Kūmara: Uncovering new narratives about settlement, histories, and kōrero of Aotearoa

growing kumara

Mātauranga kūmara specialists inspecting crops in Hokianga. Photo: Pā to Plate Project/Takarangi Research.

Takarangi Research has successfully competed in the latest Marsden Fund round, winning $870,000 for a new research project to rediscover hidden narratives from Māori oral historical perspectives where kūmara are central threads.

Takarangi Principal Professor Paul (Paora) Tapsell says the telling of Aotearoa New Zealand’s early history is largely done from a western, particularly archaeological, perspective.

“There is significant potential to unlock and rediscover hidden narratives from Māori oral historical perspectives - in this case around the cultivation of kūmara.

“We aim to uncover new or customary narratives about settlement, histories, and kōrero of Aotearoa and reconsider the potential wealth of kūmara culturally and economically in today’s terms.”

Pre-European contact, kūmara was a staple root crop for marae communities, with origins from South America over twenty generations ago. Kūmara enabled marae communities, especially those occupying the more sheltered coastal catchments of both islands, to live and flourish in one location for generations.

The kūmara is also a metaphor for success. While it is has inter-connected significance to the Pacific, narratives of kūmara persist in marae communities and in archives.

“Our research seeks to uncover the richness of these perspectives, re-centring mātauranga – Māori customary knowledge – as valid and reasoned counterpoints to archaeological or scientific insights, reconnecting them to a new generation.

“Ultimately, we take a completely new look at our nation’s origin stories through kūmara, as well as exploring its economic and cultural innovation potential for Aotearoa, especially as we enter an era of climate uncertainty and social challenges.”

Paul is the co-founder of the website www.maorimaps.com, and is a team leader on five NZ/Australian socially responsible research projects, covering climate change and urban impact on indigenous production/consumption systems, twenty first century importance of kāinga/marae communities; reimagining Pacific navigation and future roles of museums post COVID.

Takarangi Research is an independent organisation established in 2020 to serve Māori communities through whakapapa.

Further Information

Read more about the research undertaken by Takarangi Research.

Date posted: 14 November 2022

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