Water and Culture: Māori

Disclaimer: all of the posts in this series are based on things I’ve read or learned from others. I do not claim to know anything first hand or to be an expert.

Water is of high importance in Māori culture in New Zealand. For Māori, water (‘wai’) is the essence of all life and all water has ‘mauri’, or life force [1,2]. Mauri is given by the ‘atua’, or ancestors, therefore water is considered a living thing and cannot be changed or disrupted in any way that would alter its mauri [3]. Water is also prevalent in the Māori creation story: it is said that Ranginui (sky father) mated with Papatūānuku (earth mother), and their separation and resulting tears are thought to be the origin of all water on earth [3,4]. Descendants of Ranginui and Papatūānuku are thought to be various personifications of water such as Parawhenuamea who is the embodiment of rivers and streams, and her spouse Kiwa who is the embodiment of the oceans [3].

Water is an important symbol in Māori culture, and ‘wai’ is a prefix in many words referring to balance and the interconnectedness of all living things. For example, ‘wairua’ means spirituality or one’s soul [5]. Some tribes will speak of ‘te taha wairua’ whose literal translation is ‘the dimensions of two waters’, but is used to express ‘the spiritual place of existence’ [4]. Water is so important to Māori culture that the Whanganui tribe fought for decades to gain recognition of the Whanganui river as a living entity. In 2017, this recognition was granted, and the river was given the same legal rights as a human being [6].

When it comes to sustainably planning, developing, and implementing innovation in the water sector, Māori are just one example of a culture with strong ties to water that need to be considered. For example, Māori beliefs around water include a restriction on the mixing of water with different mauri, e.g., fresh (‘waimaori’) and salt (‘waitai’) water [3]. As such, Māori require stormwater to be treated before it is discharged into other waterways to ensure that mixing and pollution of mauri does not occur [1]. Water innovation and management methods that work with Māori culture should be considered, such as low impact urban design which is a stormwater management method consistent with Māori views to manage the environment in sustainable ways [1].

[1] Cleanwaterways.org. Māori Perspective http://www.cleanwaterways.org.nz/maori.html

[2] The New Zealand Conservation Authority. Protecting New Zealand’s Rivers; Wellington, New Zealand, 2011.

[3] Williams, J. Resource Management and Māori Attitudes to Water in Southern New Zealand. N. Z. Geog. 2006, 62 (1), 73–80. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1745-7939.2006.00050.x.

[4] Royal, T. A. C. Story: Tangaroa – the sea. https://teara.govt.nz/en/tangaroa-the-sea

[5] Valentine, H.; Tassell-Mataamua, N.; Flett, R. Whakairia Ki Runga: The Many Dimensions of Wairua. NZ. J. Psychol. 2017, 46 (3), 64–71.

[6] Roy, E. A. New Zealand river granted same legal rights as human being https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/16/new-zealand-river-granted-same-legal-rights-as-human-being

Cover photo provided by Nathan Moore, south island

Comments are closed.

Create a website or blog at WordPress.com

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: