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Timoti, P., P. O'B Lyver, R. Matamua, C. J. Jones, and B. L. Tahi. 2017. A representation of a Tuawhenua worldview guides environmental conservation. Ecology and Society 22(4):20.

A representation of a Tuawhenua worldview guides environmental conservation

1Tūhoe Tuawhenua Trust, 2Landcare Research, 3University of Waikato


Indigenous peoples and local communities interact with approximately two-thirds of the world’s land area through their worldviews and customary tenure regimes and offer significant knowledge contributions and lessons about sustainability. We worked with Tuawhenua Māori to document domains, concepts, and mechanisms within the worldview representation in a way that could guide environmental conservation in New Zealand. We then applied the framework to a cultural keystone species for Tuawhenua, the kererū ([New Zealand pigeon [(Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae]) to elucidate this human–environment relationship. Whakapapa (genealogy), whenua (land), and tangata (people) were interconnected domains that formed the conceptual basis of our framework. Within these domains, the concepts of mauri (life essence), mana (authority), and ihi (vitality) guided the expression of the community’s relationship with the environment. Cultural expressions related to the kererū demonstrated the cultural significance of the bird to Tuawhenua that went well beyond the ecological and intrinsic value of the species. The Tuawhenua worldview representation also emphasized the human–nature relationship and the role that metaphor plays in expressing this relationship. Indigenous peoples and local community worldviews are important for establishing priorities, reconciling the human relationship with the environment, and facilitating the coproduction of knowledge in response to pressing local and global environmental conservation issues.
Key words: environmental conservation; indigenous peoples; kererū; Māori; worldview


The worldviews of indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs) are important for environmental conservation and management globally. Indigenous peoples and local community worldviews offer alternative perspectives centered on the quality of the human–environment relationship compared with worldviews that are dominant in modern societies and which are often materialistic and dualistic and assume the superiority of humankind (Van Opstal and Hugé 2013). Indigenous peoples and local communities interact with approximately two-thirds of the world’s land area through their customary tenure regimes (Alden-Wily 2011, Rights and Resources Initiative 2015, Brondizio and Le Tourneau 2016) and offer valuable approaches and knowledge contributions to environmental sustainability (Tengö et al. 2017). The diversity of customary regimes is characterized by highly context-specific worldviews and knowledge systems (Johnson et al. 2016). The ability for IPLCs to express their worldviews through customary tenure regimes, however, is often confounded by the governments of countries that do not formally recognize IPLCs as having common ownership or statutory control over their lands, which may be as little as 5% of the land area in many countries (Rights and Resources Initiative 2015). Consequently, the institutions and common law that affect the presence and actions of people on these lands frequently reflect the worldviews and priorities of the ruling governments rather than those of the IPLCs (West et al. 2006, Lyver and Tylianakis 2017, Ruru et al. 2017). These fundamental differences in worldviews are creating increasing conflict as degradation of land, isolation from lands, and pressures over natural resources mount (Craig et al. 2012).

Worldviews can be defined as coherent collections of value orientations and cognitive maps that allow people to orient and make sense of their world (Aerts et al. 1994, Vidal 2008, van Egmond and de Vries 2011, Van Opstal and Hugé 2013). As defined by Haverkort and Reijntjes (2007:431), “a worldview (or cosmovision) is the way a certain population perceives the world (or cosmos). It includes assumed relationships between the human world, the natural world and the spiritual world. It describes the perceived role of supernatural powers, the relationship between humans and nature, and the way natural processes take place.” Worldviews represent the ethical basis, principles, and assumptions around which people and populations organize themselves to interact with nature (Allport 1935, Haverkort and Reijntjes 2007). All humans are subject to different environmental conditions and behave within different contexts; therefore, “culture” as a factor exerts a major influence on worldviews and attitudes (Van Opstal and Hugé 2013).

