New book shines a light on Māori relationships with soil

By Jessica Tyson

A new handbook exploring a Māori perspective on the whenua and food security is being launched today via webinar.

Te Mahi Oneone Hua Parakore: A Māori Soil Sovereignty and Wellbeing Handbook shines a new light on Māori relationships with soil, as well as the connections between soil and food security. 

The editors, Jo Smith and Dr Jessica Hutching,s say that in te ao Māori, soil is taonga.

“It is also whanaunga – it holds ancestral connections and is the root of tūrangawaewae and whakapapa. It is the source of shelter, kai and manaakitanga.”

However, until recently, little information has been available about the importance of soil for tāngata whenua and their relationships with this vital resource. 

 “What we’re trying to do in the book is to make a connection between soil health and the health of our gut as tāngata. That really abundant microbiology that’s in soil needs to mirror the micro-biology in our gut. So we’re talking about soil health but it’s actually human health as well,” says Hutchings.

The editors say the book will be of interest to Māori gardeners, Māori communities, Māori and non-Māori researchers and people with an interest in the well-being of the soil and their health. 

Different authors, different pūrākau

“We’re actually taking a focus deep into the soil and through the really diverse kōrero from our authors in the different pūrākau (stories) that they’re bringing out,” Hutchings say.

One of the authors is Hōhepa Hei who wrote a chapter about educating the community.

“Kaitiakitanga is about caring for the land. We inherit the whenua, the waterways, the moana. We don’t own it but our responsibility, our role to our people and to our whenua is to care for it and to ensure its sustainability for future generations,” Hei wrote.

Author Maanu Paul also wrote a chapter about soil and food-growing.

“Whakapapa literally means to cause/to make like Papatūānuku – so my existence, my identity, my being stems from Papatūānuku, and that is exemplified by the fact that my relatedness and connections to people are through my whakapapa. That is why for us of Ngāti Manawa and Ngāti Awa and Mātaatua people, soil is papa, so soil health – papa oranga ki a mātou (the health of the soils which sustains us).”

The scientific research that contributed to the book was part of an MBIE Endeavour-funded project – Soil Health and Resilience: Oneone ora, Tangata ora – led by Manaaki Whenua - Landcare Research.