What Māori now call ‘Mātauranga Māori’ may be translated as ‘Māori Knowledge’ or ‘Māori Education’. It is both these things, but it is more, and would more rightfully be described as an epistemology (Salmond, 1985: 241-263; Tau, 2001 a: 61-75; 2001 b: 131-152). It is a system of knowledge that has survived in its
fundamental entirety into the present through oratory, song, poetry, chants, prayers, invocations, narrative history, visual art, weaving, carving, tool/weapon-making and building construction. These practices are repeated regularly at times of life crises and celebration in the present day. Each iwi (tribe) and hapū (sub-tribe) possess versions or interpretations of the overall framework and various elders, even within one hapū, may ‘see’ and ‘know’ different details or praxes of ‘truth’. Nevertheless, some aspects are beyond question, and such elders may, whilst following accepted protocols, and at appropriate times and situations, reveal their individual interpretations of the basic ‘truths’ that have been recorded and are accepted by all. They may publicly declare their differences with others in open debate on the marae or in the wharenui
(traditional meeting house). Many books can and have been written about each of these individual aspects of Mātauranga Māori so there is no intention here to explore any of them in detail, but to provide an outline of the framework and how it may have related to the lived lives of the people during the inter-cultural transactions and conflicts being investigated in this thesis. A number of historians and anthropologists both indigenous and European have undertaken such comparisons16 but their findings (not elaborated here) show that, via different versions of creation stories, and
Māori ‘remember’ and ‘know’ their ‘figured worlds’. Ngoi Pewhairangi of Ngāti Porou has described how she was taught: “… Māori things involve the whole of nature… They don’t actually teach you… when you’re asleep in your room on your own, they’re singing waiatas [sic] or reciting genealogies… before you realise it you’ve learned to recite too, and you’ve learned the words of a certain song… by heart” (in M. King, 1985: 7-10).
The ‘core truths’ of the Māori epistemological framework must, in European terms, be regarded as axiomatic because, they physically exist and can be seen even though they cannot be fully explained. They are the universe and the physical world around us. They can be experienced. The land, the sky, sun, stars and moon, the rivers lakes and sea, and the livings things in and on them are all visible, so this is evidence that they aretrue (cf. Engelke, 2009: 16). Humans can ‘see’ and ‘know’ them because tāngata (humans) depend upon them, so they have a relationship with them. Yet, unlike the situation in relationships between humans, the features of the natural world may be ‘supernaturally’ powerful, unpredictable, and fearsome. So they are ‘as humans’ but they are ‘not like humans’. Therefore, though related to humans they are more difficult to understand or predict, and their relationship is more distant and mediated by gods. The framework usually described to explain this relationship has been illustrated by Tau via an hierarchical genealogical model (2001: 136-7). There are no exceptions known by me, to the genealogical and hierarchical basis of this model that exists throughout Polynesia, though the particularities and rank orders of certain gods, heroes and persons vary amongst islands, tribes and families. All Māori tribes have chants documenting the stages of creation from darkness (Te Pō), to ‘nothingness’ (Te Kōre), to light (Te Ao Mārama). Salmond quotes one such chant, from Te Kohurua of Rongoroa, in 1854 (1985: 244-5; cf. Shirres, 1997: 24). This chant is one of several that recall how thought, memory, mind, desire and conscious knowledge are seen as being present very early in creation, even before Te Pō (darkness) appeared:
Na te kune te pupuke From the source of growth the rising
Na te pupuke te hirihiri From the rising the thought
Na te hirihiri te mahara From thought the memory
Na te mahara te hinengaro From the memory the mind Na te hinengaro te manaako From the mind the desire
Ka hua te waananga Knowledge became fruitful
Ka noho i a rikoriko It dwelt in dim light
Thus, thought, memory, mind, desire and knowledge all appear to have been seen as closely associated from the beginning. There is no mind/body dualism, and since the chant goes on to describe the emergence by the same process of the winds, the atmosphere, the moon, the land, gods and humans, there appears to be no
nature/culture dualism either. The chants also contain what Salmond calls:
“cosmological speculations… [They raise] an acute problem… [and] it is extremely difficult to sort out literal from figurative meanings in what they say”(ibid.).
However, these matters involve poetic interpretation, and do not alter the fundamental framework of the creation story including that humans had two original parents named in the standard version as Ranginui and Papatuanuku18, and that their children became the departmental gods of the human and natural worlds. The issue is that the genealogical and hierarchical model, illustrates the descent relationship amongst humans, their ancestors (including atua/deities or spirits), the natural world, and their cosmogenic evolution in the universe. Tau (2001: 136-7) has stated that it is an ego-centric model, placing humans as the basis, and including in it the Gods and the natural world, all of them therefore being related. From these, the mythical and historical generations down to the present can be named. According to chants of several traditions, the knowledge had its source in creation, was held in the repository of the gods, and was obtained from them by humans. The pattern is universal amongst tribes, though the actual characters who climbed into the heavens to obtain it, are differently named in some traditions. For example some myths name Tāwhaki, whilst most name the demigod Tāne. “Nga Kete e Toru”, the three baskets obtained from the heavens, each contained different categories of knowledge, and whilst their names vary amongst the tribes, the three categories involved were basically:
1. Esoteric, ritual and transcendental knowledge needed for communicating with the gods.
2. Knowledge of whakapapa, the stars, and tikanga, and “… knowledge… behind the world perceived by our senses… ” (R.Taylor, 1855, in Shirres, 1997: 17).
3. Knowledge of the phenomenal world and its practicalities: agriculture, building, war.
Such genealogical and cosmological knowledge was taught to selected students in the Whare Kura or Whare Wānanga through ritual, karakia, and the memorising of whakapapa (genealogy). In the 1860s, for example, Otago Ngāi Tahu had separate schools to transmit these categories of knowledge to different students. One school
was held at night during the winter months and the course of instruction was 4-5 years long (White, 1887, Vol. 1: 4-10). The knowledge gained was regarded as “… enabling its possessor to communicate directly with the ancestor-gods and to activate their power”, or mana atua, to help them survive in the world. Body parts associated with cognition, memory and emotions were ‘seen’ differently than they were by Europeans, and the seat of knowledge was not the brain but the abdomen. The head including the hair, was exceptionally important as the part of the body linked to a person’s descent lines through which communication with the ancestors took place and cosmic energy and growth were accessed (Salmond, 1985: 241; Tau, 2001b: 67). Māori students learned to understand the phenomenal world of their experience and thus to ‘know’. They learned the hierarchical and genealogical cognitive framework onto which to scaffold the understanding of what was ‘true’ to their own experiences, and they practiced strategies for remembering it by ritual and chant.
The next section of this chapter describes particular dynamic aspects of the Māori ‘figured worlds’ that were crucial to the inter-cultural misunderstandings between them and Europeans in pre-colonial times. These dynamic aspects are: atua(s), omens, mana, tapu and utu.