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Tohungatanga (chamanisme Maori)


Tohungatanga (shamanism) in the Maori culture

Whakatongia te Kakano!
Ko wai ahau
Mirimiringia i te aroha
Whakatipua te ngakau Maori
i roto i nga taonga tukuiho
o nga matua Tupuna
ko te Wairua ki to Atua
Nananei nga mea katoa.

Plant the Seed
Who am I
Nurture it with love
And it will grow
In the gifts passed down from our ancestors
Your Spirit is one with God
For all things are gifted by IO
Prayer by Hone Tana.


Maori is the name of the native people of Aotearoa, today known as New Zealand. New Zealand is not apart of Australia. It is an independent country in the Pacific Ocean and Tasman Sea that consists of two main islands, Te
Waka a Maui and Te Ika a Maui, the North and the South Island. The Maori people, were formed over a long period of time by many different peoples arriving on waka, boats, from around the world, like Polynesia and Indonesia.


By a friend I was asked to share my view of Shamanism in my culture. In the following chapters you shall find a essence of this.

The word Tohunga can mean Shaman and Tohungatanga can be translated as Shamanism.

A Tohunga is someone who is living the life in the heart and who is able to read the signs. Tohu means sign, symbol, seal or way and a Tuhunga is someone who can read this. Here in Aotearoa a Tohunga lives and practices in the hidden. He is not advertising or promoting himself as a tohunga, because in our tradition when someone has been given this right or has earned this right through mana, through experience or through hard work, this right is given by acknowledgement from the outside. So the whanau, the family or friends are in observation and when someone reveals the capacities of a Tohunga this title is given by them.

Tohungatanga can be passed down through the generations. It is like a spiritual gift, a spiritual capacity, a knowledge that has been handed down through whakapapa, through genealogy. It is like the big family stream or family tree has given its descendant the responsibility or guardianship of this spiritual capacity. But there is a freedom in accepting this gift and responsibility. It is a choice to carry this.

From my understanding a Tohunga is also a specialist. There are many kind of Tohunga with real practical, every day life capacities to cosmic astrological knowledge. There are Tohunga for carving houses or waka, boats, Tohunga of the arts, Tohunga of the medicine, Tohunga of the psychic realm with clairvoyance and Tohunga Ahurewa, who work more on the astral levels.


The key ingredient in the Maori world for me is spirituality, being in connection with the spiritual world. The spiritual aspect for me makes the difference between a Tohunga and a professional in todays understanding. In tikanga Maori we have four basic principals of well-being: Taha Tinana, taha Hinengaro, taha Wairua, taha Whanaungatanga. These four pillars principals are acknowledging our physical well-being, our emotional and
psychological wellbeing, our spiritual wellbeing and our social wellbeing.

Someone who builds a canoe, who is also a Tohunga, will acknowledge these four pillars while building. He might recite the family tree or whakapapa, while carving. He will acknowledge the different ancestors associated to the waka, he will connect to the historical stories of the families and also connect to the other dimensions with the Atua, the God realms. The Atua might also share their message with the Tohunga associated to that particular waka, which will be depicted in the carvings of the wood and the art work displayed.


In the ancient times the village people, the whanau or the hapu already knew which children had the gifts. The becoming Tohunga were already chosen. The elders knew who had the capacities, as those were passed on through whakapapa. So the chosen children were taken into training and higher education, adapted for each individual. All different children were seen with their different talents, different capacities, different skills and they were helped with particular tools in particular ways, as these children grew and developed they became experts in the knowledge and skills to excel in administering their particular Tohungatanga.

The children who had capacities to become a Tohunga were taken to the whare wananga, the learning place. All of them recited the knowledge and prayers shared by practicing Tohunga. This kind of training could go for hours and hours in the dark house.

My grandfather was born with the capacities of a Tohunga but he arrived in a time of big change and industrialisation. It was also a time when the missionary church was strong and Tohungatanga was forbidden under the colonial government. So he felt that the training in the whare wanaga was too much for him to carry. As a young boy that world was frightening him, so he chose not to further develop his capacities as a Tohunga even though he naturally carried a lot of gifts. He knew how to find special healing plants in the forest and did many things in the hidden, in a very humble way.

