Mircea Eliade "From Primitives to Zen": THE POLYNESIAN MANA

Mana has a meaning which has not a little in common with tupu,1 but on a significant point they are radically different. Both denote unfolding activity and life; but whereas tupu is an expression of the nature of things and human beings as unfolded from within, mana expresses something participated, an active fellowship which according to its nature is never inextricably bound up with any single thing or any single human being. . . .

Mana thus is something which is found both in chief, tribe, and land, in other words, something common to a group, but there is a difference in their relation to this mana in that the chief owns the mana of the others. It is this very thing that makes his mana so much greater than that of the others, as it 'extends' into the land and the people.

This fellowship, mana, has something impersonal about it, in the way that it may be taken from the chief and taken over by another man. The impersonal, however, is only one aspect of mana, the one due to the fact that it contains the mana of the tribe as well as the land, and we may perhaps add, that of the chief as well. On the other hand there is something personal about mana in relation to tribe, chief or land, by the fact that they each have their share in it. This becomes evident if we consider the relation to tupu in more detail.

A man's tupu and his mana are intimately connected. We may say that his tupu attached his mana to it, or better that it extends into his mana so that they are in part identical. They both join in compromising a man's repute. The presents which the kinship group give a man at his wedding, are at once distributed by him among his wife's relatives, 'the mana is sufficient for the two, i.e., the married couple,; or in other words, the repute of the gifts is theirs. . . . just as the conjunction of tupu and mana shows that these two belong together, but are not identical, so we may from a number of other conjunctions with mana learn what accompanies mana without being identical with it:

'It was Tane's mana, strength and insight which fixed Heaven above.'

'The mana and the strength of the divinity of the sacred place.' 'These heads (viz. those of the enemy) which were prepared as trophies, they were prepared in order to be a sign that the tribe had mana and the gift of victory.'

'His name (i.e. renown) and his mana were (both) very great.'

'It is hard to flee before the enemy . . . it is a sign that the mana and name (i.e. renown) of the tribe are destroyed by the blows of the weapons of the victorious tribe.'

'Therefore the fear of his name, the greatness of his mana and his nobility were greater than those of any other ancestor.'

'You possess the mana, you ought to say the words, i.e. you have the authority.'

Insight, the courage which bears victory in it (mana), strength, name (i.e. renown), and the awe which the great name bears with it, authority, all this is connected with mana as something intimately bound up with it. These things are not mana, but they accompany mana, and we see how mana extends the inner vitality of tupu into strength, its courage into victorious courage, its honour into name (renown) and authority. . . .

Mana only refers to the urge towards realization; but this urge actually appears by the realization. 'If Maui had not been killed by this god (viz. Hinenuitepo), Maui's wish would have got mana and man would live for ever'; the realization of Maui's wish thus would have followed as a consequence of its mana. Similarly in the following passage: 'Only now did they repeat a karakia (incantation) to Rangi in order that the bung of the springs of the water should be taken out and the water come forth. Then their wish really got mana and the water rose.'

The dynamic element in mana, the unfolding, is brought out strongly when the word is used as a verb. The verbal character makes the aspect of mana as a communion or fellowship recede into the background, which is only justified if we do not forget that the dynamic element cannot be active except against this background. . . .

The mana common to the chief, the kinship group, and the land is owned by the chief; this causes his special position. It also means that his tupu extends over a wider field than that of other mortals. It may perhaps be translated into European languages by saying that his personality has a greater field of activity. We may say that he gets his field of activity with his mana, but the degree to which he can utilize it, will depend upon his personality. The chief who has a strong mind, strength, and courage, in short, a great tupu, can also be said to permeate the mana of the kinship group and the country with his being, his mana. It was said about Kupe, who was a chief from Hawaiki, that 'his mana penetrated into the population of the islands.' This mana, which permeates the kinship group, is the basis of the chief's authority. It shows in practice by the fact that he can make others do what he wants. In a farewell letter to Governor Grey some Maoris wrote: 'It was your mana which put an end to the disturbances in this country.' The Maoris of course considered Grey as a kind of great chief and felt his mana in the authority by means of which he succeeded in making peace. . . .

This mana which extends into country and people thus in the great chief is permeated by his being. It is not a mysterious substance, but a fellowship on which he may leave his mark and which he may dominate by his personality. Therefore there is no paradox, either, in the statement that the greater the chief's mana is, the farther it extends itself, the more it is concentrated in his person. It can become so essential a part of him that the Maori briefly says, 'The chief is mana.' 'Farewell, thou, the mana of the country,' he will sing in the dirge on the deceased chief. . . .

Hence it is evident that the kinship group must honour (manaaki) its chief in order that his mana may endure. 'In him the chief-mana goes with being honored,' it simply says. It is, however, inherent in the nature of fellowship that the chief must also yield something from his own life, and we see in a new light why he must understand how to honour his people. By this means he creates mana and by Permeating the fellowship with his personality he attaches people to him. The greatest means to do so is by giving gifts. 'This is Rehua's mana,' says the Maori admiringly when seeing a chief being liberal, and as Rehua was of a divine nature it is understood that the chief provides a great mana for himself with his gifts.

