New research gives insight into the lives of tūpuna.

By Tema Hemi
  • Auckland

A first-of-its-kind study is showing the impacts on Māori as they closely observed and mourned changes to the environment such as the extinction of the Moa. 

With over one thousand native species that are close to the brink of extinction this new research will allow the public to act in a timely way. 

Dr Priscilla Wehi of Manāki Whenua Landcare Research says, "We got really interested in looking at oral tradition as a way of trying to understand what people did, what people were thinking and how they responded to all that extinction."

The question today is, how do we as humans perceive extinction risk? 

Wehi says, "I think its important for a couple of reasons, one because there's a wealth of knowledge in mātauranga Māori and so if we want the best possible outcomes for all of our species today and protecting our eco-systems, there's this amazing body of knowledge that we tap into." 

And what relevance does this research have today?

"Its relevant because we are still kaitiaki so we're still on this journey of trying to look after the species that we have with us in Aotearoa today."

The proverbs of our ancestors have assisted researchers in their quest for answers.

Wehi says this about utilising whakataukī in the research, "There are some really great whakataukī about Moa.  Moa is real the poster child for extinctions when you look at the whakataukī.  Understanding the relationships between language and culture and what we call bio-diversity- so, the animals and plants."

Ecology, linguistics, computational biology and mātauranga Māori are the tools being used to shed light on some of the first references to biodiversity decline in Aotearoa.