A Māori man retouches the painted tattoo on a carved wooden tiki at Whakarewarewa Model Village, New Zealand, 1905.

Tiki refers to large wood and stone carvings of humanoid forms in Central Eastern Polynesian cultures of the Pacific Ocean. The term is also used in Māori mythology where Tiki is the first man, created by either Tūmatauenga or Tāne. He found the first woman, Marikoriko, in a pond – she seduced him and he became the father of Hine-kau-ataata. In the Māori language, the word 'tiki' was the name given to large wooden carvings in roughly human shape, although this is a somewhat archaic usage. The carvings often serve to mark the boundaries of sacred or significant sites.



In traditions from the East Coast of the North Island of New Zealand, the first human is a woman created by Tāne, god of forests and of birds. Usually her name is Hine-ahu-one. In other legends, Tāne makes the first man Tiki, then makes a wife for him. In some West Coast versions, Tiki himself, as a son of Rangi and Papa, creates the first human by mixing his own blood with clay, and Tāne then makes the first woman. Sometimes Tūmatauenga, the war god, creates Tiki.[1] In another story the first woman is Mārikoriko. Tiki marries her and their daughter is Hine-kau-ataata (White 1887-1891, I:151-152). [2] In some traditions, Tiki is the penis of Tāne (Orbell 1998:178, Tregear 1891:510-511). In fact, Tiki is strongly associated with the origin of the procreative act.[3]

Here is one story of Tiki among the many variants: Tiki was lonely and craved company. One day, seeing his reflection in a pool, he thought he had found a companion, and dived into the pool to seize it. The image shattered and Tiki was disappointed. He fell asleep and when he awoke he saw the reflection again. He covered the pool with earth and it gave birth to a woman. Tiki lived with her in innocence, until one day the woman was excited by an eel. Her excitement passed to Tiki and the first procreative act resulted (Reed 1963:52).

Names and epithets

John White names several Tiki or perhaps manifestations of Tiki in Māori tradition (White 1887-1891, I:142):

  • Tiki-tohua, the progenitor of birds[4]
  • Tiki-kapakapa, the progenitor of fish and of a bird, the tui [5]
  • Tiki-auaha, the progenitor of humankind
  • Tiki-whakaeaea, the progenitor of the kūmara.

Elsewhere in Polynesia

Tiki statue shop, Hawaii, 1959

The word appears as tiki in New Zealand Māori, Cook Islands Māori, Tuamotuan, and Marquesan; as tiʻi in Tahitian, and as kiʻi in Hawaiian. The word has not been recorded from the languages of Western Polynesia or of Rapanui (Easter Island).[6]

  • In Hawaiian traditions the first man was Kumuhonua. He was made by Kāne, or by Kāne, , and Lono. His body was made by mixing red earth with saliva. He was made in the shape of Kāne, who carried the earth from which the man was made from the four corners of the world. A woman was made from one of his ribs. Kanaloa was watching when Kāne made the first man, and he too made a man, but could not bring him to life. Kanaloa then said to Kāne, “I will take your man, and he will die.” And so death came upon mankind (Tregear 1891:151).
  • In Tahiti, Tiʻi was the first man, and was made from red earth. The first woman was Ivi who was made from one of the bones (ivi) of Tiʻi (Tregear 1891:151) .
  • In the Marquesas there are various accounts. In one legend Atea and his wife created people. In another tradition Atanua and her father Atea brought forth human beings (Tregear 1891:151).
  • In the Cook Islands, traditions also vary. At Rarotonga, Tiki is the guardian of the entrance to Avaiki, the underworld. Offerings were made to him as gifts for the departing soul of someone who is dying. At Mangaia, Tiki is a woman, the sister of Veetini, the first person to die a natural death. The entrance to Avaiki (the underworld) is called ‘the chasm of Tiki’ (Tregear 1891:151).
  • According to Easter Island (Rapa Nui) legend, Hotu Matu'a, the first chief brought along a moai symbolizing ancestors, which became the model for the large moai. Dr. Jo Anne Van Tilburg of the Easter Island Statue Project at UCLA, says that the first stone statues originated on Rapa Nui, although some contend that the first statues originated in the Marquesas or Austral Islands in present day Tahiti (French Polynesia).

See also

  • Hei-tiki, Māori neck pendants, often called tiki
  • Moai, a monolithic human figure on Easter Island, sometimes erroneously called tiki
  • Tiki culture, a 20th Century kitsch decorative style used in Polynesian-themed restaurants


  1. ^ Tūmatauenga, god of war, represents man, as does Tāne, whose name means 'man'
  2. ^ John White attributes this version to Ngāti Hau
  3. ^ According to Reed, 'it is certain that Tiki... has a definite phallic significance' (1963:52). However Te Rangi Hiroa (Sir Peter Buck) pointed out that such references were only found in one late and controversial source (1974).
  4. ^ In this story, Tiki-tohua was an egg produced by Hine-ahu-one, a woman made by Tāne to be his wife. This egg gave rise to all the birds (Shortland 1882:22).
  5. ^ Tiki-kapakapa (born after Tiki-tohua) was a girl who later took the name Hine-a-tauira. She and Tāne had a daughter named Hine-titamauri who was given to Tiki as his wife (Shortland 1882:22)
  6. ^ Polynesian Lexicon Project Online, entry tiki.1


  • T. R. Hiroa (Sir Peter Buck), The Coming of the Maori. Second Edition. First Published 1949. Wellington: Whitcombe and Tombs) 1974.
  • M. Orbell, The Concise Encyclopedia of Māori Myth and Legend (Canterbury University Press: Christchurch), 1998.
  • A. W. Reed, Treasury of Maori Folklore (A.H. & A.W. Reed, Wellington), 1963.
  • E. Shortland, Maori Religion and Mythology (Longman, Green, London), 1882.
  • E. R. Tregear, Maori-Polynesian Comparative Dictionary (Lyon and Blair, Lambton Quay), 1891.
  • J. White, The Ancient History of the Maori, 6 Volumes (Government Printer, Wellington), 1887-1891.

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