Mana is an indigenous Pacific islander concept of an impersonal force or quality that resides in people, animals, and inanimate objects. The word is a cognate in many Oceanic languages, including Melanesian, Polynesian, and Micronesian.
In anthropological discourse, mana as a generalized concept is often understood as a precursor to formal religion. It has commonly been interpreted as "the stuff of which magic is formed," as well as the substance of which souls are made.
Modern fantasy fiction, computer and role-playing games have adopted mana as a term for magic points, an expendable (and most often rechargeable) resource out of which magic users form their magical spells.
In New Zealand
The indigenous word reflects a non-Western view of reality, complicating translation. To quote the New Zealand Ministry of Justice:
Mana and tapu are concepts which have both been attributed single-worded definitions by contemporary writers. As concepts, especially Maori concepts they can not easily be translated in to a single English definition. Both mana and tapu take on a whole range of related meanings depending on their association and the context in which they are being used.
In contemporary New Zealand English, the word "mana", taken from the Maori, refers to a person or organization of people of great personal prestige and character. Sir Edmund Hillary, is considered to have great mana both because of his accomplishments and of how he gave his life to service. Perceived egotism can diminish mana because New Zealand culture tends to shun personal display (see Tall poppy syndrome). A New Zealander might say, "Sir Ed has a lot of mana" even though he is deceased. Also, a New Zealander might say, "Sir Ed brought a lot of mana to the Sir Edmund Hillary Outdoor Pursuit Centre" (OPC) meaning that it has mana because of its association with a man of great mana. However if the OPC did something that was not respected by New Zealanders, it could lose mana.
In Polynesian culture
In Polynesian culture, mana is a spiritual quality considered to have supernatural origin—a sacred impersonal force existing in the universe. Therefore to have mana is to have influence and authority, and efficacy—the power to perform in a given situation. This essential quality of mana is not limited to persons—peoples, governments, places and inanimate objects can possess mana. There are two ways to obtain mana: through birth and through warfare. People or objects that possess mana are accorded respect because their possession of mana gives them authority, power, and prestige. The word’s meaning is complex because mana is a basic foundation of the Polynesian worldview.
In Māori culture
In Māori, a tribe that has mana whenua must have demonstrated their authority over a piece of land or territory.
In the Māori culture, there are two essential aspects to a person's mana: mana tangata, authority derived from whakapapa connections, and mana huaanga, defined as "authority derived from having a wealth of resources to gift to others to bind them into reciprocal obligations".
In Hawaiian culture
In Hawaiian culture, Mana is a form of spiritual energy which exists in all things. In people, mana is often gained through pono (balance) actions, reflecting the balance that exists in the world and humanity's responsibility toward maintaining that balance.
Mana in Hawaiian culture is a topic of discourse and is not to be mistaken for the same mana used in the Huna religion, which is primarily practiced by non-Hawaiians and is often considered by ethnic Hawaiians to be an exploitation of their beliefs.
In Melanesian culture
Melanesian mana is thought to be a sacred impersonal force existing in the universe. Mana can be in people, animals, plants and objects. Similar to the idea of efficacy, or luck, the Melanesians thought all success traced back to mana. Magic is a typical way to acquire or manipulate this luck.
Objects that have mana can change a person’s luck. Examples of such objects are charms or amulets. For instance if a prosperous hunter gave a charm that had mana to another person the prosperous hunter’s luck would go with it.
Concepts analogous to mana in various other cultures include the power of magic, sympathetic magic and of seeking the intervention of a specific supernatural being, whether deity, saint or deceased ancestor.
The concept of a life-energy inherent in all living beings is a common archetype, appearing in many ancient religions and systems of metaphysics.
Analogies to mana in other societies include:
- Anishinaabe traditional beliefs : manitou
- Australian Aboriginal mythology : maban
- Aztec religion : teotl
- Basque mythology : Adur
- Egyptian mythology : ka
- Finnish mythology : Väki
- Greek mythology : ichor
- Inuit mythology : inua, sila
- Iranian mythology : asha
- Iroquois mythology : orenda
- Leni Lenape mythology : manetuwak
- Norse mythology : seid
- Roman mythology : numen
- Salish-Kootenai mythology : sumesh
- Sioux Indians (Dakota) : Wakan
- Welsh mythology : awen
- Yoga : prana, chakra, Bindu
- Yoruba mythology : ashe
Also related are the philosophical concepts of:
- Chinese philosophy : qi (or chi), Tao
- European alchemy and philosophy : aether, (or ether), quintessence
- Hindu philosophy : Maan (Respect, acknowledgement, belief)
- Japanese philosophy : kami, ki, rei; Ryukyuan mabui
- Tibetan Buddhism & Bön : yang (g.yang)
- Vitalism : Élan vital
Mana came to the attention of the anthropological community with the English missionary Robert Henry Codrington's (1830–1922) work The Melanesians (1891). It has since been discussed by anthropologists such as Émile Durkheim (1912), Marcel Mauss (1924), Claude Lévi-Strauss (1950) and Roger Keesing (1984).
Games and fiction
Fantasy writer Larry Niven in his 1969 short story Not Long Before the End described mana as a natural resource which is used or channeled by wizards to cast magic spells. He expanded on this idea in other works, notably his 1978 novella The Magic Goes Away. Mana is a limited resource in Niven's work, a fact which eventually will lead to the end of all magic in his antediluvian fantasy setting when all mana is depleted.
Many subsequent fantasy settings (role-playing games in particular) have followed Niven in his use of mana.
In the Ben 10 cartoon franchise, a race of energy beings called Anodites are said to be made of pure mana.
In the card game Magic the Gathering. The lands can be used to produce mana to cast the spells that are on the cards.
- Codrington, Robert Henry. 1891. The Melanesians. Relevant excerpt.
- Keesing, Roger. 1984. Rethinking mana. Journal of Anthropological Research 40:137-156.
- Lévi-Strauss, Claude. 1950. Introduction à l'œuvre de Marcel Mauss.
- Lévi-Strauss, Claude; Baker, Felicity (translator). 1987. Introduction to the Work of Marcel Mauss. ISBN 0-415-15158-9.
- Mauss, Marcel. 1924. Essai sur le don.
- Mondragón, Carlos (June 2004). "Of Winds, Worms and Mana: The Traditional Calendar of the Torres Islands, Vanuatu". Oceania 74 (4): 289–308. JSTOR 40332069.
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