A MAORI UNDERSTANDING OF KNOWLEDGE

Tenei au, tenei au, tenei au te hokai nei i taku tapuwae, Ko te hokai-nuku, ko te hokai-rangi, ko te hokai A to tupuna a Tanenuiarangi i pikitia ai Ki te rangi-tu-haha, ki Tihi-o-Manono, I rokohina atu ra ko Io-te-matua-kore anake I riro iho ai nga Kete o te Wananga: Ko te Kete Tu-a-uri Ko te Kete Tu-atea Ko te Kete Aronui, Ka tiritiria ka poupoua ki Papa-tu-a-nuku Ka puta te ira tangata ki te whaiao Ki te Aomarama!

'Here am I, here am I, here am I quickly moving by the power of my karakia for swift movement, Swiftly moving over the earth, swiftly moving through the heavens, the swift movement of your ancestor Tanenuiarangi who climbed up to the isolated heavens, the summit of Manono, and there found Io-the-parentless alone. He brought back down the baskets of knowledge, the basket named Tuauri, the basket named Tuaatea, the basket named Aronui. Portioned out and planted in Mother Earth, the life principle of human beings comes forth into the dawn, into the world of light.'

A Maori Theology

There are many ways of looking at the human person. The quantum physicist sees millions and millions and millions of particles, all acting as a unity, as a human person, and yet part of a much bigger whole, part of the universe. The novelist is aware of all the passions and emotions that make up a human person, the different psychological states, and the joys and sufferings we can experience. The philosopher possibly sees each person as a philosopher, always being logical and using the reason, a future Plato or Aristotle.

And I wonder how the dog next door sees me. Possibly she sees me as another dog, but a bit strange, looking weird and doing weird things.

The theologian looks at the human person as part of a particular faith vision of the universe, as part of a particular belief system, and seeks to know the person in terms of that system. This accords with St. Anselm's eleventh century definition of theology as "Faith seeking understanding".

In this book I am taking a theological approach, looking at the human person as part of the Maori faith vision, as part of the Maori belief system, and seeking to know the human person in terms of that system.

The searching and seeking for knowledge goes back a long way. I suspect it has always been part of human life. According to one of the Maori creation stories, it goes right back to the time of the great night, the night which came out of te kore, the nothingness. The different spiritual powers, born of Rangi and Papa, Heaven and Earth, born in the night, sought some way of moving into the light. One of them had the idea of separating their parents, Rangi and Papa and all except one agreed to this:

Tokorima i pai kia wehea, kotahi i aroha - koia ena kupu, te po, te po, te ao, te ao, te kimihanga, te hahaunga, i te kore, i te kore. Ko ta ratou rapunga whakaaro hoki, moo ratou matua kia tupu ai te tangata.

Five agreed that they (the parents) should be separated, one felt compassion for them. Therefore those words, the night, the night, the day, the day, the seeking, the searching, from the nothing, from the nothing. This was their searching out for ideas for what to do about their parents, so that the human race could grow.

The Maori traditional belief is that the whole of creation is a dynamic movement i te kore, ki te poo, ki te ao maarama, 'out of the nothingness, into the night, into the world of light'. Hence the references to the night and to the nothingness in describing the seeking and searching of the children of Rangi, Heaven, and Papa, Earth, as they thought out a plan by which they could move out of the darkness into the light.

The question is still being asked. Stephen Hawking, a brilliant physicist who has become world renowned through his book A Brief History of Time, is hoping that physics will supply the answer: "We may not be forever doomed to grope in the dark. We may break through to a complete theory of the universe." And he adds: "In that case, we would indeed be Masters of the Universe."

The Three Baskets of Knowledge

Traditional Maori thinking presents us with three sources of knowledge. First there is the experience of our senses. Secondly there is our understanding of what lies behind our sense experience. Thirdly there is the experience we have, particularly in ritual, of our oneness with each other and with the past. These three sources of knowledge are spoken of as the three baskets of knowledge brought done from the heavens.

According to most Maori traditions it was Taane, the spiritual power responsible for the trees and the birds and the spiritual power who separated Rangi and Papa, Heaven and Earth, who climbed to the highest heaven and brought back the three baskets, or kete, of knowledge.

