Pacific Institute of Resource Management
advisory board

Muru Walters – Maori Environmental Philosophy and how it can guide us to a life-sustaining culture

October 2011

Parapara waerea a ururua
Kia tupu whakaritorito
Te tupu o te harakeke

Clear away the undergrowth
So many shoots will spring
From the flax plants.

Ururua, is the flax bush undergrowth, the roots, from papa tuanuku, earth mother, that spreads, binds, and builds, intimate relationships with one another and reaches up from the earth, and out to the world for the survival of the healthy flax communities of the world.

The ritorito, many shoots, are the young who are protected and nurtured to maturity, by the harakeke, flax plants, their parents and elders.

This is nature’s religious community, growing together with a tightly interwoven mission for caring and protecting with a commitment to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the whenua, the mother’s placenta, the earth they spring from.

The quoted tribal saying comes from my tribes close religiousness with the flax bushes of nature.

I pass a small clump of flax bushes close to the stream in Churton Park, Wellington, where I regularly, walk my dog. This small flax bush has survived for the time being. It reminds me of small cultures, struggling to coexist and survive among aggressive, lack of aroha, human compassion, in the management of environmental resources.

I have a Maori religious view, for the resource management of a Maori environment of our Aotearoa, New Zealand environment, as part of the Pacific.

This is a matauranga (knowledge), Maori, traditional, cultural, management model, and a matauranga, Maori, liberated, gospel, management way forward for the future.

The two Maori management models, both begin with the same questions, “Ko wai koe?” “Who are you?” and, “No hea koe?” “Where do you come from?”

Answers to these questions will help to establish the identity, and cultural occupation and rights in any Maori environment.

Religiousness is the obvious one for me to deal with because this has always pervaded the whole of our tribal cultural lives. Ours was driven by the cultural concept of muru.

The traditional meaning was to act with absolute, brutal ferocity and domination against all those not related to us by blood. Face to face killing, ritual killing, revenge killing and cannibalism, to maintain and assert muru, mana, power, and rangatiratanga, rights were difficult to contain. This muru, mana, rangatiratanga, was perceived as the only authentic, cultural way to manage and at the same time sustain the life and wellbeing of our culture.

Strong kaitiakitanga, guardianship, of our environment was an expression of our cultural mana and tino rangatiratanga. This was necessary for our cultural survival in a dangerous, and competitive environment.

A matauranga, Maori, liberated and gospel alternative emerged and developed among our people with the arrival of the gospel brought to us by the missionaries. When the lonely Colonial men married our Maori women, our tribal leaders, eagerly, accepted and adopted their new ideas in order to survive. That led to a limited Maori involvement and participation in such areas as the social, educational, commercial and political affairs of their country.

When my Maori Natanahira Rarawa ancestors transformed themselves to follow their new religious life, helped with the support of my Walters Colonial ancestors, Muru became the new transformed word for forgiveness.

This new meaning is the muru, the forgiveness word used regularly by Maori in the only prayer Jesus taught called the Lord’s Prayer.

Ahipara, on the northern end of the 90mile beach, is the home of my father’s Rarawa tribe. They were once the kaitiaki, guardians, of their ocean Te Tai a Wharo, named after our ancestor, Wharo.

When they transformed their culture to that of the Missionaries culture, they renamed their ocean Te Karirikura, the Sea of Galilee. We had our own Galilee with us as a living replica and presence of the place where Jesus grew up and ministered as the Messiah, the Son of the living God. This became our new faith too, even when we knew that some of Jesus Jewish elders, priests and lawyers in Jerusalem did not.

The stories of Jesus teaching and healing the sick, making the lame walk, the blind see, the poor cared for, and the dead brought to life, resonated with our people. These became examples for a new people of faith and hope to aspire to. That transformation shifted tribal kaitiakitanga, guardianship, to a new life sustaining culture of caring for the whole of God’s creation.

This included our land, river, beach and ocean, not only on our tribe’s behalf, or for our own rangatiratanga, but, for the rangatiratanga of the God of our new religion.

Today, our Maori, cultural kaitiakitanga role based on our culture and faith has been extinguished and replaced by a government bureaucratic guardianship.

Growing up in Ahipara, from our hill top panoramic view of our new sea of Galilee, i reflected on our tribes relationship with their environment. I often chanted our borrowed words we contributed to our New Zealand Prayer Book; “He tai mihi tangata he tai mate.” “The incoming tide brings new life with new people and new ideas, and the outgoing tide takes away the old, to be renewed again, and returned, as new people. This was our acknowledgement of the incarnation, lived in the lives of our people.”

Our big, ninety mile beach, was the spiritual running domain of our legendary athlete Tohe. We called our beach Te One Roa a Tohe, the long beach of Tohe. I spent many times running there with friends inspired by Tohe and the huge barracking waves.

It was fashionable for our tribe to apply the athletic prowess of Tohe to describe the athletic feats of their rugby players. I was conferred that honour for a very short time and replaced by a rugby league Kiwi representative.