While the legal recognition of land rights remain outstanding around the world, efforts to recognize IPLC rights in some countries have facilitated the rise of goals within contemporary environmental conservation systems to implement customary worldviews and tenure regimes (Berkes 2010). The fundamental weakness in this paradigm shift is that the worldviews governing institutions and technologies remain largely those of industrialized western governments and seldom represent those of the IPLCs (Mistry and Beradi 2016). Despite the rights of IPLCs being enshrined within the constitutions, policy, and common law of some countries, asymmetries in environmental governance and management remain (Brondizio and Le Tourneau 2016). Furthermore, problems related to the identification and use of effective methods for bridging a diversity of worldviews and indigenous knowledge systems have emerged from these processes (Agrawal 2002, Raffles 2002, Stevenson 2006), although conceptual and institutional approaches to mitigate these issues are well described internationally (Davies et al. 2013, Tengö et al. 2014, Rathwell et al. 2015). Indigenous peoples and local community worldviews also typically guide action at local levels, so are seldom applied at national or international scales (Walsh et al. 2013). Therefore, the capacity of government frameworks to engage indigenous peoples’ worldviews, including their values, knowledge, approaches, and cultural expressions, remains challenged (Houde 2007, Ens et al. 2015).

Notwithstanding the issues, the need to engage IPLC worldviews as guides for “weaving diverse knowledge systems” to achieve methods and effective outcomes for people and the environment remains (Johnson et al. 2016, Tengö et al. 2017). Exposure to, and insights into, these worldviews would also provide actors who are responsible for institutions and technologies with a better understanding of “alternative ways of knowing” (Dods 2014), which would aid cross-cultural learning (Walsh et al. 2013). The objective of this study, therefore, was to represent a worldview of a Māori tribal group, Tuawhenua, in New Zealand in a way that could guide environmental conservation and land management. We describe and translate the core domains, concepts, and mechanisms that inform a representation of a Tuawhenua worldview. We then use Tuawhenua cultural expressions that are relevant to the kererū (New Zealand pigeon [Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae]) to demonstrate the applicability of this worldview representation. Finally, we discuss the need to reframe governance and related policy mechanisms to facilitate the expression of IPLC worldviews and strengthen cultural integrity as part of environmental conservation.


Describing the Tuawhenua worldview

We documented a worldview representation by using a two-stage process in working with Tuawhenua elders and forest users from the Māori community of Ruatāhuna. Ruatāhuna is located in the heavily forested Te Urewera mountain ranges of New Zealand’s North Island and consists of approximately 72 households clustered around 10 traditional marae (meeting places) (Morunga and Tahi 2013) (Fig. 1). The first stage involved constructing a preliminary worldview representation through one-on-one meetings with a subgroup of eight tribal elders (n = 15 meetings; range = 1–4 hours long). The worldview representation was updated iteratively through this series of meetings. The second stage involved using two one-day workshops, mostly with elders but also with some younger members from the Tuawhenua community, to further critique and verify the representation. The first workshop was attended by 13 participants (mean age: 60 years; age range: 39–80 years); the second was attended by 11 participants (mean age: 67 years; age range: 57–80 years). Both workshops were conducted primarily in the Māori language. Dialogue at both the meetings and workshops revolved around the definition and explanations of the domains and concepts within the worldview, mechanisms that linked the structure of the worldview, and the applicability of worldview in the context of Tuawhenua.

Engaging Tuawhenua knowledge of the kererū

To explore the function of the Tuawhenua worldview representation as it related to the kererū, we used indigenous knowledge contained within interviews conducted with elders and forest users in the community between 2004 and 2014. The kererū, a fruit pigeon, was abundant historically within Te Urewera forests and was a significant source of food and feathers for Tuawhenua. Despite its population decline over the last 75 years (Lyver et al. 2008), it still holds significant cultural value for the Tuawhenua people. A purposive semidirected approach was used to interview participants (Huntington 2000, Telfer and Garde 2006). Although some participants lived outside Ruatāhuna at the time of their interview, all were originally from the community. Most interviews were conducted in the Māori language and were transcribed and translated into English before being verified by Tuawhenua researchers who were fluent in the local dialect.

The first round of interviews (Mātauranga o te kererū - Traditional knowledge of the kererū) was conducted between 2004 and 2007 and focused on the biocultural context of kererū and the forest for Tuawhenua. We interviewed 10 male elders (mean age: 62 years; age range: 50–84 years) who were identified as having knowledge pertaining to the kererū. The second round of interviews (Mātauranga ō te Tuawhenua - Traditional knowledge of the Tuawhenua) was conducted between 2011 and 2012 and focused on oral histories related to the use of forest resources (e.g., the kererū) by community members (n = 18 participants; mean age: 66 years; age range: 49–79 years). Lastly, the third round of interviews (Mātauranga o te taiao - Traditional knowledge of the environment) was conducted with Tuawhenua elders and forest users between 2013 and 2014. These interviews focused on the connection between the community and the forest, and on trends and changes in biodiversity (n = 39 interviews [three interviews were conducted with two or more participants present]: 29 male participants, 14 female participants; mean age: 58 years; age range: 18–82 years).

