Ki te whei ao, ki te ao mārama: From one world to the next

The photo is the front of the meeting house Tūtahi Tonu, which embodies Māori knowledge at the Epsom campus of the University of Auckland (used with permission from Te Puna Wānanga).


I’m so happy to be in Aotearoa New Zealand writing my first PESA Agora column, timed for the Spring Equinox on 23 September 2020: that special point on our annual cycle through space when Tamanui-te-Rā, the Sun, spends equal time above and below the horizon: 12 hours daylight and 12 hours darkness. After that, he lingers longer above than below, each sunrise inching south and closer to us here in Aotearoa, at the rate of one finger-width on the Eastern horizon each morning, until we reach the date of the longest day, the Summer Solstice (21 December 2020), when Te Rā spends as long as possible with his summer wife, Hine Raumati, who lives near us here on the land. After his summer sojourn, Te Rā heads back out to sea, one finger-width each day, to be with his winter wife, Hine Takurua, who lives out there.

There’s so much wisdom and practical know-how about gardening, fishing, etc. wrapped up in these old Māori nature narratives of earth and space knowledge, harking back to a different ethos, a unique worldview and set of values that seems at risk of extinction at this time, along with the majority of species that have evolved along with humans on our planet ark. By showing ‘the mainstream’ that another way to think is possible, mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) offers itself as a priceless gift or taonga to the wider world, te ao whānui.

The possibility of difference was never more important than now, when the USA in its abject failure to respond to the pandemic has become a ludicrous object of pity in the eyes of the rest of the world, completely undone by centuries of violent racism and intolerance of difference. A malignant puppet of the uber-wealthy global owner class, Trump in his inhumanity recalls nothing more than the dystopian fiction of C. S. Lewis, who may have invented the term ‘post-humanity’ and who imagined a future when a few elite men maintained control beyond the span of natural life as ‘brains in vats’ in his 1945 novel That Hideous Strength.

Hei aha tērā (never mind all that). The task of the moment for me is to acknowledge the passing of my friend and teacher, Mangu Awarau, of the Ngāi Takoto people of the Far North, ko Waimanoni te marae. Mangu walked the talk like few others; he embodied Māori subjectivity as difference, exuding from his every pore a sense of being positively Māori, definitely not Pākehā, paying no respect whatsoever to Pākehā rules and ideas about how the world should work. For many younger Māori people, Mangu was like a personification of te ao Māori (the Māori world). I clearly remember our first meeting (in 1986, at Tāpui marae ki Matauri), when I was unable to look away, unable to decide whether he was young or old. He seemed to belong to a different time and place. He seemed to express the essence of Māori identity. Mangu invariably brought Māori wisdom to bear on situations and reminded everyone of how simple being Māori really is. I never saw anyone better at whakakatakata i te whare, which means the speaker making the whole wharenui (Māori meeting house) crack up with laughter and be as one in thought and feeling, no matter how sad the occasion. He has been missed from his marae for years now, and will be forever remembered. His send-off to his final resting-place in Awanui on 3 August 2020 was as moving and magical as one might expect.

E Mangu, moe mai, haere atu rā. Kua whetūrangitia koe kia kānapanapa mai mō ake tonu.

The intangible nature of Māori identity is an important and misunderstood issue in post-colonial times, when completely traditional Māori ways of life have been untenable for many generations. The process of cultural loss and degradation is too similar to the process of ecological loss not to notice the homology. Step by step, little by little, events happen and decisions are made by which habitats and community bases die off or are abandoned, as the result of a mix of various causes ranging from natural processes to blindly destructive human engineering. I am a child of the 1970s, a time of ethnic revival. I have always self-identified as Māori and female: always glad to be Māori, but not so much female. As a prolific child reader (I started reading Agatha Christie novels aged 9) I thought extensively about being a girl, not a boy, with much inner torment, since I saw girls as ‘unlucky’ for their fate of being dominated by males. I remember deciding before turning ten that I was included when books (from my mother’s bookshelves, not my classroom) referred to people in the generic as ‘he’ – somehow grasping that ‘he’ was being used differently in these books from its use in ordinary conversations. By then I had noticed that my father and his siblings sometimes confused ‘she’ with ‘he’ and ‘her’ with ‘him’ in conversation, and realized it was because they spoke Māori amongst themselves, and English when talking to others (including me). Awareness that words have different meanings in different contexts is an example of the kind of cognitive advantage conferred by biculturalism.

Today in my research I use a related ‘bicultural and Māori-centred’ strategy of re-reading the Eurocentric archive, by ‘reading past’ the errors introduced by the ideological biases of patriarchy, racism, and classism, and the resultant denigratory assumptions made by published (Pākehā-centred) social science scholarship about all things Māori. Kaupapa Māori principles guide a research process of re-evaluating old claims made on those dubious bases, in a strategy for the insurrection of Māori philosophy, using close Māori-centred readings as a method for writing Indigenous philosophical educational research. Over the last 20 years, I have developed this research approach to reflect Kaupapa Māori principles, and bring forth my Māori identity in my educational research practice, based mainly on post-qualitative methods.

Two relevant research concepts are the archive and the biography, which are useful to consider from a critical Māori perspective. Both concepts relate to the process by which life experiences become integrated (or not) into Western canons of ‘truth’ that support Eurocentric structures of everyday commonsense understandings, based on apparently unassailably rational thinking. The academic archive is a key source of discursive power in establishing and maintaining the canons of the disciplines and their traditions, intellectual and social. Literature reviews address the canon of a particular idea through its archive, in the way that, for example, certain key published reviews have been used to help establish the ‘canon’ of Kaupapa Māori research.

Every Māori person navigates their way through the intercultural hyphen between te ao Māori me te ao Pākehā, which is a relationship, a dynamic process that takes place over time measured in the span of individual lives. Collectively, these individual lives add up to our nation’s society and history over the generations. Governments around the world and in Aotearoa New Zealand seem overly entranced by quantitative bases for education policy and hence research. But Māori medium education research cannot make sense of itself, its past, its future or its challenges by the use of statistics. In research based on statistics, a person is represented in the data by one number. One number is extremely inadequate to represent the educational journey of a person. This is what is meant by ‘thin’ data as opposed to the ‘thick’ data of qualitative data. One such method that tends to be overlooked in education research is biography. Biography is probably even more relevant in Māori research with its rapid changes and complex politics than for mainstream education. Kimai Tocker showcases the power of biography as a Māori educational method by telling the story of the schooling experience of three generations of women: her mother, herself, and her daughter. This connected family history is a small story of language loss and recovery, which provides thick or rich data about the diachronic and intergenerational effects of education policy. The third generation represented in the biography are now the parents of the next generation of students of Māori medium education, where lies its future, and in whose mouths will live the future of te reo.

Tēnā rā tātou katoa. Ka huri. (Greetings to all. The end.)

Disclosure Statement: Georgina Tuari Stewart does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Full Citation Information:
Stewart, G. T. (2020). Ki te whei ao, ki te ao mārama: From one world to the next. PESA Agora.

Georgina Tuari Stewart

Georgina Tuari Stewart (ko Whakarārā te maunga, ko Matauri te moana, ko Te Tāpui te marae, ko Ngāpuhi-nui-tonu te iwi) is Professor of Māori Philosophy of Education in Te Ara Poutama, Auckland University of Technology, Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand. She is the author of Māori Philosophy: Indigenous thinking from Aotearoa, which introduces Māori philosophy as a Kaupapa Māori approach to studying Māori knowledge.