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  • Rights: The University of Waikato Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato and Waikato Regional Council
    Published 13 March 2020 Referencing Hub media

    Mātauranga Māori is a modern term for the combined knowledge of Polynesian ancestors and the experiences of Māori living in the environment of Aotearoa passed down through generations often in the form of waiata, stories, legends and tikanga. The term takes many forms, such as language (te reo), education and learning (mātauranga), traditional environmental knowledge (taonga tuku iho, mātauranga o te taiao), traditional knowledge of cultural practice, such as healing and medicines (rongoā), fishing (hī ika) and cultivation (mahinga kai).

    Mātauranga Māori, as a knowledge base, adds significant understanding to water quality and restoration practices.

    Learn more about mātauranga Māori with these resources:



    I was born in 1937 and brought up with my grandparents and parents. Our homestead was beside the river. There was a lot of families used to live along the rivers. My grandfather had Clydesdale horses, and my job was to give the horses water, to make sure that the troughs were full.

    Those things brings back memories to me and is also learning one of the teachings that I had was about water. They used to tell us about the trees along the riverbanks. I’ll always remember my grandfather and father telling me those trees and all the run-off from the farms and the dairy cows and all that, it goes down there and it comes down, and those tī trees and tōtara, fern and flax – they filter the water, and that’s why we leave them alone. Don’t touch them. Let them grow.

    The river was our cupboard. We got our eels from the river, and we got freshwater mussels and not only that, the watercress. The watercress is a water plant. My parents used to say when you pick the watercress, don’t pull the roots out. Make sure you tramp it down, because that is also a filter. I’ve told my kids this.

    In this day and age today, a lot of our families don’t know those things. This is an area that we have to target and make sure that they know it – the wellbeing of the water and keeping it as it is.

    And I tell you what, there’s signs you know that there’s something going wrong with the water is when you see a lot of froth on the water, and you know, oh somebody has done something.

    Because our mokopunas and that swim in that river – we’ve got to make sure that it’s clean. But I’m not only talking about my particular river, I mean, this happened to all the rivers.

    It’s water that’s handed down from our ancestors and it’s holy. We have to enhance it and enable it, and that’s all part of the mauri of the river.


    Reverend Haki Wirihana
    Ngāti Hauā Iwi Trust
    Ngāti Hauā Mahi Trust
    Black and white historic footage (1956), People of the Waikato, National Film Unit, Archives New Zealand. Licenced under Creative Commons CC BY 3.0
    Stills of watercress, Jon Sullivan. Released under Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC 2.0


    This video has been developed in partnership with the Waikato Regional Council as part of the Rivers and Us resource.

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