Investigators' Blog

35 new investigators for Te Pūnaha Matatini

35 new investigators for Te Pūnaha Matatini

1 March 2023

E te pitomata o te rāngai rangahau matahou – Tēnā koutou – haere mai!
Koutou kua whaiwāhi ki waenga o ngā mātanga rangahau o Te Pūnaha Matatini – Tēna koutou – haere mai!
Koutou, te āhua nei, e whakapono nei ko Te Pūnaha Matatini tētehi huarahi whakaharahara hei whai mā koutou mō roro o ā koutou mahi rangahau – Tēnā koutou!  Tēnā koutou!  Tēnā koutou!
Nau mai! Piki mai! Haere mai!

Today we welcome 35 new principal investigators from across Aotearoa New Zealand to Te Pūnaha Matatini, the national Centre of Research Excellence for complex systems.

Kaumātua Professor Tom Roa extends “a very warm and hearty welcome to the potential in this group of researchers who have won places amongst Te Pūnaha Matatini’s very dedicated team.”

Te Pūnaha Matatini – literally ‘the meeting place of many faces’ – is a Tertiary Education Commission-funded CoRE with a focus on interdisciplinary and complex systems research. We develop approaches that enable better decision-making about Aotearoa New Zealand’s environment, economy and society.

These new principal investigators will be able to participate in Te Pūnaha Matatini’s research programmes, meetings and workshops, apply for funding, have a say in how we evolve, and contribute to meeting the strategic objectives of the CoRE. They will also be able to supervise Te Pūnaha Matatini PhD students, and bring their other PhD students and post-doctoral fellows into our emerging scientist network, TPM Whānau.

“Te Pūnaha Matatini’s world is opening up with the arrival of these new investigators,” says Director Associate Professor Cilla Wehi. “They’re bringing fresh ideas and they’re bringing new passion. It’s going to be really exciting to see what we can do together.”

“Every conversation I have with one of our new investigators gets me inspired.”

New Te Pūnaha Matatini investigators

  • Associate Professor David Aguirre (Ngāti Kahungunu, Te Whānau-ā-Apanui, Ngāti Tuwharetoa), Massey University
  • Dr Hitaua Arahanga-Doyle (Ngāi Tahu, Te Ati Haunui-a-Pāpārangi), University of Otago
  • Dr Pete Russell (Ngāpuhi), University of Otago
  • Dr Kelly Blincoe, Waipapa Taumata Rau – University of Auckland
  • Dr Céline Cattoën-Gilbert, NIWA
  • Justin Connolly (Waikato-Tainui), Deliberate
  • Dr Mairéad de Róiste, Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington
  • Associate Professor Graham Donovan, Waipapa Taumata Rau – University of Auckland
  • Dr Tom Etherington, Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research
  • Dr Peni Fukofuka, University of Canterbury
  • Dr Gillian Gibb (Ngāti Mutunga), Massey University
  • Professor Nick Golledge, Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington
  • Dr Gina Grimshaw, Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington
  • Dr Kyle Higham, Motu Research
  • Mckayla Holloway (Ngāi Tahu), Cawthron Institute
  • Professor Jodie Hunter, Massey University
  • Associate Professor Libby Liggins, Massey University
  • Dr Catriona MacLeod, Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research
  • Associate Professor Alex Macmillan, University of Otago
  • Dr Zac McIvor (Te Patupō), University of Otago
  • Dr Sereana Naepi, Waipapa Taumata Rau – University of Auckland
  • Dr Lisa Pilkington, Waipapa Taumata Rau – University of Auckland
  • Dr Matt Pinkerton, NIWA
  • Associate Professor Anna Santure, Waipapa Taumata Rau – University of Auckland
  • Associate Professor Dianne Sika-Paotonu, University of Otago
  • Dr Simon Stewart (Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairoa), Cawthron Institute
  • Associate Professor Daniel Stouffer, University of Canterbury
  • Dr Priya Subramanian, Waipapa Taumata Rau – University of Auckland
  • Dr Julia Talbot-Jones, Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington
  • Dr Hiran Thabrew, Waipapa Taumata Rau – University of Auckland
  • Professor Holly Thorpe, University of Waikato
  • Te Rerekohu Tuterangiwhiu (Ngapuhi, Ngaruahine, Ngai Te Rangi Waikato), Cawthron Institute
  • Professor Rhema Vaithianathan, AUT
  • Dr Grace Villamor, Scion
  • Dr Jesse Whitehead, University of Waikato

Te Pūnaha Matatini received more than 60 excellent applications in this call for investigators, which meant the Strategic Leadership Group had some exceptionally difficult decision-making to do. We were awed by the breadth of expertise in the applications, and the openness and passion of the applicants.

