Te Ira tangata has many meanings in itself but it’s main origin is Ngā Rangi Tūhāhā.
The Rangi Tūhāhā, is the twelfth enlightened dimension where spirit entities reside until physical life is wanted and return to after physical death, where human spirits originate. The implication is that at the time of conception the human being’s physical and spiritual potential is realised as an individual entity with the spirit qualities of significance in Te Ao Māori; the spirit receptor-transmitters of the body, mind, shape, heart and soul; and Te Iho Matua, or umbilical cord of spirit energy, which connects that single entity through his ancestral lines to the primal energy source, which is Io.
In other far less boring words, Ngā Rangi Tūhāhā is a magical place where your spirit exists and when you are born, it is transferred into you and gives life to all of your physical and spiritual qualities so that you are not doomed to the life of a brainless, heartless, incredibly uncoordinated zombie.
You are also gifted with Te Iho Matua which is metaphorically known as a spiritual umbilical cord (yes, I know, us Māori have an oddly specific but very special attachment to childbirth related connections), and this “umbilical cord” so to say is your connection to Io. Io is our one godlike figure or Atua in which everything in the entire universe stems from. Where does Io themself stem from? No idea, he just apparated or something.
But back to Te Ira tangata, nowadays, the term Te Ira Tangata refers to a lot of things that branch from the same sort of place.
What I mean by that is there is a lot of terminology used these days in modern and traditional Pākeha society that just didn’t exist in traditional Māori society.
Such as gender, sex, etc. Māori never referred to themselves as a being of a certain gender or sex. It didn’t define us as individuals and if anything, we’d always relate back to our Ira Tangata as our most prominent identity.
But in today’s world, when speaking te reo Māori, we struggle to find words that align with these terms of gender and sex and human and sexual expression. So for us, these terms are simply natural qualities that come to us as beings, meaning we don’t create or seek out these qualities. So they all ended up falling mainly under the single term Te Ira Tangata.
I understand that this may be confusing, and the question may be asked as to why we didn’t make new words for these terms. And don’t people get confused when you only refer to Te Ira Tangata for so many words? And how did traditional Māori tell people apart and not confuse some dude for a lady?
To answer your questions, I don’t know. I mean, it is how it is.
But honestly Māori tend to avoid creating new words for English terminology. This is partly because of the mamae or ache we feel from the events of colonisation and marginalisation of the Māori race, so giving life to terms brought over by the people that did that to us is difficult for Māori to navigate. Because of this, it’s a lot easier to resort to familiar words that sort of work with the context of these alien terms.
Although it can be a little confusing, usually, we can understand what exactly we’re referring to when we use “Te Ira Tangata” in context.
All in all, please don’t misunderstand, Te Ira tangata can be referred to as your identity, however, that form or shape of your identity only relates with your natural identity as a person, a human, born from a mother. Besides your natural identity, there is the identity that you form through life experiences and qualities you acquire through practice and passion that play into this found identity. And this is the identity that you mostly are. Everyone possesses Te Ira Tangata, but not everyone is you. Your personal identity sets you aside from the other 7.8 billion people.