All creatures and natural resources are descendents of two of their children, Tāne-mahuta and Tangaroa. Tangaroa’s children are the fish and other sea creatures. Tāne-mahuta created the forests and birds, and humans are also descended from him. According to many traditions, the kiwi is Tāne’s eldest child, and therefore our elder brothers and sisters. They offer us an older sibling’s protection.
How the kiwi lost his wings
The kiwi’s ancestor helped Tāne-mahuta save his children, the trees, which were being eaten by bugs and beginning to sicken. All the birds were called together and asked if one would come down from the forest canopy to live on the forest floor and help save the trees.
Not a bird spoke, so each one was asked in turn.
Tūī refused. He was afraid of the darkness down on the ground, away from the sun.
Pūkeko refused. He found the forest floor too cold and the earth too damp.
Pīpīwharauroa, the shining cuckoo, also refused. He was too busy building his nest.
But kiwi agreed. He looked at the sun filtering through the high leaves and the damp cold earth, and he looked around and saw his family. And still he agreed.
Tāne-mahuta was filled with joy, for this little bird gave him hope, but he felt he should warn kiwi of what lay ahead.
‘E kiwi, do you realise you will have to grow thick, strong legs so that you can rip apart logs on the ground. That you will loose your beautiful coloured feathers and wings so that you will never be able to return to the forest roof. You will never see the light of day again.’
Still kiwi agreed.
Since then, tui has worn two white feathers at his throat, the mark of a coward. Pukeko has lived forever in a swamp, with wet feet. And Pīpīwharauroa has never built another nest – instead the cuckoo always lays her eggs in other birds’ nests.
But because of kiwi’s great sacrifice, he has become the most well-known and most loved bird of all.
Kiwi’s efforts in helping Tāne-mahuta protect his forest from insect damage display the character traits New Zealanders still admire today – integrity, humility, loyalty, commitment and courage.