The following is the established format for referencing this article:Wehi, P. M., M. P. Cox, H. Whaanga, and T. Roa. 2023. Tradition and change: celebrating food systems resilience at two Indigenous Māori community events. Ecology and Society 28(1):19.
Cultural wellbeing and resilience are of key importance in many Indigenous communities impacted by colonization processes. Reciprocity and the sharing of an intergenerational way of life in extended family collectives is an enduring cultural obligation. For many communities, hosting large gatherings expresses customary philosophies and practices and brings families together, and food and food systems are central to these events. We partnered with two Indigenous Māori communities in Aotearoa New Zealand to explore how these communities embody resilience in their food systems. We collected data from two large pan-community gatherings or poukai in the Waikato-Tainui tribal calendar that have been held annually for more than 100 years. The first took place in a remote, rural, coastal community, Marokopa, whereas the second took place at a tribal hub, Tūrangawaewae, that frequently hosts international visitors. Most visitors were > 50 years old, consistent with the purpose of this gathering, with more women elders than men attending. At Marokopa, volunteers returned from a variety of locations, mostly by car, in contrast to Tūrangawaewae where volunteers generally lived close and either walked or drove short distances to the poukai. Gifted contributions of food and supplies from local gardens continued a history of reciprocity and connection to traditional food systems at Marokopa. At Tūrangawaewae, most provisions were store bought, but there was a strong focus on healthy eating. Both events produced little waste. Despite a shift from traditional foods and self-sufficiency in food systems, these communities demonstrate collective resilience in their motivations for hosting, cultural vitality in their expressions of manaakitanga (hosting), and a commitment to kaitiakaitanga (stewardship) in their focus on healthy foods, recycling, food waste, and intergenerational learning at these events.
Ko taku rourou, ko tōu rourou, ka ora te iwi.
With your basket, and mine, the people will flourish.
Cultural identity and food systems are intertwined for Indigenous peoples (Trosper 2003, Loring and Gerlach 2009, Trosper 2009, Whyte 2017, Huambachano 2019), and never more so than in traditional gatherings that take place within tribal territories. Such gatherings are a critical part of Indigenous food sovereignty movements that center community food self-sufficiency and autonomy, while also supporting wider strategic processes of cultural resurgence that challenge colonial systems (Coté 2016, Whyte 2017). Turner and Turner (2008) similarly argue that the complex traditions associated with food, including its harvesting, preparation, and service, are an integral part of continuing cultural vitality. Important gatherings in the life of the community reflect deep social-environmental relationships, and act to cement human kin relationships within communities.
Sustainable food systems deliver economic, social, and environmental security (see, for example, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, https://www.fao.org/food-systems/en/), and evidence indicates that for Indigenous peoples, from Quechua to Anishinaabe to Māori, these systems are necessarily grounded in Indigenous territories (Bagelman 2018, Huambachano 2018, Martens 2018, Huambachano 2019, Whyte 2018). Indeed, cultural values and practices depend upon but also shape the complex chains of production, distribution, consumption, recirculation, and trade that together comprise Indigenous food systems. However, the dynamics of globalization, including colonization, capitalism, industrialization, urbanization, and rural–urban migration, often drive change in food practices (see, for example, in Cali-Colombia [Quintero-Angel et al. 2019]), and have led to deep cultural harms. Many Indigenous communities have been impacted by these widespread processes that have resulted, for example, in the dispossession and fragmentation of lands and changing demographics within communities, as able-bodied adults and their children leave their communities in search of job opportunities (Kukutai 2011, Ford et al. 2020).
Food collection can be understood as the result of reciprocal relationships with ancestral lands and seas, between humans and other species living within these (Turner and Turner 2008, Wehi and Roa, in press). Food systems are therefore often focused around known community locations and community needs, although trading with other groups is also part of living tradition. Land (and sea) dispossession has direct and immediate impacts, reducing access to, and production of, culturally and economically valuable foods within family and tribal food systems (e.g., Deur et al. 2015, McKerchar et al. 2015, Whyte 2018). Communities may not only become unable to access foods within community boundaries, but also become depleted of community members who are forced to leave the area as the local economy breaks down. With such demographic and resource pressures, transport emissions and costs will rise for both the food itself and for people who have migrated but wish to take part in community events, yet such effects are rarely documented. Similarly, waste disposal problems can emerge if food packaging and waste removal is separated from community action and oversight. These kinds of issues strike at the heart of ideas such as responsible stewardship and community sovereignty that are central in many Indigenous cultures.
Other issues associated with colonization include pollution and contamination of the environments where foods are gathered, resulting in limited harvesting access (e.g., Waitangi Tribunal 1984, 1991, 1998, Kuhnlein and Chan 2000, Simpson 2003, Stewart et al. 2011, Hoover 2013). Human-induced climate change modifies river flows and sea level movements, affecting traditional fishing grounds, so that communities are required to adapt and come to terms with new ways of working in order to flourish. With biodiversity itself in steep decline, the challenge of continuing relationships with highly valued cultural foods, their production, and their provision at important tribal gatherings, is clear (Turner et al. 2013).
