Land and te ao Māori

As tangata whenua – people of the land – Māori have a distinct and special connection to land.

Māori are intimately connected to land

For Māori, the people of a place are related in personal terms to its mountains, land, and rivers, as well as plants and animals.

Many Māori people reference their tribal boundaries and other landmarks when introducing themselves.

Find out more in Our land 2021 report

Te whare tapa whā

In te ao Māori (a Māori worldview), the health of animals, humans, and the environment is intimately connected. If the whenua is not healthy, every dimension of whānau wellbeing suffers.

Te whare tapa whā is a Māori model of wellbeing that provides a holistic understanding of how wellbeing relates to culture, place, and nature.

It uses a whare (house) and its four walls (tapa whā) to represent different components of wellbeing: taha wairua (spiritual), taha hinengaro (emotional), taha tinana (physical), and taha whānau (family interconnections).

The foundation connects the whare to the whenua (land). To be strong, the whare must balance and connect all the dimensions.

Find out more in Our land 2021 report

‘Ko au te whenua, ko te whenua, ko au’ – ‘I am the land and the land is me’

A common Māori practice is to bury a baby’s placenta in the soil.

The word ‘whenua’ means both ‘land’ and ‘placenta’. This beautifully shows the direct connection between Papatūānuku (Earth mother) and the nourishment she provides to all her people. The connection is physical and spiritual, and integral to the wellbeing of Māori.

Holding on to rongoā and mātauranga

Many native plants are treasured by Māori. Kūmarahou, mānuka, and kawakawa have been used by generations of Māori for rongoā (the practice of medicine and healing) and continue to sustain and restore Māori health and wellbeing.

Rongoā practitioners, however, are finding it more difficult to access the plants they need.

Many native plants species are currently under threat from changes in land use and introduced species. Many nativefro plants are also under increased pressure from climate change.

If rongoā plants are not available, the rongoā plants produce is lost. The mātauranga (knowledge) and tikanga (practices) associated with the species will also be gone forever.

Find out more in Our land 2021 report

Maintaining connections to ancestral land

Māori people have lived through extreme social and economic shocks because of land confiscation, resource alienation, racism, and loss of employment. These shocks have ongoing social and cultural effects.

Urban Māori are particularly at risk of losing a connection to their ancestral land, as well as associated mātauranga, tikanga, and all the dimensions of te whare tapa whā.

Find out more in Our land 2021 report

“Te toto o te tangata he kai, te oranga o te tangata, he whenua, he oneone”

“While food provides the blood in our veins, our health is drawn from the land and soil.”

Losing access to mahinga kai (food gathering) is significant for Māori. It is not just the loss of a food source – it also reduces the ability to exercise tikanga (customs), pass on mātauranga (knowledge), and manaaki (show hospitality). This all affects the mana (prestige) of people and the whenua (land).

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