Category Archives: Matauranga Maori

Kei au te Mataika !

“The first fish is mine!”
– pepeha Maori

The first fish was the first enemy or the first unfortunate to cross the path of a war party. This first fish was then ritually slain and the heart roasted and eaten as an offering to Tumatauenga.

Taputapuatea Marae, an ancient stone marae on Ra’iatea in Eastern Polynesia is said to have been in times past the main marae for all of Polynesia. At Taputapuatea for a long time there was a practice of human sacrifice. When the marae was renovated 5000 human skulls were found in the main altar. Close to the main marae is a small stone structure or marae which is thought to be where the human sacrifice was enacted.

Sacrificial offerings were brought to the marae as part of the ceremonial ritual. They were both men and fish. At a great hui all the waka would arrive at Taputapuatea carrying their offerings laid out on the deck of the waka; first a man, then a big fish like a shark or tuna, then a man, then a fish, and so on. The offerings would then be hung in the trees at Taputapuatea, offered to the god of war, Oro.

There is also a story of a chief and his son who went fishing, and as was required they were meant to offer the largest fish of their catch at the marae. But the son convinced his father to keep the largest and offer another, which they did. But the priest at the marae saw through their deception and questioned them. When they continued to lie he decreed that they would become the offering and they were hung in the trees. The offerings were called “long-limbed fish”.

It is interesting to speculate that perhaps this practice at Taputapuatea, and at other marae throughout Eastern Polynesia, might have been the source of the pepeha “Kei au te mataika”.

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The Maori Worldview & Maori Policy

“Given a choice between their worldview and the facts, it’s always interesting how many people toss the facts”.

– Rebecca Solnit

What is the Maori worldview? Does my worldview represent the Maori worldview? Does yours? In a previous essay, “The Evolution of Pakeha Culture”, I wrote about how the Maori worldview had been transformed and shaped by contact, adoption and adaptation of European culture. In this essay I will look at some of the facts to discover just what the Maori worldview might be in the 21st Century. It might be a difficult task.

The Maori elites in academia, education, politics, public service, and in the burgeoning Maori business and services sector (including neo-tribal corporate iwi) promote their worldview as the Maori worldview. It is broadly based on cleaving to “traditional” tikanga values, incorporating them into their various fields of endeavour, and on speaking Te Reo Maori. For instance the Kaupapa Maori model of research developed by Professors Graham and Linda Smith is now the standard research model in the universities and elsewhere. Matauranga Maori is the new academic epistemological niche in which many Maori academics now ply their trade. Many of the elites in the Maori business sector (grandiosely named the Maori economy) proclaim a Maori model of business and business management based on tikanga. In education many assume that Maori medium education is the model that represents the Maori worldview.

These elites however comprise just a fraction of the Maori population. The assumption that the rest of the Maori population follow their lead and accept their version of a Maori worldview needs to be tested for it is of vital importance in the making of Maori policy for all Maori. We need to look at all Maori rather than at the dominant Maori elites and their proclaimed worldview.

The data

A good place to start on this journey of discovery is with some census and population statistics that can tell us a lot about who and where we are. Being ethnically Maori and identifying as Maori would be the foundation of a Maori worldview, if there is one:

  • As at 2013 there are 668,724 people of Maori descent in Aotearoa New Zealand; and
  • 598,605 (89.5%) of those identify as Maori.

Of those who identify as Maori:

  • 273,192 (45.6%) identified Māori and one other ethnicity;
  • 38,079 (6.4%) identified Māori and two other ethnicities;
  • 9,138 (1.5%) identified Māori and three or more other ethnicities;
  • 278.196 (46.5%) identified only as Maori (although that does not mean that all or most of them do not have other ethnic heritage); and therefore
  • We are of at least one other heritage as well as Maori.

Language and religion are two of the cornerstones of worldviews and cultures. That the fusion of Maori and European cultures is a dominant feature is shown in these statistics:

  • 100% of Maori speak the English language; and
  • In 2006 98% of Maori declared that they were Christian indicating that one of the foundations of the modern Maori worldview if it exists is a transplanted European religion which has its roots in a Middle Eastern tribal mythology.

With regard to traditional identity through whakapapa (but not necessarily modern allegiance) we find that:

  • 18.5% don’t know which “iwi” they belong to; and therefore that
  • 81.5% do know which “iwi” they belong to, indicating that whakapapa might still be a strong influence in the worldviews of most Maori; however
  • To find out what percentage of Maori really know their whakapapa we would need to know what percentage of Maori know which hapu they belong to, and it will certainly be a lot less than 81.5%. Official statistics focus on “iwi” affiliation which is a modern inaccurate measure of whakapapa affiliation (see The Mythology of the Whanau Hapu Iwi Construct).

From there the cohesion starts to splinter. About traditional values and practices we find that;

  • 21.3% of Maori speak Te Reo Maori at a conversational level;
  • 79.7% don’t speak Te Reo Maori; and
  • Only 2.3% of eligible Maori students are enrolled in Maori medium education, meaning that 97.7% are enrolled in mainstream education.

The electoral rolls and polls tell a different but similar story about affiliation and identity in matters political:

  • As at 24 July 2013 there were 256,212 people (55.7%) enrolled on the Maori electoral rolls and 203,640 people of Maori descent (44.3%) on the General roll, a total of 459,852 registered electors.
  • As at December 2013 the Maori Party is polling at 1.3% and the Mana Party at 0.9%.

We are mostly city dwellers indicating that most of us live removed from our traditional hapu and marae, and also removed from the neo-tribal corporate iwi that are now dominant in Maori policy formation and delivery:

  • In New Zealand about 87% live in the North Island;
  • 84.4% live in urban areas;
  • 23.8% live in the Auckland region;
  • 14% in the Waikato region;
  • 11.5% in the Bay of Plenty region; and
  • 9.7% in the Wellington region.

Many Maori are Australian Maori;

  • There are about 128,500 Maori (or about 17.6% of all Australasian Maori) living in Australia, many in regular physical and digital contact between the two countries; and
  • To many Maori whanau Australia and New Zealand are now virtually the same country.

A snapshot of the socio economic landscape

Socio economic statistics provide an indication of the lives of Maori. Income is a primary indicator of socio economic status. There are two measures of an adequate income, the “living wage” and the “minimum wage”:

  • The “living wage” is $57,432 per annum per household (of 1.5 adult earners), or $18.41 per hour per adult wage earner. That equates to $38,288 per annum for a single adult;
  • The “minimum wage” for a single adult is $28,600 per annum, or $13.75 per hour;
  • The median income for Maori is $22,500 per annum, meaning that 50% of Maori over 15 earn $22,500 or less; and therefore
  • Most adult Maori are earning less than the minimum wage and considerably less than a living wage.

In my whanau and hapu we have some who have made it into the middle class, some who live in poverty and many in the middle who struggle to make ends meet. I imagine that we are representative of Maori society as a whole. There are also many single mothers, a status that almost always consigns them and their children to the ranks of the poor or struggling.

The Poor

  • In the thirty years since the mid-1980s New Zealand has fallen in the OECD rankings of income inequality across 34 developed countries from one of the more equal near the top of the rankings to below 20 in the rankings; and
  • that growth in inequality has fallen disproportionately upon Maori.

New Zealand, for obvious political reasons, does not have an official “poverty line” but a generally accepted measure of poverty is a household income equating to just 60% of the national median income after housing costs are deducted:

  • The national median income is $28,500, being $36,000 for males and $23,100 for females (50% earn less than the median income and 50% earn more);
  • The poverty line for a family of 2 adults and 2 children would be about $24,000 per annum; and
  • For a family of 1 adult and 1 child it would be about $16,000 per annum.

Data concerning Maori poverty includes the following;

  • 15.6% of employment aged Maori in New Zealand were unemployed in 2013, up from 11% in 2006;
  • 50% of all Maori aged 15 and over earn less than $22,500 per annum. At least 50% of Maori are poor or struggling or both;
  • 1 in 3 Maori children are living in poverty;
  • The percentage of Maori living in poverty has almost doubled over the last 30 years. Those were the years of the Maori renaissance, Maori programme delivery, Maori medium education, language revival initiatives, treaty settlements, corporate iwi, and the promotion of the fanciful “Maori economy”; and the years of the neo-liberal political economy; and
  • Maori make up about 33% of all working age welfare beneficiaries.

Maori have always been over-represented in the underprivileged, unemployed and unqualified class of citizenry for reasons not entirely, or not even, of their own making. Since the neo-liberal economic revolution of the 1980s and 1990s inequality of income and wealth has dramatically increased and Maori are overwhelmingly over-represented in the ranks of the poor.

The Struggling

  • 33% of Maori have no formal qualifications.
  • Of those in employment about 19.4% are labourers.

Then there are the many who may not be in poverty, and may even be employed part-time or full-time but on low wages, and who live above the poverty line but who nevertheless struggle to make ends meet. They tend to be invisible to policy makers but they are probably the majority of Maori.

Middle Class

  • 36,000+ Maori have at least one university degree;
  • About 17.5% of adult Maori earn over $50,000; and
  • 16.4% of Maori in employment are professionals, and 11.6% managers.

This is where the elites reside although not all middle class Maori participate in the activities of the elites. There has been a steady increase in the numbers of Maori joining the socio economic middle class. They include the university educated and those with trade or other qualifications. Qualification seems to be the gateway to the middle class. The middle class is still a minority.

High Earners

  • About 7.5% of adult Maori earn over $70,000; and
  • About 2.5% earn over $100,000.

As in general society the growing inequality of incomes and wealth is reflected in Maori society with just a few individuals and whanau benefitting from neo-liberal political and economic policies.

The Maori Employment Sector

In “The Origins of Corporate Iwi” I noted that there is “a fast growing Maori employment and career sector that did not exist 25 years ago”. It comprises corporate iwi, non-tribal providers, Maori broadcasters, Maori land incorporations, Maori medium education and statutory Maori bodies such as Te Puni Kokiri, the Maori Trustee, Te Taurawhiri i Te Reo Maori and others. It is difficult to determine just how many Maori are employed in this sector but with just 17.5% of adult Maori earning over $50,000 it must be a small minority. That belies the belief held by many that it is a statistically significant sector and that the re-invention of the “iwi” holds the key to the advancement of Maori in general. Most Maori remain in the Poor and Struggling categories.

Welfare Beneficiaries

  • Maori make up 33% of all working age welfare beneficiaries.

Whilst the much proclaimed pepeha says, “Ko te kai a te rangatira he korero”, I maintain, “Ko te mahi a te rangatira he kai”. The real rangatira is the one who feeds the people.

Work & Income New Zealand (WINZ) is by far the biggest provider for the Maori people. As providers the kaikorero in corporate iwi come a distant last.

Alcohol and other Substances

Alcohol is still a major social problem as it has been since colonisation but we now have other drugs as well. There are many Maori whanau with a member or members whose lives have been blighted by drugs, some to the point where they are seriously mentally ill and institutionalised. In Auckland the gangs are handing out free “P” to 10 year olds, getting them addicted and turning them into customers by the time they are 12. The gangs hang about outside the schools to prey on the young. It’s good business.

Alcohol and drug addiction is not solely confined to the poor but poverty is a major factor in substance abuse. And Maori comprise a disproportionate number of the poor.


The rate of criminal offending is linked directly to poverty and to the proportion of young males in a community. Maori are again over-represented in both. 80% of criminal offending is committed while under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. Theft is also prevalent among drug users, committed to pay for the addiction.

“Maori are being imprisoned at a rate six times that of non-Maori. For Maori males born in 1975, it is estimated that 22 per cent had a Corrections managed sentence before their twentieth birthday, and 44 percent had a Corrections managed sentence by the age of thirty-five”.

– Kim Workman and Tracy McIntosh, 2013, “Crime, Imprisonment and Poverty”, in “Inequality: A New Zealand Crisis”, ed Max Rashbrooke, Bridget Williams Books.

It is well known that Maori comprise about 50% of all prisoners. Prison is just part of the reality of a great many Maori and their whanau.

Maori age statistics

Most Maori are young Maori:

  • The median age of Maori is 23.9 years meaning that half of all Maori are aged under 24; and
  • 33.8% of Maori are aged 15 years or less.

What do the statistics tell us?

That information doesn’t tell us what our Maori worldview is, that is what we believe and what we think. However it does give us an indication of the wide diversity of Maori in the 21st Century, 173 years on from the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi when we were much less diverse and probably did share a common worldview. It does tell us as a basis for examining what we do have in common that:

  • 100% of Maori speak English;
  • 99.1% identify as Maori;
  • About 98% are Christian;
  • 50% earn less than $22,500 per annum (and 50% earn more than $22,500);
  • We are urban dwellers; and
  • Most Maori are young Maori.

Whatever our worldview or worldviews they include a deep infusion of the English language and thought as well as the Christian religion, and are heavily influenced by global culture.

This should come as no surprise as it was foreshadowed over 60 years ago by Sir Apirana Ngata in his now famous words written in the autograph book of Mrs Rangi Barcham (née Bennett), daughter of the late Sir John Mokonuiarangi Bennett.

“E tipu e rea, mo nga ra o tou ao,
ko to ringa ki nga rakau a te Pakeha hei ora mo te tinana,
ko to ngakau ki nga taonga a o tipuna Maori hei tikitiki mo to mahuna,
a ko to wairua ki to Atua, nana nei nga mea katoa”.

“Thrive in the days destined for you,
Your hand to the tools of the Pakeha, sustenance for the body,
Your heart to the treasures of your ancestors, to adorn your head,
Your soul to God to whom all things belong”.

Regardless of the degree of adoption of European and global cultural mores ethnic identity as Maori is a given, but it should not be mistaken for cultural identity. The data tells us that economic survival could well be of far greater daily concern to most Maori than cultural identity, cultural retention and revival, and cultural values, although the two are not mutually exclusive.

