My name is Tanya Te Miringa Te Rorarangi Ruka. I am Ngati Pakau, Ngapuhi, Waitaha Iwi. I am an artist and designer and I moved from Auckland to Wellington almost two years ago to further my research in regenerative whole systems theory. My recent work 2 Waters: The Acquisition & The Return | Hutt River. Wairua: Te Rironga me Te Whakahoki | Te Awa Kairangi’ is included in the show Te Taiao with Fred Graham and Pukukohe High School students at the Franklin Arts Centre over the Matariki Festival in Auckland.
“Te Taiao brings together works by contemporary Māori artists who reference the environment and the innate relationships humans have with the natural world. The artworks exhibited contribute to a dialogue about tradition, environmental challenges and regeneration.”
As an artist and designer, I have centred my practice on learning about and understanding the cycles of nature. My research focus is kaitiakitanga or stewardship of the land through connection to wairua and my Tupuna ancestors. Since I was a small child I have been fascinated by the forces of nature, the energy of wild weather, the eerie silence of snow storms and the magnitude of the night sky. I am Maori, my mother is Maori, my father Italian, I was born in Australia and I spent my early years travelling across the world and in Europe before coming home to Aotearoa New Zealand when I was 12 years old. I remember my Mother saying to me in the plane “There it is, the land of the long white cloud – home.”
The events and celebrations of Matariki were new to me at the beginning of the 21st Century when the celebration of Matariki was revived. Over recent years Matariki has developed a deeper meaning for me because of my art practice. It is through my art work that I have learned so much about my culture and the history of loss. I have explored this revival primarily through art exhibitions, art institutions and local authority funded public spaces in the cities. Over this time, from around 1999 to the present, I have lost too many close family members to cancer and various other health issues. The remembrance I experience is one of great loss. In our Iwi, many of our kaumatua and kuia have died too young. Our honoured Tohunga with generations of information have crossed into Te Ao Wairua before they had time to share the stories and knowledge of our Tupuna. My generation find ourselves in a strange place looking to each other and the few elders left for knowledge, add to this the turmoil in the Hokianga (where our Marae is situated) due to methamphetamine addictions and the suicide rate of our rangatahi (young people) and I see a landscape of sadness during this time of ‘cultural celebration’. Matariki should be about the connection between human and land, honouring the land that nourishes us with food and honouring ourselves and our past in the process. Food is vital information for our bodies, it informs our bodies and minds about how to function. I believe the health issues that plague our communities today are derived from the food that we eat to sustain us. Grown and heavy set with chemicals and plastics that seep into our blood systems and our waterways, killing the natural systems that had sustained our ancestors for centuries.
When there is no honouring of the land – there is no connection. Where is the honouring of mana whenua in the mass production of today’s food supply?
As a Maori art practitioner, it seems to me that this is a time where the knowledge of our Tupuna needs to be revived, treasured, maintained and celebrated in practical ways that help restore the hope to our communities who are fighting daily to stay alive. I can appreciate what local bodies and art galleries are trying to achieve organising exhibitions and firework displays to bring hope to communities by sharing Maori knowledge and cultural practices.
I went to see the exhibition ‘Beyond the Dusky Maiden’ | Ki tua o te ‘puhi kiri rauwhero’ in the Turnball Gallery at the National Library. This show
curated by Ariana Tikao & Catherine Bisley is important for young Maori to see. Exhibitions that exemplify the strength in Maori cultural practice and community are needed.
The historical nature of the collected works of art and photography brought me to tears. It was the sense of community, comradery and laughter on the faces of these strong Maori women that appealed to me and our rangatahi need to be able to see it for themselves. It would be good to make this show and shows like it available online.
The importance of local initiatives and community taking care of each is integral, I believe it is essential for these local groups to network into the cities too. There are many New Zealanders of different races who are fighting together with Tangata Whenua for our land, our water supplies and our communities. This is evident in more art works and collaborations across cultures, it is hopeful. I believe our environmental problems, health and mental health issues require communities working together to find the practical solutions for ourselves and our future generations. We need to build pride in our cultural practices around providing for our communities, not just for ourselves and not because it is a time of year. We need more practical applications of this knowledge from our ancestors (and its origins) in communities and schools. We also need to develop the commonalities of other cultures and how they connect to land, those who have been displaced through war and politics. Maori understand displacement and loss of land, we carry this truth with us, it flows in our blood, and the loss resides in our genes, it manifests itself in illnesses of mind, body and wairua. I believe Art has the power to build connection outside of words and language. I am thankful for the efforts of those who strive to make Matariki a time of celebration in our country it reaches across the main city centres. But it is not accessible to all communities within New Zealand and some communities need the funds for health and wellbeing resources, for survival. This is perhaps where technology could start to reconnect small communities with the bigger resources of communities working in our cities?
Through my own artistic journey and reconnection, I have found that my disconnection was due to a lack of understanding in origin. This includes how my body, mind and wairua fit into natural cycles. In a tribal setting this would have been taught by tohunga to parent and from parent to child. This information was encoded in the food and water taken into the body following the simple rituals of daily life. Food that was grown, caught and eaten with respect, honouring the source; the plant, animal, sea or land. For me reconnecting through my work, simply required reaching out, acknowledging and asking permission from the wairua of the land. I utilise technology to document the journey but I also needed to get practical, hands in earth and reintroduce myself to the origin. This includes where and how I source food. My Nana Wikitoria Rangitakina was 86 years old, she had cancer and she still went out to check the fruit and vegetables in the garden. Every Nana knows you take your troubles to the soil. She wasn’t afraid of dying, she told me that in the end it is just you and the earth preparing to become one. I am thankful for my ancestor’s knowledge and I believe we need to learn, teach and rebuild a connection to these natural cycles, so we can truly celebrate together. “Pipiri (May–June) Ka pipiri ngā mea katoa i te whenua i te mātao, me te tangata. All things on earth are contracted because of the cold; likewise, man.”. In the creation of new technologies and new systems the world is turning its focus on the beneficial properties of plants and natures cycles for our bodies and minds. By recalibrating our mind, work and lives to the seasons and new technologies are helping people to achieve this goal. Here in New Zealand I am proud of my ancestry and our Maori world view. We have so much knowledge of land and sea to draw from, the starting point for my research was my great grandmother (and namesakes) Maori rongoa recipes, like the stars of Matariki she lights the way and my ancestors inform the journey.
Matariki was a time of careful consideration by the whole tribal community for the survival and wellbeing of the whole Iwi with the land – honouring that connection together.
“Toitū he kāinga, whatu ngarongaro he tangata. (While the land remains the inhabitants are gone)” – Whakatauki Maori Proverb. Te Miringa.