Cultural Mapping Project

Story by Ben Manukonga

Te Kawa a Māui - School of Māori Studies, 2017

Ocean Mercier

Dr Ocean Mercier, a lecturer here at Te Kawa a Māui, has dedicated much of her academic career to researching how mātauranga Māori (the Māori world view) and Western scientific knowledge and understanding interconnect.

At present, the courses she teaches carry the common theme of bringing the two schools of thought together.

Ocean works to develop ways to preserve indigenous knowledge for future generations, and to encourage people to interact with the indigenous world view in new and innovative ways in light of the ever-changing technological landscape.

Part of this research and teaching has culminated in a digital mapping project with staff and students at Te Kawa a Māui. The project was named Te Kawa a Māui Atlas.

Te Kawa a Māui Atlas

The purpose of this project was twofold: it allowed for different research interests to find a common ground, and it provided undergraduate students with a different approach to research.

Simply put, the project uses Google Maps and Google Earth technologies to allow students to document indigenous knowledge in a way that is interactive and easily accessible to the general public.

Together with other academic staff within the department, Ocean and Dr Arama Rata worked to create appropriate assignments in various papers to incorporate the project in some way, helping to populate the maps over time.

Understanding Our Surroundings

One of Ocean’s courses had students documenting knowledge of Māori medicine (rongoā) and native plants. Students taking this paper were given the opportunity to go on field tours around campus locating various examples of medicinal plants.

This enabled the students to understand the environments they found the plants in, and to critically analyse their usefulness in today’s society.

The mapping component of the course evolved over time, from locating and writing commentary on karaka trees in Wellington in 2011, to allowing students to explore plants of their choosing in 2012, through to evaluating and building on the knowledge base in 2014.

Understanding Our Past and Informing Our Future

Arama’s papers focused heavily on mātauranga Māori and the concepts that underpin traditional Māori society giving students a grounding in Te Tiriti o Waitangi and its implications and applications to this day.

In light of this, the mapping assignment for these courses focused on the cultural landscape of Aotearoa New Zealand, with a focus on our colonial history.

Students were tasked with choosing a landmark that is important to our colonial history and writing an entry for the atlas explaining its significance – providing a perspective on it that could not be obtained by merely looking at the landmark itself.

The project provides an exciting new platform for mātauranga Māori to be collated and engaged with, and remains a part of many undergraduate Māori Studies courses to this day.

Find Te Kawa a Māui

Te Kawa a Māui, 50 Kelburn Parade, Kelburn, Wellington 6012, New Zealand