“I thank all of those who applied, because it really was a privilege to read their applications,” says Cilla. “I would have loved to accept so many more.”


You would fit in well with this crowd because you use data in creative ways

You would fit in well with this crowd because you use data in creative ways

23 February 2023

When the Crown Pastoral Land Reform Bill passed its third reading in May 2022, Te Pūnaha Matatini Principal Investigator Professor Ann Brower was delivering a shared inaugural lecture with Principal Investigator Professor Alex James.

Their lecture was on changing the world, one data point at a time. Ann had been working for 15 years to achieve the change enshrined by the bill that passed that day, and would have loved to have been in parliament to see it happen. But delivering her first lecture as a professor on changing the world with data was an appropriate reason to miss it.

The Crown Pastoral Land Reform Bill ended tenure review, a process introduced in 1991 in which leased Crown land could be bought by the government for conservation or bought in full by the farmer who holds the lease. Tenure review affected 10 per cent of Aotearoa New Zealand’s landmass – 2.4 million hectares along the eastern slope of Te Waipounamu the South Island’s Main Divide.

For Ann, the high country in Te Waipounamu is “possibly the most treasured 10 per cent of the country, with the possible exception of the coast. It’s iconic and mythical and culturally significant in a lot of ways.”

In November 2022, the Royal Society Te Apārangi awarded Ann the Charles Fleming Award for Environmental Achievement for protecting the environment through her work on high country tenure review. It was a long road to get to this point of awards and inaugural lectures.

Ann first arrived in Aotearoa on a Fulbright scholarship and, through her research into the politics of land reform as an early career researcher, exposed what she calls the “biggest and quietest rort in the Southern Hemisphere”. She discovered that the Crown had been paying the runholders of South Island high-country stations to freehold parts of their pastoral lease farms, and letting them purchase the rest, often to subdivide for massive profits.

Land that went into private ownership in these deals included significant parts of the shorelines of Lakes Tekapo, Wānaka, Hāwea and Wakatipu, as well as some of the finest vineyard country in Central Otago.

Ann’s initial research in the mid-2000s showed that the Crown was making a net loss on these sales and purchases. The release of her first report detailing these findings caused considerable controversy, earning her some choice epithets, like the ‘chirpy anti-Christ’ and a ‘socialist infection’. Later analysis showed that newly freeholded land sold for an average of around 1,000 times what the Crown sold it for, resulting in an estimated $275 million capital gain.

As the project expanded to include law academics, economists and ecologists, the full scope of the shortcomings of tenure review were brought into stark relief.

“The financial outcomes of the land reform were nonsensically bad,” says Ann. “But the environmental and ecological outcomes were borderline criminal. The land with the most ecological value was privatised and the land with the least conservation value was conserved.”

Ann worked closely with a succession of ministers about this issue through several changes of government. “Because I knew something about high country tenure review that the public had essentially paid me to find out, I felt like it was my job to share that as appropriate.”

“Speaking the truth, as we see it, is our job as academics.”

It was Alex James – who Ann was sharing her inaugural lecture with the night the bill passed ending tenure review – who suggested that she get involved with Te Pūnaha Matatini. “Alex told me ‘You would fit in well with this crowd because you use data in creative ways,” says Ann. “She said ‘I think you could learn some new methods and grow your use of data in creative ways.’ And that Te Pūnaha Matatini folks could learn from the ways that I use data to make the world a better place.”

“In sum she was right,” says Ann. “The creative use of data was the connection.”

Ann is now putting data to creative use in leading one of the current core Te Pūnaha Matatini projects to better understand braided rivers, another iconic feature of Te Waipounamu. This project integrates legal, economic, social, and cultural factors into the well-established models of the topology of braided rivers, along with models of climatic uncertainty to better understand these unique landscape features.

The successful ending of tenure review and Ann’s recognition for the environmental impact of her work is bittersweet. “It’s nice to have an impact,” reflects Ann. “But that impact really came too late. If they had made this change 17 years ago, when I first showed them the evidence, it would have been a much different situation.”

