Following the separation of Ranginui, the sky father, and Papatūānuku, the earth mother, light flooded the world. And with light came the possibility of life. The children of Ranginui and Papatūānuku may have been powerful gods, but they had only talked of life. They debated and argued over it, but not experienced it for themselves – at least, not in physical forms.
After Tane, the god of the forest, and his siblings slowly went about making all things on earth and in the sky. When they were done, they had created a dazzling and beautiful world, but there were no people to enjoy it. This was a new situation for these warrior gods. They have found something that they could not fight. Life could not be commanded and could not be forced. It is this life in the physical form which eluded the children of Ranginui and Papatūānuku.
Tane then convinced his brothers that they should make a human being who could then go on to have children. For once, after their long battle with each other, the gods agreed. Tane took red earth from Papatuanuku, and shaped it into the form of a woman. Impressed, Tawhiri Matea, the god of the winds, whispered, “Take my breath. Give her life”. Therefore, Tane bent over the woman he had created, placed his forehead and nose against hers, and breathed deeply. Her chest moved, and she sneezed.
This was how the first woman, Hineahuone, was born. Today, the hongi (the breath of life) is the traditional greeting of the Maori people. It is performed by pressing the nose and the forehead at the same time against that of the person you greet – just like Tane Mahuta did to breathe life into Hineahuone. Through the exchange of this greeting, one no longer considers the person as a Manuhiri (visitor), but rather as a friend.