Publishing icon A.W. Reed’s renowned collection of Māori myths and legends has stood the test of time since it was first published in 1963 as A Treasury of Maori Folklore.

Reed’s wide research and ability to tell a great story made the treasury a go-to source of traditional stories for a generation — fulfilling his goal of putting ‘into simple, connected narrative form, and in a logical sequence of categories, the major legends and beliefs, with their more important variants, and thus to provide a volume of straightforward reading and easy reference.’

He Atua, He Tangata: The World of Māori Mythology revises Reed’s work for a twenty-first century readership, under the guiding hand of esteemed editor Ross Calman (Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Toa, Kāi Tahu).

Calman here builds on his previous revision (the 2004 Reed Book of Māori Mythology) with greater identification of sources, updated te reo usage, and more gender-neutral language that ‘generally try and bring it into the twenty-first century,’ as he writes in his note to this edition.

The new title draws on an expression commonly found in haka, referring to the proximity that humans potentially have to the gods. ‘I could think of no better title for this collection, with its stories of gods and people, and of the many other beings who sit on the continuum between the two,’ Ross writes.

He Atua, He Tangata begins with the creation of the universe, the separation of Rangi and Papa and the creation of woman, then reviews the pantheon of atua (gods), the overworld and the underworld. Then come the story cycles of the demigods Māui and Tāwhaki, and tales of supernatural peoples including patupaiarehe, ogres and witches, taniwha and giant birds.

Later chapters are grouped into legends of the earth, ocean and sky, tohunga and makutu, and giants and flying men, with eight timeless legends of love in conclusion.

‘The stories within this volume are a remarkable testament to the wisdom that is to be found in the body of Māori mythology,’ Ross reflects.

‘I hope that this book will continue to function as an accessible reference work and entry point into these traditions, as it has done in different guises for the nearly sixty years that it has been in print.’

Gracing the jacket is a reproduction of the painting Rongonui by distinguished artist Sandy Adsett (Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Pāhauwera). Six contents pages and almost thirty pages of index assist navigation of the 400-page book, helped by a reading ribbon.

Oratia Books is publishing He Atua, He Tangata on 6 October.


The author and editor

A.W. Reed (1908–1979) was one of New Zealand’s most influential writers and publishers. He helped build A.H. & A.W. Reed into the country’s leading publisher, and authored more than 200 books. His works on Māori mythology have served New Zealanders for several generations.

Ross Calman is an esteemed author, editor and licensed translator whose other books with Oratia are Favourite Māori Legends and The Treaty of Waitangi. Last year saw the release of his superb translation of the biography of Te Rauparaha. Ross lives with his family in Wellington.

(Photo: Auckland Libraries)