What is MANA?

Main image courtesy of Nomad Barber

MANA is a concept that primarily exists among Melanesian and Polynesian peoples. It is a supernatural force or power that can be ascribed to both living and nonliving beings. MANA exists in spirits, in people, and in objects. It can be either good or evil, and it can either benefit you or it can cause harm. Some objects and locations have strong mana, while other objects and locations have weak mana. The strength of an object’s mana depends on where it is and what has gone on around it in the past. 

For a person, mana can be gained or lost depending on your personal actions. It is a life energy that flows within us that is easily affected by our actions and surroundings. The types of relationships you have, your type of work, and your type of involvement in your community all affects your mana. Mana exists in a person from birth, and it only goes up or down from there. Volatile situations can affect mana the most, but how mana works often depends on the culture that you learn about it from. 

Objects and MANA

Objects are known to have varying degrees of energy. 

The opening of a volcano.
This volcano is loaded with mana. Image courtesy of NPR

Mana is thought to exist in different degrees among different objects in nature. While it tends to be a lot stronger in animate things rather than inanimate ones, inanimate objects can have relatively strong mana, especially depending on what it is. Objects can have a lot more mana than others depending on where they have been or what has taken place around them. 

For instance, volcanoes are considered to have high mana due to their volatile nature. Lands that are prone to other types of natural disasters can also have high mana. Pieces of land can have high mana based on the events that have taken place on top of them. Lands where certain battles have taken place in the past usually have some of the highest mana compared to lands that have been through far less eventful times. 

Mana can exist within the objects you own. Melanesians tend to treat their important tools very carefully just so they make sure that they maintain a positive mana. Objects that have gone through bad times and treatment are liable to have more negative mana. 

People and MANA

Live creatures are filled with tons of energy and it certainly shows. 

A painting of several Polynesian chiefs standing together.
This gathering of chiefs exudes mana. Image courtesy of Images of Old Hawaii

Mana is found in high quantities inside of living beings. Plants and animals can have mana, but humans have the highest mana amongst all living creatures. Amongst humans, different levels of mana exist in different people for different reasons. A person’s mana can be based on gender, their diet, and even their place in society. 

Women naturally have higher mana than men do. That is in part because of women’s reproductive systems. The ability to reproduce represents the existence of a very high mana. Despite a person’s gender, it is very necessary to protect their mana and to make sure that it remains at positive levels. There are certain things that people can do and certain foods that they can eat to maintain their mana. 

When preparing to experience difficult ordeals that can lower a person’s mana, it is helpful for that person to treat their body carefully so that they can go into the situation with positive mana. The objects that you own and their level of mana can also affect yours. Objects can have negative mana from being treated poorly, so in order to protect your own mana, it is necessary to treat your belongings very well. If a person treats the things they own like trash, it is liable to affect their own mana. 

MANA Across Cultures

The practices around mana aren’t the same everywhere. 

Four people looking up at a large Polynesian statue.
This crowd is appreciating the mana coming from this statue. Image courtesy of Get Your Guide

Mana is perceived differently among different cultures. Different cultures that hold mana in high regard have different methods and rituals to maintain it. While the main focus is similar, you’ll learn of different practices depending on what culture you look into. 

Polynesian MANA

Mana is central to the foundation of the Polynesian worldview. This culture primarily dwells within the Hawaiian islands. For them, having mana means that you have power, influence, and authority. It can mean that someone has excellent leadership qualities. In Polynesian culture, they make sure to protect the mana of their leaders to ensure that it remains strong for their people. 

Polynesians of the past used to take mana so seriously, that they had songs and chants their people had to sing with correct pronunciation or else they could be put to death. It was also considered a crime to step on a leader’s shadow because it was thought to diminish their mana. 

Maori MANA

The Maori see mana as the spiritual force that exists within a person, place, or object. Maori culture is centered within New Zealand. Their ideas are quite similar to the Polynesian idea of mana, but for them they also include the concept of tapu. 

Tapu is the strongest force in Maori life aside from mana. Sacred items and places are considered tapu, and they can also be full of mana. Mana gives a person the authority to lead and make decisions for people. The tribe that a person leads can be a strong source of their mana. When a leader does their job successfully, their mana goes up, but doing a bad job can lead to the opposite effect. 

Mana exists within all kinds of living and nonliving things. It can become more positive or more negative depending on the people, places, and objects a person surrounds themselves with, so if you want to have positive mana, you must make sure to treat everyone and everything in your path well, and then their positive energy will rub off on you.