She still loves the high country, though. “It’s such an amazing, rich story,” Ann concludes. “I never get tired of it.”

Meet our investigators: Will Godsoe

Meet our investigators: Will Godsoe

1 December 2022

Te Pūnaha Matatini – the meeting place of many faces – is the Aotearoa New Zealand Centre of Research Excellence for complex systems. We’re looking for new faces to join our community, so we thought you might like to meet some of us.

Dr William Godsoe is an ecologist who tries to match observations of biological diversity with rigorous statistical modelling. He is a senior lecturer at Lincoln University and a principal investigator at Te Pūnaha Matatini.

Will seeks to better forecast how species will respond to climate change and other environmental disturbances. He integrates evolution, mathematics, natural history, game theory and biology with fieldwork to derive a richer understanding of when species thrive in an uncertain world.

“The work I do tends to be odd because it links ideas from different groups of researchers,” says Will, “making it hard to explain to many of my colleagues. Investigators at Te Pūnaha Matatini are accustomed to this sort of oddity, and very good at listening and discussing across disciplines.”

He says that Te Pūnaha Matatini has felt like a second home for him, and he appreciates the kindness of Te Pūnaha Matatini Director Cilla Wehi.

Being a part of Te Pūnaha Matatini has shown Will how the values that underpin research can profoundly shape what can be achieved. “I think this is a deep lesson, and one that I try to implement in my work,” he says.

“It’s a great team of people to work with.”

Meet our investigators: Rachelle Binny

Meet our investigators: Rachelle Binny

24 November 2022

Te Pūnaha Matatini – the meeting place of many faces – is the Aotearoa New Zealand Centre of Research Excellence for complex systems. We’re looking for new faces to join our community, so we thought you might like to meet some of us.

Dr Rachelle Binny works as a mathematical modeller in wildlife ecology and management at Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research, and is a principal investigator at Te Pūnaha Matatini.

Rachelle joined Te Pūnaha Matatini as a postgraduate student when it was first established as a Centre of Research Excellence (CoRE) in 2014 and was the inaugural chair of TPM Whānau – Te Pūnaha Matatini’s network for early career researchers.

“In the first few years we worked had to establish TPM Whānau as an inclusive and supportive community of early career researchers, and to support early career researchers to take on leadership roles.” says Rachelle. “A few years later I became an investigator. This felt like a smooth transition because of the connections I had made with other investigators during my time in TPM Whānau.”

“Being a mathematical biologist, my research spans disciplines and is very data-driven, so I feel right at home in Te Pūnaha Matatini’s transdisciplinary team. Te Pūnaha Matatini has allowed me to connect with and learn from other scientists with diverse expertise, and to contribute to research that has had real impact for Aotearoa New Zealand.”

“Te Pūnaha Matatini’s culture is something special. Our values of manaakitanga, tika, tapu and pono are woven through all of our activities and the ways we engage with one another, and with the wider science community and public. Te Pūnaha Matatini’s Director Cilla Wehi leads strongly by example in guiding a kind, inclusive and diverse research culture.”

Rachelle says that it has been rewarding to watch emerging career researchers carry the baton of TPM Whānau forward and continue to grow its community. She has particularly enjoyed working alongside these early career researchers, and co-supervising Te Pūnaha Matatini PhD projects.

Meet our investigators: Mubashir Qasim

Meet our investigators: Mubashir Qasim

15 November 2022

Te Pūnaha Matatini – the meeting place of many faces – is the Aotearoa New Zealand Centre of Research Excellence for complex systems. We’re looking for new faces to join our community, so we thought you might like to meet some of us.

Dr Mubashir Qasim is an economist and data scientist who works at DairyNZ, and a principal investigator at Te Pūnaha Matatini.

Mubashir attended his first Te Pūnaha Matatini workshop as a PhD student, and was immediately hooked. He joined our early career researcher network, TPM Whānau, and is now a principal investigator.

“My involvement with Te Pūnaha Matatini has had a profound impact on my research,” says Mubashir. “I have been inspired by the applications of mathematical models in social science research by fellow principal investigators, which I frequently apply to my research work. Workshops and research retreats organised by Te Pūnaha Matatini give me the perfect platforms to communicate results and get feedback along the way.”

