Taniwha research project gets big fund boost

By Mana Wikaire-Lewis

A study celebrating Māori experiences and perspectives using the narratives of the taniwha has been given a financial boost in the latest Marsden funding round.

Dr Kirsty Dunn (Te Aupōuri, Te Rarawa, Ngāpuhi) of the University of Canterbury has been given $360,000 for her research project Taniwha: A Cultural History, which uses the taniwha to explain complexities and challenges both in Aotearoa and around the world, and find out who they are, rather than what they are.

Though taniwha are usually depicted in the supernatural sense, Dunn says, “When we look at various pūrākau, these are often our relations that challenge us, help us and guide us at times. So we really want to elevate those kinds of ways of thinking about taniwha.”

Dunn believes taniwha are a powerful way of thinking about whakapapa, not just with connections to people and things but also people’s responsibilities to one another.

“If we think about the challenges like Covid and climate change, if taniwha are a helpful way of thinking about our relationships and obligations to each other, then I think there may be some awesome material in there for us to think our way through these big issues in the world.”

The $360,000 funding towards the project will go toward Dunn and research partner and historian Dr Madi Williams travelling around the country to learn more about pūrākau of taniwha.

“Both Madi and I have been really fortunate to have been mentored and given opportunities by other Māori academics throughout our own journeys. Having this funding means we can also employ another postgraduate student to tautoko us, we’re excited to be doing that as well.”