Virtual technology endeavours to connect whānau back to whenua

By Stefan Dimitrof

An augmented virtual and mixed realities project developed in a collaboration with universities across the country endeavours to help Māori to connect with their reo, culture and identity.

Ātea is an effort that has been developed between Otago, Canterbury, Massey, Waikato, and Te Rūnanga O Awarua universities and is led by Massey University professor Dr Hēmi Whaanga (Nō Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāi Tahu).

Whaanga said this project’s motivation was to create technologies that could connect with Māori .

“’It's what future-focused technologies we think our tikanga, our reo and connection to place can develop into, which is one of the key drivers for us”.

One of the examples is the Te Rau Aroha Marae, which is the world's southernmost marae, in Motupōhue - The Bluff.

Whaanga said by creating a virtual experience with human interface technology, whānau are able to connect back to their own mātauranga, whether linguistically, culturally or geographically.

“We’ve tested it with some of our whānau. They have been really moved, they have been moved to tears, and some of them are like 'this is amazing, it's like we are really there'.”

“And it introduces that critical element of 'how does the wairua feel?' it’s a fascinating  area to be working on.”