The worldview or worldviews of the youthful majority are those that should be more relevant to the future of Maori rather than the worldviews of Maori leaders, policy makers and elites who are the minority, invariably over 30 and mostly over 40.

Living Maori culture – some observations

  • 21.3% speak Te Reo Maori.
  • 79.7% don’t speak Te Reo Maori

It is difficult to quantify the numbers of those still living the Maori culture or the modern and evolved version of it. There are some who are steeped in the culture and live it continuously, there are some who live it regularly but not continuously, some who live it occasionally or irregularly, and many not at all. All self-identify as Maori.

Nga Ahi Kaa are the keepers of the culture, preserving and practising the tikanga and kawa at the Pa and on the marae, some more enthusiastically than others. Not all of them are speakers of Te Reo although the movement to revive Te Reo through kohanga reo, kura kaupapa and broadcasting has increased its use in areas where it had declined.

The Maori boarding schools were for generations keepers of the culture and the language. More recently Maori medium schooling has had the effect of reviving cultural practice at school at least. Some of those students also live the culture at home but some, perhaps many, live it at school but not at home. Almost all of those students also live the mainstream culture. Some culture and language is taught and practised in some mainstream schools.

The Kohanga Reo and Kura Kaupapa Maori generation has had a marked effect on Maori society with many of that generation now filling governance, management and other leadership roles in the growing Maori specific employment sector (public service, Maori business, service provision, broadcasting, school teaching and university lecturing).  Many of them are also engaged primarily in mainstream society. Maori studies courses at the universities also contribute their graduates to those who live Maori culture to some degree.

The Matatini kapahaka competition is the central (but not the only) activity that keeps the modern versions of Maori cultural performance alive and thriving. Maori artists including carvers, weavers, painters, sculptors, dancers, actors and writers are also keepers of the culture and at the same time are actively engaged in the constant evolution of their art forms. Mau rakau is thriving.

Those are some of the many ways modern Maori are engaged in aspects of Maori culture.

Nga Ahi Kaa

Most of my whanau and hapu no longer live at home. Some began moving to the cities after the Second World War looking for employment and opportunity. We started moving out in numbers in the 1960s during the economic boom when the whanau could afford to buy houses. We could not build at home because of restrictive local body by-laws. By the time we overturned those restrictions in the 1990s most people had left home anyway. We now live in the cities, in Australia, and elsewhere. The paepae on most marae at home have thinned out but the home people keep them warm. Like almost all hapu in Aotearoa we live elsewhere and travel home. But most never make it, except perhaps for tangihanga.

The Hip Hop Generation

I spent eight years 2001-2009 working in the Auckland region where most Maori live. We were working on a Maori development project. We were into Matauranga Maori, Te Reo Maori, Tikanga Maori and all that as the foundation of Maori education. But slowly it dawned on me in Auckland that the dominant culture amongst Polynesian/Maori youth was Hip Hop. That generation born and raised in that 1984-2005 period in Auckland and elsewhere was the Hip Hop generation.

Hip Hop is everything – dance, music, art and street talk. It retains the former reggae and roots base, adds in rap and break, crump, gangsta and all that. There is an underlying Polynesian expression in it but its essence is American. My father’s generation loved the songs of Paul Robeson, my generation was into rhythm and blues and rock and roll. This generation is hip hop, all of us down through the generations influenced by the music of Afrika via slavery and Amerika. The difference is that Hip Hop has become a complete sub-culture whereas we were just into the music.

It dawned on me that my generation and the next were designing policy and practice based on all the things that my generation had fought for in the 1960s to the 1980s. But it was policy designed for the next generations who had gone somewhere else. The relatively small number who had gone through kohanga and kura were relatively “pure”, culturally speaking, but the rest were somewhere else. This all happened while we had our eyes on the past. Then it dawned on me that that’s what always happens. The next generation always goes somewhere else while the previous generation slips slowly into the past.

Now my grandchildren and great-grandchildren speak three languages – English mostly because that’s how you buy your Nikes and order your McDonalds and KFCs and get on in life, Te Reo Kohanga for those who went to kohanga (most of them) but mostly when their mother or grandmother is listening, and street talk the rest of the time, based I think in Te Reo Hip Hop which is a version of English, sort of. When they message me on Facebook I understand them perfectly because they use English English or Te Reo Kohanga. When they message each other and their multitude of friends I’m lost because it’s a mixture of Street Talk and Txt Talk. As ever they’re all undeniably Maori but not the same sort of Maori as any of the Maori of my generation.

Sport and culture

Sport as we know it today plays a major role in modern Maori culture, across the socio-economic spectrum. We all grew up playing sport, and at our Pa in the days when there were still enough of us living there, we had our own very successful rugby and hockey teams and our own rugby and hockey fields. Rugby Union, Rugby League, Netball, Hockey, Softball, Tennis and Golf are all popular and have been so for generations.

It is a mostly collective competitive activity that resembles the inter-tribal rivalry of old, in both Pakeha and Maori cultures. For many Maori, like many Pakeha, sport is the central activity in their lives, whether as participants or supporters. Sport might even challenge religion as the underpinning of the worldviews of many Maori.

The interesting thing about “sport” as an important post-colonial cultural pursuit is that it was an invention of the elite British schools. “Games” have been part of most cultures for millennia but the concept of “sport” as an inter-tribal contest, often based in forms of warfare, was invented in schools such as Eton and Rugby.

Work and play and raising the kids in the suburbs

When it comes down to it most Maori, like most New Zealanders, are living in the suburbs and trying to make a decent living for themselves and their whanau, and that consumes their lives. When it comes down to it that is the age old preoccupation of all people; food, clothing and housing and hopefully some leisure time and a bit of spare money to be able to enjoy it.

Many Maori in modern New Zealand are not making it.

In the digital age it is easy to imagine that the Maori world revolves around the everyday lives, interests and concerns of our Maori whanau, friends and acquaintances on Facebook until you realise that less than 25% of us subscribe to Facebook. We are not yet defined by our online presence as much as by our everyday lives in the suburbs, most often in the poorer suburbs.

And so to culture and worldview

worldview is the fundamental belief of a person or whole society encompassing all of the individual or society’s knowledge and point-of-view. Additionally, it refers to the framework of ideas and beliefs forming a global description through which an individual, group or culture watches and interprets the world and interacts with it. It comprises:

  • An explanation of the world.
  • A vision of the future answering the question “Where are we heading?”
  • Values, and answers to ethical questions: “What should we do?”
  • A theory and practice about “How should we do it?”
  • A theory of knowledge: “What is true and false?”
  • An account of its own “building blocks,” its origins and construction.

In pre-European times there might have been near universal agreement about those six areas of belief and therefore a common worldview across Te Ao Maori, with some regional and tribal variation. That is absolutely no longer the case. Maori are now living culturally complex and diverse lives in a totally different socio economic landscape and their worldviews are evolving dynamically in Europeanized and globalized contexts.

There is no longer a distinctive and shared Maori worldview. We have moved on.

Culture is a modern concept based on a term first used by the Roman orator Cicero: “cultura animi” (cultivation of the soul). This use of “culture” re-appeared in modern Europe in the 17th century referring to the betterment or refinement of individuals, especially through education. During the 18th and 19th century it came to refer more frequently to the common beliefs and practices of whole peoples. In the 20th century, “culture” emerged as a central concept in anthropology, encompassing the range of human phenomena that cannot be attributed to genetic inheritance. It has been described as an integrated system of learned behavior patterns which are characteristic of the members of a society and which are not a result of biological inheritance.

Distinctions are currently made between the physical artifacts created by a society, its so-called material culture, and everything else, the intangibles such as language, tikanga, etc. that are the main components of “culture”.

Maori culture today can be defined by having at its core Te Reo Maori and Tikanga Maori. The language itself is evolving as nearly all speakers are second language learners with English as their first language. It is adopting thought patterns, syntax and words from the English language, evolving as all languages do when in close contact with other linguistic traditions. 23.3% of Maori speak the language. 76.7% do not.

Probably the most authoritative and complete description of Tikanga Maori is in Hirini Moko Mead’s “Tikanga Maori, Living by Maori Values” (2003, Huia Publishers, Wellington). The companion text which contains teachings of the ancestors in the form of proverbs or sayings is “Nga Pepeha a nga Tipuna” (2001, Mead & Neil Grove, Victoria University Press, Wellington).

Tikanga Maori” describes “practices and values that many Maori, a growing number, see as necessary for good relations with people and with the land on which they live. These practices and values make up tikanga Maori, or that which exemplifies proper or meritorious conduct according to ancestral law”, according to Hon Justice Sir Edward Taihakurei Durie in his foreword to the book.

What percentage of Maori in 2013 “live by Maori values” or observe some Maori values in their daily lives is not known. It might be close to the nearly 25% who speak Te Reo Maori. Depending on how you define “living by Maori values” it might be a lot more. But the key point is that it is nowhere near universal. Based on Te Reo Maori and Tikanga Maori being the two cornerstones of Maori culture in the modern age it can therefore be said that Maori culture in the traditional sense and even in its modern incarnation is not universally lived and practiced by Maori people.

Prior to colonisation the cultural beliefs and practices of the many hapu would have comprised a large part of the worldview prevailing across the whole of Aotearoa, rooted deep in the evolution of the Polynesian peoples and their ancestors across thousands of years of journeying out of Africa and finally into and across the Pacific. Depending on your definitions the two, worldview and culture, would have been practically synonymous.

However the individual and collective worldviews of Maori in the 21st Century have been hugely influenced and expanded by contact with the European worldview and culture, and indeed by contact with many other immigrant cultures. Since the contact or colonisation period all New Zealanders, Maori and Pakeha, have had their worldview(s) greatly expanded by the discovery of new knowledge, by the relentless march of progress in almost every sphere of life, by travel, contact and interaction with cultures across the globe, and recently by the steady globalisation of commerce and culture. It can no longer be said that Maori culture, whether traditional or modern, represents the totality or near-totality of a Maori worldview. It can no longer be said that there is a Maori worldview.

Most Maori do not live the practices and values of tikanga Maori. Most Maori live somewhere else in the mental and cultural landscape, largely determined by their place in the socio-economic landscape, and by the degree and form of their engagement with the dominant and increasingly global culture.

Putting it bluntly, on the one hand there is a general worldview, fostered by the elites who presumably benefit in some way, in which Maori are a romantic re-tribalised society organised within the mythical whanau/hapu/iwi post-colonial construct, living the idealised concepts and values of tikanga Maori, and speaking Te Reo Maori. On the other hand there is the real world of modern Maori – mostly urban, disproportionately represented in the lower socio-economic class and in the prison population, living in poverty or near poverty in poor quality housing, suffering poor health, under-achieving educationally, beset by racism in their dealings with society and its institutions, and at the bottom of society according to most measures.

The reality of the Maori condition arises out of a culture of struggle and resistance. It is a struggle against insurmountable odds to make any headway into the mainstream of a New Zealand society of affluence and consumerism, and resistance against the seemingly oppressive forces of the state and its political economy that conspire to maintain that status quo. Over the last two or three generations some Maori have made it into an educated middle class but the Maori middle class is still a minority and it and its idealised worldview is not representative of Maori in general.

Maori don’t live in that idealised mindspace created in the academy, in the bureaucracy and in corporate iwi. Maori live in the mindspace created by mainstream society and its worldview; its religion, laws, regulations, political and economic system, schools, hospitals, workplaces, shopping malls, courts, prisons, cheap rental housing and welfare system. That’s where Maori live. Maori live within the mainstream Western worldview and it doesn’t serve them at all well. The idealised Maori worldview of the educated Maori elites doesn’t serve them at all, and never will.

The implications for Maori policy

This has deep implications for Maori policy. Or it ought to.

For the last thirty or forty years policy has been driven by the Maori elites, driven down the Maori development or Maori advancement track of language and cultural revival (including Maori medium education and Maori broadcasting), neo-tribal invention and identity, treaty settlements, business development, and primary healthcare engagement. But that is not where most Maori are. That is where the elites are. If Maori policy were to address the needs and aspirations of most Maori where they are it would tackle first and foremost the hard issues of poverty and unemployment.

My intention here is not to denigrate the beliefs and endeavours of the elites or to declare them invalid, for they are perfectly valid in their own context. But it is their context, not that of most Maori.

If Maori policy were to address the needs and aspirations of most Maori where they are it would not pander to the needs and expectations of the elites.

The elites can and do look after themselves. And they have consumed the lion’s share of Maori policy budgets for the past thirty years, not to mention the dividends from treaty settlements. The burgeoning Maori employment and career sector where they are concentrated has been built upon the capture of resources by the elites.

Meanwhile most Maori are under 25 and most Maori of all ages still live on Struggle Street.

My readers should understand that I am not saying that language and cultural retention or revival are unimportant. What I am saying is that policy aimed at language and culture should not be confused with policy aimed at overall Maori development and Maori advancement. I am also saying that policy aimed at the development of neo-tribal corporate iwi and at Maori business development should not be confused with policy aimed at overall Maori economic development.

I am saying that is not where most Maori are. That’s where the elites are.

Related Essays

Mai i Hawaiki ki Hawaiki: The Evolution of Maori Culture
The Evolution of Pakeha Culture
The Maori Worldview and Maori Policy
The Mythology of the Whanau-Hapu-Iwi Construct
The Origins of Corporate Iwi
The Maori Economy – A Fanciful Notion
The Myth of the Maori Entrepreneur
The Treaty of Waitangi Revisited
Te Ture Whenua Maori Review – Who Benefits? 
Perspectives of Time, Small Prophecy & Maori Policy
Draining the Swamp – Some Fundamentals for Maori Policy Makers
Maori Policy: Challenging the Status Quo – A Call to Reengage in the Struggle
He Tangata – Maori Policy, Economics and Moral Philosophy

A Longhouse in Borneo

Hunting, gathering and living with the Dayak.