In short, threats such as land dispossession and climate change frequently lead to food insecurity and to shifts to Western food sources or methods of cooking which impact health and wellbeing, as has been the case for Indigenous Māori people in the Waikato region of Aotearoa New Zealand (AoNZ; Rush et al. 2010, McKerchar et al. 2015). Because cultural foods provide nourishment beyond physical health (Whyte 2018, Huambachano 2019, Wehi and Roa, in press), the challenge for Indigenous communities is therefore to re-envision food systems in ways that uplift a holistic vision of sustainable social, cultural, environmental, and economic health. To do this, strong social networks and intergenerational transmission of knowledge are key (Bagelman 2018). Resilience in these systems is a function of the coping, adaptive, and transformative capacities that result from such environmental change, which in turn leads to persistence, adaptation, and transformative responses in communities (Ford et al. 2020).
The hosting of guests and provision of treasured foods, particularly foods created with plants and animals celebrated in song and story, are central to the expression of Māori culture. In cultural gatherings in AoNZ, one might eat delicacies as diverse as mussels (kūtai), watercress (toroī), and shark liver (kōkī) in coastal Waikato, or kahikatea berries (koroī) and eel (tuna) in the inland basin (Wehi and Roa, in press). That is, distinctive food resources themselves connect to the unique cultural identity and heritage of place, with strong local provenance: Whyte (2018) and Huambachano (2019) also highlight the many other legacies and meanings are found in these cultural food systems, and show how their revitalization can support cultural resurgence. Hosting is one of these legacies, as an enduring cultural obligation at family and community gatherings. Often described as manaakitanga in the Māori language, this hosting centers reciprocity and the sharing of an intergenerational way of life in extended family collectives (Salmond 2009, Wehi and Roa, in press). It also extends to a collaborative duty of care for non-human groups in the natural world (Roberts et al. 1995, Martens 2018). Within a Māori framework, this stewardship is frequently referred to as kaitiakitanga, a concept that emphasizes collective cultural responsibility for land and water and encompasses social and environmental dimensions that draw from place-based identity and authority (see, for example, Roberts et al. 1995, Kawharu 2000). Healthy human and non-human kin relationships provide pathways for food access and sovereignty. However, although these relationships and their stewardship are central in many Indigenous knowledge systems (see, for example, Whyte 2017, Wehi and Roa, in press), many relationships with plants and animals that provide traditional foods have been harmed, both in AoNZ and elsewhere, and adaptation to these environmental changes is critical to community resilience.
The continued presence and vitality of Indigenous communities remind us that these communities have not only survived colonization, but also found new pathways to thrive. It is not always clear, however, how modern food relationships and systems fit with concepts such as cultural hosting in Indigenous knowledge systems, or with broader concepts of resilience. For example, although kaitiakitanga may previously have focused on the careful harvesting of plants and animals in AoNZ, its practice has been transformed within new, modern contexts. In her work on urban Māori and expressions of stewardship, Walker (2021) explores how kaitiakitanga embeds actions such as waste management and recycling, as well as responsible decision making. She highlights how, within a Māori worldview, incorporating actions like recycling necessarily support the ethos of kaitiakitanga, given that large amounts of waste, including packaging, are produced by Western food systems compared to traditional harvesting and food preparation practices. Here, we suggest that by extension, environmental and socioecological footprints, such as travel emissions, similarly inform potential measures of kaitiakitanga. Their measurement can contribute to understandings of sustainable food systems, including in traditional settings such as marae (community gathering places that include a meeting house and large dining room) where most tribal gatherings in AoNZ take place.
In this research, we partnered with two communities to analyze key components of cultural and environmental resilience in food systems operating at poukai during a period of change in AoNZ. The poukai is an important annual gathering for 29 marae that adhere to the Kīngitanga or Māori King Movement, most of whom are part of the Tainui confederation in the northern North Island of AoNZ. Attended by the Kīngitanga leadership, poukai were first instituted in 1885 to feed the widowed, the destitute, and the bereaved during a period of great hardship, and to unite the Kīngitanga (Wehi and Roa, in press). These poukai continue today as gatherings where Kīngitanga marae pool food resources to host the Māori King and his family, and to feed the people of the district. The poukai thus provides an opportunity to celebrate with food and bind the community together. Moreover, because of its continuity as a cultural institution, it provides a valuable benchmark of socio-environmental reciprocity and cultural resilience in ways that make sense to communities and offer information on the health of these enduring cultural frameworks through time. Here, we examine how these local communities maintain the integrity of their food systems and provide both nutritional and cultural wellbeing for their community members.
We begin by first examining the broad social groupings of visitors, and the motivations of host volunteers or ringawera (cooks, kitchenhands, and other volunteers) working at these events. We then consider a range of indicators associated with sustainability and resilience, that also align with kaitiakitanga: the travel by host volunteers, the procurement and consumption of both “cultural” and Western foods, and measurement of food waste and recycling. In total, we gain insight into community resilience and the ways that communities embody traditional concepts anew at these events.
