In Langscape Magazine Articles

Cultivating Ngāti Manu Kaitiakitanga

June 25, 2024
In Aotearoa, a marae-based educational program rebuilds connection with ancestral land and water in a changing social and environmental context.

WORDS Suz Te Tai, Kim Peita, and Krushil Watene | IMAGES Suz Te Tai

The canoe named Te Whiu Waka at Tauranga Waka

The canoe named Te Whiu Waka at Tauranga Waka (“a resting place for canoes”) on Te Awa Tapu o Taumārere (the sacred river of Taumārere) — being farewelled by Racquel, Marysa, and Tu Ao.

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The story of the Māori hapū (tribal kin-community) of Ngāti Manu in Aotearoa New Zealand begins in Te Hiku o te Ika (“the tail of the fish”) in the Far North. Over generations, our migration wove us across the center of the Far North from (among other places) Tautoro to Otuihu in Ipipiri (now the Bay of Islands), and most recently to the Kāretu Valley. Today, the people of Ngāti Manu live all over Aotearoa New Zealand and the world, but our home fires burn at our marae (kin-community complex) in Kāretu — the lands and waterways along the banks of the Taumārere River that sustain us and our wider connections to territories elsewhere.

Otuihu (an ancestral fortified village)

Otuihu (an ancestral fortified village) opposite Opua in the Bay of Islands, Aotearoa.

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Kāretu Valley

Kāretu Valley, looking west from Whakaurau Valley.

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We carry the name of our eponymous ancestor Ngāmanu. Like other northern communities, our name also recalls the epic journey of our ancestor Tohe in search of his granddaughter Raninikura II. As descendants of Raninikura II, we bear the name that reminds us of how Tohe’s travels bring to life the intimacy of human–nature relationships in general and how his life and death are deeply connected to manu (birds) in particular.

Our needs and aspirations for cultivating kaitiakitanga, or our socio-environmental responsibilities, are grounded in our relationships with and within our ancestral land- and waterscapes.

marae (kin-community complex)

Our marae (kin-community complex) in Kāretu.

Our needs and aspirations for cultivating kaitiakitanga (from tiaki, “to care”), or our socio-environmental responsibilities, are grounded in our relationships with and within our ancestral land- and waterscapes. To cultivate kaitiakitanga we have developed a marae-based education program called Nga Kaitiaki o te Ahi (Keepers of the Home Fires). The aim of the program is to enable successive generations of Ngāti Manu to keep the home fires burning for and on behalf of the ever-growing diaspora. To this end, we work to embed values and practices in a cohort of young people every year. Each cohort learns about and experiences tribal stories and practices through active cultural and environmental engagement. Walking the land and being connected to our ngāhere (forested areas) is an important part of the process. Learning significant sites en route and the names of rākau (trees), such as rimu, kahikatea, kauri, and how they function within the ecosystem shapes this grounded learning.

young people

Our young people in our ngāhere (forested area).

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Another way we are cultivating kaitiakitanga is by enacting our customary knowledge through story. Building on the doctoral research of Kim Peita, our cohorts of young people are retracing the footsteps of our tupuna (ancestors) — revisiting many places along Tohe’s journey, from Kapowairua, where his journey began, to Maunganui to Te Oneroa-a-Tōhē, which was the last place from which he looked back toward his home in the Far North. Drawing from images and stories along the way, we remember the significance of these enactments for community building.

Reconnecting our community with our language and history, we similarly regenerate ways to transfer knowledge between generations.

Reconnecting our community with our language and history, we similarly regenerate ways to transfer knowledge between generations (from Elders to youths) and cultivate avenues for protecting and rebuilding this knowledge in the future.

Suz Te Tai and Kim Peita

Suz Te Tai (left) and Kim Peita (right) at Maunganui.

 

We are also building marae-based science programs to enable new avenues of meaning-making and transformation. As in many other communities, colonization has rendered our community, language, lands, and oceans vulnerable to the environmental devastation of climate change. By regenerating our environmental practices — from bringing back maara kai (gardening) and knowledge of our wai (wetlands, rivers, and ocean) to revitalizing maramataka (Māori lunar calendars) — we are building partnerships with and growing our own scientists to enable food security, climate mitigation and adaptation strategies, and collective self-determination.

Harvesting kumara (sweet potato)

Harvesting kumara (sweet potato) at the community maara kai (garden) in 2021.

 

Our active maara kai is the first in the Kāretu Valley in fifty years, providing opportunities to reclaim rituals and community through harvesting. Similarly, familiarity with our ancestral marine areas and practices (fishing, shellfish harvesting) is vital to understanding our places in the ecological system.

