Mauri — An opportunity to connect

essay / Desna Whaanga-Schollum

Ka whiowhio mai te hau   |   The winds whistle
Mai i te motu tapu o Waikawa   |   From the sacred isle of Waikawa
Pōrutu ana te tai   |   The sea resounds
Rere ana te wai   |   The stream flows
Tū tonu te pā   |   The pā stands proud
Tū tonu tō mātou kāinga   |   Our home endures
Ko Taipōrutu¹   |   It is Taipōrutu¹

He uri au nō Rongomaiwahine, nō Kahungunu
I am a descendant of Rongomaiwahine and Kahungunu

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¹Pepeha written for Desna by Dr Mere Whaanga, 2019

Present Tense_essay_DWS1

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Mauri-ora: Creative Practice with Purpose

Mauri (Life-Essence)

The regenerative life-principle / life-essence of mauri, connects people and spirit to all within the natural physical world, and taonga in the form of highly-valued man made objects, carries the mauri of the maker. Art forms and objects are seen as having an intimate relationship with environment and people, with mauri being the connective life-essence that flows throughout all.

Mauri is the elemental bonding energy, an essential life-force conceptualised as drawing together humans, the physical environment, natural phenomena such as mist and wind, and spirit (Durie, 1998) (Marsden, 1992). Like other deep traditional concepts, mauri has undergone a continual “process of re-invention and expansion” (Holman, 2007, p4). When mauri is strong, peoples, places, fauna and flora flourish. When mauri is depleted and weak, the forms of life become sickly and weak. (Marsden, 1992). Mauri ora denotes a holistic and regenerative form of well-being.

All taonga that we create, that we might create in the future, and that our tīpuna have created before us, are an opportunity to be a conduit connecting with life-essence. We have a whakapapa of regenerating energy in our creative works.

Ora (in a state of wellbeing or just being alive)

We create our taonga — artifacts and stories; to be of use; to address needs; to communicate concepts — push concepts further — to expand our mātauranga (knowledge) — exploring the potential, nurturing the holistic value, nurturing ora. At that point in time when we are creating (alone or with others), and when we gift taonga to others, these artifacts, words and moments — taonga — that we create are an opportunity to reconnect with mauri-ora. Mauri ora — that which supports our well-being through connections to the cultural landscape around us. Taonga are an opportunity to reorient ourselves within our taiao (environment) tīpuna (ancestors), whānau (families). Valuing our relationships, our sense-of-place.

Inherent in this concept is intergenerational guardianship of people and place. The guardianship ethos termed ‘Kaitiakitanga’ is based on an eco-philosophical understanding of humans as an integral part of nature, rather than as a separate element.

“… that sense of connection that has confronted Europeans throughout the Pacific… In the elemental terms of matter and energy, people ultimately are land, no more, no less than the birds, insects, trees and seeds and the constant process of their birth, growth and decay and the movement of them and their parts through the landscape.” (Park, 2006, p25)

Tension Present: Moving from ‘Values to Assets’

Via our (tense-present) industrialized nation, whakapapa embedded taonga values have been replaced with an economic terminology. The things-we-make are commodified, taonga are ‘assets’, and the main value measured and considered is that of producing economic gains. Industrialism and commercialism and the structures which support it, are presumed ‘normal’. ‘Culture’ and ‘identity’, are additional to our contemporary way-of-living.

The (tense-present) notion of ‘taonga’ has been relegated to ‘treasure-of-the-past’ — to ‘tradition — to ‘preservation’.

The practical implication of co-joining our culture with a preservation framework is that identity is located as a discreet object from evolving society, philosophy, and business practices. This perception of Māori culture seems not to have progressed in any significant manner from Walter Buller’s conviction in the 1800s that, similar to New Zealand’s native birds, Māori are a dying race and all haste should be made to preserve our cultural outputs. In the words of Te Rangihiroa — Sir Peter Buck:

“Thus he relegates us to the Shades, and we cease to be as important as the carvings our brains designed and our hands executed.” (Buck, 1922)

Tangata Whenua are still here (past-tense-colonised — current-tense-de-colonial — future-returning-tense-Indigenous). Our culture is living, breathing, evolving, and increasingly relevant to the well-being of the environment and the people.