Ethics and collaboration
In 2016, the research team discussed the project with key community members before presenting the project outline at marae committee meetings held with the two marae partners. Marae are traditional gathering places where notable events such as weddings or, in this case, poukai, are held. In the meetings, we sought support from the marae community and discussed the collaboration, including what information and other outcomes the marae might want from such a project. The project was also presented to members of the Tainui confederation executive. Other marae from within the Tainui confederation also expressed an interest in taking part in the study, but because of a number of delays, including the arrival of COVID-19, this was not possible.
We visualized the research as an ethnographic case study, creating new understandings by analyzing in-depth data from a range of information sources at two different poukai. We liaised with the marae committees partnering in the project, to make arrangements so we could collect data. We counted both visitors and ringawera at the events. We used a purposive sampling strategy to ask ringawera specific questions during short structured interviews at the poukai itself. Marae committees provided information including receipts so we could classify and collate data on food sources, food donations or koha, and other costs; we also measured recycling and waste. All findings were returned to participating marae using infographics and presented at marae committee meetings. Finally, we presented the manuscript to marae committees for discussion, amendment, and approval prior to submission. Ethics approval for the study was obtained through the Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research Social Ethics Committee (reference 1718/17).
Partner marae communities
Marae typically act as community gathering places for extended family groupings and generally consist of a commercial kitchen and a dining hall that might typically seat up to 200 people, as well as a separate, often carved, house for both locals and visitors to sleep communally. There is a broad range in the size and type of marae communities, and the two marae who partnered in this study reflect the diversity in the Tainui confederation. The first marae, Marokopa, is a predominantly family marae located on the rural west coast of the North Island of Aotearoa at the mouth of the Marokopa river, 30 km west of Te Kuiti. The primary sub-tribal groups are Ngāti Peehi, Te Kanawa, and Kinohaku of Ngāti Maniapoto, who are part of the Tainui confederation. The marae complex is accessed by barge across the Marokopa river and is at risk of flooding and erosion due to rising river levels and climate change. The Marokopa poukai was held on 24 March in 2018, in the southern hemisphere autumn.
The second marae, Tūrangawaewae, is the seat of the Māori King movement, and therefore somewhat unique, although the primary sub-tribal groups are Ngāti Mahuta and Ngāti Te Wehi. Built on land purchased in 1921 by Te Puea Hērangi and built during the Great Depression, Tūrangawaewae has special status as a “national” marae, set apart from others by its history. The marae community welcomes dignitaries and contributes to a number of major events (> 500 people) every year from its base in Ngāruawāhia, a small inland town of around 6600 people about 20 km north of Hamilton city and 50 km from the coast. Tūrangawaewae plays a significant role in serving the whole community, hosting annual events such as regattas and anniversaries of the coronation of the Māori King, and acts as a center of respite and food during emergencies such as earthquakes and pandemics. Tūrangawaewae poukai was held on 18 March in 2018.
Most of the research team members were familiar to the Marokopa and Tūrangawaewae communities, having attended previous events at these marae, including poukai. TR is a well-known kaumātua within the Tainui region, who has authority and status to speak at Tūrangawaewae and other marae. PW is part of the Kāwhia Aotea community of Waikato-Tainui through marriage. HW (Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Kahungunu) has lived and taught te reo Māori within Waikato-Tainui for 20 years, and MPC is based in the lower North Island of Aotearoa. All four have been researching together for more than 15 years. The project team extended to include family members with professional expertise, as well as Māori students who acted as research assistants. Members of the research team attended the poukai in 2018 to gather data, with a research team member addressing the marae community at Marokopa poukai. Up to five key researchers and assistants attended each event in 2018, to conduct counts and interviews, and measure waste. Research team members attended again in 2019 as part of the visiting community, to touch base with marae members with whom we partnered in the research, in addition to other cultural obligations, and presented the manuscript to marae in 2022.
Social fabric of the poukai communities
At every poukai, the first half-day is set aside to remember those who have died during the year. Many visitors thus arrive at the start of the morning, although others arrive later but prior to the midday feast which is an important focus of the event. The afternoon provides vigorous discussion of topical issues or kaupapa, often led by high-ranking tribal members, for all those present. To understand the demographics of visitors, we counted and classified all visitors attending the poukai by perceived age and gender using clickers, immediately prior to the midday feast. All visitors enter the whare kai, or dining room, through one door only. Two or more members of the research team were thus stationed by these doors to count those entering, distinguishing men from women and elders from other adults and children in the counts. Elders were classified by eye, with an approximate age of 60 and over considered “elder,” consistent with tribal classifications (see, for example, eligibility for kaumātua [elder] grants at https://waikatotainui.com/learn-post/grants/), and were classified as koroheke (male elders) or rūruhi (female elders). Adults or pakeke were aged approximately 25–60, rangatahi approximately 12–25, and those under 12 were classified as children. Other team members visually counted those working in the kitchens and in outside buildings (for example, building the hāngi, cleaning, or organizing), classifying these as the ringawera who voluntarily carry out the work required to run the marae event.
