Rebekah Fuller, University of Hawaii PhD student, describes the research she undertook into the traditional knowledge of New Zealand fungi for her master’s degree.
The focus of my masters research was to look at Mātauranga Māori o Ngā Harore or Māori traditional knowledge surrounding fungi. The main findings that I got from my research is that there were at least 13 species of fungi that we used in the past, and eight of those were edible. And other uses as well, for example, to carry fire, and also as an environmental indicator. If Māori were in the forest and they noticed there was a lot of fungi growing, it indicated that there were going to be some hard times coming up.
Fungi were incorporated into whakataukī, which are proverbs, also waiata, and also in mythology. I researched this project two ways. The first was a broad literature research, so I went through a whole of ethnographic works. I was down in the National Archives looking at handwritten scrawl, bits of paper, so it was kind of like an investigative hunt to try and find all this information. And I also did a bunch of interviews as well, which were fascinating – I really, really enjoyed that part of getting out there and actually speaking to people and talking to them about, you know, sort of “What do you know about fungi and how does it affect you?” And I found that there was a large loss of knowledge, of names as well. And I really enjoyed finding out really interesting things, like, hey, they did really use if it for tā moko ink. I thought that was really fascinating, so it was really good.