Matauranga Maori and Environmental Research: The Interface of Māori Knowledge and Anthropology
Matauranga Maori and Environmental Research: The Interface of Māori Knowledge and Anthropology
- Marama Muru-LanningMarama Muru-LanningThe University of Auckland
In a world where scholarship is constantly evolving and adapting, Mātauranga Māori is emerging in Aotearoa–New Zealand as a unique and legitimate knowledge source. The word Mātauranga is composed of two parts: mātau, which means to know, be acquainted with, or understand, and the suffix ranga, which turns the word from a verb into a noun. Mātauranga Māori is knowledge passed down intergenerationally from Polynesian ancestors, linking kin across time and space. It is knowledge that belongs to Māori from their earliest beginnings in Hawaiki to descendants living contemporary lives in Aotearoa–New Zealand and in other parts of the world. Guiding and informing Māori lives, Mātauranga Māori is a continuum of ancestral knowledge that binds people. Importantly, relationships between whānau (family), marae and hāpori (communities), and hapū (sub-tribes) are melded through shared experiences and practices of Mātauranga. Shaping the Māori world, Mātauranga Māori is comprehensive and includes creation stories, genealogy, history, oratory, the creative arts, environmental and technological knowledge, and local traditions specific to places and communities. Additionally, it contains the meanings and values of other significant Māori concepts such as kaitiakitanga (guardianship), rangatiratanga (leadership), mana (authority), mauri (life force), whanaungatanga (relatedness), tikanga (customs and protocols), and whakapapa (genealogy).
Mātauranga Māori has historically been excluded from New Zealand’s mainstream curriculum, but this is changing as its value and potential become recognized by the state. The body of knowledge offers new ways of seeing the world, and many scholars, both Maori and non-Māori, believe it may be used to address some of the critical issues we face as a global society. Along with the desire for Mātauranga to be included in Aotearoa–New Zealand’s mainstream education, a domain previously dominated by Western science, there is a deep concern that Māori knowledge will be appropriated to benefit “others” who do not whakapapa to the original Mātauranga sources. This is an issue that Māori communities and Māori researchers must address going forward.
- Applied Anthropology
- International and Indigenous Anthropology
- Sociocultural Anthropology
The Origins of Mātauranga
The origins of Māori society are conveyed in a number of epic myth cycles. According to Walker these cycles are the foundations of all Māori knowledge (2004, 11), though Reed and Calman provide a caveat that “it is impossible to give a simple, continuous account of Māori creation stories because different tribal versions diverge from and often contradict each other” (2021, 19). The genealogy of knowledge begins with the first cycle, which conveys the achievements of the first Ātua (gods). These stories tell how darkness/the long night became light, nothingness became something, the earth mother Papatūānuku separated from the sky father Ranginui, and nature evolved with the liberation of their children Tānenuiarangi, Tangaroa, Tāwhirimātea, Rongomātāne, Haumietiketike, Tūmatauenga, and Rūaumoko. The cycle also narrates the manifestation of many other Ātua and concludes with the creation of the first human woman, Hinetitama the dawn maiden. She later became Hinenuitepō, the goddess of death, after discovering that Tānenuiarangi was not only her husband but also her father (Ihimaera 2020, 11–133).
The second myth cycle details the accomplishments of the “culture” hero Maui who is the result of a union between Ātua and humans. Māui was the youngest son of Taranga, a human woman, and Makeatutara, an Ātua of the underworld. Māui is the trickster demigod credited with fishing up land, slowing the sun, and capturing fire for humans (Gossage 2016). His last trick, however, led to his death. This occurred when he tried to attain immortality by reversing the birth process and entering the Ātua Hinenuitepō’s vagina while she slept, with the intention of leaving her body through her mouth. She was awakened by birds who were laughing at Maui’s antics. In fury, Hinenuitepō crushed Māui with her vagina. This action represents Maui failure to achieve eternal life for human beings.
