Whakataukī (proverb): Titiro whakamuri kia anga whakamua/Look to the past to move forward.
This tip (which seems to have turned into so much more) is co-written by Michelle, Mark and Sharon, of Flourish Kia Puāwai. Each of us is Pākehā, and although we grew up in different places and circumstances, we have all had opportunities and the privilege to learn something of Te Ao Māori (Māori World View). This tip is about how us three Pākehā are learning to understand Matauranga Māori (Māori knowledge and wisdom) and its unique contribution to addressing climate change.
Our British and European ancestors brought with them on their journey to this new home, the worldview of the cultures they had grown up in - a worldview that had developed and evolved over centuries. That worldview can be traced back through the Enlightenment, medieval Christianity, to ancient Greek thought (and maybe before). It can be summed up as “The Great Chain of Being”; these days we would call it a hierarchy. At the top is God and then the angels. Following them, in descending order, are humans, animals, plants, and at the bottom minerals, or the earth itself. The creation story in the Bible was interpreted as giving humans domination over everything below them on the chain.
Of course, this was not the way all of our ancestors understood life. Many of them would have lived close to the land and understood our interdependence. But over the last 1000 years the hierarchical worldview came to dominate western thinking and our way of life is still shaped by it. This has been manifested in the unquestioned belief that land and nature is there for the use of humans. We have continually taken from the land until we have destabilized the earth’s systems, leading to climate change and biodiversity loss that now threatens our own species.
For too long now our reductionist view of the world, divorcing ourselves as separate from nature and therefore ‘feeling ok’ about using nature as an endless resource, to take, degrade and destroy has been seen as an accepted norm. Cutting the process of a living system into bits; individuals and species has “predisposed us to focus on competition, scarcity and mortality.” (Daniel Christian Wahl).
Unfortunately, Climate breakdown and its solutions are still dominated by this colonist thinking of separatism and supremacy over nature. It’s like that famous quote of Albert Einstein; “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Now is the time to embrace a far more holistic, abundant and collaborative view of our place in the natural world. A change of thinking and seeing is needed to be part of the solution to climate change and to ensure a better future. We can all promote a shift in thinking about the climate crisis to focus on our integration with and dependency on the natural world – we are nature. This can be inspired and learnt from communities who have lived with nature in a very different way to our own. We Pākehā need to open ourselves to different voices, different conversations and a different relationship with nature and the whole environment - it’s essential.
In Aotearoa learning from Te Ao Māori (a Māori worldview) can help us to think differently about our relationship with the earth. For instance, the Māori word for the land is ‘whenua’. This is also the word for the placenta, which nurtures us in the womb. Māori spiritual practices such as karakia can help us focus on the special relationship we have with our whenua - not something to be exploited but something to respect and nurture as it nurtures us.
We can also learn from Mātauranga Māori, Māori knowledge and skills that they have gained over the hundreds of years that they have lived with this unique land and environment.
“It's a shame only now the world is in a man-made biodiversity crisis that science is finally turning to indigenous knowledge for help. If indigenous perspectives had always been included we might not be in the mess we are now.” (Kiri Reihana).
As explained in ‘Crooked Earth: There is no Māori health without a healthy Planet; “Mātauranga Māori spans across many subjects relevant to science including navigation, weather patterns, customary management, climatic patterns and ecological knowledge. As it has a holistic approach and considers the interconnection of everything it is a perfect match with ecology and its study of natural systems. But it can also be applied and used in business, education, health, justice and other sectors.“
This knowledge accumulated over hundreds of years is handed down through oral means such as karakia (prayer), mōteatea (chants), and whaikōrero (oratory). Stories are often woven around this knowledge to help people remember it. Michelle read in the New York Times recently of a great example of this. In the Waikato a highway was being built but the local Māori tribe, Ngati Naho said that a particular area should be avoided because there was a Taniwha (water spirit/dragon) nearby. The authorities listened and a year later there was major flooding in that area but the road didn’t flood. Māori folklore like this is often based on real experiences.
In Flourish Kia Puāwai, the charitable social enterprise created by Michelle, Mark and Sharon, we are trying to live and meet our obligations as a partner in Te Tiriti o Waitangi. We are attempting to embed cross-cultural values and tikanga in everything we do. In our Regenerative Communities Action Research Pilot, we are learning and practicing being a Treaty partner in undertaking a Regenerative approach, which is a holistic, healing and relationship-based method.
The first part of the project with the local community that surrounds King George V Reserve in St Martins/Opāwā/Hillsborough junction, utilising and revitalising the Reserve as a place where community and nature meet. We want to enhance local community relationships and raise awareness of and commitment to the value of a flourishing local natural environment, working in partnership with local Hapū (sub tribe), schools and organisations, hosting workshops, walks and events. Check out our Regenerative Communities mahi.
There are many, many things you can do and learn about. Here are just a few that might help you get started or continue your journey:
Tuahiwi Marae, Tuahiwi (Ngai Tuahuriri)
Nga Hau E Wha National Marae, Wainoni. (Urban marae)
Rehua Marae, St Albans (Urban marae)
Ōnuku Marae, Akaroa harbour (Ngāi Tārewa and Ngāti Īrakehu)
Rapaki Marae, Lyttelton harbour (Ngati Wheke)
Koukourarata Marae, Port Levy (Ngāti Huikai, Ngāi Tūtehuarewa and Ngāi Tūhaitara ki Koukourārata)
Wairewa Marae, Little River (Ngāti Irakehu and Ngāti Makō)
Taumutu Marae, Southbridge (Ngāi Te Ruahikihiki and Te Taumutu)
If there are errors and we have misinterpreted what we have been taught, please forgive us! We are still learning and we welcome your input, correction and guidance.
References and more reading:
#8 Mātauranga Māori
The Maori view of Health includes four pou: Mental, Social, Physical and Environmental Health.