Te Reinga…the Leaping Place of Spirits


In Austria, where I live, nature prepares for its winterly rest, a short death before spring renews life.

It’s the season when in many cultures people remember their ancestors, contemplate the finiteness of life. On this blog, as part of our series on cultural identities, we have already featured the Mexican day of the dead, Dia de los muertos. Today I would like to tell you about a place that has special meaning to the Maori.

When my partner and I visited New Zealand, we traveled the northern island to a place called Cape Reinga. Cape Reinga is the northernmost point of New Zealand, on the narrow peninsula Aupori.

Here, the Tasman sea and the Pacific ocean meet.

Here, according to ancient Maori lore the spirits of the deceased leap into the sea.

What a haunting, beautiful, spiritual place.

Cape Reinga - The leaping place of spirits, Maori lore

Cape Reinga – The leaping place of spirits according to Maori lore. Image © Marko Ciciliani

“An ancient pohutukawa tree and a lonely lighthouse mark this special place. It is here that after death, all Māori spirits travel up the coast and over the wind-swept vista to the pohutukawa tree on the headland of Te Rerenga Wairua.

They descend into the underworld (reinga) by sliding down a root into the sea below. The spirits then travel underwater to the Three Kings Islands where they climb out onto Ohaua, the highest point of the islands.” After a last farewell look at the land of the living, they descend again to the depths and continue their journey to the other world, the land of their ancestors, Hawaiiki-A-Nui.

Te Reinga “the leaping place of spirits”.

We met Huinga, a Māori, who told us many stories about this landscape and about its people. He and I stood on top of Cape Reinga looking across the vast sea, when he sang this song for me.


Featured image: 90 mile beach, across which the spirits travel on their way to Cape Reinga. © Marko Ciciliani
Text quote taken from http://www.doc.govt.nz/conservation/historic/by-region/northland/kaitaia/cape-reinga/

About barbara_lueneburg

My personal characteristics: curiosity and passion for the arts. My professions: (electric) violin | sound art | research. http://www.barbara-lueneburg.com

There are 2 comments

    1. barbara_lueneburg

      Huinga told me that it is a song “about a god and how great he is”, “I see the stars, I hear the mighty thunder, thine power throughout the universe displayed.” I had a look into the lyrics and found that it is an old missionary song, originally from Sweden. The tune is from some time in the 1890s, the text was inspired by a missionary’s experiences in the Carpathian Mountains. This is what I have found on the internet:
      “In a village to which he had climbed, Mr. Hine stood in the street singing a Gospel Hymn and reading aloud, “John, Chapter Three.” Among the sympathetic listeners was a local village schoolmaster. A storm was gathering, and when it was evident that no further travel could be made that night, the friendly schoolmaster offered his hospitality. Awe-inspiring was the mighty thunder echoing through the mountains, and it was this impression that was to bring about the birth of the first verse.”(http://www.hymntime.com/tch/htm/h/o/w/how_great_Thou_art.htm)
      Obviously you as a New Zealander are the expert here, Dugal, but for all those who are interested in the impact of Christian missionaries on Maori culture, I found this link at “Te Ara, the Encyclopedia of New Zealand”. http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/missions-and-missionaries

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