I would like to acknowledge and thank all who are involved in creating this book: Te Mahi Oneone Hua Parakore- A Māori Soil Sovereignty and Wellbeing Handbook (edited by Jessica Hutchings and Jo Smith). Although it has a mouthful of a title, it leaves you with a puku full of wisdom!
In this review, I will just provide a minimum amount of detail and relay a few quotes in order to give you a flavour. I don’t want to take too much away from the experience of reading it for yourself (which I highly recommend). This book is written in a refreshing way: very readable English but with plenty of translated Māori terms mixed in; 11 different authors contributing to a diverse, inclusive and holistic discussion about the vitality of soil from a Māori values perspective. It is divided into two parts, the first providing frameworks for understanding the narrative, and the second showcasing people who are walking the talk (“soil heros”). In all, it is a generous gift, written in an accessible way for all types of New Zealanders to integrate some of the centuries-old, Aotearoa specific wisdom into not only land management and food production, but also how we look at ourselves.
A strong theme of the book is whakapapa and identity, with every chapter having some acknowledgement of this. Whakapapa is a familiar aspect of Māori culture and is generally translated to mean ancestral lineage, but to Māori it is much more than that. Maanu Paul (a respected champion of Māori food and organic production methods) laid it out clearly: “My whakapapa gives me my existence and identity… the question is not ‘who are you’, it’s ‘where are you from’… I’m from the land in Ngati Manawa and I’m known by my mountain, I’m known by my rivers that nurture my soil- that’s how important soils are to me”. Maanu explained the literal translation of the word ‘whakapapa’ to mean ‘to make like soil’.
In the book we are provided with a diverse range of insight, including analysis of the historical ways in which soil and land was traditionally managed; the many Māori words for soil and related land management terms; a description of Hua Parakore (the Māori Organic verification framework); information regarding Māori homeopathy; description of diverse cultural uses of soils; the process of building a ‘whare uku’ (rammed earth house), explanation of how the natural environment can inform horticultural practices; description of a Māori secondary school devoted to kaitiakitangia (caring for the land); and much more. There is a strong emphasis on the role that food plays in Māori culture, with bonus recipe cards in the back of the book (which make great bookmarks by the way).
All up it was a smorgasbord of wisdom and a thoroughly grounding experience. This is a very important book for helping to redefine how we relate to soil, land management and food production in the future, with an authentic and local flavour. Reading this book may cause self-reflection with questions such as “how do I appreciate the life-giving properties of soil?” or “what is it like to be of the soil?”. I very highly recommend it.
“Kihai koe I whangaina ke te maunga tawhiti, naku koa i whangai = You were not fed on foods of distant lands, but it was I who brought you up” – ancient lament from Taranaki.
“For me, diversity is a strength, and the role of kaitiaki in maintaining this is an important one”. – Gretta Carney
“Soils do not have a voice – few people speak out for them. They are our silent allies in our food systems, a crucial part of our living economies and they provide an anchor point for our identity and memories of place – our turangawaewae” – Jessica Hutchings
“Importantly, the holistic value of the soil resource is going through a renaissance and its value is being better understood.” – Nick Roskruge
“This reciprocal relationship between land and people is a fundamental aspect of Māori cultural identity and lays the foundation to a complex and interconnecting values system.” – Jessica Hutchings.
“ko te whenua, nga wai me te tangata, Kotahi tonu = the land, the waters and people are one and the same” – Ngāhuia Lena, referred to as Kaitiaki of Moroiti (caretaker of micro-organisms)
“kaitiakitanga flips the instrumentalist logic of capitalism around to ask, what can we do for our lands and waters rather than, what can these natural resources do for us?” - Garth Harmsworth
Ko au te whenua, ko te whenua ko au, ko au te wai, ko te wai ko au. Whakarongo mai, whakarongo atu, whakarongo ki te whenua.” = I am the land, the land is me, I am the water, the water is me. Listen, listen more, listen to the land.