All images and text by rangihīroa unless otherwise indicated. Copyright: PIHIRAU Productions Ltd 2018
See my latest MaC VII post ‘How we belong: Te Parawhau and the Mangrove Tree’
This post considers the connections between a native tree and a Northland hapū through the naming of one of their community buildings. It explores the importance of the local natural environment and its role in shaping an architectural metaphor.
This post is dedicated to our NZ Native insects, fauna and natural species. New Zealand is reputed to have a pure natural environment. I gave a kōrero on this at NYU in 2004 in relation to Tourism NZ's '100 % Pure' campaign (begun 1999) that traded heavily on Aotearoa's international reputation as clean and green. My argument then was that this spin resonated a long term crown desire to determine, support and perpetuate cultural authenticity in Māori visual artforms in New Zealand as well. You can read about that centrist vision in my book MAORI ART: History, Architecture, Landscape and Theory (Batemans, 2015). See Raruraru ki te Puna 'trouble at the spring', chapter VI, 2015: 138-173. My current writing and design in this area in 2018 concerns research on Tāne Mahuta 'spiritual force associated with the forest and with creation' and also on ngā uru manawa 'mangrove forests'.
'...each time we contemplate raiding nature's pantry, aim always to enhance mana. If we cannot be sure that we are doing more good than harm to the world in which we live, simply do not intervene...When we fell trees or catch fish, we accept that we must wipe out more mana than we generate...aim to generate more than we destroy.' John Patterson, Pacific Parables: Learning from Māori Tradition, Steele Roberts Publishers, Wellington, 2014: 25 In the natural world, many of our species are suffering from the environmental impacts of long-term exploitation by New Zealanders and by tauiwi, of our lands, our forestries and our coastal and inland water resources. I have a passion for Te Ao Tūroa, the natural world of Aotearoa, spent 15 years growing natives on a small lifestyle block in the Kaipara (North Auckland) and would like to return to create a home and a new natural environment somewhere in Te Tai Tokerau 'the North'. My connections and my environmental interests are in sync with the hapū to whom I belong. Te Uriroroi\Te Parawhau (Ngāpuhi\Ngāti Whātua), west of Whāngārei, have been involved in a lengthy struggle with local government and with local business for the protection and rangatiratanga 'sovereignty' over their taonga, the Whatitiri Springs, once renowned in the North for their purity and for their abundance. So when I chose to focus on the kōkopu 'the native fish' in a 2016 exhibition it was to highlight the same struggle with systems and industries that pollute and over-exploit the waterways and threaten not only their health but (in some cases in Aotearoa) their very existence. I hope my love of the land is not just kōrero pāpaku, 'shallow talk' like the diminishing levels of our precious aquifers, and of our puna and awa like the Waipao. Instead, my hope is that some of this focus which can be found in my book my exhibitions and my art will encourage others to also become active in loving te ao tūroa and speaking up for and on behalf of Papa. It is the American poet Gary Snyder's belief that humans have an obligation to speak up for those, '...without a voice - the trees, rocks, rivers, bears - in the political process.' For Māori we speak up for these resources because they are our relatives. The Whanganui concept of their river as their ancestor helps convey the symbiotic relationship that ngā tāngata whenua have with the environment: Ko au te awa, ko te awa ko au.
River they are standing around pelting your face with roses They are kissing you with kind words I listened to the stories...
Much of my thinking about precious water and matapuna ‘parent springs’ comes from my affiliation with Te Uriroroi and their role as kaitiaki whenua over the Whatitiri Springs at Porotī, outside Whāngārei in Te Tai Tokerau. I have found their campaigning for the protection of this special resource inspirational. Their concerns have always been connected with the mauri of the water and its health. It is the constant and overwhelming demands that farming, horticulture and commercial interests are making on what is a limited resource that have brought these hapū and iwi grievances out into the public arena. The Māori concept of describing the land and waterways as involving a relationship is not unusual for indigenous peoples who have inhabited their lands for lengthy periods of time. The Japanese concept of satoyama where people attempt to live in harmony with their native environment is in keeping with a more sustainable Māori concept of whakapapa where one is a relative of all the natural elements with which one lives. What one does to the environment one does to oneself. We are children of both the domains of Tangaroa (the seas) and Tāne (the land) as Te Roroa kaumatua Hare Paniora has explained,
Na ko ēnei ki au ka kite atu te hononga ki te moana me te ngahere o Tangaroa ki a Tāne. Na te mea moku ake ko mātou i roto i te ao tūroa ko matou a tamariki, o te moana, o te onepū, o ngā roto, o ngā awa, ngā ngahere ngā moana. Ko mātou i haere tonu ana te Rangi nei ko matou ke ngā tamariki. Hare Paniora, The History of the Kauri, Waka Huia, TVNZ, 2010: 1.41
The role of kaitiakitanga ‘guardianship’ of resources makes a lot of sense when thinks about it from the point of view of the child/parent relationship. Parents nurture the children through their provision of life and resources and children are respectful and are in awe of the power of the parents, their wisdom and of their power and of their beauty.