Present Tense: Our Identity, Our Whakapapa

How do we understand our–‘selves’. An opportunity to connect.

aro (turn towards, take heed, be comprehended, be understood)

Often basically translated as genealogy, whakapapa in its broader sense is the conceptual matrix of mātauranga Māori, relating environment, people and events. Tangata whenua (people of the land) have a relational and process-based way of approaching the world; identity within whānau, hapū, iwi, and almost all knowledge recording and creation, is approached through establishing and maintaining connections. Whakapapa has been described as:

“a way of thinking, a way of learning, a way of storing knowledge, and a way of debating knowledge. It is inscribed in virtually every aspect of our worldview.” (Smith, 2000, p225)

The risk in diversifying-the-industry-within-the-same-structures is that the overall framework of trade and societal values is not acknowledged as being embedded within a cultural paradigm. In ignoring (other) cultural knowledges, potential opportunities that might assist in addressing the colonised-patriarchal-imbalanced-disconnected-disparate-unequal status quo, are not pursued. We miss the chance to connect, to create, to explore, to expand into new ways-of-life.

(breathe, essence, tone)

I’m interested in conversations that open up a diversity of thought regarding the way we live, ways-of-doing, ways-of-being, systems of value. I’m less interested in having more tangata whenua, more wāhine, more POC, more LGBTQI, involved in upholding the same colonised systems we all labour within in this present tense. How might we (re)locate, and (re)connect in this (being-present) tense?

hongi (a traditional ritual of pressing noses), confirms we are meeting in peace. It is symbolic of the first breath of life, and is seen as a sharing of the mauri of the event through physical contact.

Whakataka te hau ki te uru,
Whakataka te hau ki te tonga.

Kia mākinakina ki uta,
Kia mātaratara ki tai.

E hī ake ana te atākura,
he tio, he huka, he hauhunga.

Haumi e! Hui e! Tāiki e!


Desna Whaanga-Schollum / Wāhine Toi

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Buck, T. R. (1922). The Passing of the Maori. TNZI, 55, 362.
Durie, M. (1998). Te Mana,
Te Kawanatanga, The politics of Māori self-determination. Auckland: Oxford University Press.
Holman, J. (2007). Best of both worlds: Elsdon Best and the metamorphosis of Māori spirituality. Retrieved from
Marsden, R. M. (1992, Nov). Kaitiakitanga, A Definitive Introduction to the Holistic World View of the Maori. 21.
Park, G. (2006). Theatre Country: Essays on Landscape and Whenua. Wellington, NZ: Victoria University Press.
Smith, L. (2000). Kaupapa Māori Research in Reclaiming Indigenous Voice and Vision. (M. Battiste, Ed.) Canada: UBC Press.

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essay / Disappointing the past and failing the future / Emma Ng, October 2019

curatorial text / From Protest to Present / Sophie Davis, October 2019

essay / Towards A Wider Understanding of Design / Michelle Wang, October 2019

essay / Te Marama / The Moon / Elle Loui August, September 2019

interview / Painting the town red / Jeremy Hansen, September 2019

essay / Mauri — an opportunity to connect / Desna Whaanga-Schollum, August 2019

artist text / On being present… / Mere Taylor-Tuiloma, August 2019

essay / Snakes, Ladders and Tables / Chloe Geoghegan, July 2019

curatorial text / No longer the exception / Lucy Wardle, August 2019

essay / Broken record / Lana Lopesi, April 2019

curatorial text / This present future / Wendy Richdale, April 2019

radio / Erin Broughton & Catherine Griffiths / Yujin Shin, August 2019

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