The Connection of Māori to Whales
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree LevelPostgraduate Certificate
Degree NamePostgraduate Certificate in Antarctic Studies
Through whakapapa connections, in the Te Ao Māori world view, all life in the natural environment is intrinsically interlinked. Whales are considered a taonga species, and represent abundance, richness and were regarded as chiefly animals. The relationship to whales has changed over time, early Māori welcomed stranded whales as a gift from Tangaroa utilising the meat, oil and bones for a range of uses. Whaling influenced this relationship in that with the arrival of the European whaling, whale carcasses became more readily available which iwi around the shore stations made use of, Māori were also employed on whaling ships and interactions increased with Pakeha as the whale populations decreased. For the last 50 years one of the key drivers in the changing relationship is legislation. The Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978 regulates the cultural access and use of the stranded whales. As a consequence of these factors and multiple other influences, the significance of ‘Ko ahau te tohorā, te tohorā ko ahau’ (I am the whale, and the whale is me) has evolved into a more disconnected relationship and this saying can (in most cases) no longer be used in the way it was intended. Many Māori do not have the connection to the environment that once was vital to survive in New Zealand. Currently there is the risk that this matauranga will be lost with the older generations. But there is hope that the important relationship with the whales is not lost, that with the increased awareness and use of matauranga, and the increased importance of Treaty Partnerships in the relationship with iwi and government organisations the traditional bonds with whales will stay alive.