After the poukai were completed, we compared data on visitor demographics to those within the wider Tainui tribal group (using data from Te Whata [https://tewhata.io/waikato-tainui-collective/] and Statistics New Zealand [https://www.stats.govt.nz/information-releases/estimated-resident-population-2018-base-at-30-june-2018]) to understand the representativeness of visitors in relation to Māori demographics within the Waikato and King Country region.
Ringawera interviews: motivations and travel
We used a structured questionnaire to interview as many of the ringawera as possible at each marae during the poukai, to investigate their motivations for coming, and the underlying meaning of the poukai to the marae community. We asked ringawera questions about themselves and their involvement, including their age, gender, how many years of service they had contributed to the poukai, the place in which they lived, how they had travelled to the poukai, and the importance of the poukai to them. Some provided additional information about changes they would like to see, their dream for the poukai, what their parents said about the poukai, and current concerns for the marae or community.
We used nine categories to code the motivations of ringawera to work at the poukai. Five of these were based on the original purpose of the poukai, as recorded in Kīngitanga oral tradition (Wehi and Roa, in press), and we added four further categories based on the emerging themes in the ringawera interview responses (Table 1). We mapped these motivations by age, summarizing ages into the same categories we used for the demographic data so we could examine motivations according to their importance as expressed by different age groups.
We calculated emissions associated with travel to provide an indicator of accessibility to both the event itself, and to the knowledges associated with food systems and culture shared at the poukai. In the analyses of travel emissions, we included data from all those who identified both their mode of transport (e.g., car, truck, campervan, walking, shared ride) and the location from which they came. However, not all volunteers provided both mode of travel and the location of origin for travel, so we removed incomplete responses from the dataset. We assumed that travel was based on one return trip. If the car model was unspecified, we estimated emissions using a medium car size. Road distances were calculated from https://nz.utc.city/ and google maps. Finally, we calculated carbon emissions for each volunteer based on travel distance and travel mode using the Toitū calculator (https://www.toitu.co.nz/calculators), and summed these to estimate the carbon footprint associated with travel for the volunteers of each marae. Because in both cases the data was skewed by the long-distance air travel journey of one volunteer, we additionally calculated the travel emissions for each marae excluding these data, as might be done if the air travel was offset separately.
Food and waste
All foods prepared for consumption at the poukai were weighed to the nearest gram, with a small number of exceptions (pumpkins, pineapples, and dried shark at Marokopa) where we estimated weight, in most cases based on the number of items noted. Where foods had been bought, and the weight was recorded in the purchase receipt, we used those data. We categorized foods as vegetable, meat, seafood, dairy (i.e., milk, cheese), or dry packaged goods, and calculated the proportion of foods in each category by weight. We also traced the source of all foods provided at the poukai using receipts and other information supplied by the marae community (e.g., from town supermarkets, locally butchered or harvested, gifted by community members) to estimate the contribution of the local economy to the event. Some interviews provided information on historical foods and sources, as a qualitative comparison with contemporary food sources.
We weighed all waste at the poukai using large commercial scales (in kg, to one decimal place). Both marae separated waste into recycling (such as paper and cardboard), food waste, and unrecyclable rubbish. We recorded waste periodically throughout the day as buckets and receptacles filled up and summed all totals at the end of the event.
All visualizations and analyses were undertaken in R (R Core Team 2021).
Social fabric of the poukai communities
We estimated around 285 people in total visited Marokopa poukai, and 389 visited at Tūrangawaewae. In each case, more women than men attended (Fig. 1). Visitor demographics were significantly different from regional demographics, with a high representation of older age groups and few younger people in the visitor group attending, relative to the wider Māori population in the Waikato and King Country region. Nevertheless, more than 60 people under 25 years old attended Marokopa poukai as visitors and ~100 young people were at Tūrangawaewae, representing between a quarter and a fifth of all visitors (Fig. 1).
Ringawera motivations and travel
We interviewed 41 workers at Marokopa and 42 at Tūrangawaewae. Motivations for working at the poukai varied between marae, and between age groups (Fig. 2). Although the original purposes for the poukai as an institution remain important, other contemporary purposes have become important as well. The original motivation of “gathering and connecting” was the most common for ringawera, with two other original motivations, “feeding the people” and “unity of the Kīngitanga,” also important (see Table 1 for examples). One ringawera from Marokopa focused on the purpose of the poukai to “help those in need,” while another at Tūrangawaewae emphasized that “Hospitality is the strength of this marae” (Table 1). Although at Tūrangawaewae all three motivations above were very important to adults, at Marokopa, “gathering and connecting” dominated the group of original motivations for both adults and youth. For example, one community member observed that the poukai “makes whānau come home” and noted that they were “seeing whānau [I] haven’t seen in years” (Table 1). Intergenerational learning and succession were strong motivations for adults in both marae communities (Fig. 2). For many ringawera, working at the poukai was a recurring part of their lives.
Distinct travel footprints emerged in the two communities (5.0 ± 16.3 km and 65.7 ± 42.6 km, mean and SD for Tūrangawaewae and Marokopa respectively; Fig. 3). Most Tūrangawaewae ringawera lived locally in Ngāruawāhia, with 14 of the 35 volunteers who answered this question walking to the event (40%), compared with two of 41 (4.8%) volunteers at Marokopa. At Marokopa, of the 25 ringawera who provided transport details, most travelled by car from a range of regional towns, from within a 100 km radius in the Waikato and King Country districts in the upper North Island. Both poukai had one ringawera who travelled vast distances, flying in from Canberra, Australia, and the Gold Coast (4718 km and 4472 km return respectively; Fig. 3), indicating something of the extent of the diaspora. Carbon footprints associated with travel for each marae were lower on a per respondent basis at Tūrangawaewae, both including and excluding the ringawera accessing air travel (n = 35, 130.9 kg CO2e and 4.34 kg CO2e respectively) compared with Marokopa (n = 25, 230 kg CO2e and 45.2 kg CO2e respectively). We note, however, that emissions data are incomplete because we did not measure visitor emissions in this study. As well, both visitors and ringawera often travel in groups, given their strong family ties and the collective nature of Māori communities, meaning that although we estimated marae emissions on a “per person” basis an alternative would be to consider emissions on a “per vehicle” basis.
Food and waste
Although food composition, quantity, and waste differed between marae, the continuation of sharing healthy, traditional foods was a central pillar at both. In 2018, Tūrangawaewae intentionally trialed a vegetarian and seafood menu with no red and white meat, and processed shop-bought bread was notably absent. Marokopa provided a (more familiar to many) menu with hāngi, a steamed in-ground method used for generations to cook staple meats and vegetables. Seafood of various kinds, from shellfish to fish, as well as traditional cooking methods such as hāngi, are important elements of a culturally valued food system. A large proportion of both meat and vegetables were gifted at Marokopa (Fig. 4). Total quantities of food were also greater at Marokopa, but the proportion of packaging was less than at Tūrangawaewae, and recycling was extensive (Fig. 4). Notably, relatively few of the gifted foods were wild harvested, although ringawera interviews indicated that in past times, fish and shellfish harvested from the nearby seashore and rivers was abundant at these events (Table 2). One Marokopa participant observed that “Kahawai used to go right up the river.” Another noted that mussels are “not on the menu anymore. [They are] very scarce. In February and March [we] used to get kahawai, there used to be so many. [Now we] can’t fish.” Interview participants at Marokopa were very aware of the changes in koha, particularly noting the lack of fish and the silting of the river, which had impacted fishing.
At both marae, food consumption was associated with very little waste (Fig. 4), and most food waste was fed to the pigs (Fig. 4). At Marokopa, recycling was a particularly small proportion of total waste, and both marae had a low proportion of waste to be dumped.
The marae partnering this research are two of a growing number of Indigenous communities internationally who continue to invigorate and uphold food systems in ways that align with cultural values and philosophies, and community wellbeing, despite societal and environmental change. In the poukai, both marae uplift ideas of food sovereignty as part of the web of relationships with the natural world that define Māori identity (People’s Food Policy Project 2014, Whyte 2017), where food production systems, extending to recycling and disposal of refuse, are characterized by community and cultural autonomy. In this study, it is clear that global stresses such as climate change, colonization, and industrialization have led to local demographic changes and environmental harms over the past 200 years, ranging from dispossession of land, to tribal members leaving their communities, to river erosion and pollution affecting fish harvesting. These large-scale stressors have similarly impacted other Indigenous societies and food systems (e.g., in Indonesia; Alcorn 2000). However, despite these ongoing issues, it is clear the marae communities have found ways to adapt and transform their practices to strengthen community resilience.
Indigenous peoples are actively adapting to displacement and adversity in a diversity of ways (Coté 2016, Ford et al. 2020, Datta 2021). Annual events such as poukai create opportunities to collectively learn and change and increase social cohesion (Chua et al. 2019). These elements were visible in the two poukai gatherings from which our data came; attended by hundreds of visitors, the ringawera worked voluntarily to create an ethos of hospitality and manaakitanga with food a central part of the day. Their contributions in the kitchen, and elsewhere, uplifted the purpose of unity and belonging to the Kīngitanga, while also strengthening relationships and embedding intergenerational learning of roles and tikanga (the right way of doing things) around food preparation, service, consumption, and waste, and practices associated with other parts of the day.
Large gatherings such as poukai maintain cultural benefits such as the transmission of ancestral identity and intergenerational knowledge exchange that are a foundation for flourishing communities (Vue et al. 2011, Turner et al. 2013, Coté 2016, Quintero-Angel et al. 2019), and embed the ethos of reciprocity and care central to kaitiakitanga and manaakitanga. In this study, ringawera interviews highlighted the value of poukai as an event that supports the gathering and connecting of whānau (family), in a culture where understanding whakapapa (the layers of genealogical relationships) is both a foundational concept (Marsden and Henare 1992) and frequent conversation point. The interviews emphasized successional learning, from food preparation and processing through to customs associated with serving honored guests.
