Conservation and sustainability are wonderful kupu and the movements behind these kupu are beautiful and imperative for our world. Quite often in discourse around conservation and sustainable practice or ways of living, we hear things like ‘for the survival of the planet’. Of course, the planet will be fine, she has evolved through eons, and will continue to regardless of how many single use plastics we use. What we really mean is for our own survival. The health and state of the natural world is integrally connected to our own because we are of course a part of the ecology of the planet. Indigenous knowledge systems are based on this very foundation. So, for Conservation Week I am going to share my perspective on what that means to me as a kaiako, as a person and as tangata whenua.

Like everything I have learned about Te Ao Māori, this story begins with whakapapa (lineage, genealogy, connections, process). Many of you will have heard some version of the Māori creation story. The most commonly shared version starts with ‘in the beginning there was nothing’. This is referring to Te Kore, the void, nothingness, the potential. From Te Kore evolved Te Pō, the darkness, the night. From Te Pō emerged the primeval parents, Papatūānuku and Ranginui. There is a vast, cosmological narrative in each of those stages and this is an incredibly simplified version, because this is important knowledge to have, but not the story I am telling today.

Ranginui and Papatūānuku existed within the darkness of Te Pō in a tight embrace. Within their embrace tamariki were born to them. These tamariki also existed within the darkness. There came a time when some of them decided there must be something beyond the confines of their parents embrace, and they wanted to explore this. Another vast array of narratives exists about this time, as well as how these stories incorporate empirical knowledge systems about cosmology, physics, and evolution. Jumping ahead again, through sacrifice, persistence, and strength, Ranginui and Papatūānuku were separated by their tamariki. Ranginui was pushed up to the heavens, and Papatūānuku remained below, her tinana (body) becoming the whenua (land) we now live upon.
One of her tamariki, Tāne Māhuta, who was an architect of te wehenga (the separation), set to work, with the tautoko (support) of his siblings, to create Te Whai Ao, Te Ao Mārama (the living world, the world of light). Part of this process was Tāne creating new life. Tāne created the rākau (trees), manu (birds), otaota (plants), mokomoko (lizards), pepeke (insects) by coupling with the other Atua (deities, spiritual elements). In the same way the other tamariki of Ranginui and Papatūānuku created life as they built te taiao (the natural world).

After some time Tāne became aware that something was still missing. He turned to his mother and asked where he should look, and what he should do now. Papatūānuku knew already what was missing and directed Tāne towards te uwha (feminine energy) of her soils at Kurawaka. From the sacred red earth, Tāne sculpted he wahine (a woman). He pressed his nose to hers, in the first hongi (ritual pressing of noses and sharing of breath) uttering ‘Tihei, mauri ora!’ I sneeze and there is life. This is the story of the first of te ira tangata, humankind, Hine-ahu-one, Hine sculpted from clay.

Whakapapa is the foundation of everything in Te Ao Māori. The way I choose to enact conservation, sustainable practice and ways of living, comes from this understanding of the beginnings of my people, and of all peoples. The way I am in continuous relation with te taiao, all of the natural world, is guided and governed by this narrative. This story tells me that rākau, manu, mokomoko, and even pepeke, are all my tuakana (elders). They came before me. Hine-ahu-one, and with her all of humankind, are the last created. We are the pōtiki, the youngest in the whakapapa line. So, in every interaction with the earth, the wind, the waters and the stars, I am aware of my place in the whakapapa of this world. Knowing all this, how could I not care for te taiao in every way I possibly can?

How do you understand your relationship with the natural world?

How could you challenge yourself to examine this relationship more deeply?

Mauri Ora!

Emma Parangi, Head Teacher & Centre Manager at Our Kids Early Learning Glen Eden.

Emma Parangi

Masters of Education

Centre Manager at Our Kids Glen Eden & Onehunga

Emma Parangi has been an early childhood teacher for over a decade.
She is passionate about bicultural pedagogy and practice, and fostering connections to te taio (nature) with tamariki.

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