Story: Kaitiakitanga – guardianship and conservation

Page 3. Traditional kaitiakitanga

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People and environment

Traditionally, there was an intimate relationship between people and their environment. The health of a community was reflected in its environment and vice versa. For example, if waterways were unclear or polluted, something was amiss with the local people. Kaitiakitanga was based on this relationship.

Keeping the balance

Customary practices maintained the balance between communities and nature. For activities such as hunting birds, gardening and fishing, this ensured that resources were managed sustainably. Practices included:

  • setting temporary rāhui on certain areas
  • using the maramataka (lunar calendar) to guide planting and harvesting
  • banning recreational fishing and birding
  • using appropriate baskets for different types of food
  • harvesting only what was needed
  • laying mauri stones in gardens. A tohunga would say a karakia over the stone, which was believed to protect resources
  • using bird snares at the right time – for instance, not during the breeding season
  • limits on fishing – for instance, tribes sometimes fished with a huge net strung between two canoes, but they only did so once a year.

Customary conservation

In a letter in 1895, Tāmati Ranapiri of the Ngāti Raukawa tribe explains customs that limited the taking of kahitua, a small mollusc found on the beaches from Paekākāriki to Taranaki.

Menstruating women were not allowed to gather seafood … and baskets of cooked food were prohibited. If a menstruating woman gathered molluscs, they would only be successful on the day that the molluscs were first seen. At dawn the next day, no molluscs would be seen on that beach and they would have moved to the beach of another sub-tribe. 1
  1. Tāmati Ranapiri, Letter to Elsdon Best, 14 January 1895. MS Papers 1187-127, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. Translation by Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal. › Back
How to cite this page:

Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal, 'Kaitiakitanga – guardianship and conservation - Traditional kaitiakitanga', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 25 April 2024)

Story by Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal, published 24 Sep 2007