Haji Mohamed Idris

Claude Alvares

Gustavo Esteva

Anwar Fazal

Ashis Nandy

Vinay Lal

Shilpa Jain

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Some Thoughts on Maori Science and Education


Excerpts drawn from the Penang meeting of Multiversity, Februar 2002


I wish to talk about two points that I think are important in setting the context for talking about Maori science which I want to do this morning and then talk a little bit about Maori education which I think will be helpful in the context of Multiversity because I feel that Maori education systems have come a long way in the last 30 years, and end up talking about some decolonization programs and decolonizing knowledge programs that we have run in Aotearoa that were done on the fringes by eight diverse groups.

I think that the important thing to remember about Maori activism in Aotearoa is that it drives Maori initiatives in Maori developments. In Maori activism the goal that we're all striving towards is a word called tino rangatiratanga, which perhaps means self-determination, autonomy and sovereignty, but it's far from having a unanimous definition amongst Maori people. Maori people make up 13% of the population in Aotearoa, and this definition of sovereignty tino rangatiratanga can be identified on a continuum, at the same time meaning Maori capitalism to some people while meaning political power or a literal power to some other people, while meaning a cultural nationalism to others, or for others meaning revolutionary activity.

So the things that I'm going to talk about this morning are tino rangatiratanga Maori-based initiatives, but for many Maori people there's a huge continuum on which we identify sovereignty on.

I think I'm going to start to talk about what Maori science is. I teach at a university, and I straddle two departments, multi-disciplinarily. I teach in the science faculty, a post-graduate paper on Maori resource management, and then I move over and teach in Maori studies, a stage one paper, to kids who have just left high school. I teach a paper in Maori Science, so this is the beginning of the unlearning of everything that they've learnt, biology, chemistry and physics at school level.

Maori science is a new field, and no other paper at any other university is being taught in this field of Maori science. And there was a struggle to get the paper to be taught, we've been talking to the science faculty for three years to allow a paper called Maori science to be taught. They were really concerned about what the paper might contain on indigenous knowledge.

The basis of what Maori science is our classification system (or whakapapa) which comes through our cosmology. I have a handout, which is coming out later this morning, outlining this basic classification system of Maori science which is our classification system of nature. The Latin classification system, the ordering system of naming plants and trees is similar to our system. For us, we have our own classification system which comes through our cosmology, so we have Papatuanuku, our earth mother, Ranginui, sky father. Both Papatuanuku and Ranginui has 79 offspring or Atua (deities) who have various roles and responsibilities in terms of the natural world. This is the basis for Maori science, and you could spend this lifetime and many more trying to understand it. So the process of Maori science is part of reclaiming our traditional knowledge to understand their classification system and to provide for a way of knowing that is a counter hegemonic response to western science.

Within the world view of Maori science, life is ordered and holistically bound together by through what we call 'mauri' or life force, where we have traditional concepts of managing natural resources that have brought into this concept of Maori science. So to teach students about science in this way, it's really hard for them to unlearn what they've spent three-four years learning at high school. The unlearning of colonial ideologies especially as they have been taught to us through colonial education systems is such an important part for us as indigenous peoples to do as we reclaim our knowledge and our own sciences. The unlearning of colonial teachings with regard to science must not be underestimated, it is important and is a key part to the Multiversity.

So we've spent a bit of time developing a Maori critique of western science. So what has reductionist science done in Aotearoa? What was the impact that it had when it came over with colonists hundred and sixty years ago? Firstly, Joseph Banks came to Aotearoa and relabelled all of our flora and fauna that had been perfectly labelled for thousands of years in our own system. This created a completely different way of identifying flora and fauna in our country. So what impact have they had? There's more work and more questions that we need to formulate and seek answers for. My talk today is merely a starting point, there's more work that needs to be done on making that link between science and colonization, and I hope that is what the multiversity will support.

I touch on the area of genetic modification and Maori science, primarily because this is my research interest. I have also brought a paper that's also being photocopied this morning for you, that provides a Maori scientific critique of genetic modification. And it ties in with what my colleague was talking a about before. In Aotearoa it has been hard for us as Maori people, as indigenous people to enter into the discourse of critiquing genetic modification because our world view to the colonial powers often seem very spiritual. This has resulted in our arguments being defined as spiritual, which has resulted in them becoming totally marginalized. Our objection to genetic modification has led to the response somewhere along the lines of, 'that's just the indigenous people with their spiritual concerns, and that's not scientific at all'. However for Maori it's about finding ways to enter the scientific discourses and debates while retaining our traditional knowledge, and not making that move over to having to enter into western arguments that do not understand or even begin to comprehend our worldview. It needs to be accepted that if we choose not to discuss genetic modification in terms of western science because that is not or worldview it is culturally inappropriate and unacceptable for. Maori science also provides a further analysis, in terms of genetic modification, which is that western science is very much tied up with multinationals and globalization which is very much a further wave of colonization of indigenous peoples all over the world. So we look at western science as another form of colonization and genetic modification as a process of colonizing our life forms or whakapapa which is our genealogy and our land.

That maybe one assignment that Multiversity could work with Maori, working with developing resources for this paper. It's been really difficult to find resources, teaching resources to teach a paper on indigenous science. I have a commitment to only using writings by predominantly women of colour or people of colour and the Maori science paper. But to find writings out there by people of colour, there's lots of white people who are writing about indigenous science or indigenous ways of knowing, but to start to generate the discourse to develop resources coming from people of colour around indigenous science is really important because there's a dearth of information around at the moment. And maybe this project could maybe work on developing some of those resources. I also suggest that the Multiversity could assist us Maori in the genetic modification debate, maybe this is something we can do thorough the newspaper.

