Combining the knowledge and values of our ancestors, with science

By Ani-Oriwia Adds
  • Wellington

A study led by GNS Science being published in the prestigious journal Science says that the Kaikoura earthquake was so complex, it defied many of their conventional assumptions about earthquake behaviour.

Lead researcher Ian Hamling says, "it is Definitely going to motivate a lot of rethinking around how we actually define earthquake scenarios into hazard models. Also how we can account for these so-called blind structures that we don't necessarily know are there before the earthquake happens. This will generate a lot of rethinking globally."

Hamling says that being able to tap into knowledge about where people may have felt earthquakes in the past will help them build on their paleo record. He welcomes Matauranga Māori and the information that it might bring with it.

Dr Daniel (Dan) Hikuroa is an Earth Systems Scientists who integrate mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) and science. He says, “We've shown that Matauranga Māori is the knowledge that is precise and can be accurate and has been rigorously generated. We can then understand that matauranga might take observations of earthquakes back into thousands of years as opposed to hundreds of years.”

Hikuroa says One of the amazing things about the research that the team at GNS has done is that they’ve found new things and its questioned what we formerly believe about how earthquakes behaved and I think where matauraga Māori can offer new insights is by extending the timeline for which we understand and may have made those observations. 

He also says that matauranga Māori doesn’t describe earthquakes in terms of magnitude or depth and instead describes them as taniwha that might have come and impacted a river, or destroyed a village for perceived wrong doings. My research has shown that often purakau are explanations for natural phenomenon given in a way which made sense to our people back then.

Hikuroa says that they now need more people to come through who are skilled in Māori values and beliefs as well as in science.