The multitude of visitors attending these tribal events speaks to tribal connection and resilience. However, visitors were not representative of regional tribal demographics, with low numbers of children and high numbers of older folk in this group attending the poukai. To some extent this might be expected, given that one integral function of the poukai is for whānau to “kawe mate” or “return” a loved one who has died in the preceding year. This cultural obligation is frequently taken on by elders who return not only to their own marae for the poukai, but also to as many others as they are able in that year. A large cohort of youth and mid-aged adult visitors also participated at both events, in proportions that closely matched regional demographics for tribal members. Nonetheless, the lower numbers of young people generally might also reflect a “drift” away from cultural obligations in young adulthood (perhaps before returning in later life), and the impacts of modern society. Although it is possible we have misclassified some people by gender or age, we consider this unlikely to change the overall findings.
Community, displacement, and the diaspora
“Indigenizing” food sovereignty means a shift to focus on cultural responsibilities and environmental relationships (Coté 2016), such as those embedded in kaitiakitanga and manaakitanga. This strong connection with place is a foundation of mātauranga and other Indigenous knowledge systems, and its intimacy supports collective responsibilities to act as a good steward but also creates vulnerability to the possibility of disruption (Ford et al. 2020, Weir 2023). For example, capitalism and colonialism have created disruptions in food availability, distribution, and consumption that impact these relationships, with many Indigenous communities suffering land dispossession that has forced rural to urban shifts, often associated with employment opportunity, and the subsequent creation of a diaspora. We show here that the remoteness of ancestral communities from contemporary towns and cities, land alienation, and fragmentation, and a resulting diaspora, now play a part in determining who might attend poukai, affecting both demographics and accessibility. Further, it creates an emissions burden alongside attendance. This is reflected in the travel data from Marokopa, where some community members travel large distances to attend, and volunteer at, poukai in their ancestral family community. Where marae volunteers live locally, travel emissions are reduced significantly, as at Tūrangawaewae where many volunteers walked to the event, and most travelled less than 5 km. Nonetheless, air travel was the most significant factor contributing to travel emissions for both groups of marae volunteers, in line with its importance in anthropogenic climate change. Travel and emissions can nevertheless be mitigated in a range of ways, from marae carbon offsetting, to travel assistance for community members, through to the creation of new work or lifestyle opportunities in remote communities. Greater community accessibility supports a wide range of whānau to regularly participate in important events, and allows multiple opportunities for the transmission of intergenerational knowledge and family connections to be nurtured.
In the ground-breaking Nyéleni Declaration in 2007 (https://nyeleni.org/IMG/pdf/DeclNyeleni-en.pdf), food sovereignty was defined as “the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems... It defends the interests and inclusion of the next generation.” The food systems operating at these gatherings show how cultural principles of sustainability, kaitiakitanga, and manaakitanga are upheld in a range of ways despite changing social-ecological relationships and modern time constraints. At Marokopa poukai, the reciprocal relationship of people and environment, shown in the range of locally sourced food, contests the stresses of social and environmental transformation which can include homogenization of food sources (Khoury et al. 2014). Dietary practices, such as provision of local produce and traditional food processing like the hāngi, remain framed by the socio-cultural context of the poukai and support community resilience, although the community also highlighted the long-term harms to river and sea from climate change and pollution, that in turn affect their ability to provide delicacies such as local fish at the poukai. Once people leave their community base and lands, transmission of cultural learnings is also at increased risk. This includes knowledge of available foods and harvesting practices, food processing technologies, and language associated with these practices (Kuhnlein and Receveur 1996, Hoover 2013). In addition, when people are displaced from their ancestral areas, nurturing the relationships that underpin kaitiakitanga, including monitoring signs of health, becomes challenging. The value of place-based experiential learning that underpins kaitiakitanga and manaakitanga (Davidson-Hunt and Berkes 2003, Walker et al. 2019, Ford et al. 2020) and the contributions of highly valued cultural foods to wellbeing cannot be under-estimated. The issues of displacement, ancestral relationships, and land dispossession highlighted here are global challenges for many Indigenous peoples.
Responses to delocalization
At Tūrangawaewae, resilience, or the ability to persist in the face of variability (see, for example, Resilience Alliance, https://www.resalliance.org/resilience), takes a different form from Marokopa. Although traditional seafoods such as mussels are still provisioned by whānau, the lower representation of culturally valued foods sourced locally speaks to the impacts of colonization not only on land stewardship and ecosystem fragmentation, but also the impacts of living in a wage economy. Food sourcing at Tūrangawaewae extends well beyond the reciprocal local Māori economy. However, this out-sourcing also reflects Tūrangawaewae’s ongoing functional role that extends beyond the Māori world, as a nationally recognized marae hosting dignitaries from AoNZ and overseas, and upholding the prestige of the Kīngitanga. Tūrangawaewae thus has a stream of large events throughout the year, requiring seamless organization of the kitchen. This full annual program of gatherings at Tūrangawaewae in complex modern circumstances means that time availability for ringawera may impact the processes of koha, or food gifting. The delocalization of food, obtained from commercial sources, is a major determinant of non-directed dietary change in many Indigenous communities (Pelto and Pelto 1983, Kuhnlein and Receveur 1996). However, despite this delocalization, Tūrangawaewae has a well-organized, large, and highly structured volunteer workforce who act as a robust defense to systemic cultural and economic shocks (e.g., Manuirirangi and Jarman 2021). The long service of many workers at both marae (PMW and TR, unpublished data) underlines their commitment and strong motivation to be part of the larger purpose of the Kīngitanga, and provides continuity. As well, food systems leadership at Tūrangawaewae continues to challenge food homogenization patterns, innovating in food preparation and supporting healthy eating to create new momentum, for example, by trialing a vegetarian and seafood menu in 2018, with fewer processed foods and a multiplicity of vegetarian foods, that reduced food waste. Manaakitanga underpinned these food selections that push back against negative health statistics for Māori, including high rates of diabetes and heart disease (Rush et al. 2010). Indeed, the locally run health clinic across the road from the marae emphasizes the multi-pronged health and wellbeing response that is taken in communities such as Tūrangawaewae.