The third myth cycle focuses on the stories of Tāwhaki, the handsome, aristocratic hero who climbed the precarious aka vine that linked earth to the heavens (see Figure 1). Tāwhaki’s aim was to attain for humans Mātauranga Māori from the heavens. When Tāwhaki and his young brother Karihi set off to climb the great vine, they encountered their blind grandmother Whaitiri counting kūmara (sweet potatoes) at the bottom of the vine. Mischievously, the brothers tormented her by snatching the kūmara away. Eventually, they made themselves known to Whaitiri and they restored her sight. In return, she counseled them on karakia (chants and prayers) and how to navigate the vine. Karihi attempted the climb first but made the mistake of climbing a hanging offshoot vine, which was blown violently by winds, and fell to his death. Distraught but learning from his brother’s mistake, Tāwhaki chose to climb the parent vine and recited the proper incantations so he could pass through all the heavens, reaching the topmost heaven where he attained the three baskets of knowledge for humans. The baskets are known as (a) Te kete tuauri (sacred knowledge), which includes the knowledge of ritual, memory, and prayer; (b) Te kete tuatea (ancestral knowledge), the knowledge of evil or mākutu, which is harmful to humans; and (c) Te kete aronui (knowledge before us), the knowledge that helps humans and living things and includes careful observation of the environment(Ruru and Nikora 2021, 14–21; Walker 2004, 21–23). The Tāwhaki myth cycle concludes when the ancestor Rata draws on Mātauranga to ensure that he is able to fell a tree in order to build a waka (canoe), using the correct karakia and protocols that acknowledge the Ātua.
What is Mātauranga?
When Māori speak of knowledge, they commonly use the word Mātauranga, though words such as māramatanga (to understand), mōhiotanga (to know), and ākona (to learn) also convey much of the same range of meaning. For retired scholar Professor (Sir) Hirini Moko Mead, Mātauranga is seen as
constituting the knowledge base which Māori people must have if they are to be comfortable with their Māoritanga and competent in their dealings with other Māori people. It represents the heritage of the Māori, the knowledge which the elders are said to pass on to their mokopuna, the wahi ngaro, which our youth long for, and the tikitiki mō te mahunga (translated as the topknot for your head) which Sir Apirana Ngata talked about (1997, 26).
A similar definition for the term was provided by Professor Whatarangi Winiata, who headed Te Wānanga ō Raukawa ( A Māori tertiary Institution in Otaki). In an address given at Te Herenga Waka Marae at Victoria University in September 2001, Winiata described Mātauranga as
a body of knowledge that seeks to explain phenomena by drawing on concepts handed down from one generation of Māori to another . . . . Mātauranga Māori has no beginning and is without end. It is constantly being enhanced and refined. Each passing generation of Māori make their own contribution to mātauranga Māori (cited in Mead 2003, 320).
Vision Mātauranga Policy: Reimagining Māori Knowledge in Aotearoa–New Zealand
In 2012, I wrote an article titled “Māori Research Collaborations, Mātauranga Māori Science, and the Appropriation of Water in New Zealand” (Muru-Lanning 2012). The article critiqued Aotearoa–New Zealand’s existing Vision Mātauranga policy by examining the relationship between Ngā Pae ō te Māramatanga, Ngāi Tahu iwi, and freshwater scientists.1 Ten years on, I admit that I have only begun to discover the many ways the policy can be used to create relationships between scientists and Māori communities in the co-production of new knowledge that draws on Mātauranga Māori (see Figure 2). In 2012, when I was a postdoctoral fellow in the University of Auckland (UoA) anthropology department, I was skeptical of the policy’s design, which I felt failed to recognize and deal with the unequal power relationships between science experts and flaxroot communities. I argued that Vision Mātauranga (VM) had been created to commodify and globalize knowledge that originated with, and belonged to, Māori communities, and that VM had become the chief instrument for engagement between university researchers and Māori communities. However, much of the risk associated with forming these new research collaborations rests with Māori communities, and even more so with the Māori researchers who act as intermediaries and brokers between communities and research teams.
Back then, as a scholar trained in social anthropology, the way I understood knowledge and the research part of my world was disconnected from the rest of my life. The probing and critical perspectives I had developed by privileging anthropological theory and methods overshadowed other ways of understanding people, places, and situations. Like many of my anthropology colleagues I strove to be an objective participant observer. I had been taught that the aim of participant observation was to gain a close and intimate familiarity with a given group of individuals through intensive involvement with people in their cultural environment, usually over an extended period of time. This method is seen by social and cultural anthropologists around the world as fundamental to the discipline. Now, as the director of a Māori research centre, I am expected to participate in all manner of engagements with Māori and non-Māori groups and I am constantly confronted by ethical questions when undertaking research collaborations and projects.