As someone who joined Te Pūnaha Matatini as an early career researcher, Mubashir has been deeply inspired by Director Cilla Wehi’s continuous support for young researchers. “Cilla’s encouragement of early career researchers to take leadership of projects in their area of expertise is particularly remarkable in training our future leaders.”

He says that Te Pūnaha Matatini’s culture is “diverse, collaborative and inclusive, and built to deliver excellence in inter-disciplinary research.”

“I am honoured and proud to be part of this exceptional organisation.”

Meet our investigators: Anna Brown

Meet our investigators: Anna Brown

10 November 2022

Te Pūnaha Matatini – the meeting place of many faces – is the Aotearoa New Zealand Centre of Research Excellence for complex systems. We’re looking for new faces to join our community, so we thought you might like to meet some of us.

Professor Anna Brown is a principal investigator at Te Pūnaha Matatini and founder and director of Toi Āria, a research centre at Massey University that is interested in harnessing design for positive social change through effective community engagement.

“My background is design,” says Anna. “I have come from a career in graphic and editorial design that has evolved into design in an expanded field. I suggest that when I say ‘design’ people think of that term in the most elastic meaning. Design of systems, of services, of research, of impact.”

“The work that I do now is research into design for public good — ranging from such things as better outcomes for rangatahi, reducing recidivism to rethinking the internet for the people of Aotearoa.”

“Being involved and associated with Te Pūnaha Matatini has given me so much already. Te Pūnaha Matatini is changing how I understand research can be within the academy. Often the design research undertaken by our team is not understood, or relegated to something outside of the known and therefore disregarded.”

“At Te Pūnaha Matatini people and processes are seen and celebrated and from this starting point incredible research is developed. Design and design approaches are welcomed by the research community and celebrated as something useful and valuable, especially when engaging with communities.”

Anna leads The Co-production Project, one of Te Pūnaha Matatini’s core research projects for 2021-2024. This project aims to develop knowledge of co-production to enable communities to be equal partners in research and subsequent development of services and solutions for women’s health in Aotearoa New Zealand. Te Pūnaha Matatini has a strong commitment to public engagement, and this project grew from conversations with other principal investigators.

“The culture of Te Pūnaha Matatini is inclusive and caring,” says Anna. “Working with the wider research teams and community has been (and this word is not often used in academic circles) delightful. Being part of a Centre of Research Excellence with the exemplary reputation of Te Pūnaha Matatini could feel overwhelming, but the welcoming atmosphere, the regard for all forms of research and the care for people has made it anything but.”

For Anna, this welcoming atmosphere comes right from the top. “Cilla Wehi embodies the values of Te Pūnaha Matatini in her leadership as director,” she says. “She is genuine, ethical and values each member of Te Pūnaha Matatini for what they bring. She brings mana to her role and inspires me to reciprocate all that she models.”

Meet our investigators: Tom Roa

Meet our investigators: Tom Roa

7 November 2022

Te Pūnaha Matatini – the meeting place of many faces – is the Aotearoa New Zealand Centre of Research Excellence for complex systems. We’re looking for new faces to join our community, so we thought you might like to meet some of us.

Professor Tom Roa (Ngāti Maniapoto, Waikato) is our Kaumātua and a Principal Investigator at Te Pūnaha Matatini. He provides stability and wisdom as part of our leadership team.

Matua Tom is a Tainui leader, a familiar figure at marae around the country, and a scholar based in Te Pua Wānanga ki te Ao, the Faculty of Māori and Indigenous Studies at the University of Waikato. Over the years, Tom has been a leading figure helping to bring the Māori language into the mainstream, and he is one of the founders of Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori movement in the 1970s.

“As academics, we tend to get caught in our silos, and sometimes miss the opportunities that come from seeing what’s in the peripheral,” says Tom. “It’s exciting that we can invite others to be part of this whānau, and bring in new faces, new ideas, and new leadership in driving the research efforts of Te Pūnaha Matatini into a new space.”

“There’s a whānau atmosphere at Te Pūnaha Matatini,” Tom says. “There’s a culture of sharing information and finding ways that we can explore data and systems so that we can make sense of the complexities as a team. And always asking how we can use those complexities and various data to advance our aspirations for Aotearoa New Zealand.”