Mark Adams, Kawanui, Whatitiri Springs, 26 October 1998. From Panoho, MAORI ART, History, Architecture, Landscape and Theory, and the chapter Rarararu ki te Puna ‘Trouble at the Spring’, 2015: 139.
When I think about other special sites, outside Whatitiri, that still possess the possibility of protecting their wai Māori, pure water, Waikoropupū in Te Wai Pounamu is the puna that comes to my mind. As with all the precious aquifer fed waters in Aotearoa it is now a site for conflict over ownership, usage and issues of protection. The broad areas of surrounding land that the springs draws on for its headwaters is in contention as commercial and farming interests are looking to draw on the same sources feeding the puna.
Currently there is an application for a water conservation order for Te Waikoropupū Springs which has been lodged with the Minister for the Environment. Check this link to see the progress being made on helping save this important New Zealand cultural and ecological wāhi tapū: https://www.epa.govt.nz/public-consultations/in-progress/te-waikoropupu-springs/
For anyone wanting to understand Māori belief systems (i.e. tikanga – ‘the Māori way of doing things – from the very mundane to the most sacred or important fields of human endeavour‘, Chief Judge Joe Williams 1998:2) I recommend looking at the evidence presented by tāngata whenua to the tribunal. You will read about the importance of maintaining the mana, the mauri and the tapū of the waters. It will become plain that the Māori perception of the natural environment is based on whakapapa and whānaungatanga ‘family relations’ that exist between human and natural elements. In these tātai all things are connected. Kotahi tonu te wairua o ngā mea katoa. There is a oneness of spirit in all things. Waikanaetanga ‘equilibrium’ is based on the balanced relationship between the different areas and personas of te ao tūroa. It is also surely based on the idea of reciprocity of not just taking but also letting nature rest and recuperate (see role of rahui) and not treating resources with greed but rather with care and respect. This is at the heart of ngā kupu ‘manaaki whenua‘.
What the struggles around the guardianship of ngā puna o Whatitiri me Waikoropupū raises is the importance of restoring our relationship with the environment. There is growing support in the world for the vital role indigenous peoples perform in raising the consciousness of a planet intent on exhausting its resources and polluting te ao tūroa.
It’s pretty ironic that the so-called ‘least advanced’ people are the ones taking the lead in trying to protect all of us, while the richest and most powerful among us are the ones who are trying to drive the society to destruction. Noam Chompsky, Two Row Times, 5 November 2013
Mai i te pānga tuatahi maio te ao whānui, me tā rātou tiro manene, ko te tino arotahi a ngā kōrero aro haehae i ngā mahinga toi tāngata whenua, ko te motuhenga o ngā taonga-ā-iwi. Arā anō hoki ētahi Māori me ā rātou whāinga tōrangapū, whāinga ahurea rānei, e uta ana i te whakaaro haratau ki ngā mahi toi a te Māori. E wewete ai ngā herenga whakaaro nei, me tiki atu tētahi o ngā whakataukī i waihotia mai e Ihenga, koia hoki tētahi huarahi hei āta whakaaro atu ki te ariā whakaora tikanga. He mea whai tikanga ngā wāhanga katoa o te tipu o te rengarenga, mai i tōna whānautanga, ki tōna hemotanga atu. I tēnei tuhinga, ka tirohia te arotahi noa atu ki te pūawaitanga o te toi Māori, me ōna anga haratau, ā, ka whakatītinatia te whakaaro tērā pea kāore e tika ana ki tā te Māori titiro.
‘International (Westem) critical discourse with First Nation artforms, from its first encounters, has often featured a concern on the part of those outside the culture with the authenticity of the tribal object. Orthodoxy in our artforms is equally a self imposed
position by Māori on other Māori servicing various political and cultural objectives. A whakataukī left us by Ihenga becomes a way of exploring the notion of cultural regeneration outside these boundaries. All parts of the rengarenga lily’s life cycle, referred to in Ihenga ‘s proverb, are recognised as integral to it’s survival. This essay considers the concentration on simply the flowering of Māori culture and its classical templates as an unnatural and untenable activity.’
