Te Tohorā Me Te Kauri

Sept. 1, 2018, 4:08 p.m.

The relationship of the tohorā (whale) and the kauri tree has resurfaced as both of these precious taonga (gifts) have been under extreme threat in recent times.

Aotearoa has one of the highest rates of cetacean strandings in the world with an average 300 a year meaning local iwi involvement is vital to the process of whale removal.

Ties between Mᾱori and the whale species have been intrinsic throughout history, viewed as guardian’s integral in guiding voyages, saving navigators from death and linking iwi ancestry such as Ngᾱti Kuri o Ngᾱi Tahu.

It is the protocols of local hapῡ which help govern the management of strandings from a Mᾱori perspective.  Patuharakeke recognised the inherent need for the traditional practice after a mass stranding of pilot whales in 2006 and commented that stranding’s need to be viewed as a valuable opportunity for hapῡ to revive mᾱtauranga and exercise kaitiakitanga.  Ngᾱti Wai also have a well established protocol which is routinely called upon to help other hapῡ with marine mammal strandings.

Kaumᾱtua and expert in whale recovery, Hori Parata has flensed close to 500 whales and said from the moment the tohorᾱ washes upon the shore, whales must be acknowledged as whānaunga who have returned to us based off the relationship of the tohorᾱ and the kauri tree which saw Tᾱne (God of forest) gift the whale to Tangaroa (God of sea).  With pollution attributing to whales falling sick, it is critical to make the connections between the similar struggles of the kauri tree vulnerable to the killer dieback disease and the tohorᾱ strandings.

“When Tᾱne was making the kauri tree, he decided to make a whale and the korero around the whale coming back and talking about its experience on the ocean.

“It is from this standing that Mᾱori can begin to understand the connection…that is how we begin to establish the cultural context of what are we doing this for? Why are we down here boning this whale?” Parata said.

Rongoa practitioner, Peter Kitchen also agrees with this kindred relationship and said everything that happens in the sea will always wash up on the shore and the links between the Kauri tree and whales are strong.

“Our whales are coming up and dying on our beaches and a lot of the time their tangi is for their brothers and sisters in the ngᾱhere,” Kitchen said.

Karakia is the basis of traditional flensing as the whale is given passage to move from one life to another with the naming of the toharᾱ being an acknowledgement of the continuing whakapapa as resources are given a new life.

“We acknowledge the whale as being our tuakana…. You are finished with wandering around on the ocean and now we are going to give you a second life…. Te oranga tokorua.”

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