From the intimate connection between manaaki and mana we also understand why it was impossible to decide whether a person honored others most for his own sake or for the sake of the others. It is impossible because one honours for the sake of mana, the fellowship. . . .
Mana gives a plastic picture of the Maori's community because it denotes life in it. All free men have mana, i.e. they participate in the fellowship. Therefore everybody has a say in the matter according to his mana, i.e. his share in the fellowship. Therefore the chief is very far from being an absolute ruler, but the mana he contributes himself will always give him a corresponding influence. Add to this that he has a position as chief, which is expressed by the words that the mana of the kinship group is with him. This means that his personality is given the best possibility of asserting itself. The kinship group as a whole will not act without his being consulted. . . .

The important point that mana is the communal life does not otherwise seem to have been realized; but Best must at any rate have seen that it expresses life since he writes: 'When someone writes a treatise on the word mana, it will be seen that mana and ora (life) are almost synonymous terms, as applied to the old-time Maori.'

The secret of mana is that communal life, the 'fellowship,' permeates all the people to their innermost hearts; we may say that they live mana. A single strong personality may colour the whole fellowship. This does not take place by outward compulsion, but by the fact that the fellowship itself is stamped in such a way that they all obtain their 'being' or 'nature' according to the dominant element of mana. . . .

The chief's mana is not only the mana of the kinship group but that of the country as well. 'The great mana of this tract is in him alone,' it says somewhere about Te Rauparaha. So the mana of the country is as a matter of course part of that of the kinship groups as well, and as the latter stands in a similar determinative relationship to the country as the chief to the kinship group, the Maori may, of course, with equal right say that the mana of the country is with the kinship group without being guilty of any inconsistency.

The mana of the country was taken when they immigrated, and since then it has been the endeavour of every tribe and chief to cling to it. According to the sense of mana this simply takes place by living with the soil: 'This was a custom which originated from our ancestors, namely that we lived in some part of our country; later the tribe went to another part, lived there and cultivated the soil there, in order that our country's mana- could be maintained by us, in order that our fires
could always be burning on the extensive surface of our country so that the country was not taken by other tribes.'

The Maori must of course be able to maintain his right to the country with arms, but a passage like the one quoted shows that if possession of land is in practice identical with possessing its mana, then this is due to the fact that possession makes it possible to live with the country as one lives with the soil, inhabits it, cultivates it, and generally utilizes it. The factor mentioned last is not least in importance. The possession of the mana of the land must manifest itself in a true fellowship with the country, i.e. that one understands how to make the country yield. . . .

on the whole mana is so necessary to the Maori because he cannot very well affect his surroundings without involving it in a fellowship, i.e. without possessing its mana, or-in other words-without permeating its mana with his own being. He must possess the mana of the kumara 2 in order that it may thrive by his hand, and if its mana has been carried away, incorporated in a mauri,3 he must fetch it back.

Mana, fellowship, is so necessary that the Maori must have mana even with an enemy whom he meets in open fight. In this connection it should also be mentioned that an enemy is called hoa-riri, or somewhat more rarely, hoa-whawhai and hoa-ngangare, the three words all with the literal sense of 'fighting-comrade,' as hoa means 'comrade, fellow, whether referring to one's wife or to a travelling companion. Thus it is not nonsense to talk about fellowship, although this indeed is of quite a different character from that within the kinship group. The fellowship consists in the fact that the Maoris cannot meet and fight in a merely outward sense; they must necessarily stand in an inner relationship to their enemy. The outward manifestations of the fight are really only a question of who has the greatest mana, i.e. who can conquer the other from within and thus bring the antagonist's will and power to fight to its knees so that the weapons may reap the victory.

What is characteristic of the 'fellowship' of the fight in contrast to that of peace, is the fact that in the fight each party will try to dominate the 'fellowship' completely, which may be expressed as taking the enemy's mana or as dominating it with one's own mana. These are but two aspects of the same matter. As viewed from this angle there is but a difference of degree, but a very important difference, between the fellowship of peace and war. . . .

Against the background of these examples, which show how mana conquers and is conquered, we understand how it could be said about a tangata haere, a vagrant man, that he possesses mana. He could not like the chief possess his people's and his country's mana, but obviously this means that he was what we should term a powerful personality, who, wherever he went, forced people and things under his will, doing this-be it noted-from within by taking possession of their life, by creating a sphere which was his mana, but still a fellowship, as the point is that he included the others in it. The man in question actually became one of the great ancestors of one of the Waikato tribes, so that one of the tribes, the Ngatimahuta, was named after his son. . . .
Furthermore, we have now obtained a basis for completely understanding how mana is sometimes personal, sometimes impersonal. The personal aspect is in the fact that he who has the greatest mana, i.e. he who lives most intensely in the fellowship, by this also stamps the fellowship throughout by his personality. The impersonal aspect is at the other pole: that mana is a fellowship and therefore can be taken by somebody else if he is capable of doing so. Therefore the fellowship gets the character of an impersonal power which can be utilized by the person who understands how to do so.


1 Lit., 'to unfold one's nature'; honour.

2 Sweet potato.

3 Sacral objects.

J.Prytz Johansen, The Maori and His Religion (Copenhagen: Ejnar Munksgaard, 1954), pp. 85- 99

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