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May 9, 2011 | by  | in Opinion |
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Ngāi Tauira – Maori & Science

Maori and science have a systemic history that is linked by virtue of our ancestors’ knowledge. This knowledge of the various roles that the elements play to create the world around us has been passed down from generation to generation.

From understanding the movement of the tides through to celestial navigation, the application of traditional medicine through to understanding the link between the physical and the spiritual, our people and their traditional houses of learning were very apt at deconstructing the world around them and explaining the connection. Yet we are constantly researched, our values constantly questioned, and our knowledge seem invalid until proven under Western theory. Often such construction is made to the detriment of the holistic virtues of the Maori knowledge.

Science has become a dominant global knowledge system and has often been accused of intolerance towards other persuasions. If a conclusion cannot be supported by empirical evidence, if practice is not evidence based, or if there is an inability to replicate results, then validity is in doubt. Method is all-important and objective measurement is the final arbiter. Systems of knowledge that do not subscribe to scientific principles are afforded lesser status and, if given any recognition at all, run the risk of being rationalised according to scientific principles. (Semali & Kincheloe, 1999)

The above quote highlights the somewhat indifference that was afforded to indigenous knowledge by those of the more mainstream thought. Yet as indigenous people having been empowered by the knowledge of our customs and traditions, we are fated to be scrutinised by Western science which strives to apply labels to the phenomenon that is indigenous knowledge. This has often led to so-called discoveries that whilst much hyped in journals, and commercially exploited, to many indigenous people it has been a standard practice for many thousands of years.

Take the example of rongoa, the use of native fauna and flora to suppress and cure ailments. Such use of basic oil strains are a natural and well-developed process for Maori. To others, it is a wonder drug hyper-manufactured by some drug company that bring you the knowledge for the betterment of you, mostly in the form of a pill or a bottle. The holistic connection to the source of the treatment is lost in translation. The fact that nature provided the remedy is ignored once you have the cure.

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