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  • Trees are a magnificent wonder of nature – giants of the forest. Tāne Mahuta is a giant kauri (Agathis australis). At 51.5 metres tall, it is the oldest known living kauri tree in Aotearoa. The Amazon rainforest is home to many large trees including the samaúma (Ceiba pentandra). The samaúma pictured here measures 70 metres in height and towers over the rainforest canopy.

    Indigenous connections

    Forests across the world are important ecosystems for many reasons. The trees and plants within the ecosystem provide habitats and food for many other organisms. They are also primary producers, and through the process of photosynthesis, they use carbon dioxide and water to produce sugars and release oxygen. Culturally, they are viewed by indigenous peoples across the world with importance and have provided food and shelter for many. In some places, the trees are viewed as sacred. Long-lived trees like Tāne Mahuta and many samaúma have been part of pūrākāu and narratives for generations.

    The kauri are our brothers, we whakapapa back to the same place. They are the shelter or protector of many other species, and all of these other species are sheltered by the kauri. Tēnei te ahua o te rangatira – this is how rangatira are, they protect and shelter the many other forms of life. You take out the kauri tree from that scenario, and potentially our whole bush changes as we know it.

    Ian Mitchell (Te Uri Taniwha, Ngāpuhi, Waima)

    Globally, indigenous people have deep connections to the environment. Indigenous knowledge can be described as preserved understandings that have been developed over long periods of time from local culturally contextual experiences, discoveries and observations.

    There is no way to maintain one’s body and spirit without living trees, so the tree is sacred to us [Amazonian people] – sacred to ensure life.

    Sônia Guajajara, Brazilian indigenous activist and environmentalist

    Braided rivers of knowledge

    In Aotearoa, mātauranga Māori is a term used for the combined knowledge of Polynesian ancestors and the experiences of Māori living in the environment of Aotearoa. The interweaving of the two knowledge systems – mātauranga Māori and science – is increasingly evident in research across Aotearoa. It is crucial that this interface space is genuine and continues, as it enables rich insights into tackling some of the important ecological issues Aotearoa is facing.

    I think the beauty of mātauranga is that it’s another way, a very powerful way, of linking people to places, to practices and to a deeper understanding of the world that we live in.

    Associate Professor Priscilla Wehi, University of Otago

    Māori have always been scientists, and we continue to be scientists. Our science has allowed us to live, work and thrive in the world for hundreds of years.

    Associate Professor Ocean Mercier (Ngāti Porou), Victoria University of Wellington

    Related content

    The article The Majestic Samaúma – art meets science is an exploration of the importance of communication and engagement. This article also links to The Majestic Samaúma 3D interactive digital art developed by artist Joseph Michael.

    Find out more about mātauranga Māori with the following resources:

    Ngā rākau ❘ Trees curates beautifully illustrated bilingual resources – including Word downloads exclusively in te reo Māori.

    New Zealand native trees – an introduction curates articles, activities and media. It also includes an interactive planning pathway that groups Hub resources into key science and teaching concepts.

    Related activities

    This link curates activities that are underpinned by a combination of mātauranga Māori and science.

    Useful links

    Rocky Mountain Tree-Ring Research has a database of old trees and explains a way to estimate how old a tree is.

    Visit Joseph Michael’s website to learn more about Amazon – Raised Up Sky.

    Visit the Ārko website to read about the technical aspects used to create Amazon – Raised Up Sky.

    The Centres of Asia-Pacific Excellence website provides further background to the international collaboration behind Amazon – Raised Up Sky.


    The videos featured in this article and The Majestic Samaúma 3D interactive have been created by artist Joseph Michael with the support of the Latin America Centre of Asia-Pacific Excellence.

      Published 14 December 2022 Referencing Hub articles
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