- “A Search For Authenticity; Towards a Definition and Strategies for Cultural Survival.” He Pukenga Kōrero: A Journal of Māori Studies, Massey University, Palmerston North 2.1 (1996): 20-25.
- This is an adapted version of a paper presented at “Toi Oho ki Apiti” conference, Massey University, in 1996. It uses the rengarenga lily, and an ancestral proverb offered by Ihenga, a Te Arawa ancestor, visiting whānau in Kaipara, as a metaphor for survival. It looks at authenticity as an imposition on Māori culture. ‘A Search For Authenticity…’ challenges the belief that visually Māoriness constitutes classical manifestations which must be referenced to demonstrate ethnicity.
Hutia te rito o te harakeke
Kei hea te kōmako e ko
Kī mai kī ahau
He aha te mea nui i te ao
Māku e ki atu
He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata.
If the centre shoot of the flax is pulled out
Where will the bellbird sing?
If you were to ask me
What is the most important thing in the world
I would reply
It is the people, the people, the people.
he whakataukī no Te Aupōuri
Some will probably chuckle at the provenance of some of my native plants and perhaps have reservations about the authenticity of their location: Te Atatū, Ōwairaka, Te Auaunga, St Lukes…I am deliberately interested in natives not just in hau kāinga/tribal environments but also those struggling away and often thriving in the normal contexts in which many New Zealanders today live. Where one lives, where one researchs, where one works, where one travels, where one shops, where one rests in the city or its environs one finds these plants co-existing often in quite unsympathetic contexts. This is real or this is really native New Zealand as much as the less disturbed wildernesses to which we love to escape to and to enjoy and to marvel. The built environment is also a component in te ao tūroa and I am very interested in how Tāne has been contained or isolated into islands of habitat or parts of the local urban environment and compartmentalised in the home garden. What might one make for example of this image taken from a major Auckland shopping centre where mamaku is flourishing in the middle of concrete and tarseal? What does might it say about how natives are surviving? Does it prompt an awareness, perhaps a sensibility of environment, as we rush off to buy something and pass it on the stairs? Or how might one feel in Te Auaunga, the park planted heavily with natives, where enormous overbridges (running into and away from the Waterview tunnel) carry rumbling Auckland traffic overhead?
rangihīroa, rau aka manawatawhi, 2017
Pihirau, meaning ‘hundreds of shoots’, was given by our ancestor Kōwhai Tito as a name for the whare kai on the Tirarau mārae at Tangiterōria (halfway between Whāngārei and Dargaville) on the west coast of the North Island of Aotearoa. A deeper discussion is provided regarding the background to this nomeclature in an upcoming blog for Pihirau Productions Ltd.
The tī is a special tree and a resonant metaphor for my Te Uriroroi affiliation at Porotī. It was there (west of Whāngārei on the way to Kaikohe) that a special ceremony was held to marry our ancestors with Waikato women. The cutting of the tī was the sign of the tomo ‘marriage negotiations’. As always there are different versions of wānanga. I note here the inversion of the syllables tī poro: the verb meaning, ‘to cut short, abbreviate, shorten‘
The possible ancestral play with words is a fitting pun making sense of the cessation of whawhai in the rohe. The raids of southern tribes on Whāngārei (Ōparakau, Parihaka, 1828) in retaliation for the raupatu conducted by Hika and our ancestral leaders on Tāmaki, Waikato and the Hauraki peoples was being brought to a more diplomatic conclusion. To cut the tī makes both symbolic and literal sense of the cutting of the strife between the various hapū involved.
rangihīroa, tī, Purerua peninsula, Taumarere, 2017, (still from video clip) available on Instagram
A tī image singled out, from a recent walk along the Te Atatū waterfront, for a short dialogue. For those sceptical regarding nature speaking. It’s not so much that nature talks perhaps more that we listen.
Conversation with Mr Tī 10 June 2018
I was told that toetoe was the proud one spurning the love of pingao as she wistfully sought his plumes across hot ancestral sand. But that wānanga is wrong isn’t it Mr Tī?
Te Atatū is where the light reaches over Ōwairaka and Maungawhau casting shadows that stand. But you demanded I document you early afternoon. There was a rustle in your bright green leaves. Knowing the conditions you casually explained, ‘the light is more flattering’. Heroic you said. ‘I want frontal, central, imposing and if the shoot doesn’t give it, use photoshop. More than the North-Western motorway I am Te Atatū.