Validity was assessed using convergent triangulation (Creswell and Miller 2000) between Tuawhenua interview narrative, documentary, and artistic cultural expressions related to the kererū. Cultural expressions pertaining to the kererū came from unpublished Tuawhenua literature and traditional art works. A workshop with Tuawhenua elders and forest users (n = 11 participants; mean age: 67 years; age range: 57–80 years) was used to augment and verify the accuracy and context of narrative related to the kererū as well as alignment to the worldview categories.

Ethical approval for the research

This study emerged from discussions between researchers and the Tuawhenua community as part of a 15-year forest research initiative. As a first step, the concept was formally introduced to the Tuawhenua community through a series of meetings and workshops. Guidelines and ethical approval to conduct the research were considered and approved as part of a Memorandum of Understanding between the host research institute, Landcare Research, and the Tuawhenua. In addition, a signed cultural safety agreement between individual researchers and Tuawhenua detailed obligations regarding prior and informed consent, intellectual property and ownership of traditional and scientific knowledge, confidentiality, reporting back to the community, process for the release of results and breaches of the agreement, and researcher accountability to the Tuawhenua community. Two of the authors of this paper are Tuawhenua.


Core domains, concepts, and mechanisms within a representation of a Tuawhenua worldview

The Tuawhenua worldview representation was constructed around three domains broadly described as whakapapa (genealogy), whenua (land and environment), and tangata (people) (Fig. 2). Interlocking concepts of mauri (life force), mana (authority), and ihi (vitality) were constructed within the domains of whenua and tangata, which were linked together by mechanisms of tapu (sacredness or to be placed under restriction) and wairua (spiritual essence) (Fig. 2).

Whakapapa: Tuawhenua participants interpret whakapapa broadly as “genealogy” and consider it to be a sequential system that portrays the interconnectedness between all elements of the living and nonliving realms. Whakapapa connects Tuawhenua with their ancestors and defines their obligations to their environment. It is also interpreted as “origins” that binds the heavens to the earth. It is the root term for raupapa, denoting the order or layering of elements culminating in creation. A thorough understanding of whakapapa is considered by Tuawhenua elders to be pivotal to understanding their ideology and connection with the environment.

“Be watchful that you do not harm your elder Tāne” (god of the forest; the originator of people and the forest) (Wharehuia Milroy 2016, Mātauranga o te taiao meeting, Rotorua).

Whenua and Tangata: The importance of whenua (land) and the plants and animals upon it has a significant link to the domain of whakapapa (Fig. 2). Tuawhenua participants locate themselves as being part of the whenua and the living whakapapa of that environment. In the context of this study, whenua encapsulates land, as well as the environment that nurtures and nourishes people. Whenua also translates as the placenta that sustains the baby through pregnancy. The essence of the word symbolizes the connection Tuawhenua have with their land. Tangata is translated as “people,” including individuals, families, subgroups, and communities (Fig. 2).

Mauri: Tuawhenua participants describe mauri as life essence or life force which is linked intrinsically to whakapapa. It is a concept that describes the representativeness and condition of the relationships and responsibilities between elements of whakapapa. Mauri denotes the interconnectedness and appropriate sequential order of elements within whakapapa. Tuawhenua recognize that people have a critical role to protect the mauri of the environment. They also acknowledged that everything has a mauri, and that at times it can be invoked or instilled into someone or something to maintain the set of obligations within the whakapapa.

“You hold the life essence. That is your role—to maintain the vitality within your world” (Te Mahururangi Te Kawa 2015; Mātauranga o te taiao interview; translated from Māori, Ruatāhuna).

Mana: Mana was acknowledged by Tuawhenua participants as being authority and prestige that is derived from within the domain of whakapapa and the relationships that exist through this sequential order. Tuawhenua describe everything as having mana, although the degree of mana assigned to a person, object, or entity could vary. The notion of mana can be inherited, and it provides a person with an unbroken link to their past and connects them to their future. It was also recognized that mana could be earned and acquired by an individual or grouping of people throughout the course of their lives. Participants reported that virtually every aspect of an activity had a link with the maintenance and enhancement of mana, which meant that it was also linked closely to the concept of mauri.

Ihi (wehi and wana): Tuawhenua participants recognize ihi as the vitality or energy that emulates from places, items, people, and significant events. For example, ihi can be felt on occasions when practitioners deliver outstanding cultural performances. It can also exist within an inanimate object or landmarks that are believed to be imbued with their own power. Tuawhenua recognize that the concepts of ihi, wehi, and wana could operate as single emotions or together as an assemblage. Wehi is a response to ihi and means to be “in awe” or overcome with admiration, reverence, or fear. It is also described as an emotional reaction to the acknowledgement of ihi. Wana is interpreted as the inspirational force and is the result of combining ihi and wehi. It is a heightened emotional state that unites a range of emotions and connects people to place, objects, landmarks, and other people. Collectively, ihi, wehi, and wana are used by Tuawhenua to gauge the vitality of the mauri and the mana within the whenua and tangata domains.

“Te ihi, te wehi, te wana. Those are your emotions. Those are your indicators in a Māori worldview to assess the vitality of the mauri and the mana. When you travel in different areas you feel the essential energy” (Te Mahururangi Te Kaawa 2015; Mātauranga o te taiao workshop; translated from Māori, Ruatāhuna).

Tapu and wairua: The mechanisms of tapu and wairua are integral to the function of the worldview representation. Tapu is expressed by Tuawhenua as being something that is set apart, sacred, or forbidden with an untouchable quality. It was described as having innate qualities, drawing those from its origins within whakapapa. Participants recognize that applying tapu places animate or inanimate objects under restriction, therefore often imbuing those objects with mana or a greater level of reverence. The function of tapu was to provide boundaries and protect the mana and mauri of a place, object, time, species, person, or people. Tuawhenua participants also recognize that tapu is pivotal for understanding and exercising wairua. Wairua is described as the spiritual essence or soul carried within a person (or other life forms) that is released usually at the point of death, or sometimes during sleep. It also refers to an unseen realm that connects the person with the past, the present, and the future. The metaphor of the pito (umbilical cord) in the worldview representation is used to denote the conduit for infusing the three domains with wairua, which is governed by tapu.

Tapu is a tool to place a protective cover over something you treasure. It provides protection for a resource when not in use so it be utilized at a later date”(Te Rongonui Tahi 2015; Mātauranga o te taiao wānanga; translated from Māori, 27 June 2015, Ruatāhuna).

Wairua is intangible. You know that it is there or it exists but you can’t touch it or see it” (Tangiora Tawhara, Mātauranga o te taiao 2015, Ruatāhuna).

Function of a Tuawhenua worldview representation: a case study of the kererū

Function of the Tuawhenua worldview representation was exemplified through the relationship of Tuawhenua with the culturally significant bird species, the kererū(Table 1). Tuawhenua participants spoke about the forests of Te Urewera being renowned historically for the abundance of kererū and the community for its ability to provide the bird as a revered food. Kererū represents a shared identity for both the land and people (Table 1). It is regarded by Tuawhenua to be a manu rangatira (noble bird) within the whakapapa of the forest with significant mana and therefore holds a status above other birds in the forest. Names of places in the forest and other forest species reflect their relationship with the kererū (Table 1). The elevated position of the kererū within Tuawhenua whakapapa meant that it was considered to be imbued with significant mauri, which is reflected in the ihi associated with the bird (Table 1).

“No sooner had I finished my prayers I heard this thundering coming up the valley like a jet and I thought, ‘Oh! I'm in trouble here.’ Then I heard this sound, ‘Whoooooosh!!!’ By crikey, the trees are moving and they were quite a distance away when they turned around and it was white everywhere. There was a constant cooing all over the place. I was in awe and shivering with fear. I was so afraid I could feel my hairs standing. Some time went by and my excitement finally settled” (Poai Nelson; Mātauranga o te Tuawhenua 2011, translated from Māori, Ruatāhuna).

The ihi or the emotion that emanated from experiencing large flocks of kererū (300+ birds) congregating in the forest during the autumn to feed on the fruit of the toromiro (Prumnopitys ferruginea) is reported by Tuawhenua elders to reflect the health and vibrancy of the mauri in the forest (Table 1). Arrival of these immense flocks into the forest would elicit an intense emotional response in a hunter. Over the last 75 years, however, the kererū population has undergone an extensive decline, which has affected the mana of the whenua (Te Urewera) as a stronghold for kererū, and tangata (Tuawhenua people) as stewards of these birds.

