The resurgence of Te Ao Māori has got me thinking deeply about my worldview and upbringing from a cultural, social, environmental, economic, and spiritual perspective.
When did we lose our connection to the land? When did our children stop knowing where their food comes from? Why is hustle culture so prevalent and how do we escape it? How do we reconnect to what really matters? These are the questions that I’ve been asking myself lately.
As a pakeha Irish woman raised in a largely Catholic society, encouraged to follow a stable, well-paid career (business, accounting, or property), and fed a culture of keeping up with the Joneses, I have a responsibility to dig deeper into both my own and other cultures’ worldview so I can return to – and live – a way of life that puts people, animals, and planet over profit and possessions.
In this blog I’m going to touch on several worldviews and theories: Te Ao Māori, pre-Christian paganism, colonised worldviews, Gaia hypothesis, and the Aboriginal worldview to see how over time humans have become separated from nature and how we can – and must – reconnect.
Whakapapa, kaitiakitanga andwhanaungatanga are central tenets of Te ao Māori
Māori and indigenous people believe in an interconnected world view, Papatūānuku (the earth) is diverse and dynamic.
Whakapapa through tātai (genealogies) and kōrero (stories) illustrate the relationships between all things and the world – people, creatives and all nature. We need to act within and uphold these relationships.
Kaitiakitanga is the guardianship of our planet’s resources for future generations and how to incur the least amount of environmental impact.
An important thing to point out here – the term guardianship does not go far enough to explain the depth and breadth of humans’ spiritual connection to whenua. Guardianship still implies that Homo sapiens are separate from the environment when we are an intrinsic part of the system – always have been and always will.
Whanaungatanga emphasises the importance of networking and relationships to ensure we are all caring and working harmoniously with others.
Who am I? Mywhakapapa links directly back to Ireland (Eire) and pre-Christian paganism
Ireland, as a small island, has been invaded, conquered and occupied nine times – including by the Celts, Vikings, Normans and then the English. Monasteries were built and the Irish people adopted invaders’ traditions, blending them with what was there already. English colonisation did the most damage – destroying the Irish language, culture, and assets.
Pre-Christian paganism was a time of native spirituality which aligned heavily to the solstices. There are a few passage tombs, Newgrange being the most prominent, that are aligned with the sunrise around the times of Imbolc (spring) and Samhain (winter).
Samhain is one of the most famous Celtic traditions as the Irish-heritage version of the modern-day Halloween. People would light fires and dress up to ward off evil spirits and back luck. Today, unfortunately, most people think this is an American event.
There were four seasonal festivals in Gaelic Ireland including Imbolc (spring), Beltane (summer), Lughnasadh (autumn), and Samhain (winter). Pagan rituals also leant heavily on birth, death, and rebirth – the continuation of life through cycles, people who had, or could develop, the skills to personify and share deep wisdom – sacred or special ‘occult’ (hidden) knowledge.
Ireland became a free state in 1922, a Republic in 1949, and got a massive economic kickstart when it joined the European Economic Community (EEC) now European Union (EU). Since then, the Celtic Tiger saw Ireland catapult itself towards hyper-consumerism with spray tans for communions and an unquenchable thirst to keep up with the Joneses (not the O’Neills).
Similar histories of invasions and land wars
My ancestors moved to various countries because of economic and political struggles. The Māori and the Irish have a similar history, both having land wars around the same time (Māori 1845-1872, Irish land wars 1879-1882 and 1886-1891).
I see parallels between Te Ao Māori and the pagan or Celtic way of life.
How many pagan rituals deeply rooted in seasons and solstices have been hijacked for commercial ends?
How much of Te Ao Māori has been hijacked or diluted for capitalist ends?
Another worldview: Gaia hypothesis
James Lovelock, with the support of Lynn Margulis, devised the Gaia Theory or hypothesis which posits that the earth and all its flora and fauna – including humans – is a single, complex organism that works together to sustain an environment that is stable and favourable to life.
The Gaia Theory operates in four quadrants – social, economic, ecological and worldview – making it a holistic and comprehensive worldview.
According to Gaia Theory, the earth’s ecosystems self-regulate in a way that living beings interact and coexist with each other and the environment to maintain the conditions for life.
Most environmental groups and activists can draw on the foundations of the Gaia Theory to support their initiatives. Humans are capable of the highest good when they care for and nurture the health of the environment; on the other side we are also capable of immense harm and irreparable destruction when we degrade, extract and exploit earth’s resources.
The Gaia Theory shows that Homo sapiens are interconnected with the environment and therefore can’t be separate or superior. Like a body, humans can be seen as an organ of nature, we must consider and act on the good of the whole if we are to survive and sustain life.
No one part of the system is superior to the other if we want to continue living here on earth.
Before moving to Aotearoa, I spent a year in Australia. With a working visa, I could take my time travelling around the whole country and through the centre. I became fascinated with the Aboriginal people and their worldview. Before colonisation, their way of living was unchanged for 40,000 years.
Travelling Australia was an incredible opportunity to look at natural systems from a unique perspective. After colonial dispossession and dislocation of Aboriginal communities, with their intimate relation to country severed and their knowledge ignored, the ecological balance that had been maintained for millennia rapidly and catastrophically collapsed, triggering the recurrence of events like extreme bush fires.
The idea of being at one with nature and not taking more than is necessary from the land was not how I was brought up. It led me to question not only my diet and consumption habits, but also my purpose.