When I trained as an anthropologist at UoA between 2000 and 2009, there was much emphasis on anthropological theory and the merits of postmodern debate and critique. I became expert at finding flaws and pulling things apart but never thought to offer alternative ideas or solutions. I also see now that only minimal consideration was given to the suitability of our disciplinary methods and ethical practice with Māori and Indigenous participants and communities. VM policy which privileges Mātauranga forces me to ask questions that I never asked when I was trying to be a bona fide anthropologist. The questions that shape my scholarship now are: Who will benefit from this scholarship and what will my legacy be?
To answer these questions, we need not only to understand Mātauranga, but also to recognize VM policy as the new context transforming the conventional understanding of access to knowledge being a right for all. In 2003, the Ministry of Research, Science, and Technology (MoRST) started a program to refocus investment in Māori research (MoRST 2007). For some, this refocusing equates to the further privatization of Māori knowledge (Muru-Lanning 2012). As part of the program, Professor Charles Royal, a Māori scholar educated at Te Wānanga ō Raukawa, who later became a director of Ngā Pae ō te Māramatanga during the years 2010–2014, was commissioned to develop a program that would “unlock the innovation potential of Māori knowledge, resources and people” (MoRST 2007).2 Royal published a paper in 2007 titled “The Creative Potential Paradigm Emerging in iwi/Māori Communities.” This is a document of its time, in which Royal selected words and language such as “creative potential” and “unlocking science and Māori knowledge” to create a unique discourse from which VM policy could be created. Royal shared:
Since 2003, I have also been involved in the development of Vision Mātauranga, a policy framework developed for the Ministry for Research, Science and Technology. It gives expression to the creative potential paradigm and seeks the development of distinctive contributions to economic development, to environmental sustainability, to health and wellbeing and contributions fashioned from the “materials” of the Māori world. This is an example of the creative potential paradigm in a policy setting.
The paper also conveyed Royal’s inspiration and context for designing VM. In 2005, Royal’s framework was approved by MoRST and by 2010 the policy was integrated across all the country’s investment priority areas, including the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE), the Royal Society Te Apārangi Marsden Fund, National Science Challenges, Centres of Research Excellence, and the Health Research Council (HRC)—although the policy is termed Māori Responsiveness rather than VM by HRC. These funding opportunities have been created so that Māori may lead research that is important to Māori (MBIE 2015; Metge 2019; Benton, Frame, and Meredith 2013, 221–223). The VM framework which MBIE defines as “envisioning knowledge,” “thinking about new ways of doing things,” and “finding answers to solve problems” is underpinned by Mātauranga.
Mātauranga at Home
My husband and I bought my grandparents’ home at Tūrangawaewae Marae (see Figure 3) in Ngāruawāhia in 2018. The whare (house) is now where we go to garden, recharge, and connect with values that are important to us. Nowadays I feel a sense of duty and pride of place, and I have a deeper understanding of why many of the Māori scholars that the late Professor Bruce Biggs trained at the University of Auckland in the 1970s felt obliged to return home to assist their kin with land claims research that integrated local Mātauranga with Western knowledge, rather than individualistically pursuing academic careers in tertiary institutions (Webster 1998; Metge 2019).
In 2018 I was a member of a group of scholars that delivered the annual University of Auckland winter lecture series. The topic was “Aotearoa in 2030.” The aim of the series was to encourage people to think about what they wanted for Aotearoa–New Zealand in 2030. The speakers included an earth system scientist who specialized in integrating Mātauranga Māori and Western science, a professor of green chemistry, an ecologist, conservation biologists, psychologists, and philosophers. I was invited to give a joint presentation with microbiologist Professor Gillian Lewis, focusing on New Zealand rivers in 2030. My talk was titled “Return to the River: In Search of Te Mana ō te Wai.”3 My talk explored the different cultural understandings of two rivers in the North Island, namely the Whanganui, referred to as Te Awa Tupua, and the Waikato River, known as the Tūpuna Awa.4 In the talk I raised the question of whether new policy and legal documents gave clarity and strength to different ways of thinking about rivers. I also spoke about the significance of local knowledge and Mātauranga and the way some Mātauranga is understood as restricted knowledge and comes with sanctions, obligations, and rote-learned karakia. One example is Waikato iwi’s gendered Mātauranga for the river belonging to our Waka Taua contingent (ceremonial war canoe fleet) (Muru-Lanning 2016,129) (see Figure 4).