Oh please. ‘Don’t worry Mr Tī, there will be no rivals.’
I followed your client brief to the t…and harakeke is at your feet and proud kākaho (toetoe stem) has been banished to the edge of Waitematā’s cloak. Oh and one more thing: a small detail I feel compelled to confide.
There was silence for quite a while. Impatient, I squinted looking up at the raspy, textured pale brown trunk that led the eye towards the sun. The cabbage tree murmured a single ‘ae’ but softly this time, so softly one could barely hear it above the high pitched chirp of the mātātā ‘fern birds’ amongst the wīwī. I looked up and realised his head was beginning to shake again. His leaves were clattering in the nor-wester that coerced the marshland grasses. I cleared my throat, perhaps a little self-consciously now, ‘If you look closely at the photo there are karoro (gull) moving around your crown. They were squawking and laughing at me trying to get a good shot, I said. Coyly he whispered with what sounded strangely like a smoker’s cough, no, they are admirers and they were singling me out.
Toetoe is a large coastal tussock grass that ostentatiously features beautiful creamy white plumes on long stems. Toetoe is also the name of an ancestral settlement connected with Te Uriroroi, Te Parawhau and Te Uri o Hau of Ngāti Whātua on the Whāngārei inner harbour. The nomenclature celebrates the grass that straddles the domains of Tāne and the nearby realm of Tangaroa.
The flowering of Toetoe continues from spring to late summer so by the time I documented this group the plumes were well past their prime. Regardless, they do give one a sense of the distinctive vertical showiness that lent itself to the plant being imbued by ancestors with a quality of vanity and self-preoccupation. In the story of pingao and kakaho ngā tūpuna create a story of lovers where the golden sedge grass must crawl over hot sand to get close to kakaho. The showy coastal grass plant is too focused on his own beauty to notice these advances. The profound and delightful conclusion to this wānanga is that the children of Papatuānuku intervene in this unsuccessful stand-off. Reconciling the two pingao and kakaho are brought together as binding and upright panels in the ancient Polynesian technique of tukutuku ‘latticework’ found within the historical whare tupuna.
'A Rangitane version of the story tells of pingao living among the seaweed children on the fringes of the sea. From her home she looked up to the land and saw the handsome kakaho dancing on the sand dunes. Each time the kakaho made his appearance pingao became more and more enamoured. Finally she asked permission from Tangaroa to leave the sea and meet her lover. Tangaroa granted permission with words of warning that she would never make it. However, driven by blind love, she left the seaweed and crawled across the hot sand. As she struggled up she began to call to the kakaho - but he was only interested in himself. He was in love with his own shape and form and he did not answer pingao's calls. In desperation she called back to Tangaroa, who could do nothing but shower her with spray. And there on the sand dunes, the pingao remains to this day.' Pingao: The Golden Sedge, compiled by Averil Herbert and Jenny Oliphant for Ngā Puna Waihanga, 1991: 5
Note: this plant is not to be confused with the introduced pampas grass (a noxious weed) which is a major problem throughout Aotearoa. The strongest distinguishing feature, for me, with pampas is the purple tinge to its flower head and the difference in the feel of its leaf.
The whau is a special coastal shrub in the history of the Ngāpuhi/Ngāti Whātuā hapū Te Parawhau in Te Tai Tokerau. The short lived shrub has a large bright green heart shaped heavily veined, serrated edge leaf and gorgeous creamy flowers followed by a spiky seed capsule. The body of a tupuna Te Tirarau was covered with this leaf to preserve the tinana on its return from a duel with a Ngāti Wai ancestor and a water drowning. When he arrived back in our rohe the leaves were peeled off (with the epidermis) leaving the imprint of their veins across the underskin (possibly the dermis) of the tupuna. This precipitated the renaming of the people para ‘skin’ whau ‘Entelea arborescens’.
rangihīroa, kōura and fern, 2016
It is your spreading habit. You just seem to get everywhere. Picking up gossip like the aerial roots that hang landless absorbing the faintest whiff of moisture. Cast in on the roughest surf and carried salt laden through the air. A Chinese whisper. A secret carried all the way from Hawaiki. I want your shade. I long for your dappled light and the laughter of the bees in summer that hum news over your blood red blooms. But I can’t bring myself to rest under your canopy. I can’t get a straight answer out of you. You always seem to be throwing out directions and recanting. You are the ultimate no one story is the right story.
If you are interested in other sites that have more conventional records of Ngā tipu o Aotearoa (i.e. native flora and fauna) try their web site which has comprehensive databases where you can do detailed searches: