An exposition of Māori “ways of knowing” in marine biology and conservation: a taxpayer-funded project riddled with theology, spirituality, and lore

September 23, 2022 • 12:00 pm

This set of eleven postcards (or “flashcards,” as I call them), come from the “Sustainable Seas Initiative“, a government-supported program designed to apply Mātauranga Māori (MM) or Māori ways of knowing, to marine biology, including both understanding the sea and conserving it and its inhabitants. Apparently, in contrast to the claims of the paper I discussed yesterday, you can indeed separate areas of empirical endeavor and discuss them separately, for here we are discussing marine biology. I have only looked over the 155-page report on what is to be done, but what I’ve seen isn’t heartening. But absent having read it carefully (yet), I’ll just stick to showing you the “summary” cards accompanying the report. These explain the various aspects of MM that are part of this endeavor.

You can download the 11 colorful cards here, and here’s why they’re supposed to be useful (their text indented)

These summary cards are introduction tools only, not universal definitions.

Iwi, hapū and whānau knowledge systems are place and people specific. We caution the use of quotes or analysis out of context, without respect for those ancestors who provided it, and in isolation of reference to existing tangata whenua (tangata moana) sources and authorities. These summaries are effectively ‘background reading’ in preparation for deeper discussions.

We hope these cards are useful to iwi, hapū and whānau in the pursuit of their own knowledge retention, expansion and transmission to future generations.

We also anticipate these summaries will be useful to marine related decision makers of all kinds and at all levels. We encourage people to read the Hui-te-ana-nui report as an opportunity to better understand a Mātauranga led way of working with the Tangaroa ecosystem.

. . .The report also:

  • Examines mātauranga associated with the marine environment
  • Indexes the reference sources of this varied mātauranga
  • Signposts where to go for further detail

Understanding, developing and retaining mātauranga and kaitiakitanga specific to the marine environment is a vital component of ecosystem-based management (EBM) for Aotearoa. For example, it is crucial for developing spiritual, cultural, social, environmental and economic practices, indicators and metrics that are relevant to our Aotearoa context.

Here’s a description of the cards. Noe the “metaphysical elements” that are included in a “system of knowledge”. It is this mixture of the natural with the supernatural, of practical knowledge with untestable assertions about gods and connections, that tells us that MM is not in the least equivalent to modern science.

The rest of the material below comes from the 11 cards. Click on any screenshot to enlarge it.

MM is like Buddhism in emphasizing that everything is interconnected—in MM, however, though the via common descent of everything from two creators (sky and earth). We are even related to rocks in this way!

The creation and a Whanaungatanga genealogy:

Note that Mātauranga, the knowledge itself, includes how it is known as well as what is known. This drags the metaphysical (gods), as well as lore and legend, into the realm of the empirical:

Here’s a list of what the Mātauranga includes. Note that besides language, it comprises “proverbs,” Spiritual and values”, and “stories and legends.” No, this is not “knowledge.” Note that there are other unspecified things included as well.

Included is Kaitiaki, or guardianship. There’s a substantial supernatural aspect here requiring propitiatory rituals:

And “taonga,” the values and practices to sustain the marine environment. Note the denigration of a “narrow physical view” at the end and the intrusion of the spiritual throughout:

Now I ask you, is this something that can be considered “knowledge about the ocean”: a plan of action and principles to conserve the ocean environment? Yes, there may be conservation practices here, but they’re mixed up with a ton of spiritual stuff that is totally unproven (and likely wrong)—things passed down from ancestors that would not be part of modern marine conservation at all.

Do I “respect” this practice? No more than I respect Catholicism, Hinduism, Islam, and any other way of life that contains spiritual elements that have no basis in fact. It is this mixture of the physical and the metaphysical that makes the teaching of MM in classrooms as a “way of knowing” equivalent to modern science such a ludicrous proposal.

Yes, the Māori can have their superstitions, gods, and creation myths, but what is happening here is that they are forcing them onto the New Zealand populace, who not only funds this stuff through taxes but is forced to adhere to its philosophy and practices for fear of being called racist. As Hitchens said, the religious (and yes, much of this is religion) can have their toys, but they can’t force the rest of us to play with their toys.

19 thoughts on “An exposition of Māori “ways of knowing” in marine biology and conservation: a taxpayer-funded project riddled with theology, spirituality, and lore

  1. As Hitchens said, the religious (and yes, much of this is religion) can have their toys, but they can’t force the rest of us to play with their toys.
    This! And, as I believe someone commented on our host’s previous MM post, Maoris drove the large fauna in NZ to extinction and were responsible for significant deforestation. Unless MM can acknowledge that – and apologise for it – it is hard to take it seriously. Science makes mistakes, recognises when it has done so, and improves. Can MM say the same?