This Mātauranga also encompasses much physical and technological science, including the types of trees and other materials required to construct canoes and make paddles, and how to navigate and paddle canoes on rivers, lakes, and the open sea. However, after I had completed my presentation, the marine science professor facilitating said, “Thank you Marama, that was interesting, and now we have a real scientist, Professor Lewis, to talk about New Zealand rivers.” My Māori colleagues and some non-Māori scholars in the audience cringed at his comment. When my co-presenter took the podium she said, “Marama’s talk was real science.” She went on to say that my presentation gave the context and provided a deeper understanding of the importance of local knowledge and consensual understanding among communities (Metge 1978). Foucault sheds light on the situation by writing that:
Each society has its regime of truth, its “general politics” of truth: that is, the types of discourse [and knowledge] which it accepts and makes function as true; the mechanisms and instances which enable one to distinguish true and false statements, the means by which each is sanctioned; the technique and procedures accorded value in the acquisition of truth; the status of those who are charged with saying what counts as true. (1977, 530)
As a champion for Mātauranga being valued and given the same respect as Western knowledge, I do not feel the need to transmit all the Māori science I am exposed to. What is important to understand is that Māori knowledge is imbued with mana and this mana creates relationships and reciprocal obligations between people when it is transmitted.
Waikato Waka Taua Mātauranga is special knowledge that belongs to and is protected by males of a particular age-set. Importantly, I know that as a female it is not my role to transmit certain types of restricted knowledge even though the Mātauranga belongs to a community of which I am a member. VM policy as a co-design process provides Māori researchers and Māori research participants with the leverage to stand firm and protect certain types of Mātauranga, as I propose that not all Māori knowledge should be freed up for public use. However, for Māori communities and groups that want to share their Mātauranga, the policy may also be useful in addressing new collective benefits and rewards (Kukutai and Taylor 2016).
The Interface Between Mātauranga and Academic Research
In 2020 my new research team and I were awarded a Royal Society Te Apārangi Marsden Grant to conduct a study that will listen to the kaitiaki voices of Aotearoa–New Zealand’s harbors. We designed a transdisciplinary project that includes investigators from anthropology, history, and law, and scholars from Māori communities. The project will test new Mātauranga methods with coastal Māori communities. While the project has roots in anthropology, it does not fit solely within anthropology’s sphere and aims to extend the limits of the discipline.
Mātauranga Māori is expressed in research using the terms Kaupapa Māori research and Tikanga Māori research. There is a rich literature for this body of work, with prominent Māori scholars such as Professor Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Professor Rangi Matamua, Dr. Morehu McDonald, Dr. Leonie Pihama, and Dr. Te Kawehau Hoskins contributing to it (Smith 2012; Ruru and Nikora 2021). In my own work, Kaupapa and Tikanga research methods include hīkoi wānanga (experiencing landscape workshops) and noho wānanga (overnight knowledge sharing workshops) (Muru-Lanning, Lapsley, and Dawes 2021). In these Māori learning spaces, Māori participants come together to debate and discuss shared understandings.
Their lived experiences and understandings enable the co-creation of knowledge using a distinctively Māori lens. The tapu (sacred significance) of learning at the wānanga encourages the practice of karakia and the use of tikanga. Both the hīkoi wānanga and the noho wānanga require meticulous organization.
Mai Hawaikinui ki Whangaparāoa, huri ki Tāmaki, ki Whangarei, ka hoki anō ki Tāmaki. Whiti atu ki te Mānukanuka o Hoturoa. Ka haere ki Mōkau, ka taka te punga. Ka hoki ake ki Kāwhia kai, Kāwhia tangata, Kāwhia moana. Ka tū ko Hani rāua ko Puna.
