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Tikanga Maori for Permaculturalists and Social Permaculture


originally from

The human sphere is an area of permaculture design that offers plenty of scope for further exploration. Nandor Tanczos and Ngahuia Murphy have teamed up to develop a PDC module covering ‘Tikanga Maori for Permaculturalists’ and ‘Social Permaculture’ in order to share thinking and experience in this area. The module ideally takes two days but given the limited time available to participants the module is usually run as a single day. It will again be part of the Hamilton modular PDC in 2013 (see for details) and will also be offered as a stand alone module if there is sufficient interest.

Tikanga Maori for Permaculturalists

Ngahuia Murphy (Ngāti Manawa, Ngāti Ruapani ki Waikaremoana, Tuhoe, Ngāti Kahungungu)

People involved in permaculture can gain a deeper insight into their practice and unique place here in Aotearoa by learning about and embracing Māori cultural philosophies. For over a thousand years Māori, like other Indigenous societies around the world, developed philosophies and practices based on maintaining a correct relationship with the natural environment.

A central feature of Māori belief systems is the concepts whakapapa and whanaungatanga. Māori believe that all things on earth and in the multiverse are intrinsically interconnected and we trace that connection carefully through whakapapa. Whakapapa, translated as genealogy, actually derives from the word to layer, and denotes a network of relationships and interconnections across the web of life. Te ao Māori, the Māori world, is holistic and cyclic.  We do not categorise and separate the different life forms into a hierarchichal relationship with humans at the top of the food chain. Rather humans are the teina, the youngest in creation, with all other living creatures and forces our tuakana, our elders.  This familial relationship requires an on-going series of obligations.

Kaitiakitanga provides an Indigenous model of earth care based on the belief that we belong to the earth rather than that the earth ‘belongs’ to us. The land is the source of our cultural, spiritual, and physical identity as Māori, epitomized in many of our proverbs such as:

 ‘Ko te whenua ko au, ko au te whenua’ (I am the land and the land is me).  

Our cosmological connection to the earth continues to be affirmed in our birth, blood, and funerary rites, rites that give meaning to the name that we carry today; Tangata Whenua, People of the Land.

In Tikanga Māori for Permaculturalists participants learn about customary earth care practices such as rāhui (a system of resource regeneration) and utu (the law of balance and reciprocity) alongside Māori spatial and temporal observations of patterns. Examples include traditional navigational techniques that mapped star paths, the patterns of migratory birds, wind and tidal currents and the significance of the lunar almanac which dictated crop cycles and the harvesting of food from the gardens, forests, rivers and sea. A traditional incantation that recites the movement of fantails, the nesting patterns of the kiwi, the flight path of the native bat, the stars, moon, and seas is used to demonstrate how the signs and patterns in the natural world were carefully observed and responded to.

This course also examines the pōwhiri ceremony as an embodied expression of Māori metaphysics and breaks down the different elements of the pōwhiri so it can be understood and experienced at a deeper level. These explanations are part of a session on cultural safety and competency, equipping Pākehā to engage in Māori contexts in an informed way. Included in this session is an examination of the differences between Te Tiriti o Waitangi, known as the Māori version, and The Treaty of Waitangi with a critical discussion on the on-going political plight of Māori as the Indigenous People of Aotearoa/New Zealand.

A list of resources is supplied for participants to further their knowledge regarding different aspects of te ao Māori.

Social Permaculture

Nandor Tanczos

Permaculturalists are used to doing sector analyses – understanding the directional energy flows that impact on a site in terms of noise, wind, sun or water. We are sometimes not so used to analysing the social energies that affect us, even though they have the potential to be at least as significant. Hostile political decisions can destroy our best efforts while well designed social integration can unleash new synergies and momentum for our projects.

Permaculture design principles offer a powerful framework to analyse and understand social energy. Once we start to identify the different forms of social energy that exist – both energy flows and embodied energy – then we can begin to think about the design principles in new and interesting ways.

If we take the principle to “catch and store energy” for example, there are numerous social applications. Of course as with physical energies it requires an understanding of timing, pattern and technique. We can only catch rainwater if we have effective storage systems in place, in the winter when it is raining. Similarly if we think about volunteer labour as a form of social energy, we need to think about when it is most readily available – over which part of a day, the weekly cycle, the annual seasons and over the different stages of a person’s lifetime. We need to think about how it can be stored: by embodying it as knowledge in another person, or as a physical or social structure or system, or we can store it in the form of favours and barter credit.

The challenge in this exercise is to avoid opting for the most obvious examples and so miss some of the more subtle and valuable lessons that can be drawn out. For example if we take the principle of “use edges and value the marginal” then one social application is around valueing those at the margins of society where innovation and creativity often takes place. This is an important point, but if we explore further we can also see that there is not one society and not one edge. Society is made up of a number of sub-groups, each with its own centre and periphery. In spreading new or important ideas across the population it is those people who act as nodes or connectors between different sub-groups, who sit at the edges and link them, who can help to move ideas swifty across social boundaries.

In this sense, social permaculture is not only about our internal organisation – “how to nurture effective and creative groups” as some have put it. This is an important element of it but in my opinion it is also about how we can organise politically and create an effective voice to advocate for our projects and for permaculture as a whole. Politics is an important and powerful form of social energy and we would be as unwise to ignore the prevailing politics as we would be to ignore a prevailing wind. And as with physical energies we can both adapt to and exploit conditions as well as change them.

(Re)creating a permanent culture is as much about how we design our social systems as how we design our physical ones. When Murray Bookchin coined the term ‘social ecology’ he was pointing out that the degradation of nature and the degradation of people are rooted in the same hierarchical relationships. We cannot solve one without solving the other. Applying the ecological design principles of permaculture to the social as well as the physical sphere offers the possibility of doing that.