In the time before the Pakeha, in the time before colonisation, before settlement, do we really know how we were. In the time before Abel Tasman sailed into Mohua (Golden Bay) in December 1642.

What do we really know about how it was over 300 years ago. Our only term of reference is the here and now, and our own imaginations about how it might have been, based perhaps on a few stories and maybe on some old books, drawings, paintings or even on early photographs. But we don’t know do we. Sir Peter Buck and other anthropologists have documented the material culture of those times and Elsdon Best has descibed the old religion and a great deal more. F.E. Maning and others wrote about the experiences of “Pakeha Maori”. But mostly I think we just imagine what it might have been like.

My term of reference is a longhouse in the jungle in Borneo, the home of a group of indigenous hunter gatherers who were still living a mostly traditional lifestyle. I lived with them for a while in 1966. The Dayak are part of the Austronesian people, a broad ancestral grouping  that includes the Malayo Polynesians.

Although the Dayak people are distantly related to Maori their life and lifestyle were not the same as those of our ancestors. To start with they live in a tropical jungle whereas here in Aotearoa we have the seasons to contend with including the sometimes harsh winters and the winter shortage of food. So food resources are different and food is central to the life of the hunter gatherer. Although similar in origin their religious and cultural practices have evolved on a separate path for a few thousand years. Despite that however there are many similarities in the lives and lifestyles of hunter gatherers everywhere.

I was in the state of Sarawak in Malaysian Borneo with the 1st Battalion Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment on active duty during Indonesia’s “Konfrontasi” war against Malaysia. Our job was to protect part of the border between the two countries to prevent any incursions across the border by regular Indonesian troops or by irregular insurgents. Three of our rifle companies were in defended positions near the border and patrolled along the border. Our company was in reserve with battalion headquarters. We were used on various tasks throughout the whole battalion area of operations. As a rifle platoon commander one of the tasks I was given by the battalion commander was to live with the local indigenous Dayak people on a “hearts and minds” mission to gain their confidence as well as to act as a guard platoon across the area I was allocated. The area was thought by Intelligence to sit across an incursion route used by irregular insurgents.

There were four longhouses or Dayak villages in that area and I split my platoon into four patrols each one based in one of the longhouses. A longhouse is just that. It is a long narrow house on raised hardwood stilts about six to eight feet high off the ground. It is usually about 100 metres long but there are some that are much longer; up to 500 metres. The longhouse I stayed in was built on a slightly elevated terrace above a small river and about 50 metres from it. A longhouse consists of a row of individual family rooms. There were about 15 families and 15 rooms in our longhouse. Running the complete length of the longhouse in front of the family rooms was a verandah about six feet wide. Each family room had a door onto the verandah. At one end of the longhouse the verandah widened out onto a community deck in place of a family room where various gatherings were held. At the other end and removed from the main longhouse was a balai or round house on stilts. It was the trophy house and single men’s quarters.

I sent my other three patrols off to their allotted longhouses and with my six man patrol walked into the jungle to our longhouse. When we arrived later in the day we were greeted as is usual in Borneo by a small ceremony that involved drinking tuak or rice wine. Too much of that stuff can give you a powerful hangover.

After the formalities and introductions we were made welcome and shown to our sleeping quarters in the balai. I mentioned that the balai was a trophy house. The trophies were human heads. The Dayak of Borneo had for generations been head hunters and had only in recent decades, we hoped, given up the practice. But they still kept their trophies. During World War II the Japanese treated the indigenous people in Borneo very badly and many of them fought on the side of the allies. We thought that a few of the heads looked Japanese.

They would remove the skull then smoke the head until it was preserved and shrunk to about the size of a softball. Then the teeth were sewn back in. The heads hung by their hair all over the rafters, hundreds of eyeless heads looking down upon us. There were too many to hang on the rafters so the rest were in big cane baskets hanging high on the walls. The walls were made of atap or palm leaves and in the evening the breeze would blow through and cool the balai. And set thousands of teeth chattering.

We were four Maori and two Pakeha. When we saw where we would be living the Pakeha weren’t the only ones who were white. My guys refused to stay in there. They decided to stay out in the jungle where we usually lived when we were on patrol. I wasn’t very happy about it either but we were there to live with the Dayak according to their tikanga so we had no choice. I was not a popular officer until we got used to it but we slept in there the whole time we lived in the longhouse. No-one got much sleep for the first few nights.

The people of the longhouse

Once we were settled in we joined in the routine of the longhouse and became part of the clan. The tuai rumah (rangatira) and his manang (tohunga) took us under their wing and helped us to settle in and get to know the people.

In our battalion area there were a lot of Christian longhouses of various types. None of the four longhouses in my platoon area had converted and they were all described as animist or pagan. Their religion was the old indigenous religion. One of the clear differences we noticed between the two was that when we arrived at a Christian longhouse the patrol leader would usually be offered the hospitality of one of the tuai rumah’s daughters. They never seemed offended when I declined their kind offers. That offer was never made in a “pagan” longhouse. Which I thought was an enlightening difference between Christians and “Pagans” in Borneo.

Apart from the trophies in the balai there were a few other things that took a bit of getting used to. They kept pigs, dogs and chickens as they traditionally did all over South East Asia, Melanesia and Polynesia. The chickens were eaten but the pigs and dogs weren’t. The dogs were actually sacred animals and were never laughed at or mistreated in any way. It took us a while to work out the role of the pigs but we cottoned on. There were no toilets at all. When you wanted a tutae you went out behind the longhouse and after you’d finished the pigs and dogs would have a kai and clean up after you. Very practical and hygienic.

The day would start with a small meal and then everyone would go about their daily duties. Some of the women would sweep and clean the rooms and the verandah, and clean up around the outside of the longhouse, and some would go out gathering food. The men would also gather food and might go hunting once or twice a week. That only took up a few hours each day for the jungle is rich in foodstuffs. The rest of the day might be spent in conviviality or maintaining the longhouse by repairing walls and thatched roofs. Late afternoon we would all head down to the river and bathe before dinner. In the evenings we would all gather on the verandah to eat followed by talking, singing, story-telling and dancing.

We were there as a guard platoon so we would also go out on patrol most days for an hour or two. After we got to know and trust our hosts some of them would come with us as our eyes and ears. It was their territory and they knew it intimately. After a while we realised that we didn’t need to patrol because they knew when anything moved in their territory and they would let us know if strangers were coming.

Gathering food was the main activity during the day. The two staples in their diet were the tapioca root and sago starch from the sago palm. They were not processed into the small balls like frogs eggs that we buy in the supermarket. Tapioca is also known as cassava, yuca and manioc. It was the only crop that they grew. The root had a purple skin and when they boiled the root for a meal it ended up like a purple slimy jelly that was difficult to eat with your fingers. It was nutritious and a source of energy. For a few days while we were there we helped them clear a patch of jungle and prepare the ground for planting tapioca. It was probably the hardest work we did while we were there but it wasn’t too hard.

The sago palm grows wild and about once a week the men would go into the jungle, cut one down and bring it back to the longhouse. The trunk was then split and we scraped out the white pith. It was generally used as a type of flour. Apart from the two staples we ate just about anything that moved including monkeys, snakes, bats and fish. Red ants were a delicacy. We would hold a flaming torch under the ants nest in a tree and catch them in a big banana leaf as they fell out. They would be fried as a crunchy treat for the children and for curious soldiers. But the real delicacy was the juvenile larva that looked like small white huhu. They would be picked off the leaf and eaten straight away.

We ate the bananas of course. The women would gather a variety of fruits and berries from the jungle. Our favourite vegetable was kangkong which is a cross between a spinach and water cress that grows near swamps and creeks. When we were on patrol in Borneo we carried our food with us in 24 hour ration packs. It got boring and there was no fresh food so we would always stop to pick kangkong when we came across it.

One time we were talked into going on a big hunt. The Dayak men were armed with blowpipes and old shotguns and they wanted us to take our military rifles and the Bren light machine gun, especially the machine gun. Mostly they wanted to see our weapons in action but they thought we might be able to shoot more game than they could with their shotguns. We all headed for the top of a valley and all the young people from the longhouse started down in the valley and drove the game up to us. We shot a few monkeys and when a bear appeared they insisted that we shoot it with the machine gun, so we did. That was the highlight of their hunt. The next night they boiled up that bear and the whole longhouse had a feast. It was really tough but they seemed to enjoy it.

One of my guys had done a cooking course. He had brought a supply of flour and a steel ammunition box with him. He made an oven out of the box. His first loaf of bread was greeted with amazement. Not just by the Dayaks.

The evenings were enjoyable. The Dayak had two main dances. One was performed by the adult men and it was a fighting dance with their parangs. The parang is a long steel jungle knife very useful for chopping in the jungle and also a lethal weapon. The dance was elaborate and choreographed a fight with the parang. As a dance it was ceremonial but was also used to instruct in the techniques of parang fighting. We learnt how to do it but nowhere near as proficient as the Dayak. The women’s dance was the bilangi and it was a bird dance modelled on some long extinct big eagle. It involved quite an intricate dance step and the women were amazed that I could do it straight away. It was the same as one of the steps we used to do at the local rock and roll dances when I was a teenager!

The music was provided by a set of brass gongs hung from a long branch. They ranged from the big one almost as tall as a man down to the small one about 12 inches across. In full performance they could be heard in neighbouring longhouses. The gongs were part of all ceremony, ritual and celebration. The drinking of copious quantities of tuak was also part of ceremony, ritual and celebration.

The first ceremony we participated in was the one in which I was granted the status of tuai rumah to sit alongside their tuai rumah. They were probably just flattering me but the ceremony was real. My group sat on one side of the verandah facing the adult males on the other side. The gongs were gonging and the Dayak people were chanting. A live chicken was brought onto the verandah and waved over my head then it was killed and prepared straight away to be cooked. All the while we were served tuak. The drinking went on while the chicken was cooked and while we ate it. During the ceremony they decked me out in a headdress with feathers and with a few other items including a sash I had seen the tuai rumah wearing.

A few years later I read an account of a ceremony in Vietnam, 1000 kilometres away, that was exactly the same ceremony. An Australian Army officer was raising and training an army of Montagnard hill tribesmen to fight against the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese. He was working with the Rhade people who lived in longhouses and his induction ceremony was exactly the same as mine. The two groups of indigenous people were separated by 1000 km and a perhaps a thousand years of separate evolution but had retained exactly the same ceremonies.

The next ceremony of note was a marriage ceremony. Ours. I mentioned that the so called “Pagan” Dayaks did not offer their daughters as hospitality. But they did have their eyes on us.

This evening we were lined up sitting on one side of the verandah, the six of us, and the tuai rumah sat the seven young marriageable women in the longhouse on the other side of the verandah facing us. The ceremony proceeded with the gongs gonging and the young women serving us our food and tuak. Then the tuai rumah sprung his surprise. We were being married and we had to choose a wife each! Quick thinking Ross. So I said there were six of us and seven of them and one would be left out and we couldn’t offend her so thank you very much but no thank you. The old guy just laughed and said you’re now a tuai rumah, you choose two for yourself.

A couple of my guys seemed quite willing to comply but I managed to get us out of that predicament without offending the young women or the rest of the longhouse.

This whole ceremony was not really about us. In stationary or nomadic hunter gatherer groups there is always a need to refresh the gene pool to prevent inbreeding. To do that the young women would be exchanged with women from other groups in arranged pairings. We presented an opportunity for our young women to be partnered without leaving their longhouse. I don’t think any of my guys later took advantage of the offer but you never can tell. I can guarantee that I didn’t. True e hoa ma, true.

The author right rear with two patrol members, Norm Smith and Bruce Purdom, and our volunteer interpreter, Tuai Rumah front right, Manang front left, and six of the seven young ladies

While patrolling in Borneo we always carried our medical kit and at the longhouses we visited our platoon medic would treat any minor ailments and wounds. It was a popular service. Any serious cases we came across would get sent out by helicopter, or vehicle if there was a road nearby. We provided the same service at our longhouse.

One night a midwife sent for me. I woke up and went to one of the rooms where there was a woman in labour. She was in difficulty and the midwives couldn’t help. So I sent for my medic in the balai and for my radio set. We radioed back to battalion headquarters and had the doctor woken and brought to the radio. The medic described what was happening and the doctor proceeded to diagnose what it was over the radio and to explain the history and frequency of the condition. The woman was in severe muscular spasm around the birth canal and the baby was prevented from birthing. Basically the medic had to massage in exactly the right places until the spasms stopped, and the midwives had to help by encouraging the mother to relax and reassuring her that all would be well. We had the doctor on the radio for about two hours and in the end it was a successful birth. The midwives were amazed. Such is the life of a soldier.

We lived in the longhouse for a few weeks and when the time came to leave it was quite sad. We had grown to like each other. I asked the battalion commander to send in a 44-gallon drum of kerosene and a hand pump to fuel their lamps and stoves for a few months. It was winched in by helicopter and was much appreciated.

We left a short while later after a ceremony of farewell. As we were leaving the tuai rumah approached me with an offer. He wanted to buy one of my soldiers. He was a tall, young, blonde and handsome Ngai Tahu and the longhouse wanted to keep him to breed from. Tuai rumah offered me 100 ringgit or Malaysian dollars. I accepted and sold him. I don’t know why but Mac would have none of it and insisted that I give back the money. He came out with us. To this day I still give him heaps about reneging on my deal.

Some of the longhouse people came with us for a few hours until we reached the road head where we were picked up by truck. The seven young women were among them. Our packs and weapons were carried all the way for us and the parting was genuinely sad. We went back to our regular operations and got on with our patrolling duties and never went back to our longhouse.

