Potential whakapapa Māori solution for kāuri dieback outbreak

By Raniera Harrison

A collective of Northland traditional Māori knowledge experts are leading western science to find a remedy for kāuri dieback - and they say it's all in the whakapapa.

Māori environmentalists have found a possible solution in fighting the kauri dieback disease through a link between kauri and whale. 

"If we determine whether or not there is merit within the learnings of our ancestors and primarily, the genealogical link between the whale and the kauri tree," says Tohe Ashby, a renowned traditional medicines expert from Ngāti Hine.

What's more interesting, their findings are based on traditional Māori knowledge. The collective includes renowned conservationist Hori Parata, skilled carver Wallace Hetaraka, and renowned Ngāti Hine repository of knowledge, Kevin Prime.

Ashby suggests properties of whale oil may hold some answers.

"I've seen this initiative take shape, and through the application of the oil, the affected trees seem to have regenerated themselves," he says.

Their findings have now attracted interest from scientists from Lincoln University in Christchurch, who want to research their claims further. 

"We are currently deciding how traditional Māori knowledge will align with western science, we believe that can work simultaneously in what we do," adds Mr Ashby, who has been in discussions with numerous representatives from the country's leading agricultural university, in Christchurch.

This month, the Ministry for Primary Industries issued Controlled Area Notices for the Waitākere Ranges and parts of the Hunua Ranges, in Auckland.

However, Ashby says a more collaborative approach needs to be taken. 

"Do not let the trees rot in the forest, instead let the families, and tribal groupings take care of the trees," adds Ashby.

This traditional medicinal expert says that the ideology that land-based problems are only solved on land is obsolete, and to search further.

"The time has arrived where we need to begin believing again that there are real benefits for the affected kāuri species," Ashby says.

The collective of tohunga are expected to meet again in the next three weeks to decide the path going forward with kāuri dieback.