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Te Waonui o Tāne: The Domain of Tāne. Biodiversity in Te Ao Māori

photo taken in Te Rua-o-te-moko, on the Routeburn Track, 2021

What is Biodiversity in a te Ao Māori context? Rerenga rauropi, is the term or kupu used for Biodiversity in Te Reo Māori. Te Reo is a beautiful and metaphorical language, and I always find it interesting to break down the kupu used for European or post colonisation terms. Rerenga is a kupu used for variation, which is the use for this kupu in this context and ironically there are many other meanings for this kupu. Rerenga can also be used to describe the rising of the sun, the planting of kumara, a sailing voyage, the flowing of water and even used as a kupu for a newspaper or magazine issue. Rauropi is somewhat more simplistic in its uses as a kupu, as it translates to mean living organism, although this doesn’t lessen the impact of the choice of this kupu , it solidifies the importance of the meaning behind this in this translation. Together I think that these kupu illustrate the importance of Biodiversity in te Ao Māori, as life and variation the most important elements of the translation from Biodiversity to Rerenga Rauropi.

In our creation korero, we begin with nothing; Te Kore, the void. Then comes the two lovers, Ranginui and Pāpātūānuku, two dualities with their tamariki caught between their tight embrace. Together they made; Te Pō; the endless night. Tāne Mahuta and his brothers grew tired of clambering around in the dark. So Tāne lay on his back, and pushed his parents apart with his legs to bring upon; Te Ao Mārama; the world of the light, the world in which we now dwell. Tāne wanted to create life and populate the new world. He searched high and low across te ao, to find the right female entity to create us; ira tangata. Aue did he certainly try to create us with alot of different female entities. In the process, he made many of the rakau, and manu that make up our taiao and make up Te Korowai o Pāpātūānuku (the Cloak of Pāpātūānuku). Due to Tāne proclivity to “create life”, we can see the amazing biodiversity that he has created for his Māmā’s cloak, and we also see the perfect system that he has created. Every one of of his offspring have a place in the Ngahere, working together to manaaki each other.

The mighty Kauri, Rimu and Kahikatea are the Emergent Trees, that create the upper layer. The Kauri named after Tāne is said to be there to hold Ranginui and Pāpātūānuku apart so we can remain in Te Ao Marama. The shelter they provide allows for the Riwa, Totara, Miro and Puketea to thrive in the Subcanopy layer. These in turn protect the more delicate rakau and tipu of the understory, like Kawakawa and Huruwhenua. They provide kai for their whanaunga manu and the manu spread the kakano of the seeds to other areas. When the leaves fall back to Pāpā, they create the leaf layer that adds into the Stratification with in Oneone (Soil System). Māori refer to soil as oneone, in reference to our tīpuna, Hineahuone the first woman. As part of my recent learnings, I am begininning to learn how much our tīpuna knew about soil. We have specific identifying names for soil, numbering in the hundrends, showing that our ancestors had a deep appreciation and relationship with the soil and how to work with it. I came across a diagram in Te Mahi Oneone: Hua Parakore: A Māori Soil Soverignty and Wellbeing Handbook, (Edited by Jessica Hutchings and Jo Smith), explaining the layout of a healthy soil, and the picture reminded me of the stratification diagram shown above of Tāne’s Domain. It is infact, a continuation from his perfect system, with each element and layer, adding support and working together to create that perfect system. The roots of his rakau add stability to the whenua and feed that which in turn feeds them and their tamariki.

In Aotearoa and the world, we are at running out of resources. The cost of living is rising and the enviromental impacts of people have made the growing of kai seem like a challenging and daunting prospect. So where are we best to learn from? Our Tīpuna and atua; Tāne Mahuta. He has created the perfect system. We only need to observe and learn from his teachings. Syntropic agroforresty, is a land management system, that uses trees or other plants around crops. The use of forestry with agriculture has numerous benefits, not only often increasing the yield of the crop, but also sequestering carbon, providing timber and improving soil health. This process is commonly used or talked about in Food Forests. Basically put, food forestry is creating the perfect food system for the environment. You need to create layers of different plants, that all support each other through different growing times, adding to soil nutrients, even providing stakes for other plants to grow up. Sound familiar? The key to building a food forest is diversity and density. A range of companion plants that compliment each other and manaaki each other to then manaaki and nourish us. All the elements in this are living, they are our whanaunga, our relatives. We are all key to work together in a perfect system.

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