NZILBB Seminar with Priscilla Wehi

08 October 2018

Whakataukī and ecological knowledge in Aotearoa New Zealand

Priscilla Wehi from Landcare Research presents the next NZILBB seminar.

Māori culture has a strongly developed tradition of oral literature, and whakataukī (sayings passed down through the generations) have enjoyed wide currency. Whakataukī provide an enduring record of tribal memory and represent an important method for transmitting critical information about aspects of life, society and the environment. However, their meanings may not be apparent without knowing the societal, historical, cultural and linguistic context out of which they emerged. Such codified knowledge depends on language use and structure as a key mechanism for cultural transmission. In this research, I have worked with collaborators Hemi Whaanga and Tom Roa (University of Waikato) and Murray Cox (Massey University) to identify linguistic markers and principles of textual reconstructions, and derive time estimated patterns of knowledge embedded in this form of oral tradition. Our primary dataset of c.4,000 versions of whakataukī is drawn from collections published after European arrival ca. 200 years ago. In this project, we indicate some of the kinds of ecological information available. In particular, we consider, through the lens of whakataukī, how communities perceived and responded to such ecological crises. Temporal changes in whakataukī form and content demonstrate that Māori recognised the loss of important species, and that this loss reverberated culturally centuries later. The data provides evidence that extinction of keystone fauna was important to shaping the ecological thought in Māori society. I will discuss how whakataukī shed light on the connections between humans and their environment that transcend prosaic uses, and illuminate deeper social and behavioural engagement with their surrounding environment.


  • Friday 09 November 2018
  • 1pm - 2pm
  • Locke 104a