I was told that things were very strict and tapu, sacred, in the old times, especially in the realms of the Tohunga. But times have changed and things have become more open and accessible to everyone. People are guided from their inside to balance their wellbeing by following Shamanism, Tohungatanga, Yoga and other spiritual practices. This has its advantages and disadvantages, as sometimes there is lacking the structure and discipline of the spiritual lore and we don’t know where to find it and in whom we can trust.

5Ojasvin Kingi Davis & Iris Waimaania Davis

For me it is about the art of interweaving true spirituality into our daily life, finding the way behind the ways and marrying the four pillars of wellbeing as a basic structure.

Through my upbringing in Te Ao Maori, the Maori worldview, I was surrounded in traditional values and they gave me the pathway and guidelines for life. I always had access to these inner protocols to help me on the way of being a Tohunga, on the way of reading the signs, living a balanced life, transforming of what needs to be transformed and heal what needs to be healed.

From my perspective everything is spiritual, so everyone has a spirit but a Tohunga is someone who can make the connections to the important worlds. They can recite a Karakia; a prayer that can open the door to another world or that can create a protection or a certain atmosphere to enter that world or another level of consciousness.


I think for me a Tohunga is someone who is serving the spiritual world and is serving IO, God and Goddess. He puts himself in service for a higher aim. By serving this higher aim the personal pathway manifest. This stands in contrast with the modern world, where most of humanity is mainly serving their own good and become therefore consumers. And the question of what we can leave as a legacy for our children’s children is disregarded.

This modern world has become really cold, self-centred and self-orientated. I was brought up with the elders telling me: Strive for that pathway of tika, pono and aroha, translated as righteousness, truth and love. A tohunga should have the capacity to access the ancient wisdom of something like Aroha: Aro being the pure intension, the essence and Ha being the life and the breath, when these two come together love is created. We all know that the universe is created out of this fusion. So we can see that everything in nature is birthed from a higher intension, from a higher will, that has a greater purpose or aim. This Aro is selfless, is serving. When we look at the sun, we have gratitude, as the sun is constantly giving life for millions of years. The modern consciousness of humanity has lost the appreciation and gratitude for this understanding of Aroha.

As a Tohunga it is important to connect to the Tupuna, the ancestors, as this connects us to our totality, to who we are. Tu means to stand or to exists, puna means source or wellspring. Therefore we are connecting to our stream of consciousness, the stream of water that holds the entire memory of our existence. This goes back to IO, the primal source. When we connect to our line of ancestors and we follow this line we will always reconnect to God and Goddess, the beginning of creation. This is our ancestral wisdom and knowledge. In our lifetime we are learning and accumulating a lot of information and wisdom, but when we connect with those who have lived their lives before us we are connecting to a greater experience and wisdom. It is good to remember that without our ancestors we would not be here.


Many of our ancestors have done great things and also things that we are not proud of, things we may not want to relate to. From my understanding we are in a time of transformation and some of those parts that were not so good or that are difficult to connect with are still within us. It is our task to help to free our ancestors because they might have experienced difficulties, anger and sadness in their lives and could not resolve it, as they were not capable at that time. Some traumas were handed down over many generations. We also carry that somewhere in our consciousness. Now we are in a time where we want to connect to our totality, therefore we have to go within and love these parts that are difficult and bring the Aroha and light, to bring life for the next generations.

I see us as being the rito, the young shoot on the tree that has to break the old forms for new life. The ancestors are like the roots and the leaves and they want us to bring the new light from above. We are all serving the one tree and the one aim, the original Tohu that comes from the first seed.

I tau ano Pu
He kakano a Io
He tohu Aroha
Ko tona hiahia matua
Kia tiritiri kia tipu, kia puawai, kia hua
Kia tu te rakau nui i wao nui a Tane.

In your centre is your divine seed IO
Inscribed with love, the purest intention
To seed, to grow, to blossom and to succeed
To become the great living tree in the world of Tane.
Tane Whakapiripiri – God of the forest who binds all together.

Tihei Mauri Ora!