The taniwha dilemma

It’s difficult to know how to deal with Taniwha stories.

On one hand there are thoughts of showing respect for Maori customs.
And on the other there’s an inclination to call aout old superstitions.

Taniwha are a bit like Irish leprechauns, but there seems to be a general reluctance to laugh at taniwha so as not to offend anyone. We are now in an age of Maori Correctness.

There is also the difficulty of definition – what exactly is a taniwha? It’s not ‘a thing’, it can be various things.


(noun) water spirit, monster, chief, something or someone awesome – taniwha take many forms from logs to reptiles and whales and often live in lakes, rivers or the sea. They are often regarded as guardians by the people who live in their territory.

In Māori mythology, taniwha are beings that live in deep pools in rivers, dark caves, or in the sea, especially in places with dangerous currents or deceptive breakers. They may be considered highly respected kaitiaki (protective guardians) of people and places, or in some traditions as dangerous, predatory beings, which for example would kidnap women to have as wives.

So who’s meaning it is and how the meaning is used can make it confusing.

In the current context of taniwha guardianship over water, are taniwha:

  • highly respected spiritual kaitiaki (protective guardians) of waterways?
  • predatory beings, which for example would hijack a political process for financial gain?

So the crux of the dilemma is:

There are people who genuinely believe in old spiritual legends, and there are people who use any advantage they can to extort a financial advantage.

And it’s difficult to tell them apart.

Are we confused, or are we being exploited?

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