Exploring a Māori classificatory system of flora and fauna within Tainui waka

For many years, the knowledge of indigenous peoples has been the preserve of Western anthropologists and ethnographers. Like other indigenous people, Māori are concerned with the ongoing neglect, misuse and erosion of traditional ecological knowledge. This is further compounded by the loss of key knowledge holders over the years and their scarcity today.

The aim of this research project is to explore and record traditional classification systems of naming flora and fauna within the Tainui waka. It also aims to investigate the relationship between indigenous taxonomy systems of Tainui and the current Linnaean classification system of the naming of flora and flora.

This research project started in 2010, however Tom became involved in this area when NIWA approached him in 2005 for guidance and his interest grew from there. Tom and the project team are running a series of focus groups and individual interviews with key people, including stakeholders with a scientific background, kaumātua from Tainui and kaumātua involved in environmental issues, to gather knowledge about naming.

To help explain the aims and recruit for the interviews, they created a three-fold card about the project to give people at events and meetings, which Tom says has been a success with good feedback and recognition of the project.

He says the research to date has highlighted a key issue about naming. “A thing can’t be given any old name – a name has mana, and mana should guide the name and there should be a meaning behind it which should relate to its appearance, behaviour, whakapapa or use. Each and every thing has mana.”

In 2012 the project team is carrying out further interviews, and will test methodology and write their findings. For more information, visit http://www.heherengakorero.co.nz/

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