Connections between human and environmental health are well documented internationally (Brulle and Pellow 2006, Tilman and Clark 2014), and at a local scale it is also clear that restoration of environmental health grows practices that restore the culture of food and allow people to flourish. At Marokopa, ringawera expressed concerns about the scarcity of valued cultural foods such as fish and seafood, and linked this to environmental degradation, such as the silting of traditional fishing sites and climate change processes, as has occurred elsewhere (Dick et al. 2012, Lynn et al. 2013).
Commitment to environmental relationships
Continuing commitment to kaitiakitanga and environmental relationships is also seen in the marae recycling programs. The head of kitchen at Tūrangawaewae noted the high level of packaging that accompanied the switch to store-bought food, overall, but managed both food and waste to keep the volume low. Recycling rates were high at both Marokopa and Tūrangawaewae, with efficient systems in place to collect food waste to feed pigs. These actions emphasize the holistic nature of stewardship, and the broad nature of obligation to the environment that local marae are conscious of.
Many communities are now designing and cultivating local food systems, including gardens, to meet the needs of the marae and its people. These systems act to underpin manaakitanga, even within the constraints of changing social-environmental contexts. The data presented here may provide a useful reference point for marae to track sustainability and food systems as a potential proxy of community resilience over time, using repeatable methods that can help marae reflexively improve responses to continuing environmental and social challenges. Some methodological changes might make measures more robust; for example, we did not record numbers in the host group in the same way as visitors, because of likely biases in counts, and we spent most of our time amongst ringawera working on food-related tasks, which are generally carried out by those from their late teens through to their fifties. Elders, on the other hand, traditionally mingle with the visitors and carry out ceremonial duties throughout the day. Marae might wish to record more detail of food origin or processing practices, particularly if they are involved in food sovereignty and restoration initiatives that support the full return of food traditions, including stories, terms, and practices (Turner and Turner 2008). Whatever methods are used to collect data, there are potential avenues for marae to monitor progress on reducing and offsetting emissions as part of a sustainability plan.
In conclusion, the marae hosting these tribal gatherings demonstrate local decision making in relation to their food systems that aligns with central cultural principles such as kaitiakitanga and manaakitanga, as well as food sovereignty principles more broadly. The challenge of food systems reclamation, and the restoration of food and cultural practices, while also grappling with a reduced land and economic base, is one that faces many Indigenous communities worldwide. However, it is clear that in these communities, kaitiakitanga is flourishing in new ways to meet very different circumstances than those of 100 years ago, when the poukai were first instigated. Poukai are contributing to the maintenance and resurgence of Indigenous food systems, despite uncertain environmental futures. The findings of this study will contribute to a wider framework of marae and cultural revitalization goals, which include environmental restoration, return of harvesting resources and practices, and reconnection of families. Partnering with local government and other agencies may help address some of the stresses imposed on communities by external societal systems, but communities continue to show how adaptation, reclamation, and transformation of traditional food systems comes from leadership within the communities themselves.
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Acknowledgements We first thank the Kīngitanga, and the marae who partnered us in this work. Raukura Roa, Atamira Roa, and Rachel Smith were invaluable research team members at the poukai, without whom this research would not have taken place. This research was funded by Royal Society of New Zealand Te Aparangi Rutherford Discovery Fellowship 14-LCR-00, and Te Punaha Matatini Centre of Research Excellence in Complex Systems, New Zealand.
The data that support the findings of this study are available on request from the corresponding author, PMW. The data are not publicly available because they contain information that could compromise the privacy of research participants, and because we consider these data the intellectual property of those marae partners involved in the study. Ethical approval for this research study was granted by Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research social ethics committee reference 1718/17. We also note that, as authors working in partnership with our communities, the final manuscript has been agreed on with the representatives of those communities prior to publication.