The elevated status of the kererū also meant that consumption of the bird historically was often restricted to occasions of significance, and the bird was served mainly to guests and individuals of high rank within the tribe (Table 1). Garments (e.g., korowai [traditional cloak]) made from the feathers of kererū were generally reserved for women of high-ranking status (Table 1); however, this changed the nature of the woman’s relationship with the bird.

“The high-ranking women that wear the precious cloaks made of kererū feathers to enhance and wrap around one’s body do not eat the kererū. Eating the kererū lifts the tapu from the person so they become ‘common’ (noa); however, if the person wears a cloak of kererū feathers this makes the person highly revered (tapu) with respect to the kererū. So therefore this is why lore exists. The cloak made of kererū feathers is made of just kererū feathers and nothing else. Since the kererū is so revered, feathers from other birds are not used. This is why women of high status that wear cloaks made of kererū feathers do not eat kererū” (Moai Tihi, Mātauranga o te kererū interview, 14 April 2004, Tāneatua).

The importance of wairua and tapu within kererū harvest practices was emphasized by Tuawhenua (Tables 1, 2, and 3). Historically, strict observances around kererū harvest practices and protocols (e.g., karakia [prayer and incantations]; cooking of the first kererū harvested in ahi tapu [sacred fires]) infused the process with wairua and lifted tapu. Tuawhenua recognized that these processes were used to protect the mauri of the forest and kererū in order to guarantee a good harvesting season (Table 1). Similarly, strict observances were also adhered to during the harvest itself (Table 1). The practices were used to re-establish the link to Tāne (god of the forest) through the kererū. Karakia by tohunga (specialist or expert) would establish the connection and acknowledge the mana of Tāne and of the forest (Tables 1 and 2). These practices were enacted to entice Tāne to pour out his abundance and enhance the ihi of the forest so that the harvest of kererū by the community would be bountiful.

“Rawiri Te Kokau was the last tohunga (specialist) to enact this practice in 1925. They (tohunga ) would climb to the top of Maungapohatu (Tūhoe’s sacred mountain) to the caves that the tohunga of ancient times would visit to open the bounty of Tāne (god of the forest), Te Pua nui o Tāne” (Pou Temara, Mātauranga o te taiao meeting, 25 August 2014, Ruatāhuna).

“In 1972, Te Kaaho, John Rangihau’s uncle and others were still alive and a ceremonial feast was called, which was held with the people of Te Wai-iti. The purpose of the feast was to take back the life force of the bird to Tāne (god of the forest). The birds (kererū) were harvested and the table was set, and the prayers began. And it was upon those elders who were responsible for returning the life force of the birds back to Tāne” (Peho Tamiana, Mātauranga o te kererū interview; 22 April 2004, Ruatoki).

Tuawhenua participants reported that when an individual ate kererū, they were partaking in the mauri and mana of Tāne (Tables 1, 2, and 3). The notion that “you are what you eat” encapsulates the relationship with Tāne, not only as the symbol of the kererū, but as Tāne, the representative of the forest in its entirety. The attributes of Tāne could also be transferred to an unborn child if a woman ate kererū while pregnant. Waiata (traditional songs), mōteatea, karakia, and haka (ceremonial song and dance) were conducted to acknowledge the fundamental relationship the Tuawhenua people had with the kererū by capturing their history and relationship with the bird and its environment (Tables 1, 2, 3, and 4). The haka kererū (also referred to as the puha-haka hari kai—a ceremonial Tuawhenua song and dance associated with the kererū) (Table 4) would be performed as huahua (preserved kererū) was served to esteemed guests and was used to acknowledge the seasonal abundance of food. The huahua was a highly nutritious, sought-after delicacy, but was presented through the haka kererū as the simplest of food the tribe had to offer. Serving huahua in this way honored the kererū and visitors, which in turn elevated the mana of the local people. It also ensured that the mana and mauri of the kererū remained with Tuawhenua. Most importantly, the haka kererū served to make the connection between the environment and the people, and points to the fundamental platform of life and existence—Papatūānuku (Mother Earth) (Tables 1 and 4). Concern was expressed by Tuawhenua participants that the loss of kererū had weakened these practices and their connection with the bird and forest.