Just over six months later we were in another war in another country; Vietnam.

Borneo and our stay in the longhouse was the highlight of my 20 year military career. I was just 22 years old at the time. Many years later as I hear Maori pontificating wisely on traditional life before settlement and colonisation I smile and remember my real experience living the hunter gatherer life as it really was.

The Evolution of Pakeha Culture

And the Deep Fusion of European and Maori Cultures that has become the Contemporary Maori Worldview

This is a companion piece to “Mai i Hawaiki ki Hawaiki – the Evolution of Maori Culture”. It revisits some aspects of that previous essay.

It is impossible to fully understand the contemporary Maori worldview without an understanding of the evolution of European culture, for the two cultures are now completely interwoven. What we now regard as the contemporary Maori worldview is actually a deep fusion of Maori and European cultures. Our ancestors of three hundred years ago would not recognize what we now understand to be the Maori worldview and Maori culture.

To understand ourselves we need to understand both sides of that fusion of worldviews and cultures.

That is a bold and confronting statement perhaps to those who live and breathe their Maori culture. But one has only to reflect on our almost universal conversion to Christianity and the seamless incorporation of Christian ritual into much Maori ritual, and vice versa, to comprehend the extent of the merging of cultures. And that is only one element of the European worldview that has been adopted, adapted and blended. There are many more. However there remains still a significant cultural gap between Maori and Pakeha indicating that Maori have done most of the adoption and adaptation, and Pakeha culture has not moved much at all.

The history of the Western worldview and culture is often told through the history of ideas, or the history of Western philosophy. I first came to that history through Bertrand Russell’s “History of Western Philosophy”. However for the purposes of this essay I am wielding a much broader brush and looking at the history of the evolving Western worldview, leaving aside the thinking of the many European philosophers who between them created that worldview.

I paint this broad picture through the works of many writers of both fiction and non-fiction. The first is novelist Daniel Quinn who describes himself as a cultural critic and his philosophy as new tribalism. He began trying to describe his philosophy in non-fiction but found it easier to describe and teach through fiction.

Daniel Quinn in his series of novels about culture and worldviews, describes a culture as a people enacting a story. A story is a scenario interrelating man, the world, and the gods, and to enact a story is to live so as to make the story a reality.

(“Ishmael, An adventure of the mind and spirit”, Bantam, New York, 1992, p 41).

The story usually describes the act of creation and builds the model of the universe according to each culture.

Every story is based on a premise, is the working out of a premise. For instance, Quinn describes the premise of the tribalised hunter gatherer world prior to the agricultural revolution 10,000 years ago as man belongs to the world. The premise of the new story, and of the culture that has since overrun most of the globe, is that the world belongs to man.

These are two fundamentally different premises.

  • The first, “man belongs to the world”, shaped human cultures for at least 3,000,000 years beginning with the appearance of Homo habilis, the first humans, during which time humans lived lightly upon the Earth. The Polynesians, including Maori, lived mostly but not entirely according to that premise right up until being colonized by the Europeans.
  • The second, “the world belongs to man”, has led to the exploitation of the Earth.
  • They are the master ideas that determined the fate of humankind, of other species and of the Earth, and not just the fate of the human cultures based upon them.

The way that culture is continuously inculcated in its members is described by Quinn:

“Mother Culture speaks to you through the voice of your parents – who likewise have been listening to her voice from the day of their own birth. She speaks to you through cartoon characters and storybook characters and comic-book characters. She speaks to you through newscasters and schoolteachers and presidential candidates. You’ve listened to her on talk shows. You’ve heard her in popular songs, advertising jingles, lectures, political speeches, sermons and jokes. You’ve read her thoughts in newspaper articles, textbooks, and comic strips.”

(“My Ishmael, A Sequel”, Bantam, New York, 1997, PP 27-28).

A worldview, and the culture it produces is based on a set of continuously reinforced ideas. The ideas are not immutable laws of nature, but human constructs that shape the way humans live within their culture. For instance the widely accepted concept of the market economy that prevails across the world today is based not in some immutable truth, but in a set of beliefs that are part of a worldview:

“All cultures have a set of beliefs or organizing principles that serve not only to guide behaviour but also to explain and justify the existing state of the world. Western cultural beliefs, in particular, serve to justify the peculiar material relationship that has evolved among the members of our society and between humans and the rest of the world. Our culture sees class divisions as inevitable, even desirable, and views nature as a collection of natural resources to be used to fuel the engine of economic growth and technological progress.”

(John Gowdy (Ed), “Limited Wants, Unlimited Means: A reader on Hunter-Gather economics and the environment”, Island Press, Washington, 1998, p xvi).

In “The Last Hours of Sunlight” (Bantam, NSW, 1999. p 100), Thom Hartmann writes of the need for transformation of personal and global worldviews from an ecological perspective. He has this to say about the stories that are the myths, paradigms and beliefs of a culture, that form the reality of that culture:

“Since so much of what we call reality is subjective, there are no right or wrong stories; instead there are useful and not useful stories, depending on what culture you belong to, and depending on your status in your culture. Depending on your relationship to the natural world and your vision of the future.”

The point is that what is held to be valid or true in one culture is not necessarily so in another culture or in any other culture (although there may be a few universal “truths”).

“A worldview is a set of presuppositions which we hold about the basic make-up of our world “.

– James Sire, “The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalogue”

“A rough and ready definition for ‘worldview’ would be the collection of beliefs which a person holds about reality, whether it concerns matters of science, human nature, ethics, religious beliefs or the like. Many of the deepest and most long-lived conflicts among humans derive from fundamental worldview schisms. We find many splits in our own country over questions of race, of ‘rights’, and of politics—all of which derive from the variety of worldviews among us. “

– Jason Waymire, “The Burden of Proof”

Even within a dominant worldview there are competing and sometimes opposing aspects of that worldview.

The clash of the Maori and European worldviews pre-dates the colonisation of Aotearoa New Zealand. It has its roots in the rise of a 10,000 year old worldview that is said to have arisen in the “agricultural revolution” in the Fertile Crescent of Mesopotamia in the Middle East about 12,000 to 10,000 years ago. It may well be that the agricultural revolution occurred in many locations, and was not just confined to the Fertile Crescent. However from that time onwards the post-agricultural worldview has sought to eliminate and supplant tribal and hunter gatherer worldviews. The Biblical story of Cain and Abel is thought by some modern scholars to be about that conflict between agricultural and pre-agricultural cultures in the time of the birth of the new civilisation. Cain was a crop farmer and his younger brother Abel a shepherd.

It is however somewhat misleading to describe the newer worldview as being born in the agricultural revolution, for not all agriculuralists adopted that particular worldview, which seeks to dominate nature. It was a particular form of agriculture that Quinn describes as totalitarian agriculture. Totalitarian agriculture destroys its competitors (other human societies and other species), destroys their food, and denies them access to food.

(Daniel Quinn, “The Story of B”, Bantam, New York, 1996, pp153-154).

The Maori worldview, at the point of contact with European colonisation, was part of the broad culture that prevailed across the world prior to the rise of the post-agricultural worldview. The prior worldview has not been entirely eliminated and lives on in the remaining tribal and hunter gatherer societies of the world. Everywhere, those societies are under pressure and threat of extinction by the dominant worldview. Many of the beliefs of that prior worldview also remain in those tribal cultures that have been overrun and supplanted, but still struggle for legitimacy.

The European worldview at the time of first contact with Maori had for about 12,000 to 10,000 years left behind that ancient worldview, the one it used to share with the ancestors of the Oceanic, Polynesian and Maori peoples.

Thom Hartmann describes the two as Older and Younger Cultures:

“The Old Cultures, be they agricultural or hunting/gathering, live with an intrinsic connection to the Earth. For them, the planet on which we live is, itself, a living organism. It has its own life, its own destiny, and, in a way that they Younger Cultures could never understand, its own consciousness. Things that run counter to the Earth’s nature will (naturally) not work in the long run – although the damage may be too slow to be noticeable on the Younger Culture time scale.”

“The Younger Cultures live quite different lives: they view themselves as separate from the Earth, with “dominion” over it, and see the resources of the Earth only as things to be used and then discarded. Nature is the enemy, not the mother, father, or brother/sister of these Younger peoples, and their disregard for it is so visceral, so intrinsic to their world-view, that many live their entire lives without ever once questioning their own cultural assumptions about Man’s place in the universe.”

(“The Prophet’s Way”, Mythical Books, VermontUSA, 1997, pp 205-206)

Where Hartmann writes of Older Cultures and Younger Cultures, in his novels on the same theme Daniel Quinn refers to the Takers and the Leavers.

“Yes, okay. The premise of the Taker story is the world belongs to man. I thought for a couple of minutes, then I laughed. It’s almost too neat. The premise of the Leaver story is man belongs to the world.

(“Ishmael, An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit”, Bantam, New York, 1992, p 239).

The extension of this Taker premise is that the world was made for man, and man was made to rule it, and in order to make himself ruler of the world, man first had to conquer it.

10,000 years ago this fundamental change in the premise underlying the dominant culture and its worldview overturned a culture and worldview that had served Homo sapiens and its predecessors successfully for 3,000,000 years.


In the last 10,000 years of the 3,000,000 year history of humankind and its ancestors (just 0.33% of our time on Earth), huge changes have been brought about worldwide, all as a result of a simple premise, or master idea that spread and eliminated another premise, thousands of other human cultures, and thousands of other species. The result has not been entirely beneficial for the world, or for humankind.

“The view of human nature embedded in Western economic theory is an anomaly in human history. In fact, the basic organizing principle of our market economy – that humans are driven by greed and that more is always better than less – is a microscopically small minority view among the tens of thousands of cultures that have existed since Homo sapiens emerged some 200,000 years ago.” (Gowdy,1998).

That is not to say that the newer worldview has been entirely bad for humanity. It has brought with it a great many benefits but also much devastation. But the past cannot be undone.

Leadership of the new worldview in the Western world eventually shifted to Greece. Polish philosopher Henryk Skolimowski describes the development of the Western mind from that point to the present

(“Participatory Mind: A New Theory of Knowledge of the Universe”, New York, Penguin/Arkana, 1994).

The Western Mind

Skolimowski describes the development of the Western mind as “the four great cycles of the Western mind” (Mythos, Logos, Theos, and Mechanos) and then describes the emerging transition to a new Western worldview as Evolutionary Telos.


The Western mind has its beginnings in the ancient Greek worldview of Homeric times, about the eighth century BC, based on a view of the cosmos dominated by the gods from their abode on Mount Olympus. The Greeks recognised that humans can be masters of their own destiny up to a point, and beyond that everything was governed by the gods of their mythology. The Greek tragedies were a dramatic representation of how people saw their frail condition. Mythos worked well for a number of centuries.


Around the transition from the sixth to the fifth century BC Logos was born in Greece, as a radically new form of understanding, giving rise to new forms of art, philosophy, science, and social and political institutions. A new cosmology was created within which things were explained by the natural powers of reason. The gods on MountOlympus no longer held sway. This was the time of Aristotle, Plato, Socrates and other Greek scholars. The Romans adopted Logos from the Greeks and incorporated it within their own culture, and the Roman Empire operating within a fusion of the Greek logos and Roman power, dominated the known world and carried the worldview to the world at large, until it collapsed in 410 AD.

Theos (Christianity)

Out of the ruins of the Roman Empire a new worldview emerged, and consolidated itself over a period of about four centuries. It was fostered in small monasteries throughout Western Europe, with those in Ireland taking a leading role. The new form of reason spread across Western Europe from the eleventh century. The reasoning of Theos was inspired and guided by the monotheistic Judaeo-Christian God and emphasised the transient nature of physical reality and earthly existence. It was an hierarchical world in which the individual submitted to the preordained plan of God (and his earthly messengers). It was an enormously creative period exemplified by the Gregorian chant and Chartres cathedral. Theos began to disintegrate as the Church grew in power and became corrupt.

The Renaissance was an interlude between Theos and Mechanos, a period of exuberance and liberation from the strictures of Theos, in which painters and other artists flourished. It did not however mature into a cosmology and worldview, and was merely a transition.

Mechanos (including the scientific and industrial revolutions)

A new worldview came into being in the sixteenth and seventeenth century, based on the view of the universe as a clock-like entity or a machine, operating according to deterministic laws. To know these laws is to understand nature, and to be able to control it. It was shaped by figures such as Galileo, Bacon, Newton and Descartes. Mechanos saw the rise of the reductionist scientific method in which only “objective” information is considered valid. It also introduced dualism, the separation of mind and body. Many of the architects of Mechanos were also atheists, although many also maintained their Christian beliefs and reached an accommodation between the two opposing worldviews. That accommodation persists into the present. The mechanistic cosmology has brought about enormous material benefits at least to the Western world and lately to the Asian world; but has equally brought ecological devastation, human fragmentation and spiritual impoverishment. Its guardian is the university, and it reigns still, despite the evidence pointing to the need for a new worldview.

“The paradigm that is now receding has dominated our culture for several hundred years, during which it has shaped our modern Western society and has significantly influenced the rest of the world. This paradigm consists of a number of entrenched ideas and values, among them the view of the universe as a mechanical system composed of elementary building blocks, the view of the human body as a machine, the view of life in society as a competitive struggle for existence, the belief in unlimited material progress to be achieved through economic and technological growth, and – last, but not least – the belief that a society in which the female is everywhere subsumed under the male is one that follows a basic law of nature. All of these assumptions have been fatefully challenged by recent events.”

(Capra, Fritjof, “The Web of Life”, HarperCollins, London, 1996, pp 5-6)

Evolutionary Telos

“There is nothing static in our universe. Seen appropriately, the universe is one continuous story of extraordinary creative unfolding.”