    1. I don’t think MM would buy the right to be taken seriously merely by apologizing for what Maori colonizers did several centuries ago. First, there is no point in humans today apologizing for what their ancestors did, any more than I apologize for my ancestors’ coming to Canada and spreading tuberculosis among the Indigenous. But more to the point, MM would still be nonsense even it let us rub its nose in the extinctions and deforestation of yore. Those acts are not moral crimes. The only value in bringing them up now is to buttress the case that MM is just made up as they go along and does [edit: NOT] have harmony with nature as a grounding philosophy..

  2. Enforcers of MM show an equivalence to DEI proponents. All cost to the truth for the sake of ideology. My way or the highway.
    Maori like most indigonous groups have valid arguements for all the reasons clearly exposed over time. It is time to be heard and the tools provided are there to be used. Political, social, power, money, ideology.
    Advancing your way of life as equivalent to that of the west is a way to express and retain a semblance of a subsumed culture. A way trials and tribulations of modern pressures on indigenous populations can be ameliorated and provide meaning.
    Trouble starts when you make claims that are redundant, appealing to myths and legends it will not save it from criticism, ridicule, mocking, as it should be.
    Had the powers that be categorized and placed this “way of knowing” in the right arena of learning in the first place we may be having a different conversation today.

  3. It is offensive that haoles — papa’a — are involved in this at all; that English is being used to sully Maori language. There must be complete separation and equality, and no intercourse between the two Worlds and Ways of Knowing (WsOK). No Maori words in English WsOK; no English in Maori WsOK. Written Maori, derived originally from missionary efforts, must be extinguished, forever forgotten, cancelled, so as not to pollute pure “MM”. The wisdom and interconnectedness and beauty and truth of MM can only be lived and experienced in a Pure Oral Tradition. As long as English is used to describe, advocate, categorize, or (horrors!) criticize MM, it will remain impaired and impure. Once the WsOK are completely separated, things will take care of themselves. And none shall pass between them. That is the only way for these two WsOK to exist in pure form. Completely separate in all ways and thus equal.

    1. Your Swiftian proposal would actually be welcomed by many Maori activists, if you fixed a glaring omission — the “complete separation” needs to include returning all the land to Maori control, including full control over immigration.

      FWIW, the same is probably true for many native Hawaiian activists.

    2. Not a bad idea. Science is so incompatible with superstition and mythology that any attempt to entwine the two can only hinder the former and vex the followers of the latter.

  4. “It is offensive that haoles — papa’a — are involved in this at all; that English is being used to sully Maori language”

    This offensive sentiment is made worse by the vile racist slur. The rest of the comment is gibberish, as might be expected.

  5. The postmodern irrationalists intentionally blur the difference between belief and knowledge, between faith and fact, between mythical story and scientific theory.

  6. Aaaand… welcome to Peak Nonsense. Thanks to PCC(E) for drawing this to our attention again. I believe he’s right that academics and others in NZ are not allowed to utter such heresy and sanity.

  7. > a taxpayer-funded project riddled with theology, spirituality, and lore

    I mistakenly read the final word as ‘love‘. Surprisingly, it still fits. It’s fascinating to watch how many people keep trying to imbue dispassionate academic fields with emotions, or attribute emotions to them, including ‘hate’, ‘love’, and ‘respect’. It should go without saying that an academic field cannot have emotions, but a surprising number of people refuse to accept that today.

    I strongly encourage everyone here to be aware of encroaching emotional terms in places where they should not be. Emotionalism simply is not compatible with rationalism.

  8. Apologies to the indiginous peoples, but this all seems very qualitative. I do not know how to bring mathematics to play to quantify laws and make predictions and design new technologies for the good of society. Reading this stuff is like attending a feel-good workshop that you leave smiling until you realize that you have learned nothing of substance.

  9. In the 19th C they used to state that non-whites should not study science because they lacked the ‘mental stamina’ to do well at it. In the 21st C they state that non-whites should reject ‘White Mans Knowledge’ because it’s spiritually harmful to them…

    That the two statements are functionally identical totally escapes those who promogulate things like this.

  10. Evidently, most ‘Maoris’ identify as mixed race. From what I’ve seen, the more prominent advocates of MM-as-science all look pretty white. So it really seems like this stuff is mostly being promoted by posers and wannabes.

    1. A pattern we’ve seen repeated several times now: some people declare themselves to be something oh-so-interesting, and then demand that the whole rest of the world share that interest…

  11. Speaking of taxpayer funding, the Ministry for the Environment is advertising for “Mātauranga Māori Analysts”:

    I don’t know how anyone could read the job description and understand it, let alone think “I could do that”. They do talk about “blending Mātauranga with science”, which would imply that they are different things, something the Listener Seven were chastised for saying.

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