Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Māori Creation Story and the Learning Child- Tania Bullick

My ears pricked up recently when I heard Carlos Santana, being interviewed on Seven Sharp, liken the production of his art to that of giving birth to a baby. The Seven Sharp presenter questioned that idea, presumably to acknowledge that nothing could compare to giving birth to a baby, but I understood Carlos Santana’s sentiment - he meant to produce art, such as music, there was a struggle, a time of uncertainty and difficulty that needed to be persisted with over time and through many ‘contractions’ to eventually produce something quite beautiful. My ears had pricked up because this is what I understand the kaupapa or philosophy of Te Whatu Pōkeka: Kaupapa Māori Assessment for Learning: Early Childhood Exemplars (Ministry of Education, 2009) to be, told through a familiar tauparapara which likens the birth of a child to the creation of the world and then to the learning child. It acknowledges the creation of the world and the birth of the baby and the learning experiences of a child all require times of uncertainty and difficulty, great struggle and persistence through many contractions to eventually reaching a point of realisation, clarification and enlightenment. This is a view of learning that we, in early childhood education, are also hearing from Carol Dweck, Margaret Carr, Guy Claxton and many others.

Te Whatu Pōkeka suggests that the Māori creation story offers us a metaphor for the learning child and offers the tauparapara to illustrate: 
 Before the missionaries came to Aotearoa New Zealand to introduce Christianity, Māori had a multi-deity belief system - they believed in many gods. We are all familiar with some of these gods such as Tāne, god of the forest and Tangaroa, god of the sea. Though the creation story can be told differently, depending on the iwi, many tell of 72 gods who were produced within the embrace of Papatūānuku and Ranginui. This is a view of the world that we can embrace as we teach in Aotearoa New Zealand for many reasons, not least to honor our commitment to Article 4 of the Treaty of Waitangi that states that Māori customs and religion will be protected. The tauparapara suggests that in teaching and/or supporting the Māori creation story, we are weaving a rich whāriki for the understanding of the spiritual life of Māori while holding up a metaphor for Māori ways of knowing, being and doing.

Many teachers’ understanding about the Māori Creation Story has been through reading, re-reading and exploring with the tamariki, the picture book In the Beginning by Peter Gossage (see also Kathryn’s book review in this newsletter). He has also written and illustrated the stories of Maui, which are all accessible to young children and their teachers alike. Though simplified and shortened, Peter Gossage’s In the Beginning remembers many of the elements of the story including the discussions and negotiations of the gods about whether or not to separate the parents.

This is the beginning of the struggle, the contractions that Te Whatu Pōkeka’s tauparapara speaks of, first there was peace in the darkness, then the struggle began. The struggle or contractions took a long time and manifested in many ways - much like the process of giving birth. First there was the at times heated debate between the gods as to whether it was necessary to separate their parents, then there was the shear effort to push them apart and once the parents were separated there was war between the gods. Peter Gossage’s book does not include the war that followed the separation but it is an enthralling part of the story which explains many aspects of nature and is worth further reading - there are many beautifully produced anthologies of Māori stories.
The final phase of the story is the eventual peace, enlightenment and prosperity the struggle produces. Each god becomes responsible for an aspect of nature and with their special gifts go on to produce the female, ‘Hine Ahu One’ who originates the phrase ‘Tihēi Mauri ora’ when she sneezes as she comes to life. It is this production of the human female by the gods, all responsible for aspects of nature, that links Māori directly to the earth, Papatūānuku, both physically and spiritually through their whakapapa.
Te Whatu Pōkeka tells us that just as the creation story of Papatūānuku and Ranginui and the conception and birth of a baby have three distinct phases of (1) seedbed for new beginnings, (2) challenge and (3) enlightenment, so does the child in our care learn and grow through:
  1. (1)  Mōhiotanga - What a child already knows and what they bring with them highlights new beginnings, new knowledge, new discoveries
  2. (2)  Mātauranga - This is a time of growth for the child. It demotes a phase of increasing potential, negotiation, challenge, and apprehension when dealing with new ideas.
  3. (3)  Māramatanga - This is when a child comes to understand new knowledge: a phase of enlightenment, realisation, and clarification.” (Te Whatu Pōkeka, p. 49)
This is a view of the child that holds such richness. The child, seen as linked to Papatūānuku by right of their whakapapa, accompanied by their rōpū - their group of supporters, both seen and unseen; a child full of potential who can be encouraged to struggle and persist with difficulty through many challenges to a place of new knowledge and realisation.

So, dust off your copies of In the Beginning and dig out, borrow or purchase the many other tellings of that story and explore the narrative for yourself as much as for the tamariki. Better still, speak with the Māori families at you centre and in your community to hear, learn and honour their stories. You will find it enthralling and your enthusiasm will be contagious as you tell and retell, share and explore the very story that the Māori children in your centre connect with through their whakapapa and that we all benefit from through being citizens of Aotearoa New Zealand.

“Puritia ngā taonga a ngā tūpuna mō ngā puāwai o te ora, ā mātou tamariki.
Hold fast to the cultural treasures of our ancestors for the future benefit of our childen.” (Te Whatu P
ōkeka p. 51)
Ministry of Education (2009). Te Whatu Pōkeka: Kaupapa Māori Assessment for Learning: Early Childhood Exemplars. Wellington: Learning Media.

Tania Bullick 

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