“To begin with, the discovery of evolution does not start with Darwin, but with Charles Lyell. Lyell saw and described the geological evolution in his seminal treatise Principles of Geology (1830-33). By the time Darwin came onto the stage, the ground was prepared. Darwin applied Lyell’s idea a step further and showed that species were evolving as well.”

The next two stages of this discovery are happening under our very eyes. We are actually articulating them, sometimes consciously sometimes only gropingly. These next two stages of evolution are the recognition of conceptual evolution, and then of theological evolution (the latter, because of the nature of traditional religions, is the most difficult for people to accept).”

(Skolimowski, Henryk, “A Sacred Place to Dwell”, Element, Dorset UK, 1993, pp 52-53).

After three centuries Mechanos is now evolving into something else, although its adherents still cling to their outdated beliefs. Work on a new cosmology and a new worldview has been going on in many fields for at least five decades, in physics, ecological science, environmental science, biology, theology, and many other disciplines. The central theme of this new worldview is the idea of wholeness, in a radical departure from the old mechanistic objectivist approach of Mechanos, and its main premise of fragmentation and separation. There is a new sense of the connectedness of all elements of the universe, a new sense of depth to the human person, and a reclaiming of meaning and spirituality as indispensable components of human life. The universe itself is seen as open and non-deterministic and evolving, as opposed to the outdated Newtonian design in which everything was static and governed by deterministic laws.

In contemporary discourse the debates about environmental issues and about climate change, that become fierce and largely irrational when transported from the scientific domain into the political domain, can be seen as part of the struggle between an outdated but entrenched worldview and a new and inevitable but still evolving worldview. These are not just political and activist issues. They are symptomatic of a seismic shift in worldviews. The neo-liberal economic orthodoxy of the last 30 years will eventually be replaced as part of that shift as well. But old worldviews die hard.

One of the earliest writers to document this transition to a new worldview was Marilyn Ferguson:

“A leaderless but powerful network is working to bring about a radical change in the United States. Its members have broken with certain key elements of Western thought, and they may even have broken continuity with history.

“This network is the Aquarian Conspiracy. It is a conspiracy without a political doctrine. Without a manifesto. With conspirators who seek power only to disperse it, and whose strategies are pragmatic, even scientific, but whose perspective sounds so mystical that they hesitate to discus it. Activists asking different kinds of questions, challenging the establishment from within.

Broader than reform, deeper than revolution, this benign conspiracy for a new human agenda has triggered the most rapid cultural realignment in history. The great shuddering, irrevocable shift overtaking us is not a new political, religious, or philosophical system. It is a new mind – the ascendance of a startling worldview that gathers into its framework breakthrough science and insights from earliest recorded thought.”

(“The Aquarian Conspiracy”, Routledge & Keegan Paul, Great Britain, 1981).

Ferguson touches here on the enormity of the mindshift that takes place during these periods of transition between worldviews, so profound and all-encompassing that those engrossed in their own disciplines and fields of expertise, and in their own political paradigms within the current worldview rarely discern the changes taking place around them. When the new worldview does impinge upon their lives they see it as threatening and dangerous and react accordingly.

Physicist Fritjof Capra has also been writing about the changing worldview for some years:

“The new paradigm may be called a holistic worldview, seeing the world as an integrated whole rather than a dissociated collection of parts. It may also be called an ecological view, if the term ‘ecological’ is used in a much broader and deeper sense than usual. Deep ecological awareness recognises the fundamental interdependence of all phenomena and the fact that, as individuals and societies, we are all embedded in (and ultimately dependent on) the cyclical processes of nature.”

(Capra, 1996, p 6).

This emerging worldview bears some similarity to the pre-agricultural worldview including the pre-colonial Oceanic, Polynesian and Maori worldview.

The Maori Worldview

 “Kotahi tonu te wairua o nga mea katoa”

Writing this essay led me to ask myself just what is the Maori worldview in the 21st Century. It is a question I will explore in a future essay. But for the moment let’s assume that there is a definable Maori worldview and explore some of the influences that have shaped it to this point in our evolution.

Unlike the Western mind, the Maori mind has not undergone the same shifts across the same quite revolutionary 10,000 to 12,000 year period, and Maori culture from the pre-colonial era has to some extent persisted into the modern era. It has however been hugely influenced by contact and fusion with Western culture, across the last 250 to 300 years, giving rise to the contemporary Maori worldview that is actually a deep fusion of both Maori and European cultures.

Whilst we retain beliefs, practices and ways of thinking that are recognisably Maori, our modern beliefs, practices and ways of thinking also have deep roots in the four great cycles of the Western mind; Mythos, Logos, Theos and Mechanos.

The pre-colonial Maori worldview was part of a wider worldview that spans indigenous Oceania, that itself had its genesis in the pre-agricultural worldview shared by all tribal and hunter gatherer societies on Earth, from the beginning of human society. Many of the underlying practices of that human worldview can also be seen in the whole of the web of life on Earth, both human and non-human. We do after all share a great part of our evolutionary history with all life on Earth and with the Earth itself (see Mai i Hawaiki ki Hawaiki).

Despite coming under long-term assault by the Western worldview, the underlying symbolism, psyche and values of the Maori worldview remain to some extent. At the visible level the practice of Maoritanga has endured, although aspects such as te reo Maori have come under threat from the Western worldview. Aspects of tikanga Maori and te kawa o te marae have persisted.

Composite worldviews have been generated by contact with the other worldview, and by constant pressure on Maori to discard the Maori worldview in favour of the Western.

Maori were greatly influenced during early contact by Western technology and trading practices, and by the new agriculture, introducing new concepts of economic activity which were rapidly adopted. Later, Maori social organisation was greatly affected by the destruction of the Maori economic base. Cultural adaptation to the new social and economic environments followed. Maori art forms have retained and evolved ancient symbolism but have been influenced and transformed by new symbolism, tools, materials and techniques borrowed from European art forms. Maori music has been greatly influenced by European music, and by American music forms orginating in Africa.

The early ethnologists interpreted the Maori worldview in ways they could understand, and in doing so changed even Maori perceptions of their own worldview, over time. An early example is the comparison of the supernatural ancestors of the Maori with the Olympian gods of the Greek period of Mythos, leading to the perception of those supernatural ancestors as “gods” rather than ancestors, and to the modern Maori teaching of “Atuatanga”. Another is the amalgamation of many tribal origin stories into a single but mythical story of a “great fleet” of waka that brought Maori settlers to Aotearoa New Zealand. These and many other early misinterpretations persist today in the Maori mind.

An early and immensely strong influence on the Maori mind was Christianity. It has been perhaps the major influence in creating the fusion of Western and Maori worldviews we now understand to be Maori culture. However despite its widespread adoption and influence, Christianity itself has been adapted to conform to many aspects of the Maori worldview amongst Maori congregations, and takes its place alongside and interwoven with traditional Maori ritual, notably on the marae and at tangihanga. The late Dominican priest and scholar Michael Shirres researched and wrote about this process of “inculturation” in Aotearoa New Zealand.

In the process of adopting and adapting the new Christian religion the old Polynesian religion was almost completely discarded. We tend to discount the enormous effect Christianity has had in transforming our Maori worldview but religion is one of the foundations of culture. When you change the religion the culture and worldview is irrevocably changed as well. We have indeed retained many aspects of the pre-Christian Maori worldview, values, symbolism and psyche but they sit upon and are fused into the underlying Middle Eastern and Western religious base that is Christianity.

Mechanos which brought us the scientific, industrial and technological revolutions has been as influential in shaping the contemporary Maori worldview as Christianity (or Theos). Maori today live as much within the scientific, industrial and technological worldview as Pakeha. We are all now homo smartphone.

As the Church is the guardian of the religious foundation of the Western worldview, in the secular world the universities are its guardians. The universities in New Zealand have reinterpreted the Maori worldview from within the bastions of the Western worldview and have themselves caused a radical transformation of the Maori worldview, The Church and the universities, the sacred and the profane, not working together but together working towards a similar outcome – transformation..

The influence of anthropologists in the universities, especially Auckland University was crucial in the development of this reinterpreted university Maori worldview. In the 1920s there were George Pitt-Rivers, Felix Keesing, Peter Buck, Apirana Ngata, and Raymond Firth. From the 1950s there was Ralph Piddington at AucklandUniversity and the Beagleholes at VictoriaUniversity.

(See Steven Webster, “Patrons of Maori Culture”, University of Otago Press, 1998, pp 125-127, 157-163).

Essentially they and a complete generation of their Maori and Pakeha students grafted the visible elements of the Maori worldview onto the submerged elements of the Western worldview, making the Maori mind intelligible to the Western mind. Scholarly works and teaching at universities and schools have embedded this re-interpretation of the Maori mind into Maori culture itself, so much so that it is now espoused and taught by Maori to Maori.

One outcome of a long period of ethnological and anthropological reinterpretation both inside and outside the university is the emergence of an ideology, a romantic and nostalgic version of Maoritanga that has taken hold in the universities, and in the Maori mind in general. Paradoxically the ideological version of Maoritanga bears only superficial resemblance to pre-contact Maori culture, and little resemblance to the lives lived by almost all Maori today.

The Church seeks to mould and transform minds to the service of a worldview. Schooling and tertiary education systems have a similar purpose; after all the concept of schooling before it became a universal concept had its roots in the Church. They seek to transform the minds of children, and the stories they believe, into a more advanced form of the prevailing worldview.

There have been many more factors in the transformation of the Maori worldview.

The Western worldview is now the dominant worldview in Aotearoa New Zealand and Maori live within it. However as it gradually evolves from what Skolimowski described as Mechanos to his new Evolutionary Telos the Western worldview seems to be reclaiming some of the pre-agricultural worldview, including some aspects of the pre-colonial Maori worldview. Only time will tell. A prevailing worldview has cultural, philosophical, social, ethnic, religious, political, and economic dimensions and change occurs in all dimensions in different ways and at different rates as worldviews evolve. Those changes are fiercely resisted every step of the way. The final result is impossible to predict.

In time perhaps, as Aotearoa New Zealand moves towards a bicultural or multicultural society, the manifestation of the new worldview or Evolutionary Telos in Aotearoa will become infused with compatible elements of Maori culture, as Maori culture has become infused with elements of Western culture. Perhaps the two will move towards each other, and towards a distinctively bicultural Aotearoa worldview. Perhaps not. Evolution has a habit of doing its own thing in its own time in its own way. Only time will tell. Perhaps the coming Asian millennium will take the evolution of worldviews in an entirely different direction. Whatever the direction it will almost certainly encompass the many new discoveries and the new knowledge of our age, unless religious fundamentalism prevails across the globe and takes us backwards into a new Dark Age, a new Theos.

But we must be optimistic and look forward to a new and exciting dawn; ki te whaiao, ki te ao marama. I have a suspicion that this transition into a new worldview is, and is going to be, more threatening to Pakeha than it is to Maori for we Maori have been in a state of cultural transition and upheaval for 300 years already.

Cosmologist Brian Swimme and cultural historian Thomas Berry describe the new scientific story of the cosmos and evolution of the Earth in terms that illustrate an underlying compatibility that may underpin and lead to whatever new worldview does emerge:

“Through this story we learn that we have a common genetic line of development. Every living being of Earth is cousin to every other living being. Even beyond the realm of the living we have a common origin in the primordial Flaring Forth of the energies from which the universe in all its aspects is derived.”

(“The Universe Story From the Primordial Flaring Forth to the Ecozoic Era, A Celebration of the Unfolding of the Cosmos”, Penguin, London, 1992, p 5).


The symbol of this new evolving worldview is the image of Gaia, representing the hypothesis of the living Earth co-developed by scientist James Lovelock and microbiologist Lynn Margulis in the 1970s.

Wairarapa tohunga Nepia Pohuhu said much the same thing in the 1860s during one of the last of the traditional whare wananga when he passed on the ancient Maori teaching, and the master idea or premise of an ancient global worldview:

“Kotahi tonu te wairua o nga mea katoa”.

Maori Policy: Whanau, Hapu, Iwi Mythology

Maori policy is based largely on ideology rather than evidence, and that ideology is often pure mythology. The whanau-hapu-iwi construct and the way it is promoted in policy is pure myth..

The Basis of Some of the Mythology

There is a great deal of confusion surrounding the early history of Maori in Aotearoa. Much of it stems from historical accounts written by Pakeha in the late 19th and early 20th century. Many of these early “experts” were poorly educated men who set themselves up as experts and became authoritative sources. All of them set out to situate Maori history and Maori culture within simple fixed frameworks that would make complex migration and settlement history easily understood, and complex relationships between groups simple. It is doubtful that they themselves ever fully understood the reality of Maori before European settlement, and not much more post settlement.

What they did do was collect a great deal of still valuable oral history including whakapapa and stories of the ancestors and they recorded it in writing. They also had access to written accounts by Maori, which they translated and recorded. Most often however they applied their own interpretations to that information and constructed their version of our history and their version of our social, economic and political lives. The big picture they constructed was often wrong, but the detail they collected remains a valuable resource.

The early ethnologists sought to discover and promote a Grand Design within which they might conveniently posit all of Maoridom and all of our history. As part of this grand design they collected volumes of whakapapa hoping to create a single forty or fifty generational whakapapa for all Maori everywhere linking us all back to our single origin. Some of them even constructed such a grand whakapapa, making alterations and interpretations where the evidence didn’t fit the grand design.

A glaring example of mythological construct is the Great Fleet of migration waka from the Pacific Islands to Aotearoa New Zealand. This myth says that the seagoing migration vessels or waka, sometimes called canoes, Aotea, Arawa, Kurahaupo, Mataatua, Tainui, Takitimu and Tokomaru, all departed and arrived together. It’s a great story but pure fiction. There were many more waka than those seven and their arrivals were spread over a long period.

