The Maori Dolphin Design
In marine-based Maori culture the sea and its creatures have always had much significance. Especially whales, turtles, and dolphins were highly respected. According to legends, dolphins helped the first Maori canoes navigating the South Pacific to the new homeland. This could fairly well be based on true facts because such incidents are still reported. More on this in a bit.
Other stories report about dolphins attacking sharks near Maori canoes. It’s only logical that the dolphin became a symbol of protection, a good omen, particularly for travellers. The Maori dolphin design also refers to friendship, harmony, joy, and playfulness. Additional meanings are affinity to the sea and sea life. In other words the Maori dolphin design resembles man’s eternal bond with earth’s other creatures.
Various species of the dolphin family (Delphinidae) exist in the waters surrounding New Zealand. One of them has a special role in Maori culture. The so called Hector’s dolphin (Tutumairekurai) is honored as a taonga (literally ‘treasure’ or ‘precious thing’). Some Maori believed the spirits of the deceased would transform to tutumairekurai. source: treasuresofthesea.org
Another indication of the traditional Maori relationship with marine mammals is the fact that dolphins were commonly described as taniwha. Taniwha are water creatures, in this context fulfilling a role as protective guardians. On a side note; not only the Maori had a such a strong bond with dolphins. In ancient Greece the sentence for killing a dolphin was the death penalty.
There have been various examples of the bond between human and dolphin. The true story of Opo the child loving dolphin is only one of them. Check out these New Zealand’s Dolphin Tales for more on these wonderful examples.