Below our home was the flat wide spread landscape of the north peninsula, Te Hiku o te Ika, the tail of the fish of Maui. This was a reminder to us that only when the tail waggled were decisions of any importance achieved.

From our view, we could see the winding river, Wainui, flowing from the hinterland, flooding seasonally, and renewing the land and, its relationship with our ancient ocean and new name, Te kariri kura, the Sea of Galilee.

The big river, the big beach, and the big sea combine to maintain our daily source of spiritual, physical sustenance, to cleanse. Refresh and renew us.

Our kaumatua, mature elders, would often stroll down to the beach at incoming tide, and with a hand line, haul in a snapper for a meal. At night, flounders were rendered immobile from torchlight and were easy to spear. During early morning runs on the beach we would find flounders still asleep in their pools stranded at low tide. They provided a ready meal for breakfast. Sometimes the fishing net was used to catch the mullet and kahawai we could see surfing the high incoming waves.

Our 90-mile beach was our larder for the small shell fish, pipi and the larger size shellfish, toheroa. Our ancestors took only enough for their immediate needs and always shared what they had. We maintained this tradition of whanaungatanga, sharing, and manaakitanga, hospitality among relatives, friends, neighbours and even strangers.

Over many years of eating shellfish, shells were scattered over community garden beds. The shells were washed white by the rain and acted as reflectors of the suns heat. Natures blessing, warmed and enriched the soil to grow our vegetable crops, mainly kumara, potato, corn, pumpkin and water melon.

During planting, women elders would make a small cup in the ground and lay their seeds and plants in them with the same nurturing care for their children. Children would follow close by with manure and water, and usually get scolded for putting in too much or not enough. The men elders followed and chanting a karakia with words and actions, “E tupu koutou kia penei te nui.” “May you grow as large as this.” As children we did not know what hunger was because we had access to large, delicious watermelons to eat and orchards of figs, pears, peaches, plums and apples to eat whenever we were hungry.

Some weekends and holidays we would camp at our beach bach at the southern end of the rocky part of the Bay at Tauroa. At low tide our daily recreation as children was to gather food from the rocky pools. These were always full of crabs, mussels, scallops, crayfish, abalone, sea eggs and sea anemone, and a varied types of fish. The crayfish were easy to catch because they faced us with their bright eyes glowing like torchlights. All we had to do was to grab hold of their feelers and heads and lift them from their hiding places. We also learnt how to smoke and dry our surplus seafood, while our elders gathered special seaweed, dried and baled them for sale as the source of iodine.

I can remember clearly seeing for the first time lights far out at sea. Every night after that, the ocean and sky were being lit up like a new city of the sea. Only when we regularly picked up debris from the trawlers on the beach that we realized that our spiritual ocean and food source was also others rubbish dump.

For my parents the sea was a weeping sea and named my sister Tangi Moana. For poet John Masefield his English sea has a poetic call; “I must go down to the seas again for the call of the running tide; Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied; And all I ask is a windy day with the whole clouds falling; And the flung spray and the blown spume and the seagulls crying.” And for English comedian Spike Milligan he has fun with Masefield’s words; “I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky; I left my shoes and socks there, I wonder if they’re dry.”

The efforts of our southern neighbours of the ninety mile beach to process toheroa caused a rift between us. With the appropriate permit from the County Council, they used huge machines to bulldoze sand spaces close to the sea and stocked them as huge mountains of sand and toheroa. These were trucked to their factory where they were processed as canned toheroa.

Despite complaints from our people that the toheroa would not survive because their feeding base was being destroyed the bulldozing continued. In a very short time the toheroa disappeared into the deep sea. Today that greed, and cultural insensitivity has resulted in restrictions. This has restricted our people of a traditional daily food resource, they once enjoyed.

We are people who belong to the ocean. We have learned to live as people of this whenua, land, Aotearoa, the place of unending light and enlightenment with our mamaetanga, suffering, not for too long, and move to whakawhetaitanga, gratitude, so we hakari, feast and celebrate our new life.

This address is about religiousness, an ultimate sense of order and meaning in the cosmos of which we are a part. A matauranga Maori traditional cultural way was exclusively for the survival of Maori iwi and hapu and their resources. A matauranga Maori, liberated cultural gospel way is also a Maori way for addressing their future, but as an inclusive option to share with all people as one family for the survival of the world the Creator made.

This is my way where my aspirations and hopes are shared and celebrated with all people who can hohou te rongo, fix the peace, among ourselves, and mau te rongo, take this peace, where ever we go, “ki konei, here,” “ki ko, over there,” and “ki tawhiti pamamao, overseas and distant places,” not for our glory, but to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth;

“ I runga I te ingoa o te matua, te tama, te wairua tapu, Amine.
“In the name of the Father, Son, Holy Spirit. So be it.

Pacific Ecologist

Wellington Community Network Wellington City Council