Aotearoa Kai Gatherers founder turns thousands back to the land and ways of tūpuna

By Jessica Tyson

The founder of one of New Zealand’s most popular Facebook groups, Aotearoa Kai Gatherers, is helping thousands of people uphold the ways of tūpuna to sustain themselves from the whenua.

Te Ururangi Rowe, of Tūwharetoa and Ngāti Raukawa, founded the group, which has close to 70,000 members from across Aotearoa and the rest of the world.

“Aotearoa Kai Gatherers is pretty much about reconnecting everyone back to the whenua, back to the land, back to their whakapapa, because we see a lot of people disconnected living in the system and a lot of people have forgotten the old way of our tūpuna,”  Te Ururangi says.

He says he turned to the land to sustain himself and his whānau after witnessing his own father being ill.

“I grew up around my father being sick and having heart attacks and being in and out of hospital my whole life and when I go on to the marae and they put on a big hākari (feast) and I see fizzy drinks, lollies and all those sorts of things, then I’m asking the question, ‘How come there’s not māra kai on our table?’ That’s the way of our tūpuna.”

Members on the Facebook page share their own photos of them gathering kai / Source: Facebook

Te Ururangi says members on the page post content sharing mātauranga (knowledge) to empower others to get back to the land and whakapapa.

“We try and make sure that everything posted on there has to do with gathering the kai. We don’t want people posting stuff that they bought from Pak'nSave. There are a lot of people who share their tikanga and their ways of doing māra, how they plant things and how they look after it.”

Te Ururangi and his daughter at the māra in Whanganui / Source: Te Ao

Te Ururangi cares for eight tamariki with his partner Te Huatahi Merania. Te Huatahi says it's important for their children to understand the ways of their tūpuna and the lessons of the Māori gods Ranginui and Papatūānuku. 

"Kia mōhio kaha rātou, ko wai o rātou kaumātua, ō rātou tūpuna, pērā hoki ki ō tātou rākau, Tāne Māhuta me ngā manu me ngā takoha hoki o ēnei ngā atua Māori," Te Huatahi says.

"They should have a strong understanding of who their elders, their ancestors are, as well as our trees, Tāne Māhuta and the birds and gifts of these atua Māori," she says.

Youth help Te Ururangi and his whānau build the māra at the Tupoho Community Complex. Source: Te Ururangi

Te Ururangi and his whānau and friends have created their own māra (garden) including one at his partner’s marae, Taipake Marae, in Kai Iwi. The other māra is at the Tupoho Community Complex in central Whanganui that he recently built with the help of others.

“My koro had a lot to do with this place. My family went toi (art) polytech here and I put a karanga out there and a lot of the youth who work in the space came in to give us a hand,” he says.

Te Uruangi teaches jiu-jitsu at the Tupoho Community Complex / Source: Te Ao

Jiu-jitsu, tā moko and whakairo

Te Ururangi says he has occupied a space at the Tupoho Community Complex to teach jiu-jitsu, and practise tā moko (tattooing) and whakairo (carving).

“Before we use weapons for jiu-jitsu we had rongo mamou (traditional Māori grappling) or whātoto (wrestling) and that was a grappling style of fighting but over time that’s sort of been lost.”

The name of his club is Tsunami Southern Tribes Jiu-jitsu.

“When you go back to the kōrero about our atua (Gods) and that Tāne Mahuta separated his parents on his back som for some of our movement, jiu-jitsu is a lot to do with the ground so I incorporate a lot of te ao Māori, like our grips.”

When Te Ururangi teaches, he uses Māori names to describe the grips.

“When you’re using hooks I use Te Matau-a-Māui so Maui’s hook. I incorporate certain moves like the mount when you’re sitting on top of the guy ready to ground and pound, I call that maunga. There’s a position called the guard when you wrap your opponent so I call that the korowai.”

The plans for Aotearoa Kai Gatherers

Te Ururangi says he wants to create more awareness about living sustainably by going into other communities to build māra.

“I have to be able to tap into the funding because there is funding out there," he says.

He has also established a business out of Aotearoa Kai Gatherers.

“I’ve just registered it so I’m putting my other taonga like ta moko, the whakairo and the jiu-jitsu under that one banner and just creating a business out of that.”