Buying into the Myths

The problem for Maori is that advanced learning about our own history was confined to the Whare Wananga, houses of learning, and to those few adepts accepted into their curricula. They were usually only rangatira or chiefs and those gifted individuals destined to become tohunga or priests. As in all pre-Enlightenment societies worldwide before the introduction of mass schooling, information and education were restricted to the ruling class and to those who served to protect their power. The people relied entirely for their information on those who held the information.

Thus it was that with the demise of the power and influence of old time rangatira and tohunga, and with the rise of the missionaries and other European “experts” as the holders of knowledge, Maori themselves were introduced to the Pakeha version of our history and reality.

Once you displace the holders of one version of knowledge it is easy to impose an alternative version of knowledge. Disastrously we came to believe it. And so in my grandparents’ generation right down to my children’s generation these myths were believed and passed on. The Great Fleet is perhaps the most outstanding example that has hopefully almost been expunged from the record in the last twenty or thirty years.

Social, Economic & Political Structure

The chiefly authority of the Maori was direct, but the descent of that authority was just narrowed to the one hapu and it may even be to one whanau.”  –  Sir Apirana Ngata

A huge misconception is the whanau-hapu-iwi construct in which Maori society is perceived as a fixed hierarchy with each iwi consisting of a number of hapu and each hapu of a number of whanau. The model can be more complex when some hapu might consist of a number of smaller hapu and they in turn have a number of constituent whanau.

The early European commentators then ascribed the names tribe (iwi), sub-tribe (hapu) and family (whanau) to this neat and tidy hierarchy. Whanau could also be described as (simple or basic) whanau or extended whanau. This model of Maori social structure provides a simple and easily understood framework.

It is however too simple and does not reflect either past or present reality. The problem is that the model has become widely accepted by both Maori and Pakeha, including Maori academics and scholars. The model is used by politicians and policy makers and is one of the bedrock assumptions upon which Maori policy and Maori affairs are based. Much modern Maori policy is aimed at “iwi” with resource allocation, programme delivery and claims settlement made through a modern construct that I and others have labeled corporate iwi.

The iwi-hapu-whanau construct is just another myth. I have to acknowledge that I too have often used this model as a lazy short-cut way to describe Maori society.

The Reality

Firstly in most instances the concept of a unified iwi was and is not possible to sustain in reality. For reasons of distance, travel time (by waka or on foot), and communication, the hapu was the largest workable social, economic and political entity with up to 1000 people but usually less, most often much less. It could contain less than 100 people. The only exceptions are those iwi which were quite small and confined to a relatively small area. In the past each hapu was entirely autonomous acting within its own boundaries containing its own food and other essential resources, under its own leadership and acting in its own interests, especially in its own interests. It might or might not join forces with related and neighbouring hapu, or go to the aid or support of related hapu descended from a common eponymous ancestor. But that was never guaranteed. There often had to be something in it for them to do so.

There are no early records at all to indicate that hapu ever thought of themselves as being subordinate to an iwi in any social, economic or political sense. They would of course acknowledge common descent and regard themselves as being identified with other hapu of common descent in the sense that they were “iwi” or “bones”. But they never functioned as a corporate iwi entity in any sense at all.

The “hapu” was the “tribe”, rather than a sub-tribe. By labeling hapu as “sub-tribe” in the English language the early Pakeha ethnographers and policy makers altered forever our perception of ourselves. Hapu were autonomous “tribes”, not “sub-tribes”. Some hapu functioned as autonomous sub-tribes of other hapu – hapu matua. Clusters of hapu also functioned together in cooperation.

Hapu were formed and reformed all the time. Groups of people might split off and move away for a number of reasons including overcrowding, disputes over land and resources, personal and leadership disputes, or curiosity wanderlust and exploration. As they moved away, migrated and settled elsewhere they might at first just regard themselves as a splinter group of the old hapu and would eventually adopt a new hapu name to describe themselves. They might regard themselves as a new hapu from the very beginning.

If there were previous inhabitants in their new location they might have overcome them and absorbed them into themselves, they might have been absorbed into the other, they might merge with the others into a completely new hapu entity, or they might have co-existed as separate entities. There was no fixed process at all. In this way, as people dispersed, moved, migrated, settled and merged, hapu formation was happening all the time (generationally speaking) in a rather random fashion as circumstances dictated. Over time with strategic and non-strategic inter-marriage between unrelated groups many hapu were descended from two or more major eponymous ancestors – hapu aho rua.

On the other hand they didn’t all move away in order to redefine themselves. As hapu got larger, groups within that hapu might remain in place but name themselves after a closer eponymous ancestor, and be accepted by others as such. In so doing they would proclaim their autonomy.

This was an organic and continuous process with old hapu ceasing to exist and new hapu coming into existence throughout history, most but not all of them autonomous.

Maori society was a shifting and fluid system of contracts, alliances and power balances giving rise to that organic and continuous process. It involved territorial boundaries and the control and exclusive use of food and other resources within those boundaries. It involved agreements to share and allow access to some resources, and the exchange of foodstuffs and other goods such as stone implements. The whole system was governed by the principle of utu or reciprocity, peaceful or otherwise. Differences and disputes arose from time to time, sometimes leading to warfare which may have been an effective and conclusive solution for one side at least, but was often ineffective and inconclusive. Strategic arranged intermarriage, especially between the chiefly families, was effective as a deterrent to warfare and in peacemaking after warfare, at least for one or two generations, and was widely practised.

The protagonists in this fluid system were the chiefs, not iwi and not even hapu. These were arrangements, contracts, alliances and power balances between chiefs. The power behind the chiefs was the number of followers they were able to attract and hold through the ties of kinship, through their personal leadership qualities, through their dedication to the quality of life of their people, and their ability to provide that quality of life.

It is often said, “Ko te kai a te rangatira he korero”, but I maintain, “Ko te mahi a te rangatira he kai”.

Hungry people will find new chiefs. The better fed the people, the larger the hapu and the greater the power, influence and ability of the chief to maintain hegemony over the land and the people.

The local environment and the number of people the environment and its resources could sustain was a huge factor in the whole process, and often a constraint. It was not an entirely human process.

The need to feed the people and the fluid and shifting arrangements, contracts, alliances and power balances between chiefs largely accounted for the ebb and flow of hapu formation and dissolution, and migration and settlement, throughout the generations. That was not a fixed hierarchical society in which the iwi could function in any way, shape or form as a social, economic, corporate or political entity.

Within my own rohe identification as a distinct “iwi” did not occur until the 1830s when the musket wars and invasions by marauding bands into the rohe killed what has been estimated as half the population of Hawke’s Bay and Wairarapa, and forced most of the rest of those descended from Kahungunu to seek protection and refuge at Nukutaurua on the Mahia Peninsula. There they came under the protection of Te Wera Hauraki from Ngapuhi in the distant north. He had the muskets to provide protection in return for a grant of land for himself of course. While there they traded to obtain muskets for themselves and eventually returned to their lands.

During that period at Nukutaurua a distinct Ngati Kahungunu iwi identity across the whole rohe was forged for the first time ever. The chiefs of the different hapu at Nukutaurua formed alliances and in many instances helped each other to repel the invaders. However they were independent and autonomous chiefs acting together rather than submitting to a common entity under an overall leadership. When they returned to their respective areas they continued to act autonomously. The “iwi” didn’t happen in reality until the era of the modern corporate iwi, greatly influenced by government policies requiring that Government deal only through “mandated iwi”.

The myth of the iwi became entrenched into mainstream Pakeha and Maori thought through the theories of the early Pakeha commentators, through the compliance and ambition of some Maori leadership, and through the judges of the Native Land Court, later the Maori Land Court, seeking to simplify their own understanding. The Department of Native (later Maori) Affairs also fostered the myth by seeking to lump disparate hapu into iwi in order to deal with and sometimes exert control or influence over larger entities. The myth found fertile ground in our own ignorance and compliance.

Mythology and Policy

The whanau-hapu-iwi construct is the prevailing perception and it has been applied retrospectively to non-existent iwi entities of the past. It is a bedrock belief upon which a great deal of Maori policy has been and is being based. Regardless of that it remains a post-colonial construct, a myth.

What is happening in the present however with the emergence of corporate iwi cannot be denied and is part of the ongoing transformation of tribal structure towards something perhaps that might eventually reflect the social structure of our mostly urban and increasingly global dispersion. Or it might not. There is a great gulf between present invented tribal structure and present social reality. There are no guarantees at all in this political evolution, and it is political rather than social or cultural.

I tend to think however that this whole impetus based on the whanau-hapu-iwi construct and other mythology is leading Maori policy down a blind alley where the Maori political and business elites are the main beneficiaries. Meanwhile the rest of us 810,200 Maori in Aotearoa New Zealand and Australia know that we are beholden to the wider global and national polity and economy for the unfolding of our futures. We know that Maori policy whether based on mythology and ideology, or on real evidence, will ultimately have little or no influence on those futures. Only the elites believe. The rest of us are getting on with our lives.

And while the Maori policy paddlers keep paddling, the waka is dead in the water. Indeed, if you look at Maori social and economic statistics you could be forgiven for thinking it’s going backwards.

Mai i Hawaiki ki Hawaiki: The Evolution of Maori Culture

A long essay.
by Te Putatara

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Stated very simply culture is the narrative or story that explains where we came from, or where we think we came from, who we are, what we believe and how we live. It is expressed and transmitted in proverb, storytelling, mythology, legend, poetry, music, dance, art and religion.

Daniel Quinn, author of a series of novels about culture and worldviews, describes a culture as “a people enacting a story”. A story is “a scenario interrelating man, the world, and the gods”, and to enact a story is “to live so as to make the story a reality”. The story usually describes the act of creation and builds a model of the universe and the world according to the particular culture (1992, “Ishmael, An adventure of the mind and spirit”, Bantam, New York).

A worldview and the culture it produces is based on a set of continuously reinforced ideas; the story. The ideas are not immutable laws of nature but human constructs that shape the way humans live within their culture.

The story might persist over long periods of time but it does evolve, sometimes slowly and sometimes rapidly. This essay speaks of the evolution of our Maori story and of how over the last two hundred years there have been new storytellers and compelling new stories to describe to us who we are and where we came from.

Cultural evolution involves three central processes; adaptation, remembering and forgetting.

Cultures adapt and change over time in response to climatic change, migration and settlement in new environments, interaction with other groups or cultures, changes in the availability and types of resources especially food, technological, artistic and religious innovation, and many other factors. Culture has undergone great change throughout the history of Homo sapiens, modern human. It is important to note that all cultures continue to adapt and change over time and that none is fixed or static. What is more important though is the rate of adaptation and change.

As I depict below cultural adaptation was relatively glacial for most of the first 50,000 years of the history of humankind out of Africa. It was so slow that change was probably largely unnoticed, until the advent of the agricultural revolution about 12,000 years ago in the Middle East, China and South America, spreading then to the rest of the known world. The agricultural revolution brought with it new ways of living and being after countless millennia of hunting and gathering. It brought with it new gods and new religions. That revolution was followed by the scientific revolution of the 14th century through to the 18th century, the industrial revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries, and the technological revolution of our time.

The agricultural and scientific revolutions did not reach into the lives of the ancestors of the Polynesians though, in their journey out of what is now called Asia into and across the Pacific. Perhaps the major changes in the lives of the Polynesians were as a result of sea going wanderlust, voyaging, exploration, migration and settlement as they peopled the Pacific. Whilst the Polynesians did travel huge distances the culture probably traveled with them from island to island without undergoing radical or even significant change.

The migration from Eastern Polynesia to Aotearoa New Zealand certainly brought about much cultural adaptation as that new homeland demanded radically different ways of living, and as those in the new land became isolated from the mother culture. Despite that much of the Polynesian culture was retained and over time was adapted to the new environment. But the major and most dramatic adaptation and change occurred after the arrival of the Europeans. They brought the agricultural, scientific and industrial revolutions with them, as well as their religion and worldview. We met them head on and rapidly adapted.

Whether the adaptation is slow or rapid the culture is passed on from generation to generation to generation.

I have called this transmission of the cultural story the remembering.

The remembering is spoken from mother to child and from grandmother to grandchild. The story is told by teacher to student, by writer, poet, journalist and cartoonist, by actor, songwriter, singer, musician, performer and film maker, and by painter and sculptor. It is passed by sporting coach to player, priest to congregation, and by political and corporate public relations and advertising propagandists to a gullible public. We say that no one believes politicians any more yet like viruses their insidious messages infect the minds of hundreds of thousands and become part of the remembering. The great and powerful whether prince, priest, warrior or merchant, have always sought to implant and imprint their worldview as the dominant or only worldview.

In this modern and increasingly complex and globalised world there are many thousands of strands to the story that is now our culture. The culture has vastly expanded in content and reach and it now comprises many sub-cultures, or cultural strands within an overarching globalized culture. The progression of scientific discovery and technological innovation is having a huge effect on bringing about cultural adaptation and change faster than at any other time in history. Most of us are culturally schizophrenic, being different persons in our different situations and areas of interest; ethnicity, religion, family, career, work, politics, hobbies and so on. It wasn’t always so in ages past before the advent of printing, books, newspapers, telephone, radio, film, TV, air travel, the internet and smart phones.

It used to be that the story was told face to face, kanohi ki te kanohi, from mouth to ear, and by comparison it was a very simple story. It used to be that we all had the same skin colour and similar physical build and features, we all thought the same and we all shared the same relatively simple story. Physical, mental and spiritual conformity, or sameness, was our permanent state of being. The culture evolved ever so slowly; so slowly that change was imperceptible; unnoticeable and undetectable. Things were as they always were. Or so it seemed.

Except for the forgetting.

