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September 10, 2018 | by  | in Features Te Ao Mārama | [ssba]

Looking back to the past, in order to sustain our future…

Over 1000 years ago, Māori arrived on the shores of Aotearoa on great big waka hourua or double-hulled sailing canoes. They voyaged across Te Moananui-a-Kiwa, guided by the stars, swells, birds and moon. They came from the homeland as we know as Hawaiki, Havaiki, Avaiki, and Sava’i interpreted by many others of our relatives around the Pacific Islands. Before and after the arrival, Māori have been well in tuned with the environment. They lived harmoniously alongside the environment to sustain the culture and their way of life without over-exploitation of our natural environment. There were no human induced threats or issues to the environment, which reinforced the health and well-being of our whenua to prosper for the next generation.

Communal living was such an integral way of living for Māori. Mahinga kai and harvesting were some practices exercised daily as a hapū or pā. The māramataka or the lunar calendar which literally means ‘the turning of the moon’ was an approach used by Māori and shared within their own hapū to determine suitable times to do things according to various phases of the moon which affected the rhythms of nature. This ensured that there were plenty food to flourish in the following seasons and the value of manaakitanga of the land was respected. It was used to determine correct times to gather kaimoana or seafood, as well as harvesting and planting gardens, and every rohe, iwi and hapū had their own versions, as every environment is diverse. For example, according to the Ahipara Māramataka in the far north, Whiro is phase of the moon that is not visible, other iwi believe it can be the first sight of the new moon. Whiro is not a good day for planting, as well as fishing, but the evening is a good time to gather tuna. Whereas Rakaunui, the full moon phase, a time with plentiful food, great for fishing but not eeling. Māori have always had a holistic and interconnected relationship with the environment, with the knowledge system of Mātauranga Māori or Indigenous Knowledge being the foundation of all practices. It was developed (over time, and continue to do so as it adapts to our ever changing world) from island to island, our ancestors adapted to their environment quickly and through trial and error they developed values such as kaitiakitanga for our natural environment, to not only survive but to thrive.

What is kaitiakitanga you may ask? Kaitiakitanga, or stewardship was and is at that core of methods in preserving our natural world. We as Māori, see ourselves as guardians of the environment, looking after the best interest of either the river or forest or the mountain and isolating induced damage physically and spiritually. Māori interpret every aspect of nature into personified beings, known as atua Māori. Giving non-human things mauri or life-force, which ensures reciprocity, (i.e if we take care and nourish that river and protect it of pollution, then the mauri is ignited). These atua represent a natural state or aspect of the environment, for example Ranginui and Papatuānuku are seen as the parents of all atua or of all natural things. They had 70 children, and two those children known to many are, Tāne Māhuta who is the god of the birds forest. Tangaroa, he is the god of the ocean and all sea creatures. By giving mauri to something that is non-human, you give that life meaning, meaning to be alive and meaning for humans to live on here, on Earth in balance and in harmony with your world around you.

Times have definitely changed since 1000 years ago. The 21st century brings us an array of different resources, issues, opportunities and priorities as well as many threats to our environment from single-use plastics, polluted waterways and over-fishing (and many more). In today’s day in age, we have lost touch with nature, and the reliance of nature forecasting our every move. The close connection with our surroundings have been replaced by modern gidgets and gadgets and our intuition to conserve and protect nature have been challenged an put at the back of the pile. Our atua who continue to surround us wherever we may be in the world, we no longer put the environment at the forefront of our decisions. We no longer need to rely on the moon to inform us when the right time is to plant kai, when to go fishing, or when to put your hīnaki out to catch tuna . We rely on our latest Smartphones to navigate us out of bed and ready for early morning Monday lectures, and the nearest dairy and Maki Mono to feed our bellies is only a hop, skip and a jump away. We have adapted to the life of the western world, at times challenging in many ways (also beneficial in many ways) especially when your a broke student, trying to survive because your ankle deep in assignments and you’re constantly micro-managing every cent you get from Studylink, so can afford to buy food, and pay your rent for the week. With many of us students in these similar circumstances, trying to make a difference in protecting the environment can be complicated and confronting.

