Mātauranga Māori: An Introduction

Mātauranga Māori: An Introduction

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Digital download, PDF file, 13.2MB.

Are you interested in mātauranga Māori or traditional Māori knowledge? In this report, Dr Charles Royal offers an easy introduction and overview of mātauranga Māori. He defines the term ‘mātauranga Māori’ and provides an explanation for its origin. He discusses why interest in mātauranga Māori has grown and he provides a brief history of this body of knowledge. Descriptions of applications and expressions of mātauranga Māori are also included - such as in fishing, gardening, house and canoe construction, clothing, games, dispute resolution and much, much more. The key point of the monograph is to assert the ‘creative potential’ and value of mātauranga Māori. Charles states:

Despite its fragmentary and partial nature, pre-existing mātauranga Māori retains much value for Māori, for our nation and for the world. We can make use of pre-existing mātauranga Māori to enable a new creativity – one that honours and treasures the past, responds appropriately to present opportunities and challenges, and enables the creation of new possibilities, new knowledge to inspire a future.

'Mātauranga Māori: An Introduction' is essential reading for anybody interested in indigenous knowledge in Aotearoa.


This monograph provides an overview of mātauranga Māori, a body of knowledge for which interest has increased and intensified in recent times. Following an introduction, Chapter Two discusses some of the reasons as to why this interest has increased. It considers the use of mātauranga Māori in public institutions before considering two Government policy initiatives designed to support mātauranga Māori in some way. Chapter Three is entitled ‘Towards a Definition of Mātauranga Māori’. It discusses a range of matters that contribute to a definition. The chapter discusses usages of the terms by Apirana Ngata (of Ngāti Porou), Kipa Roera Te Ahukaramū (of Ngāti Raukawa) and others, and shows how definitions can be developed from a number of perspectives before providing a working definition for the purposes of this research, which reads as follows:

‘Mātauranga Māori’ is a modern term for a body of knowledge that was brought to these islands by the Polynesian ancestors of present-day Māori. Here this body of knowledge grew according to life in Aotearoa and Te Wai Pounamu. After an initial period of change and growth, the arrival of European populations in the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries had a major impact on the life of this knowledge, endangering it many substantial ways. Yet new knowledge was also created through the encounter with Europeans and the experience of the creation of a new nation called New Zealand. Important fragments and portions of earlier knowledge – notably the Māori language – remain today. These fragments and portions are catalysing a new creative period in Māori history and culture and in the life of the New Zealand nation.

Chapter Four provides ‘A History of Mātauranga Māori’, a chronological sequence of historical events in which mātauranga Māori changed and grew and in which mātauranga Māori creativity was forthcoming. These events include first arrival in Aotearoa and Te Wai Pounamu, arrival of the European and the early colonial period, and the ‘Māori renaissance’ of recent years. Chapter Five provides an overview of applications and expressions of mātauranga Māori in history and today. ‘Applications’ and ‘expressions’ are explained as follows:

‘Applications’ involve using knowledge through a series of conscious actions. When a young person begins to study gardening, they receive instruction from a teacher and may imitate their actions. In this way the student gains knowledge. When the student begins gardening for his/herself, he/she begins to apply what they have learnt from their teacher. Thus there is a difference between knowledge and its application.

The ‘expression’ of knowledge is something slightly different. On many occasions, humans do not create knowledge separately from its application. Rather, knowledge seems to flow out of the person into their practical actions. For example, when a person is gardening and discovers a new way to plant seeds or harvest leaves, their experience is that something spontaneous comes into their mind which they then act upon. There is a seamless flow from idea to action. There is no sense that a person has created knowledge which they then apply. We use the term ‘expression’ to stand for this idea of an organic flow of knowledge and knowing from within a person into their actions and activities.

Chapter 6.0 explores aspects of the traditional Māori worldview here entitled Te Ao Mārama. The central tenet of this worldview is that the world is alive with mana, spiritual presence, essence and authority. Life is lived within the constant interplay of mana, within its rises and falls. Life comes to fullness when mana reaches its zenith within the stage of existence. In the pre-contact worldview, mana resided in the world – in the sea, in the forests, in the mountains, in the human person. After contact, ultimate mana resided in ultimate reality which was both within and outside the world. Today, mana is seen in the essences, qualities and talents of life.

Chapter 7.0 of the monograph explores various concepts of knowledge and knowing that can be found within mātauranga Māori. It commences with the idea of knowledge as a tangible object, distinct from experience and standing as a representation and explanation of life. The monograph suggests that the word mātauranga came to be used for this way of thinking about knowledge, a way that was introduced by literacy and education in Māori communities. At the other end of this ‘spectrum’ of knowledge and knowing is tohu, a word used to refer to the arrival of mana within the person. Here there is no such thing as knowledge, but rather a seamless flow of experience into the consciousness of the individual. 

The report concludes with a chapter concerning intellectual property rights and their relationship to mātauranga Māori. Worldwide, indigenous peoples are naturally concerned about the state of their traditional knowledge and how their rights in that knowledge are protected, or not as the case may be. In New Zealand, the Wai 262 claim before the Waitangi Tribunal is a critical vehicle whereby these issues are being debated. The chapter includes an overview of the claim.

The contents of this report are as follows:

1.0 Introduction
2.0 New Directions for Mātauranga Māori
3.0 Towards a Definition of ‘Mātauranga Māori’
4.0 A History of Mātauranga Māori
5.0 Tauranga Ika: Applications and Expressions of Mātauranga Māori
6.0 Aspects of the Te Ao Mārama Worldview
7.0 Concepts of Knowledge and Knowing
8.0 Intellectual Property Issues

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Mātauranga Māori: An Introduction
by Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal
Published by MKTA in 2009
ISBN: 978-0-9582955-0-5

Digital download, PDF file, 13.2MB.
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