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Our natural environment: Te taiao


In Māori mythology the beginning of the universe is described as a series of nights and days in all their splendours. From the line of days comes Ranginui, and from the line of nights, Papatūānuku. The natural environment of the Māori begins with these celestial parents, Ranginui and Papatūānuku. Within their embrace children were formed, and these children existed in total darkness. The children of Rangi and Papa, who were gods in their own right, became restless and bored trapped in the eternal darkness. They looked for a way to separate their parents. Of all the children, the job of separating their parents fell to Tāne.

Tikanga – The collection of raupō, toetoe, and harakeke

In the past, respect for the environment and its natural resources meant permission was sought from Tāne Mahuta before removing plants.

When students go to collect raupō, toetoe and harakeke, you will need to get permission from the owners of the land the plants grow on, for example local iwi/council/farmer.

Students should collect only the dead and dry parts of the plant.

  • Only collect leaves of the raupō (bulrush) that are dry and dead, found at the side of the plants. Students should look for and collect flat grey leaves, not brown or green leaves.
  • The Prince of Wales feather can be substituted for toetoe (sedge grass), but toetoe is preferable.
  • The part of the harakeke (flax) that students should collect is the flower stem found in the middle of the flax plant. Students should pick the dry dead rito only.

Tikanga such as karakia (prayer), only taking particular parts of the plant/tree at certain times of the year and not picking harakeke in the rain, can be explored with students. Discussion with local Māori is the appropriate way of delivering this to the students.

Te reo Māori vocabulary

  • harakeke: New Zealand flax; Phormium tenax
  • kohi(a): gather
  • rau: leaf
  • raupō: bulrush; Typha angustifolia
  • rito: centre shoot or heart of plants such as flax and cabbage tree
  • taihoa: wait
  • toetoe: sedge grass; Arundo kakao (conspicua)

Learning experiences

  • Caring for the environment Te tiaki i te taiao (HPE 1–2)
  • Gathering natural resources Te kohikohi (HPE 1–2)
  • Throw the leaves Kurua ngā rau (HPE 3)