Research project finds kaumātua are the tūara of Māori society

The University of Auckland’s James Henare Māori Research Centre is emphasising the importance of kaumātua in Te Ao Māori through a research project.

The project, titled Hongi, harirū, and hau: Kaumātua in the Time of Covid-19, interviewed 63 kaumātua from Ngāti Wai and Waikato, ranging in age from 60 to 85.

The research, according to Associate Professor Marama Muru-Lanning, director of the centre, tackles misconceptions that kaumātua are a burden to society and finds there is much that can be learned from their experiences.

The value of kaumātua: their wisdom, their insight, their experiences of things that have happened in this country, they are actually the tūara, the backbone of Māori society,” Muru-Lanning says.

She says these kaumātua overcame the tuberculosis pandemic, various flu pandemics, and wars. “They have a whole armoury of experience that we can all learn from, and that will help us find the solutions to some of the problems that we are experiencing in the future.”

Muru-Lanning acknowledges the contributions of community researchers like Professor Ngapare Hopa and Dr Ngahuia Dixon from Waikato, and Whaea Cilla Moa from Ngāti Wai, who have been crucial in reaching out to kaumātua owing to their standing as kuia in their communities.

“They are the champions of kaumātua in their area, and it was actually those three people that set us up with our kaumātua groups in Waikato and in Ngāti Wai. We couldn’t have done the research without them.”

Kaumātua critical

When it comes to marae settings, Muru-Lanning believes decisions can’t be made without the input of kaumātua, especially in the case of tikanga.

Unfortunately, Muru-Lanning’s father died last year during Covid, and the only way her sister could attend the tangi was to zoom her in online from Australia.

Muru-Lannings says she wouldn’t have been able to do it without the kaumātua’s permission. “These are the sorts of things that kaumātua have the power to do when it comes to making decisions in relation to tikanga.”

“It is that fluidity, it’s the way in which they can adapt tikanga to suit a particular situation and to embrace the people who they need to embrace.”

Muru-Lanning has expanded her study by establishing three regional sites in the Waikato, Tauranga Moana, and Te Tai Tokerau due to large Māori populations and environmental deterioration, thanks to the support of the Health Research Council and the Hongi, Harirū, Hau project.

“It will be a project that looks at their environment and their wellness in relation to the environment. We’ll use a different methodology this time because we’ll actually be able to go kanohi ki te kanohi or face to face with the kaumātua, it wouldn’t be an online project this time.”

This story first appeared on Māori Television’s website and has been republished with permission.

Photo credit: JORGE LOPEZ on Unsplash

About Marena Mane

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Marena Mane is a journalist for Māori Television and teaches te reo at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa.

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