Tom has a longstanding research relationship with Te Pūnaha Matatini Director, Associate Professor Cilla Wehi. “Working with Cilla on various research efforts has shown me that she is a family oriented and earthed person,” he says. “With Te Pūnaha Matatini, I’ve seen her in a different light, and marveled at her ability to share the leadership role.”

“Being part of Ngāti Maniapoto, I’m very taken with te kawau mārō – the flight of the cormorant or shag. When the cormorant flies, its wings come in front of the body and push the body forward. The leader sticks its neck out and is not afraid to lead, knowing that when the leader tires, somebody else steps into place and takes a leading role. This was a primary fighting technique of my tupuna Maniapoto, and is symbolic of what I consider the culture of Te Pūnaha Matatini.”

“When Cilla asked me to come on board as Kaumātua, I looked at the research that Te Pūnaha Matatini was doing, and became very excited – particularly in terms of the complexities of systems. In my own work I look at the complexities of whakapapa – layering top to bottom but also from side to side, and the networks that whakapapa create. This happens with whakapapa, and tīkanga, and many other notions that are part of my Māori world. This fascinates me – so I find it very exciting being a part of this team.”

“I’m interested in encouraging research into complexities in tīkanga, te reo, and te ao Māori. There’s so much richness in mātauranga Māori that can enrich Aotearoa New Zealand society as a whole. I’m interested in the complexities of those various mātauranga – to say that mātauranga is one is like saying there’s only one science. There are so many fields to explore.”

Healthy Families NZ is working well, but it’s a drop in the bucket

Healthy Families NZ is working well, but it’s a drop in the bucket

Image: Cover detail from ‘Community-up system change for health and wellbeing: Healthy Families NZ Summative Evaluation Report 2022’, designed by Toi Āria: Design for Public Good, Massey University (Anna Brown, Jean Donaldson and Morgan Dallas).

4 November 2022

Te Pūnaha Matatini Principal Investigator Dr Anna Matheson leads the team that has released a new report evaluating the Healthy Families NZ initiative.

Healthy Families NZ is a large-scale initiative that aims to create a healthier Aotearoa New Zealand by addressing the systems and environments that impact our health and wellbeing. It was launched in 2014 as a new approach to preventing chronic disease that recognises the importance of a systems change approach, along with existing population health efforts.

This initiative is happening in 10 different place-based communities around Aotearoa New Zealand, and involves innovative health promotion teams working to improve the way that organisations collaborate together and building on existing health and wellbeing initiatives to make change on the social determinants of health and wellbeing.

Anna, in partnership with Nan Wehipeihana, leads the team that has evaluated Healthy Families NZ throughout its existence. They have just released their fourth report, which focuses on the last four years, from 2017 – 2021. The recent phase of the evaluation concluded that Healthy Families NZ is continuing to make successful progress and has remained grounded in integrity to the purposes of the initiative. For the evaluation team, Healthy Families NZ is clearly demonstrating that comprehensive and effective action guided by local voices and local needs to address the determinants of health and wellbeing can be achieved.

Dr Anna Matheson leads the team that has released a new report evaluating the Healthy Families NZ initiative.

Complex systems and thinking about how to change systems is a strong focus of Anna’s academic work. She co-leads the core Te Pūnaha Matatini research project ‘Ki te toi o te ora: System change to reverse health inequality and environmental degradation’. This academic background makes her perfectly placed to undertake this evaluation work. “Healthy Families NZ frames itself as a systems change initiative,” she says. “It’s trying to shift the systems that operate locally, and influence the wider systems that impact local stuff.”

The team took a complex systems approach to evaluating the initiative, which considered the different communities involved and their different contexts, and asked what was working for who, where, when and how. Healthy Families NZ is a complicated initiative to understand, so Anna engaged another Te Pūnaha Matatini Principal Investigator, Anna Brown, and the Toi Āria team to design the report.

The published report uses each community as a case study, drawing upon data like interviews, surveys and demographic data, but also asking the communities themselves to explain their successes in their own words. The team then used these quantitative and qualitative sources to explore the six key evaluation questions that Te Whatu Ora – Health New Zealand wanted answered for the report.

Overall, Healthy Families is “working well, but it’s a drop in the bucket!” says Anna. “Very little of the budget for health in Aotearoa New Zealand gets spent on trying to prevent disease and address the social determinants that we know are the main causes of inequities and poorer health outcomes.”

