The Kauri tree is a symbol of New Zealand, and it has a rich history and mythology that is intertwined with the culture of the Maori people. The Kauri tree is revered for its strength, size, and longevity, and it has been an important part of the landscape for centuries.
Kauri tree symbolism has a special meaning for the Maori culture. According to their mythology, the first Kauri tree which is 2000 years old, was planted by Tane Mahuta, the god who is described as the god of forests, birds, and insects.
A sacred relationship
Tane Mahuta, Lord of the Forest (Maori)
Upon Captain Cook’s arrival to New Zealand in 1769, he noted the copious amount of foliage with genuine excitement. He stated, “The banks of the river were completely clothed with the finest timber my eyes have ever seen”.
About Kauri Trees
The genus Agathis, which includes monkey-puzzle trees, comprises about 20 species of tall evergreen coniferous trees. These native New Zealand, Australian, and Philippine trees have broad leaves that are undivided, smooth, and leathery. The seeds mature during the second year. One seed sits behind each scale on the cone.
The kauri tree (A. australis), found in New Zealand, is one of the biggest and most gorgeous trees in existence. When they are young, their leaves grow opposite of each other and are linear-oblong shaped; they can get up to 2½ inches (6.5cm) long.
Once they become adults, their leaves change to being elliptic or broadly oblong shaped; They also become sessile and ½ inch to 1½ inches (1.3–3.8cm) long”.
Maori canoes, meeting houses and shrines were originally constructed with wood from the kauri tree. The resin of this gum was burned to provide tattoos for ceremonial events.
Sadly, during the past 150 years, New Zealand’s North Island has lost its estimated 4 million acres (1.6 million hectares) of ancient and majestic kauri forest, leaving behind only 18,420 acres (7455 hectares).
Folklore, Myth and Symbol of Kauri Trees
The Maoris, the indigenous people of New Zealand, believe that everything in nature–trees, animals, birds, insects and stones–possesses a spirit. They believed that at the beginning of time heaven and earth were one entity.
Tane Mahuta was their Supreme Being and Lord of the Forest who decided to keep them apart but also in balance by serving as a column between them.
“Tane Mahuta” in Waipoua Forest, North Island, New Zealand, is the largest living kauri with a height of 169ft (51m) and a girth of 45ft (13.2m). It is thought to be 2,000 years old.
The Maoris of the forest see themselves as related to trees because they believe that both humans and trees are descended from Tane. They, therefore, perform solemn ceremonies whenever younger members of the family (humans) have to kill an older member (a tree) to obtain timber for building houses or boats.
Before this, wise men or priests take into account factors such as the phase of the moon and the spirits present in the forest.
The Kauri tree and the whale have a close relationship, as expressed in an ancient Maori myth. The tall kauri notices the whales from its home inside the forest and one day, the whale swims to shore so that they can meet.
They become friends but as each creature needs to stay in its world, they find another way of expressing their friendship: The whale gives its grey skin to the kauri and vice versa.
What does kauri mean in Māori?
In Māori culture, the kauri tree holds a significant and revered position. The word “kauri” itself means “immortality” or “agelessness,” representing the tree’s long lifespan and potential for growth.
Why is the kauri tree unusual?
The Kauri tree, native to New Zealand, is an impressive and unusual species. One of its most distinctive traits is its size – kauri trees can reach heights up to 50 meters, with some even exceeding 100 meters tall.
Another unique feature is its age – the oldest kauri trees have been estimated to be over 2,000 years old. These ancient giants also can regenerate from injuries or damage to their trunks thanks to a specialized structure known as the “mono-dominoes” root system.
The Kauri tree is a significant symbol in the Maori culture. They believe that Tane Mahuta, the god of forests, birds, and insects, planted the first Kauri tree 2000 years ago. The kauri tree represents many things including strength, wisdom, and friendship.
They have been used for canoes, meeting houses, and shrines by the Maoris. Unfortunately, New Zealand has lost millions of acres of these trees in the past 150 years.