This tauparapara (incantation) created by Hukiterangi Muru for our research project traces the harbor routes travelled by the Tainui canoe, which is said to have been guided into Kāwhia Harbor by Paneiraira, a taniwha water creature and kaitiaki.5 The English translation of the tauparapara is:
From Hawaiki to Whangaparaoa, to Tāmaki, to Whangarei and returning to Tāmaki, crossing over to the Manukau Harbor. Continuing to Mōkau, turning to Kāwhia, Kāwhia the waters, Kāwhia the sustenance, Kāwhia the people. The resting place of Hani and Puna, the stern and prow of the Tainui canoe. (see Figure 6)
The research focuses on the kaitiaki Mātauranga of harbors, stemming from a claim led by the late Dame Nganeko Minhinnick of Ngāti Te Ata and Waikato iwi (Minhinnick 1989). The project arose from conversations with flaxroots Māori who hold Mātauranga. Despite the prevalence of kaitiakitanga kōrero in the literature, the voices of those with local Mātauranga and daily responsibilities of care for their harbors are seldom heard. Kaitiakitanga Mātauranga today takes various forms, from upholding tikanga in interactions with the environment and passing knowledge on to future generations, to political work in conversation and contest with the state, such as letter writing, submission writing, legal action, and protest. Women’s leadership with respect to Mātauranga is especially important in the project as it is underrepresented in existing literature. Strong Māori women such as the late Dame Nganeko Minhinnick and Tuaiwa Hautai (Eva) Rickard, as well as Angeline Greensill, Carmen Kirkwood, Dayle Takitimu and others less well known have played a fundamental role in the activation of kaitiaki Mātauranga in relation to harbors. Furthermore, there is a rich history of tūpuna wahine (ancestress) Mātauranga associated with harbors, including stories of Whakaotirangi at Kāwhia; Puhihuia and Te Ata-i-Rehia at Manukau; and Kuiawai, Reitū, and Reipae at Whangārei.
In one of her dozens of letters and submissions written in defense of the Manukau Harbor, Dame Nganeko Minhinnick stated: “Rarely are we, the Maori people recognized as being of any worth, of having any values, of having any marine knowledge, conservation knowledge or of making any real contribution to our country.”
While there are challenges for Māori scholars like me, reengaging with anthropology which has for the most part neglected to see the value of Mātauranga Māori, there is also an opportunity. In Aotearoa–New Zealand, social anthropology was built on the backs of Māori ancestors (Muru-Lanning 2021, 36–47). This includes well-known Māori scholars who trained in anthropology such as Professor Bruce Biggs, Dr. Patu Hohepa, Professor Ngapare Hopa, Professor (Sir) Hugh Kawharu, Professor (Sir) Hirini Mead, and Dr. (Sir) Pita Sharples, as well as the multiple Māori communities that supported their research and teaching endeavors. Their anthropological understandings of kinship, social structures, inequality, cultural values, hierarchy, and power had roots in Mātauranga Māori. The landscape has changed in relation to the teaching and use of Mātauranga Māori in mainstream tertiary institutions. Therefore, instead of taking ourselves out of the game, Māori scholars trained in anthropology (and other disciplines) must reclaim, or in some cases hold on to, spaces where our skills in listening and communication, our training in observing human activity, and our nuanced understanding of Mātauranga are both desired and respected by our non-Māori colleagues. Aotearoa–New Zealand can no longer be passed off as an anthropological periphery, as proposed by Shore and Trnka (2013, 4–7). The new rules of engagement forced upon scholars by VM policy enrich the learning experience and anthropology as a discipline because they force us to think more reflectively about where we come from and why we do the things we do. There is a public Mātauranga Māori, which scholars of any ethnicity may draw upon. There is also private Mātauranga, which must be restricted to those who whakapapa to the original Mātauranga sources. Mātauranga Māori is a new old source of knowledge that must be used with care and caution.
Links to Digital Materials
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1. Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga (NPM) is Aotearoa–New Zealand’s Māori Centre of Research Excellence. It is funded by the Tertiary Education Commission. It was established in 2002. The Centre’s name is understood to mean “horizons of insight,” which is symbolic and relates to NPM’s proverb, about the pursuit of horizons of understanding so Māori may emerge into the world of light. Ngāi Tahu, or Kāi Tahu, is a principal Māori tribe of the southern region of Aotearoa–New Zealand. Its tribal area is the largest in the country.
2. Te Wānanga o Raukawa is a Māori university (indigenous tertiary education provider) established in the 1980s. Based in Otaki, its aim is to help bring descendants back to their marae, revitalize Maōri language and develop tribal members with the tools and skills to empower them to succeed while retaining knowledge of their ancestors.
3. Te Mana ō te Wai conveys that each community (Māori or non-Māori) will decide what Te Mana ō te Wai means to them on a freshwater management unit scale, based on their unique relationship with fresh water in their area or rohe (Ministry for the Environment, 2017).
4. Te Awa Tupua is an indivisible and living whole, comprising the Whanganui River from the mountains to the sea, incorporating its tributaries and all its physical and metaphysical elements (Te Puni Kōkiri, 2016)
5. A tauparapara is an incantation that begins a formal speech. Tauparapara are a way that Māori are able to identify a visiting group, as each tribe has tauparapara particular to them.