“Healthy Families NZ is a comparatively small investment, but the potential for it to make a huge difference down the track is significant, including saving the healthcare system money in terms of treatment for things like chronic diseases.”

She hopes that the report clearly articulates what Healthy Families NZ does, so that good policy decisions can be made from it.


Mobility, curiosity and creativity at science and engineering expo

Mobility, curiosity and creativity at science and engineering expo

15 September 2022

Students from Te Atatū Intermediate experience a virtual walk through of the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Auckland.

Over three days in September, students at Te Atatū Intermediate experienced science and engineering at an expo featuring virtual reality (VR), robot spheres, and popcorn and candy floss machines.

This expo was designed to foster mobility, curiosity and creativity. These are the three themes that Tony Nemaia’s masters research with Te Pūnaha Matatini has identified as being important for Māori and Pasifika success in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).

The expo was a collaboration between Tony and Ameera Danford from the South Pacific Indigenous Engineering Students (SPIES) network from the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Auckland. It was run at Te Atatū Community Centre and Te Atatū Intermediate by students from SPIES and Te Atatū Intermediate.

The expo started as a koha back to Te Atatū Intermediate for their partnership in the ‘Tales of Diversity’ project that Tony’s masters research is part of. It quickly turned into a real-world example of creating narratives about science and engineering.

One of the central activities was a VR walkthrough to demystify the University of Auckland and its STEM environment. This was a unique and incredibly engaging experience for people at the expo.

A teacher aide commented that it was great to see Māori and Pacific students from Te Atatū Intermediate featured in the VR footage. The VR experience piqued the interest of Māori and Pacific students to visit the University of Auckland.


Students from Te Atatū Intermediate have a tutu with robot spheres.

Mobility, curiosity and flexibility were on full display throughout the expo. Tony observed two Māori students mesmerised by the wonders of a 3D printer. Two days later he discussed the possibilities of having a tutu with a 3D printer:

Tony: Would you like to have a go with a 3D printer?
Student (smiling): Yes (emphatically)
Tony: Would you like to design something and print it?
Student (still smiling): Yes (still emphatically)

Tony Nemaia (taking photo) and Mike O’Sullivan (at back) from the Tales of Diversity project team take the SPIES team out to dinner to say ngā mihi for the expo.

It was an exhausting, but extremely satisfying event. Ngā mihi nui to Ameera and our SPIES contributors: Dominic Swann, Audrey Faleata, Fatai Lotulelei, Erene Punefu, Sophiara Evile and Ryan Saena.

The team would like to acknowledge the important contributions of Te Ahi Hangarau Technology Hub and SkillsVR. Te Ahi Hangarau Technology Hub enabled the concept of VR to flourish with Tony and the Te Atatū Intermediate students and SkillsVR took the VR experience to the next level for the expo.


What students had to say about the expo in Te Atatu Intermediate’s newsletter

Throughout the past three days, the students of Te Atatū Intermediate have experienced VR, robot spheres, and popcorn and candy floss machines. While participating in each activity, students got to learn about science and engineering.

In the VR, students got to experience the University of Auckland and see a group of kids from Te Atatū Intermediate participating. It was very weird but cool seeing ourselves in the VR and hearing everyone saying “oh I see Matua Tony”. That was very funny hearing all of them saying that.

Ameera from SPIES taught every group about how the fancy popcorn and cotton candy machine works.

We also got to learn about robot spheres and how to use them and what they do. For the robots you could challenge yourself with the coding and programming part, or you could just have fun and play around with them. Some groups of students from TAI had ideas of having races with the robots, and that was very interesting because we haven’t had anyone do that before and that was very exciting that they thought of that.

We all really loved the expo along with the activities, and learning about them was really exciting.

Written by Olivia, Sophia and Wahi

How maramataka can guide kaitiakitanga of awa and moana

How maramataka can guide kaitiakitanga of awa and moana

Te Kahuratai Painting on the hoe of Ngahiraka Mai Tawhiti, sailing through Te Moana o Pikopiko-i-whiti.

19 August 2022

Te Kahuratai Painting (Ngāti Manu, Te Popoto, Ngāpuhi) is exploring how maramataka can guide Ngāti Manu kaitiakitanga of awa and moana.

For his Master of Marine Conservation project, Te Kahuratai Painting explored the interconnection between Ngāti Manu kaitiakitanga and maramataka, and how research practice in marine conservation can be guided by maramataka and grounded in whakapapa.

