Mātauranga Māori and Museum Practice: A Discussion

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This report was written for National Services-Te Paerangi and published by them in 2007. The report presents an introduction to mātauranga Māori and the worldview of which this body of knowledge is the vehicle. The purpose in presenting this discussion is to provide context with respect to a perspective on taonga or cultural artefacts that are held in museums throughout New Zealand and the world. The intent of the report is to provide an explanation of the depth of the Māori view of these artefacts. It commences with an introduction to mātauranga Māori and offers a definition as follows:

 ‘Mātauranga Māori’ is a modern term for a body of knowledge that was brought to these islands by Polynesian ancestors of present-day Māori. Here this body of knowledge grew in response to conditions in Aotearoa and Te Wai Pounamu. The arrival of European people from the 18th century had a major impact on this knowledge, endangering it in many substantial ways. All, however, was not lost as new knowledge was created through the encounter with the European and through the experience of the creation of the new nation called New Zealand. Important fragments and portions of it – notably, the Māori language – remain today. These fragments are catalysing a new creative period in Māori history and culture and in the life of the New Zealand nation.

The report presents a discussion on the meaning of the words 'mātauranga' and 'mātauranga Māori' before providing an overview of key words in the Māori language of relevance to knowledge and knowing. These words include kai, māramatanga, mōhiotanga, whakaahua, wānanga and tohu. 

The report then moves to introduce the traditional Māori worldview which is found within mātauranga Māori. It offers the following view of taonga or cultural artefacts.

Taonga are not merely static, inanimate and, hence, unloved objects. They are vessels and repositories of special essences, presences and mana…

 It then moves to explore key narratives (such as the 'creation stories') in the canon of Māori literature and noting along the way key artefacts that are relevant to these stories - an example being 'Te Āwhiorangi', an adze that was brought on the Aotea waka and was passed down through generations of Taranaki people. This same adze is said to have been the adze involved in the separation of earth and sky. The report offers a number of examples before moving discussing the change of worldview that took place in Māori communities following the arrival of the European - particularly the arrival to the Biblical worldview, new technologies and literacy. These had tremendous impact upon the traditional Māori worldview. The report concludes by discussing a number of tikanga (cultural behaviours) associated with taonga-cultural artefacts and the significance these might hold for museum practice. 

1.0 Introduction
2.0 Interest in mātauranga Māori
3.0 What do we mean by ‘mātauranga Māori’? Towards a Definition
4.0 What is mātauranga Māori? Towards an Epistemology
5.0 Aspects of the traditional Māori worldview: tikanga and taonga
6.0 The Worldview changes: the 19th and 20th centuries
7.0 Implications for museum practice
8.0 Appendices 

Mātauranga Māori and Museum Practice: A Discussion
By Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal
ISBN: 978-0-9582847-0-7
(c) 2007 Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
Published by National Services Te Paerangi in 2007

Digital download, PDF file.