Animal Wisdom: Connecting People and Animals

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KIWI: Sacredness of Being Contrary

Unable to fly, the kiwi probes about the forest floor looking for tasty bugs. The sensitive hairs around her bill help Her to sense the underground movements of worms. Also, at the end of her curved beak are nostrils for smelling. (This is unusual in birds).

This plump little bird has many features similar to mammals. Like the badgers, She lives in a series of underground burrows that She has dug. In addition, her bristly feathers resemble soft mammal fur. Furthermore unlike other birds, the kiwi has two working ovaries.

The Maori of New Zealand called the kiwi “Te manu huna a Tane,” (the Hidden Bird of Tane Mahuta, the God of the Forest). Making high ceremonial robes (kahu kiwi) out of her feathers, the Maori hold the kiwi in high regard. They tell of how She surrendered her fine feathers for the greater good. To save the trees, the kiwi chose to live on the forest floor hunting for harmful insects. Today the Maori are guardians (kaitiaki) of the kiwi, helping to save Her from extinction.

Many people think of the kiwi as a shy retiring bird. However, people of New Zealand know differently, and can attest to her bad temper. This feisty bird uses her sharp claws and strong legs to draw blood. Sometimes, this can be deadly since the kiwi’s heavy legs are filled with marrow. (This is similar to a mammal’s legs.).

In the 1880s, the kiwi became known outside New Zealand when She appeared on the regimental badges of New Zealand troops. During World War I, soldiers from New Zealand carved a giant kiwi (the Bulford Kiwi) in the chalk hill above Sling Camp in England. Today, people from New Zealand are known as “Kiwis.”

The kiwi is an example of the “Contrary,” which some cultures consider to be sacred. Contraries challenge our notions of what is proper and true. The Maori understood the kiwi’s sacredness. A bird who does not fly, the kiwi opens us to other ideas beyond our ordinary traditions. (But do not be so contrary that you hurt people as the kiwi can do with her sharp claws.)


Photo of Te Tuatahi a nui (a male kiwi) sitting on an egg. From Maungatautari Ecological Island Trust

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Virginia Carper, a Roman Polytheist, lives in the Washington D.C. area with her family. She navigates life with a traumatic brain injury which gives her a different view on life. An avid naturalist since childhood, she has a blog called “Nature’s Observations.” Having experienced the animals directly, she teaches on-line classes about the spiritual and natural aspect of animals. She has published articles on her brain injury, Roman polytheism, and working with extinct animals. In addition her writings on animals (including dragons and other mythic creatures) can be purchased her book site, Animal Teachers.  


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