By Laura Goodall 26/02/2016

What is Mātauranga Māori? What does it mean to have and use it? Why is it important in science?

In a nutshell, Mātauranga Māori can’t be translated or defined in a simple, two-dimensional way: it is multifaceted. There are many aspects to it.

From my understanding, Mātauranga Māori not only refers to the knowledge that Māori have, but encompasses the Māori way of knowing – and the connectedness that knowledge has with the environment out of which it was derived. [1]


Prof Steve Pointing and Dr John Perrott, Director and Associate Director respectively of the Institute for Applied Ecology NZ, have created a six-minute video that looks at some aspects of recognising Māori indigenous knowledge and values in research, education and kaitiakitanga (loosely translated as ‘guardianship’):

“At our Institute we actively nurture a spirit of collaborative learning in our research and teaching relationships by developing tikanga (Māori protocols) for ensuring the cultural safety and comfort of all research stakeholders,” Steve says. “We wanted to share our experience in a video acknowledging the value and integrity of Mātauranga Māori in science.”



On the importance of recognising Mātauranga Māori in scientific practices, John explains:


“Indigenous knowledge is enshrined in New Zealand’s culture and legislation through the Treaty of Waitangi. The importance Māori place on the environment, and native flora and fauna in particular is demonstrated in Māori art, oral narratives and proverbial sayings. Understanding Māori knowledge and cultural norms is essential for science practitioners in New Zealand if they are to build effective working relationships with Māori communities.

“The power dynamics that exist within educational and research relationships change when collaborations are formed between researchers and indigenous peoples.  Collaboration is about sharing with and learning from one another. Māori term this style of collaborative learning ‘Ako’, meaning two-way learning relationships. Educational and research relationships with Māori stumble at times because of a failure by scientists to understand and value Ako.

“To communicate science to Māori groups scientists must first learn to engage their values. Mātauranga Māori highlights the importance of understanding the interrelated connectedness between people, the things we do, and our values. It accentuates the importance of valuing people and human life and connects the scientist and the learner by stressing the importance of ensuring emerging ideas and technology are not created at the expense of first nation peoples or the natural world.

“Ako processes place at the forefront the guiding principles of dignity and mana (prestige) of all those engaging in the collaboration process. The key principles of Ako emphasise the learning environment via maintaining the mana of all participants.”

This video and quote has been reproduced with kind permission from Pointing at Science – kia ora rawa atu, Steve and John!


[1]  Waitangi Tribunal Wai 262 report ‘Ko Aotearoa tenei’, p32. Information and reference gratefully received from Rob McGowan.

Image: Baskets of knowledge. Credit: Flickr/SharpJacqui

0 Responses to “What is Mātauranga Māori?”

  • Aku mihi nui ki a koe Laura! Many (!!) thanks for sharing Steve and John’s awesome video. So looking forward to following your blog 🙂 – Tammy

  • A value system we all benefit from appreciating. The closer I get to nature the more I can grasp these ideas. They enshrine the ingredients and linkages I find hard to express, after a life time beneath the sea, with Tangaroa and in the realm of Tane. (Wade Doak, author 30 books)

    • Kia ora Wade, ae ka tika to korero – yes you are so correct. Your comments really resonate with me. As a scientist I see the benefits of remaining objective (or at least trying) and at arms length from my work. Working with matauranga Maori also encourages me/us to articulate those things we otherwise find ‘hard to express’. I am privileged to be working right at the interface of matauranga and science, and in fact discovering there are more similarities than differences between these two bodies of knowledge. I would love to talk more with you about your comments. Finally, nga mihi nunui mo to mahi taumano pukapuka whakahirahira. Thank you so much for your amazing lifelong work and the important books you have created. I have been a fan of you and your work since I was a child. Mauri ora.

  • It is the simple symphony between an intangible and tangible way of life