“The women perform the haka while carrying the plates of huahua (preserved kererū) right up to the traditional meeting house and when they get there the plates are placed onto the table and the man who did the opening call would invite everyone to the feast. The elderly women I’m talking about were from Te Wai-iti, Tiripou, and Te Ao. They were so beautiful when they performed by lifting their hips and bottoms in a semigyrating fashion and when they finished the haka it completed the saying, ‘Tāne’s (god of the forest) blessing on the traditional meeting house—the house of Tāne Whakapiripiri—is complete’” (Poai Nelson, Mātauranga o te Tuawhenua interview, 26 September 2011, Ruatāhuna) (Tables 3 and 4).

“This and the next generation can’t comprehend the true meaning of what it means to perform such a haka (puha haka hari kai) (Table 4) because there is nothing tangible. We don’t physically do that haka anymore because our relationship with the kererū has waned” (Tangiora Tawhara, Mātauranga o te taiao interview, 22 January 2014, Ruatāhuna).


Reconciling the separation of people from the environment

In countries with colonial histories, indigenous peoples frequently confront challenges to their cultural identity, traditional knowledge, and customary environmental stewardship responsibilities (Turner et al. 2008, Tauli-Corpuz 2016). As a result, western environmental worldviews, values, attitudes, and laws often dominate management (Stocker et al. 2016). Increased political capacity and recent advances in legislative mechanisms that support indigenous rights and return of lands offer potential for leadership by, and participation of, indigenous peoples in environmental conservation (Pitty and Smith 2011, Lyver et al. 2014, Ens et al. 2015) (e.g., the Te Urewera forest mountain ranges were accorded with “all the rights, powers, duties, and liabilities of a legal person” [Te Urewera Act 2014, section 11, New Zealand Government 2014]). Giving effect to conceptual constructs and management approaches defined by indigenous worldviews and knowledge systems, however, continues to contrast with and challenge the prevailing management frameworks of western and industrialized nations (Smith 2012, Walsh et al. 2013).

Subversion of traditional Māori laws and treaty rights by the colonial government in New Zealand imposed an alternative worldview of the environment. The process whereby the mana of the environment has been usurped by the European government is linked by some Māori to the loss of native biodiversity in New Zealand. Ongoing declines in kererū populations within Te Urewera following the implementation of harvest prohibition law was interpreted as the mauri of the kererū being removed by Tāne since the bird was no longer being used by the people (Lyver et al. 2009). European prohibition laws usurped the mana of the tribes and chiefs, which were perceived to have disrupted and severed the linkages between the domains and core concepts of the Tuawhenua worldview. These laws effectively removed the local Māori communities from their roles and responsibilities in protecting their environment. The re-establishment of these connections is perceived as the first step to restoring not only the health of the environment but also the well-being of the community. An indigenous worldview representation that emphasizes the importance of whakapapa is more likely to reconcile the separation of people (tangata) from the environment (whenua).

Our goal was to represent a Tuawhenua worldview in a way that could guide comprehension of its relevance and application within environmental conservation. The Tuawhenua participants in this study emphasized unequivocally that they would not assume their worldview represented other Māori tribes or indigenous cultures outside of New Zealand. Rather, it was a representation of a framework that consisted of domains, concepts, and mechanisms that other Māori tribes might recognize, relate to, and organize in a way that suited their own circumstances. Here, the Tuawhenua worldview emphasizes the multifaceted connections the community has with its environment through whakapapa. Recognized within this whakapapa structure is the subordinate role people have with the environment. This tenet is defined by an ethic of reciprocity and care of your elders, including those “elders” within the plant and animal kingdoms. It ensures that people acknowledge their responsibilities to the environment and behave in a manner that safeguards the integrity of the natural world. In this role, people draw their mana and mauri directly from the well-being of the land and environment. The vibrancy of an ecosystem’s mauri increased the likelihood that other key values (e.g., identity, food security, spiritual well-being) and opportunities for cultural expression were supported. Failure to foster these connections can be detrimental not only to the maintenance of cultural integrity but also to the essential well-being of a people.

Biodiversity is more than just food

The cultural expressions outlined in this study have been integral to fostering the Tuawhenua peoples’ history, language, and relationship with the kererū and forest. These expressions were often crafted to maintain humility and remind the community of the responsibilities the people had to the environment. In some instances, interpretation required a deeper understanding beyond the literal meaning of the words used. The haka kererū (Table 4) linked the bountifulness of nature with fertility of the women and the future well-being of the tribe. It also was a point of reference for a period of Tuawhenua history when the tribe was suffering the impacts of the “scorched earth” policies of the colonizing European government. While wording within the haka kererū can be translated directly with reference to crops being destroyed and hills being devoid of food, the “barren hill” also refers to the woman’s mons pubis and the virility of the men and women in the tribe (Table 4).