Knowing our lands, waters, and seasonal cycles is critical to our continued survival.

Finally, our inanga (whitebait) restoration project in partnership with scientists enables us to combine knowledge in ways that take care of all our relatives (lands, waters, species) now and into the future. Knowing our lands, waters, and seasonal cycles is critical to our continued survival and flourishing.

inanga (whitebait) spawning habitat restoration project.

Our inanga (whitebait) spawning habitat restoration project.

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Fishing on Tu Te Mahurangi Waka

Left: Fishing on Tu Te Mahurangi Waka (the name of the canoe). Right: On the way to fish our ancestral waters, Opua.

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rising of Matariki on Puketohunoa Pā.

Awaiting the rising of Matariki on Puketohunoa Pā.

In such a radically different social, cultural, and environmental climate, many challenges remain. One is how to bridge the distance between our ever-growing diaspora with our homeland. By reclaiming our Matariki (Māori new year) rituals, we are encouraging our people to reconnect with one another and with home. Together, we make the journey to the summit of Puketohunoa Pā (a mountain in the Kāretu Valley) to await the rising of Matariki. We remember those we have lost in the previous year, speak their names, give thanks, and share ancient karakia (incantations) and kai (nourishment).

Remembering and regenerating these practices for community building and reconnection remains vital. These practices and the intergenerational transfer of knowledge that they encode provide us with guidance for innovation and transformation in and through our contemporary challenges. By understanding the role of marae in the lives of our diaspora and the impacts of disconnection and reconnection in their lives, we can reimagine our communities and connections in new ways. To this end, we enact our obligation to explore practices of storytelling to bridge the cultural and geographical distances between our people, our language, and our socio-environmental relationships.

Left: Shared Matariki breakfast with Elders at the marae. Right: Ngāti Manu Elders share pipi (Paphies australis, edible saltwater clams) and stories with youth at our maara kai.

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We are working to rebuild, protect, and cultivate community amid sociocultural change, environmental destruction and loss, and a community stitched together across vast distances.

young people

Whakapapa Wananga (reclaiming, remembering, and reciting ancestral relationships) in our whare tupuna (ancestral house) with our young people.

Like many other Indigenous communities around the world, we are working to rebuild, protect, and cultivate community amid sociocultural change, environmental destruction and loss, and a community stitched together across vast distances. Bringing community Elders and environmental practitioners together with our young people (near and far), we are harnessing the opportunities for collective human–nature flourishing. Combining education, language, environmental philosophy, and science, we are reweaving stories about who we are, where we hope to be in the future, and how we enact our responsibilities to all our relations in that spirit.

Indigenous communities remain some of the most vulnerable to the effects of political and climate-induced social and environmental change. Yet, Indigenous communities are well-placed to provide guidance for transforming the way we live together. The need to continue to write and live our own stories remains an opportunity and a challenge for marae communities across Aotearoa and Indigenous communities worldwide. Sharing ways in which communities are meeting this challenge through new forms of meaning-making is critical to working toward our shared and common aspiration of collective Indigenous and planetary flourishing.

inanga (whitebait) restoration project

Our inanga (whitebait) restoration project at our Inanga habitat restoration site on the Kāretu River.

 

Support the Cause: Remember that place-based knowledge is fundamental to who we are in the world. Live in ways that honor our relationships with and responsibilities to care for our land- and waterscapes, each other, and all our non-human relatives.

 

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Suz Te TaiSuz Te Tai (Ngāti Manu) is the chair of the Ngati Manu marae komiti (marae committee), a marae-based research practitioner, artist, fisherwoman, and co-founder of Nga Kaitiaki o te Ahi (“Keepers of the Home Fires”), Ngati Manu’s marae-based education program.

Kim PeitaKim Peita (Ngāti Manu) is Kaiwhakahaere Honongā Māori, Manager Māori Relationships, at the Northland Regional Council. She is also a PhD candidate at Te Wananga o Awanuiarangi (a tertiary education institute in Whakatāne) researching the history of Ngati Manu. She is a marae-based researcher and co-founder of Nga Kaitiaki o te Ahi.

Krushil WataneKrushil Watene (Ngāti Manu, Te Hikutu, Ngāti Whātua o Orākei, Tonga) is the Peter Kraus Associate Professor in Philosophy at Waipapa Taumata Rau (University of Auckland). Krushil’s research concerns Māori and other Indigenous conceptions of well-being, development, and justice. She works closely with her own communities in Aotearoa New Zealand.

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