Health expert Te Miri Rangi looks at ways to revive indigenous Māori knowledge to optimise health and wellbeing.
Generations of evolution and human development have influenced the way our tinana, or our body, functions, and how it responds to the kai we eat. Most of the kai around us today has emerged as the result of an industrial food system. Years of scientific development have conditioned our palates to prefer foods full of ‘flavour’. These are foods that are often highly processed and full of sugar or fats. Most of us now crave that sugar hit, or that fatty burger because of it.
Once upon a time the food market looked very different for Māori, and as a consequence our bodies did too.
The traditional Māori food system originates within the narratives, or pūrākau, of the offspring of Rangi and Papa. The children of Rangi and Papa are considered the kaitiaki of the various realms on Earth. This includes Tāne, who resides over the forests, Tangaroa over the ocean, Haumiatiketike over uncultivated foods, and Rongomātāne over peace and cultivated crops, to name a few. In essence, the traditional foods available for consumption by Māori were considered to be shaped by the environment, and shared whakapapa or a lineage and connection to the various offspring of Rangi and Papa. Māori kai had the power to carry the energy or essence of atua to feed our whānau, tinana, hinengaro and wairua.
Kūmara in particular was an important food source for Māori. Compared to the tropical climate in other parts of the Pacific where kūmara can flourish, it struggled to grow in the colder conditions here in Aotearoa. Through improved technology and growing practices the kūmara soon began to thrive in parts of the country, and with limited sources of carbohydrates available, it quickly became integral to Māori communities. All aspects pertaining to the kūmara from planting to harvesting, to cooking and eating were ritualised and connected to the atua of peace, Rongomātāne. This enabled useful information to be shared amongst communities and passed on through successive generations.