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Table 1. Nine themes emerged from ringawera interviews in relation to their motivations for volunteering at the poukai. The first five are original motivations, and the final four are contemporary concerns. TW refers to Tūrangawaewae, and MM to Marokopa.
|Theme||Explanation||Examples from ringawera interviews|
|Feeding the people||feeding the widowed/poor/orphaned||TW: “food, feeding the people”
MM: “feed the people”
TW: “whakapapa [connection] of food from the Atua [God], cultural part of food”
MM: “help those in need”
|Unity/kinship||unity of people with the Kīngitanga||TW: “supporting Kīngitanga, something tīpuna [our ancestors] passed, bringing all iwi, motu [tribal peoples across the country] together, get everyone coming, not just us ‘Tainui,’ is ingrained, is beautiful, what makes Māori unique”
TW: “Kīngitanga, whānau [family], whanaungatanga [connecting as family] at the time of the poukai”
MM: “one day a year when whānau get together, in support of Kīngitanga”
MM: “strong tautoko [support] to Kīngitanga in general. Trying to tautoko because my tīpuna believed it”
|Sharing resources||those with resources were/are still willing to share them||TW: “Hospitality is the strength of this marae”
TW: “Manaaki tangata, whaangai manuhiri” [look after people, and feed the visitors]
MM: “[We] koha kai [gift food] and meat”
|Gathering and connecting||gathering people together and being united||TW: “bringing us together, something passed down; socialising and seeing whānau”
TW: “getting everyone together, celebrating”
MM: “supporting family, partner grew up at Taharoa, helping, just being part of the family”
MM: “makes whānau come home, connection, seeing whānau haven’t seen in years”
|Mana and reciprocity||importance of mana reciprocity, hosting the King, the Kīngitanga give mana to the marae||MM: “honour to have the King here”
MM: “special to have the King”
MM: “reminds us of the honour to have the King at our marae”
|Back to marae||people getting back to the marae||TW: “whanaungatanga; about whānau coming together from those as a marae it’s important to come back”
MM: “keep coming back because of family, because it’s your home, it’s part of you”
MM: “to come together; come back to whānau and bring back to whānau”
MM: “kaupapa being going for years, brings everyone home”
|Kawe mate||bringing kawe mate back to the marae||TW: “acknowledge mate [dead]”
TW: “kawe mate [bringing the memory of those who have died], remember them, share the grief with each other, we are one people”
MM: “mourn the dead”
|Succession learning||marae succession, learning, and tikanga||TW: “line up with Te Puea, identity with tīpuna [ancestors] and their roles around the preparation, carry on legacy. Upholding legacy”
TW: “hand down to kids, succession planning”
TW: “learnt everything from mum, now teaching kids, nieces, about this learning”
MM: “brought up with grandparents staunch Kīngitanga people; brought up, carry it on”
MM: “carry on tikanga [doing the right thing]”
MM: “keep up with all the jobs at the marae”
|Kaupapa||discussing important issues/problems||TW: “current affairs and people together discussing”
TW: “political platform”
MM: “kaupapa been going for years, brings everyone home”
Table 2. Ringawera interviews described previous harvesting practices and social-ecological connections with lands and waters.
|Marokopa||“You had to do the weeding in the garden... It wasn’t as lavish as it is now. There was an open fire with the big pots. People slept outside the kauta [kitchen] with the fire. There were not so many people then, and access was hard. There was a canoe, not a barge like today. They would bring bags of mussels, pūhā [sowthistle], watercress, sharks, and meat from the farms... It was a whole community, Māori and Pākehā [non-Māori]. We had kono [woven flax] for plates.”|
|Marokopa||“Kahawai [the fish Arripis trutta] used to go right up the river. [We’d] set nets close by or up the river. Silt has had a big impact on fishing. [You] can walk and it will hit your legs. [There was a] flood recently; it adversely affects the fishing. There are changes to the river, it is getting closer and closer [to the marae], and the banks are eroding.“|
|Marokopa||“[We] used to go and gather mussels (we don’t do it anymore) on horses over the hill, we didn’t even get off the horse. Haven’t done it for a few years. [We] could get enough for tangi [funeral gatherings]. [They are] not on the menu anymore, very scarce... In Feb/March [we] used to get kahawai, there used to be so many. [Now we] can’t fish.”|
|Marokopa||“Kai [food]. [We were] brought up to feed the people, no matter what. Back in the days, it was koha [gifts] from whānau [family]. Now we have to buy it. Gone are those days.”|
|Marokopa||“[There] was once a maara [garden], whare [houses], people living on this side of the river. The change in lifestyle has led to whānau moving into the city for work. Some don’t come back because of the workload; [they] will return for weddings and tangihanga [funeral gatherings] instead. Food was never purchased. Gardens provided produce for the poukai, e.g., rīwai [potatoes], fishing for mangō [shark].”|
|Marokopa||“Traditionally all families specialized in particular kai to bring to share.”|
|Tūrangawaewae||“Kai used to be koha... Poukai is something specific to Waikato-Tainui, bringing us together.”|
|Tūrangawaewae||“[There is a] health agenda. [We have] cut back fat, sugar, processed foods. The whakapapa [connections] of food from the Atua [God] matter, the cultural part of food. [We are] changing the narrative, moving from victim to agency.”|
|Tūrangawaewae||“Over the years we have been utilizing the kitchen, coming up with new ideas to keep people well. [We] removed bread from lunch, less carbs, no margarine, muesli for brekkie, tuna [eel] three ways. [We are a] different generation thinking innovatively. Healthy living, light blue milk, try and stick to pūhā, watercress, lots of seafood.”|