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OPINION: Pūrākau as teaching tools in the university classroom
Photo: AUT Supplied.

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By Atakohu Middleton

Kaiako/Lecturer, Te Wānanga Aronui o Tāmaki Makau Rau/Auckland University of Technology

One of the fascinating things about being a new-ish university kaiako (I’ve been teaching at Auckland University of Technology for a year) is seeing how mātauranga Māori, or Māori knowledge, is being incorporated into various parts of its curriculum.

This year, I am teaching on a new course in the Faculty of Design and Creative Technologies, which houses programmes in art and design, communication studies, engineering, computer and mathematical sciences, and architecture.

The faculty has more than 5,000 students of diverse backgrounds and interests. However, what they share is a new, compulsory course designed to teach effective group work through pūrākau, the stories handed down from our ancestors that contain guidance for life.

This course is called Mahitahi Collaborative Practices (mahitahi means to work together). Students, mostly in their late teens and early 20s and mostly non-Māori, are introduced to various concepts around human interaction through a Māori lens, such as wānanga (discussion), tika (doing the right thing) and pono (honesty and integrity), manaaki (care for others), and tuakana/teina (the concept of elder siblings coaching and supporting younger siblings).

Students unpack these concepts through some of our most well-known pūrākau, including Māui fishing up Te Ika ā-Māui, the North Island; Māui snaring the sun; and the separation of sky father Ranginui and earth mother Papatūānuku.

These pūrākau contain a wealth of examples of mātauranga Māori and lessons on how best to interact with others towards a goal, or as is often the case in our pūrākau, how not to do it. It’s a gentle way to introduce students to the Māori worldview while developing their communication skills, a critical tool for the workplace.

Let’s take, for example, the story of the separation Ranginui and Papatūānuku and how we can analyse it. Rangi and Papa’s many sons are unhappily squashed together between them in the dark (so the children have a problem that needs solving).

The brothers have a wānanga (discussion) to work out a solution (a good way to ensure everyone’s opinions are canvassed). In that wānanga, the rather extreme suggestion of war deity Tūmatauenga that the parents be killed is eventually moderated to separating them (a compromise). Then Tāwhirimātea, the deity of wind and storms, flatly refuses to be involved at all (a clear breakdown in communication and conflict management).

What the brothers fail to do is consult all stakeholders, which the parents definitely are (and that’s a serious oversight). The brothers then take a trial-and-error approach to separating their parents using the strengths they have (a good method to try when it’s not clear how something can be done).

However, they get nowhere …until forest deity Tānemahuta, having failed once, pauses to reflect and revise his approach (always a good plan when things get difficult). As we all know, he succeeds on his second attempt. Ka puta ki te whaiao, ki te ao mārama!

But the consequences for Rangi and Papa are severe: their melded flesh is violently ripped apart. The sons have what they want, but at what cost?

For the non-Māori in the room, which is most of the students, this new way of thinking takes a little getting used to. However, four weeks in, they seem to be enjoying discussing the antics of gods and ancestors and what these ancient stories can teach us now. We also use online quizzes and pick apart whakataukī (proverbs) to reinforce their learning.

Students are in the same group of four or five people all semester, and their time together will culminate in a group project. Already, as they discuss the pūrākau, compete in quizzes and examine what the whakatauki mean, they are learning how to work constructively with people who may be unlike them, who have different skills and attributes, and who may have different ways of doing things.

Each Mahitahi class is large, with around 60 students, so we teach in teams of two. My situation is a classic example of tuakana/teina in action, and we point that out to students. I am partnered with a vastly experienced teacher who is Pākehā and learning about mātauranga. I learn a lot from watching her in action, given that I am still an ihu hūpē or a beginner. She learns and gains confidence from seeing me explaining te ao Māori to students.

In a country working out what a bicultural partnership under Te Tiriti, a course like this is a big win for everyone involved.

A pānui to teachers in tertiary education: How do you weave mātauranga Māori into otherwise ‘mainstream’ subjects? I’d love to hear.


Radio Waatea and its board would like to advise that the opinions posted are those of Atakohu Middleton and not the views of Radio Waatea, its management or its board.


Copyright © 2021, UMA Broadcasting Ltd:

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