Mana whenua, mana moana: Tūhourangi and Lake Rotokākahi
Mana whenua and mana moana are cultural concepts that are intrinsically linked to Māori cultural and environmental landscapes and identity. These physical landscapes embody ancestral legacies validating tūrangawaewae rights and affirming identity as Māori. These concepts are dynamic and have traditionally adapted to the changes in surrounding areas and the impact on societal values and principles. This study will focus on these cultural concepts applied to Lake Rotokākahi and its environs which are located within the volcanic plateau of the central North Island (Te Ika-a-Māui) of New Zealand. The lake is located within the tribal region of the principal tribe Te Arawa and focusses on the hapū of Tūhourangi and Ngāti Tumatawera that claim authority/sovereignty (rangatiratanga) of this particular area.
The aim of this research was to investigate and collect historical information about this landscape in order to understand how cultural and traditional views shape the understanding and regard of this area. Due to the scarcity of information related to this topic, this research will be a repository of tribal understandings/Tūhourangitanga about this area to sustain future generations. It is recognised that the researcher’s position as a Tūhourangi woman not only links me to the research but also positively influences the study’s integrity through the continuous critiquing of professional conduct and the research practice.
This research was based on a phenomenological methodology and Kaupapa Māori approach utilising the perspectives and insights of six Tūhourangi tribal members and one non-Māori participant who is local to the area. More specifically, participant interviews used an interpretative phenomenological framework to draw on participants’ ‘life experiences’ viewed within a Kaupapa Māori worldview. Additionally tribal narrative such as whaikōrero, pepeha and mōteatea were used to verify, validate, support and/or challenge some of the experiences of participants and the archival literature.
Based on the phenomenological and Kaupapa Māori approach, five themes emerged. It was recognised that the research was a result of a combined dialogue with each of the participants and their life experiences within a socio-cultural context formed many stories that reflect the meanings and values that this physical location embodies. Themes one to three emphasise tribal knowledge systems and cultural concepts such as whakapapa (genealogical connections)/identity, tapu (sacred) and mana (authority). Theme four concentrated on governance and management of the lake, which also highlighted the tensions between Māori and non-Māori governance theory. Theme five centred on hope and the future aspirations of the participants in relation to the protection, sustainability and maintenance of this area.
Overall this research highlighted that there were varied viewpoints around concepts and ideas that were thought to be commonly held beliefs. The implications of these sometimes contradictory interpretations challenged the traditional and customary knowledge and tikanga (tribal practices) toward not only the area but to Tūhourangi and their ‘ways of being’. In spite of these differences the study identified that the regard for Lake Rotokākahi still maintains a unique place in the psyche of the tribe and the community not only as an area of natural beauty but also cultural significance that lies within the heart of New Zealand’s lakes district.