The names of the three baskets vary from tribe to tribe. The names generally used are te kete aronui, te kete tuauri, and te kete tuaatea, though the Kahungunu tradition as presented by Percy S. Smith speaks of te kete uruuru matua, the kit of the knowledge of peace, of all goodness, of love; te kete uruuru rangi, the kit of all the prayers, chants and ritual, used by us human beings; and te kete uruuru tau, or tawhito, the kit of the knowledge of war, agriculture, wood-work, stone-work, and earth-work.

The understanding of what is contained in the three baskets also varies from tribe to tribe. What I present here is the understanding of the baskets and their contents given by the Reverend Maori Marsden.

According to Marsden te kete aronui is the kit containing the knowledge of what we see, aro-nui, 'that before us', the natural world around us as apprehended by the senses.

Te kete tuauri is the basket containing the knowledge that is tuauri, 'beyond, in the dark', the knowledge which understands, 'stands under', our sense experience. It is the understanding we build up of "the real world of the complex series of rythmical patterns of energy which operate behind this world of sense perception".

The third basket is te kete tuaatea, the basket which contains the knowledge of spiritual realities, realities beyond space and time, the world we experience in ritual.

Of particular importance to us, if we are to grasp the worth of the human person in Maori terms, is the knowledge contained in both the second and third baskets of knowledge.

The Second Basket of Knowledge, Te Kete Tuauri.

This is the knowledge we have of the reality behind the colours, shapes, smells and sounds perceived by our senses. It is the knowledge of the 'real world', which is:

...the seed bed of creation where all things are gestated, evolve, and are refined to be manifested in the natural world. This is the world where the cosmic processes originated and continue to operate as a complex series of rythmical patterns of energy to uphold, sustain and replenish the energies and life of the natural world.

Today a whole new world is being opened up to us behind what we see through our senses. This world is both much bigger than we knew twenty years ago, and much smaller.

At one end of the scale we speak of a universe with millions and millions of observable galaxies and that has been in existence for ten to fifteen billion years. We humans are on a small planet at the edge of one of those galaxies and have been in existence for a tiny fraction of that time.

On the other end of the scale we have known for some time that we and the universe are made up of very small atoms. Then about eighty years ago a New Zealander, Ernest Rutherford, managed to split the atom and nothing has been quite the same since. We now hear of photons, neutrinos, gravitons, quarks and gluons and all sorts of strange new words for the particles which make up an atom. The human brain alone contains about a hundred million billion billion particles.

And what keeps the universe moving? Energy, and especially nuclear energy, the energy contained in these particles.

What then of the Maori model of the universe and our place as human beings in the universe? The Maori model of the universe presents us with at least a two-world system, a material world and a spiritual world, intimately connected.

In the words of Maori Marsden: It is also obvious that the Maori does not, and never has accepted the mechanistic view of the universe which regards it as a closed system into which nothing can impinge from without. The Maori conceives it as at least a two-world system in which the material proceeds from the spiritual, and the spiritual (which is the higher order) interpenetrates the material physical world of Te Ao Marama.

Moreover the human person is regarded as the greatest reality of this world:

He aha te mea nui o te ao? Maaku e kii atu he tangata, he tangata!

'What is the greatest reality of the world? I say the human person, the human person!'

Yet this Maori model of the universe has several parallels with modern physics and quantum mechanics - the beginning from nothingness, the development and expansion over a huge time period, the importance of consciousness, and the fundamental importance of energy.

Underpinning the Maori model of the universe is the realization of the worth of every part of creation, a worth which comes from the very fact of its 'being' and from the link of each part of creation with particular spiritual powers. This is expressed in the word tapu, tapu, 'being with potentiality for power'.

Tapu is a reality of the natural world, yet has its source in the mana, or power, of the spiritual powers. Just as the different elements of the natural world, the winds, the sea, the earth, the human person and all within the natural world, receive their being from the powers of the spiritual world, so they receive their tapu from the powers of the spiritual world. I discuss tapu in chapter three.

We can be nothing, we can do nothing, without mana, or power. Our mana is the actualization, the realization, of our tapu.

The Third Basket of Knowledge, te Kete Tuaatea.

The third basket of knowledge is referred to as tuaatea, knowledge that is 'beyond space and beyond time'.

Tua-Atea is the world beyond any space-time framework, it is infinite and eternal. This is the realm of Io, the supreme God whose attributes were expressed in the various names attributed to him. Io-taketake, 'the foundation of all', Io-nui, 'almighty', Io-roa,'eternal', Io-Uru 'omnipresent', Io-matakana,'omniscient', Io-mataaho, 'glorious one', Io-wananga, 'all wise' ....