The Aboriginal worldview couldn’t contrast more with how I was raised – the Irish were also colonised with an entrenched Catholic religion and a capitalistic get-rich mentality. I would go so far to say that the ideas of being at one with nature, transcending into Dreamtime, and sharing community was life changing for me in many ways.
Travelling through Australia, I did see many different versions of Aboriginal living, some of which were quite disturbing. But what frustrated me more was the level of racism for these first peoples from colonisers. They didn’t seem to understand that having to change a way of being for 40,000 years – within 200 years – would have such a detrimental and negative impact on their way of being.
Not long after arriving in Aotearoa, I decided that I agree with this worldview summed up by UK Essays:
“The earth is considered the source of all life and, as such, the indigenous peoples are obligated to look after the earth, so that the earth will in turn provide for them.”
My travels fostered a deep appreciation for Aboriginal peoples’ knowledge. Their worldview and knowledge is as consequential and applicable to the world as the natural sciences and should therefore be taken just as seriously by philosophers, scientists, and policy makers.
If we’re all Homo sapiens, how come we think so differently?
How come the European/Western worldview is so different to Te Ao Māori? Interconnected versus siloed, protective versus extractive, people versus profit?
Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs & Steel: A short history of everybody for the last 13,000 years goes a long way to explain how and why human societies developed. It tries to answer why wealth and power become distributed as they now are, rather than in some other way.
Reading this book reiterated to me that we are all Homo sapiens and it’s not our genetics that have caused different histories but environmental factors. As Diamond writes in his book:
“History followed different courses for different peoples because of differences among peoples’ environments, not because of biological differences among peoples themselves.”
A hoarding mentality – innate but exaggerated by capitalist systems
Over history, Homo sapiens and other animals have demonstrated a biological urge to hoard. Before farming, we used to hoard food as we’d never know when the next meal would come. Rats hoard poison and take it back to the nest. It’s a biological trait.
But farming has made our food sources much more reliable. We’re supposed to be more intelligent than animals so why do we continue to hoard more than we need? I think the way our society is structured – the way we buy more than we need, extract more resources than necessary, and feel like we’re superior to land, water and animals – is responsible for our disconnection.
We’re constantly bombarded with messages that we need to work 40-hour weeks, we need to accumulate more stuff and we’re lazy if we don’t buy into hustle culture.
What’s the answer? I feel like as a Pākeha woman with Irish roots that I can learn a lot from Te Ao Māori and other indigenous worldviews. Te Ao Māori, in essence, doesn’t see humans as superior or separate to fauna and flora but a part of the same system, intimately connected and dependent on each other to flourish.
The impact of religion and colonisation
Major world religions like Christianity preach that man has dominion over the land. This suggests a hierarchy. It suggests an imbalance of power and that we can make decisions on behalf of flora and fauna which have the potential to be exploitative.
Colonisation and industry has disconnected us from the land. Land possession was a foreign concept to indigenous people.
Land is a key part of indigenous people’s identity. When we learn our pepeha (an introduction in Māori that includes ancestry, history and place), we say “our” maunga (mountain) and river (awa).
The indigenous worldview is not perfect. But we know that indigenous people through history have done less harm to the environment and our ecosystems. Intimate connection to flora, fauna, rivers and mountains fosters a greater respect and a deeper relationship. Land and all its resources are not just a source of food or pleasure, but a well of integrated, spiritual, and meaningful connections.
Faith is the most important aspect of Christianity. In most pagan societies, faith was secondary to actions. It was more important to perform the rituals and festivals to honour the gods than it was to fully believe in the gods. It was your actions in life, not your faith that determined your place in the afterlife.
Where do all these theories and worldviews leave us now?
We must start thinking in a more indigenous way – our life depends on it.
When you go to the malls, nothing seems wrong – there’s an abundance of cheap, fast fashion and consuming is easy, quick, and unfettered. We’re not held back by money as there are more and more ways to get finance and credit with schemes like Afterpay.
From malls to casinos to nightclubs to huge supermarkets, we’ve normalised 24/7 consumption, gambling, drinking (but not other drugs), an ever-increasing tolerance to single-use items, and children not knowing where their food comes from.
But we can’t continue this way of life. It’s not sustainable to continue being disconnected from whenua. We must start remembering and living in a way that respects the land, flora and fauna and that shows we understand we are a part of an interconnected system.
What does this look like? Firstly, it looks like degrowth. Before the industrial revolution and colonisation, we didn’t work 40-hour weeks. We lived and supported local. We didn’t have to accumulate more than we needed.
This sounds like a radical approach but what if we planned shrinkage and downtime into our economies and our industries instead of continuing a path of relentless, unsustainable, and exploitative growth? Next, it looks like better connection to our culture, spirituality, and ancestry. Having a sense of place gives us a source of pride and a motivation to do better for our tamariki and mokopuna.
It looks like replenishing our natural resources; taking care of our soil and biodiversity; gardening and living in season; and moving away from extracting finite resources, fast fashion, and global food sources.
It looks like learning from the lessons of our past and moving into decolonising practices – restoring the mana and self-determination of our tangata whenua.
And let’s not forget our mental wellbeing. When we’re connected to people, place, and whenua, we have a deeper, richer understanding of who we are and where we’ve come from. We can make wiser, more compassionate long-term decisions when we’re not in the grips of mental distress, poverty, or isolation from our whānau and wider community.
We are all interconnected. And we all have a responsibility to reconnect and do better – for ourselves, our tamariki, for nature, and for the planet’s survival.