Maramataka is the Māori lunar-stellar-ecological calendar that uses the phases of the moon, the rising of stars in the morning and the timing of ecological phenomena to understand and relate to the environment around us in Aotearoa New Zealand. The revitalisation of maramataka is thriving in Te Ao Māori at the moment, led by maramataka experts like Rereata Makiha, Rangi Mātāmua and Rikki Solomon.

Te Kahuratai was supervised by Dr Dan Hikuroa and Dr Tara McAllister, both principal investigators at Te Pūnaha Matatini, and his mahi was funded by a masters scholarship from Te Pūnaha Matatini.

“It was really me exploring two things,” says Te Kahuratai, “my love of maramataka, and of my hapū Ngāti Manu.”

“Our hapū, being in the valley, is well connected to our forests and our river, but the moana was a gap for me, so I thought I would study marine conservation to fill that gap to help to reconstruct maramataka with our hapū.”

A group of Ngāti Manu and manuhiri on Te Awa Tapu o Taumarere.

The maramataka system of knowledge includes tātai arorangi Māori astronomy, knowledge of the lunar phases, knowledge of the tides and weather patterns, as well as the timing of the flowering of different trees or the migration of different birds, or the running of fish up and down a river. “That can lead to a very specific and quite deep knowledge of our environment,” says Te Kahuratai.

“Kaitiakitanga is often just seen as conservation by Māori, but our understanding of kaitiakitanga is so much deeper than that.”

The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic prevented Te Kahuratai from holding a planned week-long wānanga at his marae, talking about and looking at stars, learning about the lunar-stellar-ecological calendar, and watching specific marine phenomena.

“What happened instead was a really theoretical exploration of how other people have recreated their own maramataka, because there’s more than 500 across the country,” says Te Kahuratai. “It’s really specific – a coastal maramataka versus an inland maramataka would be different, from one coast to the other could be different, one side of the mountain to the other side of the mountain could be different.”

In his thesis, Te Kahuratai linked existing maramataka for the Ngāti Manu rohe of Karetu and Taumarere in the Bay of Islands with the teachings of maramataka experts. He conceptualised pūtaiao as Kaupapa Māori science, developed a framework grounded in kaitiakitanga and maramataka for marine conservation, and asked how we can use knowledge like maramataka to change that way that Kaupapa Māori research is conducted.

“If you’re researching it, you should be practicing it,” says Te Kahuratai.

Tara says that “it was a privilege to work with Te Kahuratai on his master’s thesis. In Te Ao Māori we often talk about tuākana/teina relations, and in this case Te Kahuratai was the tuākana and I was the teina, and I learnt so much from engaging with his work.”

Te Kahuratai was gifted maramataka from Taumarere by Rereata Makiha.

“I worked with three different manuscripts,” explains Te Kahuratai. “One was written in the early 1900s. One was based on an early manuscript but was reprinted for schools back in the 1980s, and the third was a really old one from before the Māori written system was formalised, and it was based on symbols.”

“The level of detail in them is crazy. They name the specific nights that you should expect the bulk of īnanga whitebait to run, specific nights for planting vegetables that grow in the ground, specific nights for planting vegetables that grow above the ground, specific nights for planting vegetables that like a lot of water, or good times to use particular methods in specific places to do certain types of fishing.”

Matariki from Puketohunoa Pā.

Te Kahuratai is planning to explore these maramataka as a PhD project, to see if the changing climate affects the guidance from ngā wā ō mua many decades ago, and investigate how they could be updated for the more unpredictable contemporary environmental conditions caused by a warming planet.

Dan is excited about this research because of “the scope, the privileging of deep knowledge of a specific place, tested through time, and its application in contemporary times, and how it can inform conservation practices.”

Te Kahuratai’s thesis concludes with a framework that will guide this PhD research, based on the whakataukī “Tuia ki te rangi, tuia ki te whenua, tuia ki te moana, tuia ki te here tangata, ka rongo te po, ka rongo te ao,” which means: “weave towards the sky, towards the land, towards the waters, and weave to the binding thread of people, and then you will come to understand the divisions of night and day”.

For Tara, “Te Kahuratai’s thesis is a koha, especially for Ngāti Manu, filled with insight and provocations to rethink the way in which we do our research.”