It is especially in taking part in the Maori rituals and in using the ritual karakia, the ritual chants, that we move 'beyond space and time' and into the 'eternal present' of the rituals.

The wider purpose of the karakia is to enable us as one people and one with the spiritual powers to control every aspect of our lives and every part of this world.

We are to have this control through the power of the word, the word of the ancestors. No wonder the word is so important in Maori life and the tongue in Maori carving. It is through the word that we are called to take our part as human beings in the whole movement of the universe: i te kore, ki te poo, ki te ao maarama, 'from the nothingness to the night, to the world of light .

In the Maori model of the universe, we have the power of the word and are called to be one with the ancestors and with the spiritual powers in the exercise of the word. Especially in ritual, which takes us beyond space and beyond time, we can experience this oneness with people, oneness with the universe and oneness with Io and take our part in the movement of the universe.

We are part of the process, not above the process. We are dependent on the earth for our material needs. We have not made the earth. We do not own the earth. We have no absolute power over, or ownership of, the earth. As many Maori say, the earth, Papatuanuku, is our mother and we cannot sell our own mother. But we have the obligation to respect and protect the earth, not only for ourselves, but for all creatures who are dependent on the earth for life and nourishment.

We are also dependent for our mana, 'our power', on our links with people both living and dead, and on our links with the spiritual powers. Ultimately all, the land, the people and the spiritual powers, are dependent on Io, the root foundation of everything.

The Sources for this Study

A very important principle of the anthropologist Victor Turner was that if we want to understand anything about another people, we must first hear what they themselves say. This is particularly true for religious ideas and religious symbolism. The basis of this study, therefore, has been what Maori themselves have said in the past and what they say today.

In looking to what Maori have said in the past I have gone to the early Maori written material of the 1840s, 50s and 60s, to the collections of Maori manuscripts of that time.

Grey's New Zealand Maori Manuscripts

The earliest and the largest collection, that made by Governor Sir George Grey, was collected mainly between 1845 and 1854. He took this material with him when he was posted to Capetown in 1854 and it was placed in the public library he established there. This very valuable collection was returned to Auckland in 1922-23 and is now kept in the Auckland Public Library, together with additional material collected by Grey after his return to New Zealand in 1858.

The collection is known as GNZMMSS, Grey's New Zealand Maori Manuscripts. It consists of 145 distinct manuscripts varying in size and coming from various sources and is made up of over 8000 pages. It contains many waiata 'songs', much koorero 'stories' and a good number of karakia 'ritual chants'. Most of the material has been written by Maori themselves. Some has been copied by Grey. A large section of the collection, over 800 pages, was written by Wiremu Te Rangikaheke, a young Te Arawa chief of Ngaati Rangiwewehi of the Rotorua district.

Shortland's Maori Manuscripts

A much smaller collection, that of Edward Shortland, is also from the Rotorua district. It comes from the same period, from the 1840s to the 1860s and gives quite a few karakia. Shortland published some of this material in two books, Traditions and superstitions of the New Zealanders, its second edition published in 1856, and Maori religion and mythology, published in 1882. The manuscript material is kept in the Hocken Library, Dunedin.

Taylor's Maori Manuscripts

The Taylor manuscripts, made up of both notebooks and manuscripts, contain much material from the Wanganui and Taranaki area, including one notebook which has about 90 karakia. The Reverend Richard Taylor was appointed to the Anglican mission station in Wanganui from 1843 to 1866 and much of his collection comes from that time. Some of this material was published in his book, Te ika a Maui, New Zealand and its inhabitants, in 1855.

I owe much to Dan Whata of Te Arawa; to Joe Toki, of Ngaapuhi; to Titi Tihu and Hikaia Amohia of the Ngaati Haua people of the upper Wanganui River and to Charlie Maitai of the Ngaati Kahungunu people of the Bay of Plenty. Also I owe much to Karaka Roberts, of Dunedin, who comes from the Aopoouri people of the Far North.

Above all I have been very fortunate to have been able to spend time with the Reverend Maori Marsden and to have access to his papers. Most of my understanding of the Ngaapuhi oral tradition concerning Io comes from Maori Marsden and it was he who led me to consider the relationship between the Io creation genealogies and modern physics. Return to intro. What is Maori Theology Return to Maori home page