Mātauranga Māori—the ūkaipō of knowledge in New Zealand

Mātauranga Māori—the ūkaipō of knowledge in New Zealand

Hikuroa, D. (2017) Mātauranga Māori—the ūkaipō of knowledge in New Zealand, Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand, 47:1, 5-10.

Many of the topics discussed in this article relate to what Jeanette spoke to us about in class last week.

Mātauranga Māori is essentially the knowledge and understanding of everything that exists in the universe. This article describes Mātauranga Māori and the facets that it is made up of. Ūkaipō in this instance refers to the source or origin of this knowledge.

Pūrākau and maramataka are types of Mātauranga Māori. Pūrākau are myths and stories. Maramataka is the Māori lunar calendar which helped to dictate the timing of planting, harvesting and fishing.

Māori developed several types of knowledge which were passed on through oral delivery. These included waiata (songs), pūrākau and whakapapa (genealogy), which demonstrates an interconnectivity between everything.

Within western science, Mātauranga Māori is often dismissed, and the author discusses the disconnect between western science and mātauranga Māori.

Pūrākau and maramataka work together to provide the general framework through which Māori have come to understand the world around them, and to pass on this knowledge to future generations. This knowledge has been critiqued and verified through time to make it reliable and accurate.

The scientific method aims to provide accurate explanations of how the world works. This is based on evidence obtained through observation and experimentation and the hypotheses and predictions generated around it. There are many similarities between science and mātauranga Māori. Both areas of knowledge are created methodically and are subjected to scrutiny to make them as precise as possible.

There is increasing recognition of the importance of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) worldwide. Ecologists at Otago University recently undertook a research partnership with Rakiura Māori to investigate the harvest and conservation of tītī (Ardenna grisea), for a special edition of the New Zealand Journal of Zoology. This work generally found that there are many ways scientists could improve communication between cultures (Crawford 2009).

TEK generally uses a retroduction approach, which starts with an observation and then aims to find the most simple explanation for it. This is one of the methods often used in western science, and is particularly useful for suggesting hypotheses (Crawford 2009).

Mātauranga Māori and science can be complementary, and while there are differences they can be used in conjunction, particularly when it comes to communicating science to different audiences who may have different understandings of the world.

The author demonstrates this with the example of a Pūrākau, which involves a taniwha inhabiting a stream in eastern Bay of Plenty. The taniwha is responsible for the movement of the stream when it flicks its tail, and also gives warning of the danger it presents. After floods, some of the channels of the stream would change course, which explains the idea of the taniwha moving. This Pūrākau was how Māori explained the phenomenon of the moving stream, and also warned others to be wary of it.

Taniwha were used to explain many events that involved storm surges or tsunamis. Not only was this a way to provide an explanation of natural hazards, but it was also useful for warning others of dangerous situations. Another example of this is in Cape Campbell, where a taniwha lived that would suddenly rise up from the sea and sweep people from the land (King et al. 2007). This area contains a major fault boundary, and the taniwha provided a representation of tsunamis that would occur following an earthquake. You can read more about this here.

When communicating science to Māori groups, scientists must consider the values mātauranga Māori encompasses. Mātauranga Māori places emphasis on the interconnectedness between humans, their actions and the environment. The holistic approach taken to explain the world around them highlights the importance of valuing human life, and stresses that new technologies should not negatively affect indigenous people or the environment.

The important value that Māori place on their environment and the flora and fauna it supports is expressed through their art, stories and songs. Having an understanding of Māori knowledge and culture is crucial for New Zealand scientists to be able to create successful relationships with the Māori community.

Click here to watch a good video to watch if you’re keen to know more. Please comment to let me know your thoughts!



Crawford, S. (2009). Matauranga Maori and Western science: the importance of hypotheses, predictions and protocols. Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand, 39(4), 163-166.

King, D. N., Goff, J., & Skipper, A. (2007). Māori environmental knowledge and natural hazards in Aotearoa‐New Zealand. Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand, 37(2), 59-73.

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