18.3 Tangata Whenua and the environment

Ko te whakapapa tenei

Mo nga taonga tuku iho a Io Matua Kore

Ka moe a Papatuanuku ia Ranginui

Ka puta

Ko Tanemahuta, ko Tangaroa

Ko Tawhirimatea, ko Tumatauenga, ko


Me Rongomatane

Ko enei nga taonga tuku iho o Ratou Ma

Ko matou nga kaitiaki mo enei taonga.

Genealogy recites for us our divine Inheritance,

Through the union of Earth Mother and Sky Father

Who gave birth to our resources

And entrusted their care into our hands,

The land and the sea

The forests and the birds,

The animals and plants,

All these treasures, bestowed upon us as nurturers…

To sustain the people.

This statement highlights the cultural perspective of tangata whenua on the importance of the natural resources of Northland and links Maori to Papatuanuku and Ranginui through genealogy. For Maori, this link shows that they are part of a complete living system. The close attachment of Tangata Whenua to their ancestral lands and resources stems from the belief in their common origins and from occupation of the land and use and establishes tribal identity and continuity.

The traditional concept of Kaitiaki and Kaitiakitanga is part of a complex social, cultural, economic and spiritual system that is established through the long association Maori have with lands and waters (Kowhai Consulting Ltd 2002). The very basic meaning of ‘tiaki' is to guard. It also means to preserve, to keep, conserve, nurture, protect and watch over. Kai denotes the agent of the action (tiaki). Therefore Kaitiaki is the preserver, the keeper, conserver, nurturer, and protector. The addition of tanga indicates preservation, conservation and protection.

In their delegated authority in managing the natural and physical resources of a region, district and regional councils must provide for Tangata Whenua involvement in resource management, particularly where it affects their taonga. Councils have a duty to protect and provide for the sustainable management of these taonga.

Whenua (land)

The connection between Maori and land is not restricted to land currently owned by Maori, it includes lands traditionally occupied by iwi and hapu. Maori have a deep seeded relationship with the land so in managing the effects on the use of land then recognition must be given to the relationship of Maori with their ancestral lands and the need to protect sites and resources of particular cultural and spiritual value.

Te Rerenga Wairua (or Te Reinga), Cape Reinga is of significant interest to all iwi in Northland and undoubtedly, to all iwi around New Zealand.

Wai (water)

To Maori, wai (water) in all its forms is descended from Papatuanuku and Ranginui. Tangata whenua value water for the life giving force it is and for food resources it provides, including watercress, eels (tuna), and whitebait.

Awa (rivers) represent the tupuna (ancestors) of the tangata whenua. Water and river therefore have their own mana (integrity). Water also has its own life force (mauri) and spirit which are linked to mana. Spiritual qualities (mauri and wairua) can be adversely affected by the taking, use or diversion of water and discharges of contaminants to water.

In Northland there are many rivers that are of special significance to the iwi and hapu in the surrounding rohe. For example, Rangatira (Kerikeri Inlet) has special meaning to Ngati Rehia, as does Oruawharo for Te Uri o Hau. For Te Uri o Hau, those rivers that flow into the Kaipara Harbour play a significant role in their history and in their future.

As a water source, roto (lakes) are also of great significance to Maori. They too have mauri which can be impacted on by the take, diversion and use of, and discharges to them. Like rivers, lakes were utilised as a food source and recreational area. As with other natural resources the protection and sustainable management of lakes ensured their health and the health of those resources within them were maintained for future generations.

One of the most significant lakes in Northland is Lake Omapere. Not only is it the largest lake in Northland, it is the only lake; (the lake bed, water and resources in the water), owned by Maori. The remnant settlements which lie on the shores of the lake show the historical landscape and how much interaction there was between Maori and the lake. It provided not only a freshwater source, but also an abundance of freshwater mussels, fish and tuna (eel) to sustain the many hapu who lived near or travelled regularly to the lake. The photograph below shows the archaeological site of Mawe Pa located on the shores of Lake Omapere.

The archaeological site of Mawe Pa located on the shores of Lake Omapere.

Lakes can be linked to culture and tradition for other reasons. For example, another significant lake is the home of a traditional Maori waka, which is submersed in its water for protection. For the local hapu, the protection of this lake is not only linked to the mauri of the water but also to the preservation of an extremely important taonga from their whakapapa (ancestry).

Hau (air)

According to Maori the sky is Ranginui, father of Papatuanuku's earthly progeny and therefore is tapu or sacred. The emission of contaminants to air may therefore have adverse effects on the spiritual values associated with the sky, atmosphere and associated celestial bodies which are the source of light and life.

Tahati (coast)

The coastal environment and its resources are of great cultural, spiritual and economic value to all Northland iwi. As kaitiaki (guardians) of traditional fishing grounds and reefs, iwi and hapu have a responsibility to safeguard these resources for the future. This guardianship role is reflected in customary practices such as rotational or seasonal harvesting, the use of rahui (prohibition) on seafood gathering to prevent over exploitation and the avoidance of contamination of coastal waters and habitat from human and other wastes.

Northland's coast is rich in tribal history with many sites and features of significance to tangata whenua. These include coastal wahi tapu, battlegrounds, urupa (burial sites), tauranga waka (ancestral canoe landing and launching sites) and toko taunga ika (rocks marking fishing grounds).

For example, Te Oneroa a Tohe (90 Mile Beach) and the long association Te Aupouri (along with neighbouring iwi) have with this beach, through to Hokianga Harbour and the landing of Kupe.

Archaeological sites

Early settlement in Northland, especially in coastal areas, means that the region is rich in archaeological sites, as shown in figure 2 (below). New Zealand Archaeological Association (NZAA) has a national inventory of all sites of significance that have been recorded and registered with them; this is known as the NZAA Site Recording Scheme. In total there were more than 11,480 sites in Northland recorded in the NZAA recording scheme at August 2007, of which approximately 10,530 (92%) are related to Maori occupation. The Maori sites include wahi tapu sites, middens, terraces, pa sites, battle grounds and urupa.

Map of archaeological sites in Northland.

Figure 2: Archaeological sites in Northland registered on the NZAA database at August 2007. Data source: New Zealand Archaeological Association (NZAA) Site Recording Scheme.