How the Kiwi Lost His Wings


Bibliographic Information: How the Kiwi Lost His Wings, Maori Organization WWW Site



Ethnic Origin: Maori of Aotearoa (New Zealand)


Running time: 10 – 12 minutes


Power Centers:

1.      The fear of being called on, singled out by Tanehokahoka to make a life-changing decision in front of all the others

                        Reason: No one likes to be called on to make such a momentous life-changing

                                    decision  in front of others and  without time for reflection

2.      Concern that all of the birds would refuse to honor the request of the gods

Reason: If one will not answer the call, then the leader is forced to choose one who is not willing and may not participate fully

3.      Shouldering of the burden by Kiwi to honor the gods and sacrifice his place as one

of the birds of the air

      Reason: He felt that this request was his choice to make and , as in Star Trek, “sacrifice the one for the good of the many”.

4.      Penalties imposed by Tanehokahoka upon those who refused

Reason: Tanehokahoka was appalled by the responses of his children, and imposed penalties for their inadequate responses; the gods’ requests must be honored.



            Tanehokahoka                         Tanemahuta

            Tui                                           Pukeko

            Pipiwharauroa                         Kiwi



            Tanemahuta discovering his children are sick and need help;

            His request for help;

            Birds being asked individually to help and refusing;

            Kiwi and his decision;

            Penalties imposed by Tanehokahoka


Synopsis: Tanemahuta discovers his children are being attacked and overwhelmed by insects; his

            brother, Tanehokahoka, calls together his children, the birds of the air; Tanemahuta asks

            for one of them to make their home on the forest floor to help save his children and the

            homes of all the other birds; Tui, Pukeko and Pipiwharauroa refuse; Kiwi accepts the

            request; the other three birds are penalized



            This tale should appeal to the early adolescent as they begin to define themselves independently of their families. They are looking to find their place in society and understand that they will have to make some choices and sacrifices as they go through the process of “becoming”.



Stover, L.T. and E. Tway: Defining oneself outside the family, thinking about future

            options, forging their niche in society

Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development: find a valued place in a constructive

            group, a sense of personal self-worth, being useful to others

Fenwick, Elizabeth and Tony Smith: making own decisions, self image, morals and


Special flavor:  Since this story comes from the Maori, I will open with a traditional Maori welcome “Haere mai, te manuhiri tuarangi, haere mai, haere mai” (1), followed by the translation “Welcome strangers from afar, come forth, welcome, welcome”. Use of the Maori names for their gods and the native birds is key to the power of this tale. In closing the story I will use a traditional Maori proverb, in English first “Though my present is small, my love goes with it” then in Maori “E iti noa ana, na te aroha” (2).


(1)   from Barlow, Cleve. Tikanga Whakaaro: Key Concepts in Maori Culture. Auckland: Oxford University Press, 1991, p. 69

(2)   from Maori Organization WWW Site,


Bibliographic information on other versions:

Despite extensive searching no other comparable variants were found, except for a videotape version of “How the Kiwi Lost His Wings”, which I did not view since it was not accessible.


An Australian tale, “Dinewan, the Emu, and Goomblegubbon, the Bustard” (Parker, K. Langloh. Australian Legendary Tales. London: David Nutt, 1897, p. 1 – 5) tells the story of why the emus have no wings and the bustard lays only two eggs. The bustard tricked the emus into cutting off their wings, and the emus tricked the bustards into killing all but two of their chicks.


There are three tales from the South Pacific about why birds are certain colors or are flightless, but which were not accessible to me. They are listed in A Motif-Index of Traditional Polynesian Narratives, Bacil F. Kirtley, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1971. The motif numbers are A2411.2.2  (origin of colors and markings on birds; White, John. The Ancient History of the Maori: His Mythology and Traditions. 6 vols. Wellington, G. Disbury, 1887 – 90, vol. II, p. 120); A2411.2.6  (color of other birds; Loeb, Edwin M. History and Traditions of Niue. BPBM Bulletin 32, Honolulu, 1932, p. 110); and *A2442.1.1.1 (why some birds are flightless; Burrows, Edwin G. Ethnology of Uvea (Wallis Island). BPBM Bulletin 145, Honolulu, 1937,  p. 168f).


Comparison of versions/variants:

There are no other variants; an e-mail correspondence with the Maori Organization indicated they knew of no other versions and this is a tale learned by the writer at the grandmother’s knee as she herself learned it from her grandmother.