Breath of Clarity

Maori Philosophy

Exposure to indigenous perspectives is valuable because it strictly examines the way our human species coexists with its natural environment. Engagement with Maori culture sparks in- quiry about the degree to which indigenous philosophy is transportable. It changed my world view about the relevancy of theories formed many years ago. The sabbatical report written by Charles Royal entitled Indigenous World Views (A Comparative Study) proposes that thought is a form of spirit that is linked to a life-force experienced by all beings. My reformed world view values the original thoughts that link us to the creation period, as the Iwi tradition reveals in- sights about modern processes.

The key idea that all is derived from the same source comes from the original story about mana’s birth into the world. So, contrary to my perspective before the HECUA program, creation traditions are not limited to historical explanations, but rather they are complex image statements about the way we presently experience reality. When Nga would recite creation and genealogical stories orally, it brought the story to the present moment. This allows for the audience to take away corridor as if they experienced it themselves. The notion “world view” denotes a distinctive vision of reality which not only interprets events in the experience of a people, but also lends form and continuity of life as well. World view provides people with a distinctive identity that makes them feel rooted. The sense of community transcends the experience of a single lifetime, and the power of tradition is that its content was legitimate enough to transcend across centuries.

The multiple speeches that Nga told us about his genealogy (whakapapa) elevated my respect for ancestral background. It taught me that there is much truth contained in stories trans- ferred across generations. Making the effort to learn about my own heritage can open myself up to stories that contain corridors not accessible any other way. It can also help understand more about the self. For example Nga’s story about the significance of his full name brings insight about the intention of his parents who selected it. Originally, my homestay assignment to a bilin- gual German family was a quite uncomfortable shock. However, there is much to be gained as a visitor surrounded by the culture. Asking questions about the culture can reveal the values held by Germans. Though my father was not raised in Germany, those who raised both his parents were. Subsequently, they were the people who influenced the attitudes he still expresses today. Therefore, genealogy brings sense to the way everything evolved.

Upon reflection of John Patterson’s essay emerged a world view that, since all creatures come from the same root, we must show interpersonal compassion. According to John Patterson, rituals constitute links between the past and present with the recognition that life-force “emerged from original void of chaos of Te Koreko” when the absolute God Tanemahuta breathed life into the earth. All species are members of a single family without any fundamental dichotomy. Patter- son stresses that the “hands off” philosophy doesn’t involve any sort of restrictive effort by hu- mans. There is no battle between them and the natural world, as it’s acceptable to use the natural environment with reason and respect. We just have a role along with it, together within the natur- al order. Perhaps justification is needed in order to ensure that the resources are not used in ex- cess. It breeds moderation, which improves the lives of humans individually as well, producing a net benefit to the overall life-giving force. The concept of mana emphasizes that each material of the earth is equal because all contain the same energy. Therefore, respecting mana is just one way to honor the life-force.

The Maori culture is specifically concerned with the study of knowledge and its rele- vance to our experience. There is significance in the indigenous theme of the divine landscape, an environment alive with conscious and beneficial energies that serve as a model for the indi- vidual. Charles Royal suggests that a direct representation of nature in dance is a more powerful method to convey truth. The author said, “the dance becomes a kind of a fluid representation of being connected to that essence of what ever animal or purpose that dance is being performed for”. Essentially, it extends beyond the rationalization of the transformation and makes it more practical. The song, “The River is Flowing,” we learned at Ngati Rangi further exemplified that the land doesn’t symbolize the person, but rather there is a unity between the two. The song ex- plains that the soul development within individuals is in sync with a river’s flow. The same ener- gy waves traveling through me exist in all matter.

This is illustrated in the following encounter between Edward Tregear and Te Whetū (a Maori ancestor), a dialogue included in Royal’s report. Tregear was invited by Te Whetū to in- spect a ‘huge conical stone’ that had a bright patch of red ochre. The Maori said, “that is the blood that flowed from the wound when he was killed. That is my ancestor, Raukawa. This is my ancestor himself”. The artist then replied, ‘You must know that you are talking nonsense. A stone cannot give life to a race of men, nor could it leap across the Waikato. You mean that the stone has been named for Raukawa, or else, perhaps, that your giant forefather was turned into stone by the gods and the petrified hero stands in this spot”. Te Whetū asserted, “No, that is Raukawa, and the red mark is the place where he was mortally wounded”. The unification of the human person with the landscape greatly informs concepts of kinship between humanity and the natural world. The visit to the River for sunrise with Ngarangi shows importance of physically touching the water. Rather than the conceptualization of the space as a separate visual appeal, Nga was there to strengthen the bond between it and his own existence. There is no need to distinguish the river flow from the life-force within the self. Nature is not meant to represent our internal energy. Instead, the same force is flowing through everything.

Learning about this philosophy transformed my approach to community environments. Many westerners attend classes in order to improve their knowledge of the self. They view the other class members as people who hold separate energy and come together for the common re- laxation intention. On the contrary, introduction to the maori concept made me approach the class with the perception of a single energy flowing through the entire studio, instead of only within the self. Similarly, the Otari school exemplifies living together differently by offering the three different strands under a single institution. The space respects various family’s intentions for sending their children to school and works to satisfy the different needs. While the pedagogy of each setting varies, Otari also holds all-school events (i.e. the school fair and disco) that stu- dents from each strand contribute to. Clearly, living together differently is a concept that the New Zealand government still struggles with, as the debate over a national flag symbol is still ongo- ing. This brings relevance to the world view proposed in this report, as conceptualization of mau- ri can aid in making strides towards New Zealand’s well-being.