I wanted to talk a little bit about Maori education which I think could provide some insights hopefully to Multiversity into the project that's happening and talk a little bit about universities in terms of making gains for Maori development.

Thirty years ago, Maori studies at universities didn't exist at all and so there was cultural studies, so you studied Maori people through anthropology departments which is pretty typical around the world. Thirty years ago we had our first Maori studies department in the university which was basically culture based, looking at Maori cultural practices and reviving Maori language (te reo Maori). Now we have a range of subjects that are taught in universities in Aotearoa. So you can do Maori business, you can do Maori science, Maori resource management, Maori art and so the universities have become a place where young Maori students, sixteen-seventeen years old can go to university and be able to reclaim their culture. Some of these Maori students may have come from families where their parents have not spoken Maori at home because it was made illegal in the generation that they grew up. This has resulted in these Maori children having lost most of their culture and language. In some cases university for them has been a place where they have been able to regain, strengthen, feel strong and proud of their identity to be Maori. So university for Maori students has had some very positive benefits.

What we've had now though at the same time the university has been developing is that we've had a whole total Maori driven, Maori run education system which is really exciting of which I talked about yesterday. We have Maori pre-schools, Maori primary schools, Maori high schools, all taught in the medium of Maori language, unfortunately in some cases these institutions are teaching main stream colonial curriculum but Maori really working on that.

In Aotearoa we have three Maori universities (whare wananga), where you can go and work towards degrees in areas of tribal studies. So you may do a three year degree and you may never have been back to your tribal location, but you can do a three degree and that degree will be based on you tribal area, at your marae (tribal meeting place). Maori education has been a way of taking Maori people back to their own communities, a way of linking people with families, of allowing Maori safe space to reclaim identity while at the same time helping to retain some of that knowledge that has been dying out. Maori universities are a really exciting initiative for us in Aotearoa, maybe that's something in individual countries, that people can think of doing, the curriculum's totally derived from Maori thought so it's outside of colonial processes. We have however had to rely on government funding but they haven't had much impact in terms of what's taught so you can also do three year degrees in Maori cultural performing arts, undertaking deegrees in Maori traditional weaving. This is fantastic, really exciting and outside of the square in terms of what we think is academic. Pretty amazing.

I have brought some information from University that I wanted to share with you. It will provide you with an overview of some of the courses that are taught at Victoria University in Maori studies, so I'll hand that out right now. And while that's coming around, I just want to move onto talk about my last point which is about some of the decolonization work that is going on in our country.

I want to talk a little bit about some of the ideas that are around in our country with regard to decolonization workshops and programs. Like most indigenous peoples we are faced with is having to unlearn a whole lot of propaganda and colonial rhetoric, one about who we are as Maori, and two, about the impact that the Crown has had upon us. Within Aotearoa decolonisation programs have been running for about ten years by some very committed activists. These are called Hui Pumaomao or decolonization workshops. These activists have taken them these workshops around the country aiming mainly at Maori people as a way of beginning to decolonize or deprogram some of the information that Maori have been taught and told time and time again, about who they are and what happened in our country in terms of the history. These workshops have been hugely successful and enough so that they have been able to be run for a decade years on limited funding all around the country. I strongly believe that workshops like that - decolonization workshops and decolonizing knowledge workshops - among the various disciplines we have discussed could be run at various institutions or in various communities at local levels to help unlearn some of the destructive learning that is being done with people. This should be a key project of the Multiversity.

So from those workshops, people have come away being really enthused to start to to reclaim language or to reclaim culture. And what I've also brought from there is some information that's being produced by the anarchist movement or freedom bookshops movement. We've got one independent bookshop in Aoteaora, it's the anarchist bookshop, and they've developed some resources around the Treaty of Waitangi and tino rangatiratanga (self-determination). The information is really basic and I bring to the table that maybe in terms of beginning the process of unlearning. We need to start to look at things at that very basic level. A lot of the conversation that has been happening in this meeting has been at that really high academic level, and I think that's fine, however I am also aware that to unlearn, we need to provide really clear and simple information, use simple language. This I believe is essential or else we perpetuate the alienation and classism that the Multiversity is aiming to work against.

So this is really clear simple information that might help you understand the Treaty of Waitangi, which was a Treaty signed between Maori and the colonial settler government of the time in 1840. It might help you understand some of the issues that Maori have regarding tino rangatiratanga (self-determination). So this was written in an attempt to unlearn some of the propaganda that the colony has been putting into Maori people's heads about things.

At a Glance:
Mulitversity Related

Recapturing Worlds:
The Original Multiversity

Penang 2002: The First Conference on the Deconstruction
of Knowledge

Dissenting Knowledges Pamphlet Series (ed. Vinay Lal)

Radical Essentials Pamphlet Series (ed. Yusef Progler)

Penang 2004: The Second Conference on Redesigning Social Science Curricula

Special issue of Humanscape on Multiversity (April 2005)

Special issue of Third World Resurgence (2005) on Multiversity

The Dissenter's Library
Essays, Articles, Papers
Kamirithu: The Newsletter of Multiversity
Readers in the Disciplines