Stories, oral history accounts, or cultural expressions are common media for portraying a message or lesson in preliterate societies around the world and were often used to guide and alter behavior related to species or the environment (e.g., Berkes 2008). Metaphors take on different forms and have been used in a variety of ways by societies to understand the human–environment relationship (Roberts 2012, Raymond et al. 2013). Cultural metaphors found within expressions like the haka kererū were used by Māori to signify the importance of the species or a resource to the people, but also to reinforce the mana of a tribe as an environmental steward. Similarly, Māori ancestral sayings guided customary management of plants and animals (e.g., flax [Phormium tenax] cultivations) (Wehi 2009). These forms of oral history practice reinforced the knowledge and relationship that a group might have with an animal, plant, or habitat, but can also provide a collective memory of the tribe’s history. They also served to reinforce social-ecological strategies for managing the environment. Explicit consideration of metaphors in management systems offers a useful mechanism to assist indigenous, and also nonindigenous, communities with their connection to, interpretation of, and response to, issues confronted in the environment (Raymond et al. 2013, Walsh et al. 2013).


The diversity of IPLC worldviews offers a range of ways of thinking about, relating to, and valuing, the environment. Current environmental ideologies conform largely to the agendas and approaches of western industrialized societies (Lyver and Tylianakis 2017), which creates few opportunities for worldviews of IPLCs to be expressed. In addition, IPLCs in some countries are increasingly under pressure to adjust their worldviews to fit market-based ideals and attitudes toward natural values (Adamowicz et al. 1998, Venn and Quiggan 2007, O’Faircheallaigh 2013). How to engage a range of IPLC worldview representations in national- and international-scale environmental conservation processes and structures without their institutionalization is problematic for governments (Mistry and Berardi 2016). The worldviews of indigenous cultures offer different priorities and approaches to environmental stewardship, and in some instances, will challenge the prevailing conservation management systems (e.g., prioritization of species and habitats in assigning conservation effort and funding). By placing people within conservation action in accordance with an indigenous worldview, both biological and cultural outcomes are emphasized. This approach also conforms to social-ecological systems theory where people are an integral part of ecosystems rather than external agents (Gunderson and Holling 2002, Berkes 2004, Folke 2006). Reforms to environmental conservation policy and systems that support IPLC leadership and participation are therefore needed to engage those groups more effectively in responses to local and global environmental issues (Mazzocchi 2006, Tester and Irniq 2008, Beddoe et al. 2009, Ens et al. 2015). Expression of these worldviews will contribute to “legitimacy, credibility, and saliency” associated with mobilization of indigenous and local knowledge and the positioning of knowledge types alongside each other (Tengö et al. 2017). Such reformed frameworks would also provide a basis for making informed and inclusive decisions about environmental conservation issues (e.g., prioritization of species for conservation action and/or funding). Policy and institutional reforms emerging from land claim and treaty settlements or participatory governance and community-based approaches to planning and management are evolving pathways in some countries (Kearney et al. 2007, Smyth 2008, Davies et al. 2013, Ruru et al. 2017). It is from these social-ecological relationships that the diverse and comprehensive knowledge systems required for protecting and enhancing ecological and cultural diversity and well-being will emerge.


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We thank the Tuawhenua elders and community members who participated in and contributed to this study. The drafting of our worldview benefited from the advice of Tahae Doherty, Wiremu Doherty, Dr. Wharehuia Milroy, Tangiora Tawhara, Te Mahururangi Te Kaawa, Prof. Pou Temara, and Kirituia Tumarae. Moehau Kutia, Te Peeti (Spady) Kutia, Te Motoi Taputu, Tangiora Tawhara, June Tihi, and Kirituia Tumarae-Teka contributed to the collection, translation, and transcription of interviews. Anne Sutherland constructed our location map. The study was conducted under the directorship of the Tuhoe Tuawhenua Trust and was funded by MBIE grants (C09X0308; C09X1307) and Crown Research Institute “Maori and Biodiversity” core funding. Thanks to the editor and two anonymous referees for their review of this article.


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Address of Correspondent:
Philip O'B Lyver
Landcare Research
P.O. Box 69040
Lincoln, 7640
New Zealand
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