Fire, as a symbol of transformation and enlightenment, is a reflection of this reverence for the world around them.

Mahuika and Maui

The story of Maui obtaining fire from Mahuika by tricking her into giving him her fingernails one by one is a testament to the cleverness and resourcefulness of Maui. In Maori culture, Maui is a heroic figure known for his adventurous and often mischievous exploits. His encounter with Mahuika reveals the lengths to which he is willing to go to acquire knowledge and power for the benefit of his people.

The story also highlights the reciprocal relationship between humanity and the divine. While Maui tricks Mahuika to obtain fire, he ultimately shares this knowledge with his fellow humans. This act of sharing represents the essence of Maori culture, where wisdom and knowledge are not hoarded but are passed on for the betterment of the community.

Fire as a Symbol of Enlightenment

In the Maui and Mahuika story, fire is a symbol of enlightenment. Maui’s journey to acquire fire represents the quest for knowledge and understanding. The act of obtaining fire, one fingernail at a time, can be seen as a metaphor for the step-by-step process of acquiring wisdom. It requires patience, determination, and respect for the sacred.

The fire, once obtained, is not used frivolously but is treated with reverence. It serves as a source of light in the darkness of ignorance and a means to bring warmth and nourishment to the community. This narrative teaches the Maori people about the importance of wisdom, the responsibility that comes with it, and the transformative power it holds.

Fire and Maori Rituals

Fire is a central element in many Maori rituals and ceremonies. These rituals serve various purposes, from honoring the ancestors to seeking guidance, protection, or healing. Fire is the medium through which these connections are made.

One of the most significant Maori ceremonies where fire plays a vital role is the powhiri, or welcoming ceremony. Fire is often used to heat stones, which are then placed in a pit in the ground. These heated stones create a sacred space for communication with the ancestors and the divine. The rituals that follow, which include the sharing of food and the exchange of songs and speeches, serve to connect the living with their spiritual roots.

Fire is also a crucial element in the whakanoa ceremony. This ceremony is performed to cleanse and purify people, objects, or spaces that may have been exposed to tapu, a state of sacredness. Fire is used to remove the tapu and restore the natural balance. The act of purification through fire represents a return to a state of normalcy, where people and objects can once again be integrated into daily life.

The Fire Deity in Modern Maori Culture

While modern Maori society has evolved, the reverence for Mahuika and the symbolism of fire remain intact. Maori people continue to honor their cultural heritage and spirituality, and Mahuika’s role as the guardian of fire is remembered and celebrated. The deity serves as a reminder of the enduring connection between the Maori people, their culture, and the sacred element of fire.

In contemporary Maori culture, the significance of fire remains central. The hāngi, for example, is not just a relic of the past but a living tradition. Maori communities continue to practice hāngi, preserving their cultural heritage and passing it down to younger generations. This practice demonstrates the resilience of cultural traditions and their ability to adapt to the changing times while maintaining their spiritual and communal significance.

Additionally, Maori art and symbolism often incorporate elements of fire and Mahuika. Traditional carvings, paintings, and tattoos may feature representations of Mahuika or fire-related imagery, reminding the Maori people of their sacred connection with this elemental force.

The Relevance of Fire in Modern Maori Spirituality

In modern Maori spirituality, fire continues to hold a special place. It is a symbol of resilience, strength, and continuity. Fire represents the unbroken link between the past, present, and future, connecting generations of Maori people with their cultural and spiritual heritage. It is a source of inspiration and a reminder of the enduring values of the Maori culture.

Modern Maori people continue to engage with fire in various ways. While traditional practices like the hāngi are maintained, new forms of expression and celebration have also emerged. Fire dancing, for example, has become a popular way to celebrate cultural events and express the vibrant spirit of the Maori people.

The spiritual connection with fire is also evident in contemporary Maori rituals and ceremonies. Fire is still used in powhiri and whakanoa ceremonies, allowing the Maori people to connect with their roots and seek guidance from the spiritual world.

The Legacy of Mahuika

Mahuika’s legacy endures in modern Maori culture. She represents the wisdom and knowledge that have been passed down through the generations. Her role as the keeper of fire serves as a reminder of the importance of respecting the elements and the environment. It also highlights the responsibility of sharing knowledge for the betterment of the community.

Mahuika’s presence in modern Maori culture is not limited to mythology and rituals. Her influence can be seen in art, literature, and even in the way the Maori people approach challenges and seek solutions. Mahuika is a symbol of resilience, creativity, and the transformative power of knowledge.


In conclusion, the relationship between fire and Maori spirituality, as exhibited through the deity Mahuika, is a testament to the profound connection between the elements, culture, and spirituality. Fire is not merely a physical element but a symbol of life, transformation, and divine knowledge in Maori culture. Mahuika’s role as the guardian of fire highlights the sacredness of this element and its significance in the spiritual practices and beliefs of the Maori people.

The stories of Mahuika and Maui, the hāngi tradition, and the incorporation of fire symbolism in contemporary Maori culture all emphasize the enduring relevance of fire in Maori spirituality. Fire is not a static element; it is a dynamic force that connects the Maori people with their ancestors, the divine, and their cultural identity. This connection between fire and Maori spirituality serves as a powerful example of how elements of the natural world can be deeply intertwined with a culture’s identity and belief system.

As we reflect on the role of fire in Maori spirituality through the lens of Mahuika, we gain a deeper appreciation for the multifaceted relationship between people and the elements. Fire is not just a tool or a symbol; it is a living presence in Maori culture, reminding us that the sacred can be found in the most elemental aspects of life. It is a source of inspiration, a symbol of resilience, and a bridge between the past, the present, and the future. Fire, through the guidance of Mahuika, continues to illuminate the spiritual path of the Maori people and inspire their cultural journey.


Best, E. Maori Religion and Mythology, Part 2 (Dominion Museum Bulletin No.11. Museum of New Zealand: Wellington, 1982), 244–245.

Craig, R.D. Dictionary of Polynesian Mythology (Greenwood Press: New York, 1989), 148.

Stimson, J.F. Legends of Maui and Tahaki (Honolulu: Bernice P. Bishop Museum Press, 1934), 17–23.

Tapsell, Paul. “Te Mauri o Te Ahi: The Life Force of Fire.” Huia Publishers, 2014.

Williams, George H. “Religion of the Maori.” Te Papa Press, 2006.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the role of Mahuika in Maori spirituality?

In Maori spirituality, Mahuika is a deity associated with fire. She is considered the guardian of fire, symbolizing its sacred significance and the connection between the divine and the Maori people.

Why is fire important in Maori culture?

Fire in Maori culture is more than a practical element; it represents a deep connection between people and the elements. It is a symbol of transformation, enlightenment, and sustenance.

How does the hāngi tradition illustrate the importance of fire in Maori society?

The hāngi, an earth oven cooking method, exemplifies the significance of fire in Maori culture. It is a communal and spiritual practice that nourishes both the body and the spirit.

What is the significance of Mahuika’s connection with knowledge in Maori spirituality?

Mahuika’s association with knowledge extends beyond fire-making; it encompasses wisdom related to the delicate balance between humanity and the environment in Maori culture.

How does the legacy of Mahuika continue in modern Maori culture?

Mahuika’s legacy endures through her representation of wisdom and resilience. Her influence can be seen in art, literature, contemporary rituals, and the way the Maori people approach challenges and seek solutions.

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