This trip also taught me that the Maori philosophical knowledge is applicable in envi- ronmental policy discussion. Patterson notes that a local newspaper featured a marine conserva- tion report centered around a Maori leader’s perspective. According to Patterson, the report was on, “a proposal to cease discharging sewage into the local river, in which a Maori leader says that it has brought about an imbalance in the mauri of the river”. Patterson’s article also taught me that without mauri, nothing can flourish. This applies to living things and even institutions. The article mentions that the art exhibition Te Maori, which travelled from New Zealand to the Unit- ed States, had its maori symbolically located in a large block of pounamu (greenstone, jade). Carvers refer to the maori of the wood, even though the tree from which it came is no longer alive. Seeing material from their ecological position’s point of view encourages us to see each item as an end to itself and recognize that it is full of multiple distinctive qualities. To exploit the land as a tool for economic growth destroys its other qualities that need to be used simultaneous- ly to maintain Earth’s existence.

The more civilized structure of society needs to be balanced with our care for the natural planet. The HECUA group presentation about climate change impacted by worldview because they highlighted the urgency of our need to prioritize the land’s well-being. With the current conditions, there is a need to speak for the land, as the problem is being ignored. Perhaps it ap- pears that environmentalists preach to prioritize the land above all else, but my project taught me that resource efficiency is sufficient as long as people start now. In fact, Maori philosophy sug- gests that the issue is excess rather than moderate use. Patterson explains, “the health of the nat- ural and human world is a state of balance. Any intervention we make must be reasonable, not so much in the fashionable sense of what is economically profitable to the intervening individual or species, as in the deeper sense of maintaining harmony and balance amongst the various crea- tures involved”. The key to getting the economic investors to understand the concern is by con- veying that the issue is with exploitation. Steven Abernathy’s learning journey showed that com-panies can in fact still even flourish despite resource reduction. In terms of my own world view, it taught me that humans must assess their needs in relation to their living space so that the line between necessity and excess can be established.

There is also opportunity to move a step further with resource engagement, as Patterson illustrates Maori artists practice of illuminating a material’s beauty despite changing its shape. Renowned weaver Erenora Puketapu-Hetet is referenced to explain the conditions that direct the artist’s weaving process. The maori of the tree or plant can be seen as living on in the carving or cloak, provided that the artist proceeds with skill and care. Respect for the mauri of the material might be shown by working in harmony with its natural character. For example, Patterson ex- plains that, “by following the grain of timber when carving, it impacts the material’s in a manner that stays in tune with its essence”. It drives me to consider working with materials in a more delicate fashion, carrying out a sense of respect. The artist produces culturally significant arti- facts. So, the communities continue to value the original components, extending the beauty of the materials to a higher level. The artifact’s mauri is now multi-dimensional, related to the mauri of the plants and artists used for its production, as well as the community in which they impact.

The concept applies to all pieces of art, as I freshly define to be a single life-force energy at a moment the creation is composed. Royal’s project explained that art is more than the expres- sion of the producer’s internal state. Rather, it reflects the entire universe’s life-force at the mo- ment the physical piece was built. Royal articulates in the essay that the artist’s internal condition reflected into a artwork product is representative of the entire culture’s condition. Much of the traditional Maori artwork also held intentions that required specific materials to be brought to- gether in a precise manner. There was a spiritual effort to make offerings in order to bring about conditions, such as lightening strikes or the growth of certain plants. Essentially, the combination of elements is all the artist’s vision of a way to embody the life-force it feels.

The conception of art explained above made me perceive my learning journey video in a totally fresh way. The video is about Tom Shannon’s project, a mechanized paint dispenser that is suspended on a giant pendulum over a canvas on the floor. The dispenser holds five tubes of dif- ferent colors. Tom sets the pendulum in motion, typically on an oval pathway, and then uses a remote control device to select with careful precision which paints are streamed onto the canvas and in what quantity. The man operates the machine with his left hand, the same part of his body that contains a tremor. So, the five buttons on the device correspond to each finger on the hand that holds it. As the pendulum is set in motion, various colors are dispensed that show the route of nature’s course expressed through the color Tom dispenses. It’s quite beautiful because Tom uses art as a strategy to understand the disease. It serves to represent the force of energy trickling throughout his body that causes the involuntary action, as well as the pendulum movement. The abstract image on the canvas represents the two consequences produced, lines and color. It cre- ates one image that represents the single life-force both elements contain.

In a country that struggles with its multi-cultural identity, this point of view becomes rel- evant, as mauri is ultimately a unifying force. The pendulum project shows that westerners are making strides towards understanding reality’s patterns from a metaphysical perspective. The transition away from the strict scientific method, observation of only physical material, is hope- ful. However, until “world view” starts to apply to relationship between people and the natural environment, our species will not be able to flourish. The collaborative element of the life force philosophy is where the application exists. The purpose of identifying modern applications to the ancient life-force philosophy was to explain its current importance in current policy debate. With all material holding the same energy, it proves that a society dependent on land exploitation works in discordance with fundamental laws of nature. Until we design a resource efficient way of life, working with the natural environment as opposed to treating it as an obstacle, the pro- cesses that sustain the life-force will be destroyed.