As a student, I found that it has become a bit more of a challenge when balancing studies, work and social life whilst trying to do my part in protecting Papatūānuku. Our tūpuna unconsciously practicing conservation and sustainability whilst other priorities were interwoven with one another. With plastic at the center of all problems in my opinion, it’s very hard to stray away from single use plastics when literally everything is made out of it. The things that aren’t packaged in plastic, cost an arm and a leg, so which option as a student would you go for? Yup the plastic option! I posed three questions to some of my peers who are very driven to protecting Papatūānuku, asking their thoughts as a student on the plastic problem. The first question is “What’s the biggest challenge as a student to become plastic free or reduce plastic consumption?” they answered, “The biggest challenge is avoiding plastic products i.e. stationary, packaged food thats is already is plastic at shops. If there’s an alternative sometimes they have an added cost.” “I think the biggest problems for students are cost and convenience. The things that come in plastic are cheaper than stuff that don’t come in plastic. Students on a budget are going to go with the cheaper and more convenient options where the work is already done for them.” Another response “We rely on plastic so much that the challenge is to try move towards something sustainable and affordable for students.” “I think it’s the availability of plastics all around us. In our everyday lives, there are plastic objects that are hard to avoid. If you turn up to uni, exhausted but have a busy day ahead, the first thing do is grab a coffee. Sometimes after a long night of studying and you forgot your reusable cup, so you have to use a takeaway cup that contains plastics. Energy is low but your not feeling like a coffee, juice, fizzy or milkshake is the next option, however this can be served with a plastic straw. Also, the lack of awareness within student groups is very minimal and promoting this can be hard. Being influenced by your peers is one way to steer you off the the track. Staying true is difficult, especially when plastic surrounds us. The second question posed was, “do you have any tips, hints or links to share with other students to help them look after Papatūānuku? And the last question is “If there’s one thing you could do to make Papatuānuku healthier, what would that be?” The responses received of the two combined questions were “There are awesome inspirational videos on YouTube and Facebook which share positive lifestyle tips for being clean & green.” “One tip I think is to change your lifestyle choices one thing at a time so that it doesn’t become overwhelming and when you have made one part of your life environmentally friendly, it’s easier to move on to other things in your life.” “We as students can be better educated (experts and professionals) on how to manage and reuse plastic. For the meantime I think tauira should be mindful of the stuff they buy and use (this can be a starting point). At least try your best to avoid plastic option if possible.” “For me it’s reducing single use plastics! You don’t need a straw with everything you drink you buy and no one needs to buy plastic bottles everyday. In fact, no one needs plastic bottles, there are too many alternatives to keep buying plastic. Plastic bags are another one of worst my worst nightmares. There are many reusable bags available and if your too pōhara to buy them, then make some out of old clothes or old fabric lying around, get creative” “Going to wholesale places like Bin Inn and Moore Wilsons is also another trick to minimising plastic intake. If you go to these places, you are able to get your kai in your own containers you have brought from home.”

I think we can all agree that the biggest challenge as a student is the cost, but with a few sacrifices here and there and taking one step at a time, I think protecting our environment will become easier, therefore allowing Papatūānuku to flourish once again like time our ancestors once lived. Personally I’ve had many conversations with myself, deliberating whether to spend a little extra money to reduce plastic, or re-do by budgeting, by sacrificing a little extra cash going on alcohol, smokes, or unnecessary shops at Kmart, in order to reduce my plastic consumption. Instead of thinking of my own feelings attached to the environment, alternatively I put Papatuānuku at the centre. Thankfully it’s never too late to make a change e te whānau. Despite our circumstances, as said by the ‘Plastic-free Māori’ blogger, herty advocate for the environment and a beautiful Ngāti Porou wahine toa I know Tina Ngata , she says “reducing plastic is a journey” and we should not feel guilty when we forget to bring our reusable bags to the supermarket, or buy that plastic covered chocolate bar that you cannot wait to indulge in, or that takeaway coffee cup because you left your keepcup at home. ‘Repetition is the key to mastery’.

This journey can all be very overwhelming at the start. Surround yourself with like minded people who are keen to jump on the waka to do their part in protecting Papatūānuku, and I can assure you that this journey will become less and less of a chore. The benefits are endless!


Here are 6 easy tips as a to help reduce your plastic consumption to help do our part in allowing our environment to flourish again;

  1. Consumption – Reducing plastic can be hard. Look for alternatives like Beeswax wraps, instead of cling wrap, if your like me and buy soda water to create your own flavoured fizz-I suggest when you have save a little extra cash, invest in a Soda Stream (I am yet to purchase one).
  2. Bring your own reusable bag – You can buy reusable bags from all supermarkets and online stores who sell (Links below). Otherwise, get creative e te whānau and get your sew own.
  3. Bring your own reusable bottle – If you buy glass bottles you can reuse them, or they are reasonably cheap bottles from Kmart (I know you students are obsessed with that place).
  4. Shop in bulk – By buying bulk you already reduce your plastic intake and places like Bin Inn allow you to take your own containers to fill up what you need.
  5. Shop at Fruit and Veg markets – There are many markets on a Saturday scattered around Wellington, Porirua etc and you can take your own reusable bags. There is one on the main waterfront and another next to Cumberland House on Willis Street. Go test your online research skills.
  6. Buy second hand – try buying your clothes and items from op shops, social media pages like ‘Vic deals’, ‘Buy and Sell’….or even the big tip shop in Wellington (one of my favourites). On my hunt at a few options in the region, I found four 1.5 litre glass bottles for just $8 bux which replaced all my plastic bottles in the fridge (they are way healthier to drink out of too).

Here are also some useful links to stores, sites and awesome people within our community that are involved in some pretty cool kaupapa promoting environmental awareness, that you and your flatties/friends may find helpful in starting or needed extra motivation to stick to it;

Nā Rereahu Hetet

Ngāti Maniapoto, Waikato-Tainui, Ngai Tahu



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