Consider this whakapapa of the Universe, the Earth, and life on Earth; this big history. These figures are of course approximate and subject to change as new discoveries in physics, cosmology, archaeology and palaeontology are made, and as new DNA evidence emerges. What is important is the vastness of the timescale. To put some perspective into this whakapapa it would take you 50 years to count from one to a billion if you worked at it for 10 hours a day.

We begin with the narration of the Creation, the long unfolding.

Ko Te Kore (the void, energy, nothingness, potential)
Te Kore-te-whiwhia (the void in which nothing is possessed)
Te Kore-te-rawea (the void in which nothing is felt)
Te Kore-i-ai (the void with nothing in union)
Te Kore-te-wiwia (the space without boundaries)

Na Te Kore Te Po (from the void the night)
Te Po-nui (the great night)
Te Po-roa (the long night)
Te Po-uriuri (the deep night)
Te Po-kerekere (the intense night)
Te Po-tiwhatiwha (the dark night)
Te Po-te-kitea (the night in which nothing is seen)
Te Po-tangotango (the intensely dark night)
Te Po-whawha (the night of feeling)
Te Po-namunamu-ki-taiao (the night of seeking the passage to the world)
Te Po-tahuri-atu (the night of restless turning)
Te Po-tahuri-mai-ki-taiao (the night of turning towards the revealed world)

Ki te Whai-ao (to the glimmer of dawn)
Ki te Ao-marama (to the bright light of day)
Tihei mauri-ora (there is life)

And on into the scientific narration.

  • 13.8 billion years ago Universe birthed itself.

” ….. matter, energy, time and space came into being in what is known as the Big Bang. The story of these fundamental features of our universe is called physics” (2011, Yuval Noah Harari, “Sapiens, A Brief History of Humankind“, Harvill Secker, London).

  • The universe expanded rapidly from the nothingness and after 400,000 years was ten million light years across. By then it had cooled sufficently to allow the next phase of its evolution.

“About 300,000 years after their appearance, matter and energy started to coalesce into complex structures, called atoms, which then combined into molecules. The story of atoms, molecules and their interactions is called chemistry” (2011, Yuval Noah Harari).

  • For more than 1/2 of the life of the universe there was no Earth;
  • 6 billion years ago the Earth was born;
  • 3 billion years ago life on Earth began;

“About 3.8 billion years ago, on a planet called Earth, certain molecules combined to form particularly large and intricate structures called organisms. The story of organisms is called biology” (2011, Yuval Noah Harari).

  • Then a mere 13 million years ago, after billions of years of biological evolution and after the emergence of animals, the African ancestors of the modern human and the orang hutan diverged onto separate evolutionary lines from their common ancestor.
  • A few million years after that the ancestors of modern humans and the gorilla diverged, and about 6 million years ago the ancestors of modern chimpanzee and the modern human diverged onto separate evolutionary lines from their common ancestor.

We modern humans are still members of the great ape family sharing a distant ancestry with the orang hutan, the gorilla and our nearest cousins in the ape family, the chimpanzee;

However this evolutionary history does not mean, as some mistakenly take it to mean, that we humans are descended from monkeys. What it does mean is that we humans, gorillas and chimpanzees are all descended from a common ancestor and we don’t know what that ancestor looked like. From that ancestor gorillas evolved to look like gorillas, chimpanzees evolved to look like chimpanzees, and humans evolved to look like humans about 4.5 million years ago when animals much like the modern human first appeared.

For countless generations they did not stand out from all of the other organisms that inhabited the Earth. They were not the dominant species but just one of a multitude of evolving species.

  • 4.5 million years ago the first human like species appeared (Australopithecus ramidus) followed by Australopithecus anamensis about 4.2 million years ago;
  • 3.5 million years ago both of those species were replaced by Australopithecus afarensis;
  • 2.5 million years ago Australopithecus africanus appeared;
  • 2 million years ago Homo habilus appeared, the first members of the Homo lineage. Homo habilus carried tools and stone artifacts. Human ancestors became meat eaters;
  • 1.8 million years ago Homo erectus or Homo ergaster appeared and the first exodus of humans out of Africa occurred. Homo erectus appeared in East Africa, Middle East, China and Java. They existed for about 1.5 million years before becoming extinct;
  • 900,000 years ago the early species of human, Homo erectus or Homo ergaster developed into the Archaic Homo sapiens species. Archaic Homo sapiens are the ancestors of Modern Homo sapiens. We are modern Homo sapiens. The Archaic ancestors existed for about 800,000 years and persisted alongside modern humans until about 100,000 years ago;
  • 420,000 to 840,000 years ago, the second human migration out of Africa (to Asia). All now extinct;
  • About 140,000 years ago a catastrophic event, probably related to climate change, decimated the population of modern humans or Homo sapiens, all living in Africa. The entire population reduced to just a few hundred, from whom we are all now descended.
  • 80,000 to 150,000 years ago there was a third major exodus out of Africa of species of Homo that also became extinct. It included Neanderthal Man (Homo neanderthalensis) in Europe, and Denisova Man (Homo denisova) in Asia. They persisted alongside modern humans for a short time before becoming extinct. Modern Europeans and others retain a small amount of genetic inheritance from Neanderthal Man, and modern Asians and Polynesians retain a small amount from Denisova Man, indicating a limited amount of interbreeding between the species;

“Seventy thousand years ago, Homo Sapiens was still an insignificant animal minding its own business in a corner of Africa” (2011, Yuval Noah Harari).

And then we modern humans made a momentus break from the rest of the animal kingdom.

“About 70,000 years ago, organisms belonging to the species Homo sapiens started to form even more elaborate structures called cultures. The subsequent development of these human ciultures is called history” (2011, Yuval Noah Harari).

  • The science is still not specific but somewhere between 150,000 and 70,000 years ago saw the advent of the Cognitive Revolution and the emergence of language, story-telling, music, art, mythologies, religions, legends, worldviews and cultures. At about the same time modern human first invented clothing. From that time onwards humankind began to live in a dual reality; the objective reality of the natural world and imagined realities created in the collective mind. The Cognitive Revolution signalled the emergence of the modern mind and the new realities it created. The human mind made a giant leap out of its previous mode of non-symbolic thinking into the representation of knowledge through the use of symbols.
  • We now call ourselves from this point onwards Homo sapiens sapiens, or “wise wise humans”.

The human mind marks us out still from the rest of the animal kingdom. Whilst biologically our genetic structure is still largely identical to those of the gorilla or chimpanzee our cognitive structure, that is the human mind, has evolved a great distance away from the rest of the family of great apes.

In the evolution of humankind this giant leap was not so long ago. After billions of years of biological evolution this marked the beginning of cultural evolution. It is the point where biology and history diverge. Prior to the cognitive revolution our story or pre-history is only about our biology.

Humans differ from other animals – even their closest cousins – by the richness of their culture and the importance it is accorded.

Culture enables us to accumulate prior discoveries and helps us profit from experience transmitted by our ancestors – knowledge that we would not have on our own“.

– (2001, Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza, “Genes, Peoples and Languages“, Penguin, London).

  • 50,000 to 75,000 years ago there was a dispersal of modern humans out of Africa. The people of this small migratory group, perhaps as few as 150 people, are the ancestors of all of humankind now living outside of Africa. Their siblings and cousins who remained in Africa are the ancestors of indigenous Africans. All of us on earth are cousins, descended from these people.

We Homo sapiens or modern humans were not the only humans to have inhabited the Earth, having had many cousins in the Homo genus, but they all disappeared, became extinct, and we survived to people the Earth.

  • 45,000 to 60,000 years ago modern humans arrived in Australia. They reached Asia on their way to Australia 24,000 years before any other humans (including the ancestors of the Polynesians). DNA research confirms that the Australian Aboriginal culture is probably the oldest continuous living culture on Earth;
  • 35,000 to 40,000 years ago modern humans arrived in Europe;
  • About 20,000 years ago the glaciers moved south bringing a 5000 year ice age and emptying Europe and Siberia of people. This may well have been a factor in the migrations of the ancestors of the Polynesians out of mainland Asia;
  • 12,000 years ago modern humans were well established in North America;
  • 11,000 years ago they were well established in Central and South America;
  • 12,000 years ago saw the start of the period of Agricultural Revolution in the Middle East, Asia and South America. This was a major cultural, social and economic adaptation. Over time humankind in the Middle East and Europe genetically adapted to eating wheat and other grains. This genetic adaptation did not occur in the ancestors of the Polynesians;
  • 10,000 years ago in a weird genetic mutation blue eyes appeared somewhere near the Black Sea, and today there are about 300 million blue-eyed people, and many fake-eyes wearing blue tinted contact lenses (2011, Steve Gullens and Juan Enriquez, “Homo Evolutis”, Ted Books);
  • 8,000 years ago some populations in Northern Europe, notably in present day Denmark, genetically adapted to consuming milk beyond the age of weaning. This adaptation did not occur in the ancestors of the Polynesians;
  • 5,000 years ago female ancestors of modern Polynesians moved out of mainland Asia towards South East Asia and eventually into the Pacific (some male ancestors travelled by a different route and many of them originated in the Melanesian population of a much earlier migration);
  • Between 5000 and 3000 years ago writing was invented in Mesopotamia, Egypt, China and Mexico. All writing as we know it today stems from one of those inventions. At the end of that period the Phonecian script was invented. It was the first great alphabet in human history and it was eventually borrowed and adapted for use in Aramaic, Persian, Hebrew, Arabic and Greek, and all of Europe.  The written word came to Aotearoa New Zealand less than 300 years ago.
  • 3000 years ago the ancestors arrived in Western Polynesia;
  • 2500 years ago they arrived in Eastern Polynesia;
  • 1000 to 3000 years ago saw the development over that 2000 year period of a distinctive Polynesian culture. of which Maori is a sub-culture;

For a summary of that ancient Polynesian culture refer to archaeologists Patrick Vinton Kirch & Roger C.Green, 2001, “Hawaiki, Ancestral Polynesia, An Essay in Historical Anthropology“, Cambridge University Press.

  • About 800 to 900 years ago the ancestors (much later identified by their tribal names and much later still as Maori) arrived in Aotearoa and occupied the land for about 400 or 500 years before the arrival of the first European, a very short period of time in the great sweep of human history;

The Maori colonization of New Zealand was, in a sense, the final step in a 50,000 year journey“. (2006, Nicholas Wade, “Before the Dawn, Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors“, Penguin, USA).

  • 500 years ago the Scientific Revolution or Revolutions began in Europe. First came the Copernican Revolution which overturned the notion that the Earth was the centre of the Universe, then the Darwinian Revolution which heralded our modern understanding of evolution, and then the discovery of the “unconscious” mind by Freud. Humankind discovered that “he is nothing else than evolution become conscious of itself” (Teilhard de Chardin quoting Julian Huxley).

The Scientific Revolution brought with it new narratives based on empirical observation and evidence. These narratives have ever since then been displacing the old cultural narratives based on mythology and authority.

  • 1642 (371 years ago) Abel Tasman arrived, new faces;
  • 1769 (244 years ago) James Cook arrived, new technologies and knowledge;
  • 200 years ago the Industrial Revolution began in England;
  • 1814 (199 years ago) On Christmas Day Samuel Marsden preached the first Christian service, bringing a totally new worldview to Aotearoa New Zealand;
  • 1840 (173 years ago) Treaty of Waitangi;
  • 1975 (38 years ago) Treaty of Waitangi Tribunal Act enacted.
  • 1993 (10 years ago) Homo smartphone appears.

This Big History is the mega-narrative of our cultural evolution as Maori.

“History makes little sense without prehistory, and prehistory makes little sense without biology. Knowledge of prehistory and biology is increasing rapidly, bringing into focus how humanity originated and why a species like our own exists on the planet”.

  • Evolutionary biologist and Pulitzer Prize winner E.O.Wilson, “The Meaning of Human Existence”, 2014, Liveright Publishing, New York.

The last 50,000 years of this story is about the 500,000 Maori and the 7 billion other humans on Earth, with our numerous and diverse beliefs, concerns and cultures. This story however started with the birth of the Universe. What do we now know about the Universe?

After about 13.8 billion years of evolution and expansion, the Universe has now grown to an incomprehensibly vast region of hundreds of billions of galaxies, each containing hundreds of billions of stars like our own Sun. We do not know if there is sentient life beyond Earth. We do know however that we are not the centre of the Universe as was once believed.

How much of that long journey and the greater context do we remember as part of our own story, our Maori culture? Some of you weren’t even around when the 1975 Act was passed into law, some 3 billion years after life on earth began.

On a human scale one comparison I draw from the whakapapa is absolutely humbling. In the Western Desert of Australia or in Arnhem Land an aboriginal person today can stand in an ancient dwelling place or ceremonial site, sometimes embellished with rock paintings tens of thousands of years old, knowing that her ancestors had lived there for 1500 generations, perhaps as many as 2000 generations. When I made my pilgrimage to Marae Taputapuatea on Ra’iatea I was standing where perhaps 50 to 60 generations of the ancestors stood. When I stand at any of the ancient sites of my many hapu in Aotearoa I stand in the footprints of a mere 20 to 30 generations of the ancestors.

Vast then is the forgetting compared to the remembering.

We consign that vastness of forgetting to our creation stories, our mythology, our religious beliefs and our legends; metaphors for all that we have forgotten. Those stories represent the vast forgetting that until the discoveries of science we didn’t even know we’d forgotten. We nominate Hawaiki to be the ancient homeland or homelands, and having long forgotten its location it becomes a spiritual homeland rather than an actual place, a metaphor for a forgotten place of beginning.

Roughly two hundred years ago, after contact and collision with representatives of the other world of the colonists and settlers, and with the missionaries, our cultural evolution went dramatically into overdrive. In two hundred years we have transformed ourselves and have been transformed from a disparate loosely connected collection of hunter gathering, partly horticultural, mainly autonomous hapu or tribes. We have become just a tiny part of a global agricultural, scientific, industrial, commercial, technological, material, and economically and digitally connected super culture.

For about 50,000 years after coming out of Africa the rate of change was so slow that change went unnoticed and almost all that went before was forgotten.

The last 200 years have by comparison been as a cultural tsunami of towering height. The future has come upon us as a giant unstoppable wave. It swamped the present and washed away much of the past. It sweeps us onwards into an unknowable future whereas once the future came upon us so slowly that it didn’t exist beyond the knowable tomorrow and the eternal parade of seasons. We used to say in another time that we walked backwards into the future with our eyes and minds firmly on the past, or that small part of it that we remembered.

From the time before the tsunami we remember our whakapapa, tikanga, kawa, pepeha, aoteatea and moteatea. Perhaps the most scholarly exposition of tikanga is by Professor Hirini Moko Mead (2003, “Tikanga Maori, Living by Maori Values”, Huia Publishers, Wellington). We remember also our language, Te Reo Maori, which is part of the larger family of Polynesian languages, which is itself part of the much larger Malayo-Polynesian group of languages. When the language was in danger of becoming part of the forgetting we devised ways to revive the language, for the time being at least, lest it too be washed over the abyss and into the void of the Great Forgetting.

Our understanding of that which we remember has also been transformed under the influence of Christianity, modernity and nostalgia, in ways that we rarely if ever appreciate and acknowledge. The further we ride the wave from the cultural beliefs and ways of two hundred years ago the greater the transformation in our understanding. None of us has a living parent or grandparent from the time before the tsunami to whisper the remembering as it was whispered to them. So our remembering tends to the nostalgic, a yearning for a romantic past that exists mostly in our imaginations.

That is the way of all cultures. We reshape the past to accord with our vision and explanation of the present and our dreams of the future. The collective cultural mind mimics the individual human mind, selectively remembering and conveniently forgetting.

Collectively we Maori have forgotten a great deal over the last 200 years.

We remember little of our time in Eastern Polynesia, before the migrations, and nothing before that apart from our metaphorical and mythological remembering. We can reach some way into that past through the writings of others such as Teuira Henry (1847-1915) the renowned authority on ancient Tahitian society (2004 edition, “Tahiti aux Temps Anciens”, Publications de la Societe des Oceanistes, Musee de l’Homme, Paris). Few bother. For most of us history and culture began in Aotearoa with the arrival of the migratory waka, and even that remembering has been distorted by early Pakeha pseudo scholarship into a Great Fleet and many other myths.

Having universally adopted the Christian story and practice as our own we push to the back of the mind, into the unconscious, the fact that we once had our own brand of religious story, belief, superstition and magical thinking. We retain some of the ritual from before the tsunami, often intermingled with Christian ritual, and always shorn of its deep mystical and magical foundations.

We forget that our ritual, like the ritual of many other bygone cultures across the world including that of Eastern Polynesia, involved human sacrifice. There were for instance 5000 human skulls discovered in the great stone marae of Polynesia at Taputapuatea on Ra’iatea. And that was just one of many hundreds of sacrifical marae throughout Eastern Polynesia.

We forget that we, like many other and perhaps most past and present cultures, placed a relatively low value on human life beyond our own kinship group and often within it. We forget, and become offended and agitated, when reminded that our culture condoned kaitangata (cannibalism) as both ritual and food. We brush it off and remember only that it was for ritual purposes rather than food. Recorded history says otherwise, not just for Maori culture, but for all or most cultures on earth. Infanticide, especially female infanticide, as a form of gender selection and population control is an absolutely verboten subject despite it being a worldwide practice in times past, and even in the present.

It has been said as part of the forgetting that inter-tribal warfare was an intermittent and minor activity something like a weekend rugby match. The evidence says otherwise and our own oral histories record the widespread killing and enslavement of men, women and children as a result of frequent warfare. The threat of warfare was a constant, evidenced by the construction of numerous fortified pa strongholds throughout all tribal areas.

We selectively remember that we are all descended from chiefs, and forget that Maori society was structured into social classes with ariki and rangatira at the top, supported by tohunga and the knowledge they employed in the service of chiefs. Below them and their immediate families we were tutua or commoners. Beneath them were pononga or taurekareka (slaves). Slavery was once the primary form of energy in all cultures, including our own. Such was the ubiquity of slavery that the philosopher A.C.Grayling writes that everyone on earth is probably the descendant of both slaves and slave owners (2009, “Ideas that Matter”, Orion Books, London). None of us in this modern post tsunami age willingly admit to being the issue of commoners or slaves. We prefer to cloak our commoner nakedness in the korowai of chieftainship.

We fondly believe that ours was an egalitarian society. We vehemently deny that women were often chattels. The widespread practice of gifting daughters as wives to other chiefs for political and economic reasons is transformed into make believe romantic love and matchmaking. They were enforced strategic marriages with women as the currency of diplomacy and trade. We fondly believe that children were always treasured and forget the infanticide. We believe that decision making was a consultative and consensual process and forget that many chiefs ruled by decree and that mind washing was a high art form as it is to this day.

We forget that we did not think for ourselves and were not permitted to think for ourselves, our minds moulded into a group mind by chiefs and tohunga, and their oratory, their stories and their rituals. In Eastern Polynesia the Arioi class functioned not only as priests and entertainers, but also as thought police and enforcers.

Mind control was the universal way of being in all structured societies and is still. In some places in the world today religion is still used to control the minds of whole populations, holding back the tide of progress that results from liberated minds. In recent history the world has witnessed the wholesale slaughter of the educated in some countries (i.e. in Stalin’s Russia and in Pol Pot’s Cambodia) to remove the threat of thinking. Mao banished China’s thinkers to the countryside. Modern society has developed public relations, advertising, and other forms of propaganda to achieve the same purpose.

Most Maori imagine that before the tsunami we were free thinking individuals in an egalitarian society, whereas thinking autonomously was actually the private domain only of rangatira and tohunga, including those who studied in the wananga. Attendance at that curriculum was strictly limited, for knowledge in the hands of the masses was and is a dangerous thing.

We also forget that life was short, often harsh, and sometimes brutal. And we forget much more besides.

Convenient is the great forgetting.

There is no good reason to reshape the past and to deny the reality of the pre-tsunami age. We do it to counter the widespread racism that feeds upon the negative aspects of our past judged by today’s values, and some do it out of unwarranted shame. But we shared those distant beliefs and practices with all cultures on earth at some time in their own evolution, despite their own selective remembering and convenient forgetting. Despite also the ingrained belief of our cultural partners here in Aotearoa New Zealand that theirs was a pristine culture of great goodness compared to ours. The efficacy of that Pakeha belief rests on forgetting much and remembering little. For instance, they forget that they finally abandoned human slavery at about the same time as we did.

What is the lesson we draw from this remembering and forgetting, viewed within the perspective of the vast sweep of human history. Human culture at any point in its evolution is but a fleeting moment of remembering before the great forgetting. It is a transient understanding of who we are, it is what we believe and how we live now. It is not fixed in time and does not foretell who or what we might become. Even with the enormous cultural impact of the modern institutions of memory including books, film, sound recording, libraries, museums, archives, digital storage and the World Wide Web we are still much inclined to selectively remember and conveniently forget. We are still much inclined to imagine the past as we would like it to have been. And we imagine a future just like the present, ignoring the reality that the future is an unknown foreign land on the great migratory journey of humankind through time and space.

And in a thousand years’ time what will we have remembered and what will be forgotten. Such is the speed of cultural evolution today that we cannot imagine what will be in a thousand years. What then in 200 years time, just 400 years on from the tsunami.

It is clear that the rate of cultural change will continue to increase in the future. Communication forms the basis of cultural change, and we are currently in the midst of a communications revolution“. (2001, Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza).

Our absorption into the rapidly evolving global super culture is going to increase exponentially with global connectedness and as the global economy develops. Transnational corporations are driving towards a single global market; a single global market controlled by the corporations themselves beyond the control of nations and their governments. It is already happening with the transnationals now operating outside and around national taxation regimes. The continuing impact of scientific and technological advance is going to be enormously life changing. Those advances are in computer science, nanotechnology, biotechnology, robotics, neuroscience, the genetic sciences and many others. Consider the mind-blowing possibility of human directed biological and cultural evolution as a result of research in the genetic sciences alone. Or cringe at the mere thought of it.

Apart from that impossible to imagine future the near term future is much easier to prophesy with some degree of certainty. We have three of the four most populous countries in the world to our northwest in China, India and Indonesia. They are all going to be global super powers and they are going to profoundly influence who we are and how we live for centuries to come. At some time in the coming Asian millennium we might all become Asian, or whatever evolves from the Asian cultures. They could simply absorb us and the remnants of our culture. We know from Statistics NZ projections that Asians will comprise about 14% of the population by 2026, just twelve years from now. Maori will be just ahead on about 14.6% of the population.

One thing is for sure. In a thousand years, or five thousand years, or even 200 years, we will have forgotten much and remembered little. And our strand of a new global culture will have evolved into a form we might no longer recognize as Maori. And that has been the way of things, mai rano.

Another thing seems to be sure. The cosmologists tell us from the evidence they can now see across the galaxies, that in time perhaps in about 7 billion years our own Sun will die. And we will be gone with it.

All stars die, some more violently than others. Once our own Sun has consumed all the hydrogen fuel in its core, it too will reach the end of its life. Astronomers estimate this to be a short 7 billion years from now. For a few million years, it will expand into a red giant, puffing away its outer layers. Then it’ll collapse down into a white dwarf and slowly cool down to the background temperature of the Universe(Universe Today).

And although they are making giant strides in understanding the Universe no-one yet knows what there was before the Big Bang, before Universe birthed itself, and no-one yet knows what will become of this Universe of ours. Both the Beginning and the End remain in the realm of the Unknown. Perhaps the Universe itself will come to an end.

The ancestors truly did walk into the future with their eyes fixed firmly on the past for the past was the present and the present was the future. On that journey out of Afrika, eventually into and across Pasifika and finally to Aotearoa, they slowly adapted and changed as they went and the culture they brought with them was the end state of 50,000 years of adaptation and change. The culture was just the final small remembered part of the story of that long migration through time and space. Almost all of that journey was consigned to the forgetting; to our mythological, religious, legendary and historical narrative, our culture.

By contrast we in a rapidly changing world can now see further back into the past and at a future coming at us both on a human scale and on a universal scale. The future is most definitely not a continuation of the past or the present. We live in a state of constant and rapid change.

We will come to think more clearly about ourselves on a human scale as well as on a vast Universal scale. We will think of ourselves not just as a distinctly separate Maori identity but as the end result of billions of years of evolution more closely related to the other races and cultures on Earth than to our unknown ancestors of 50,000 years ago. We will think of ourselves not separated from the Universe but as an infinitely small part of it. That thinking will become a more common feature of our worldview as science reveals more and more about the Universe and about ourselves. It will surely change the way we think about humankind, about ourselves as Maori and about our culture.

I started this essay with a definition of culture:

Stated very simply culture is the narrative or story that explains where we came from, or where we think we came from, who we are, what we believe and how we live. It is expressed and transmitted in proverb, storytelling, mythology, legend, poetry, music, dance, art and religion“.

Does our narrative or story, our Maori culture, yet reflect our present or future reality. Or is it still a remembering and a yearning for the unchanging reality of 300 years ago.

We all invariably view our culture from a comfortable perspective from within the culture itself. In this narrative I have pushed far beyond that comfort zone to the very beginning and the very end of time and indeed to the edges of the Universe. It looks a bit different from out there doesn’t it.

* Download: Rethinking Polynesian Origins – Human Settlement of the Pacific by Michal Denny & Lisa Matisoo-Smith

reflections on running – a journey through mythological time

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reflections on running


On a warm sunny day, I run
through sun filled valley,
bathed in the healing glow of Ranginui,
ancestral Sky Father.

In a southerly storm I run the hills:
gale rain lashed, Thunder growled,
Lightning flash-warned;
at play with Tawhirimatea, ancestral cousin,
God of the Winds.

I run the sea shore
serene in calm stillness,
powerful in mighty display;
in all the moods of Tangaroa,
Cousin God of the Oceans.

I run with all the children
of Tane, procreator of humankind
God of the mighty forests,
ancestral shelter, provider.

My feet caress the soft gentle skin
of Papatuanuku, Earth Mother;
and I am enfolded by Her,
in love.

I run in an Inner World,
led there by Tane-te-wananga;
he who ascended the upper realms
to Tikitiki-o-rangi the Uppermost,
gained there for all mankind
three baskets of knowledge
from Io-Matua,
Parent of all that there is
in this and in every realm.

I run with Maui-tikitiki-a-Taranga,
Trickster Shaman.
We play, adventure, seek challenge;
pit ourselves against ourselves,
and all who would play with us.
With Maui I laugh at the World.

I run the hills and valleys and shores
where once the Earthly ancestors ran,
bathed in the spiritual fire
that once bathed them;
and still does.

I run from Te Korekore, Potential,
Womb of all Creation
whence Universe birthed itself,
through Te Po, long darkness of Unfolding,
to Te Whai-ao, first glimmer of dawn,
into Te Ao Marama, bright light of day;
Universe revealed.

I discover the Universe
of Io-Matua-Kore the Parentless
And I discover myself.

© Ross Nepia Himona


A Dream for Mataariki: Maori New Year

Last night I dreamt about you,
you said, from the dark,
and in an instant
smouldering embers
that once blazed fiercely,
flickered again into life
from beneath the ashes
of parted time,
at Mataariki.

Pleiades rises over dawn’s horizon,
heralds new seasons for an old world,
new life and new beginnings; a time
of dreaming and remembrance,
lamentation and celebration,
festivity and feasting: So does
my heart rise above the eternal sadness
of life, and sings again with joy,
at Mataariki.

© Ross Nepia Himona