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  • Students can explore te ao Māori concepts in the context of farming and food production through Kiwi Kai virtual farm – an introduction. This virtual farm weaves te ao Māori concepts such as sharing mātauranga Māori, te reo Māori and me ōna tikanga into the scenarios presented to students.

    This is part of a suite of articles designed to support teachers’ understanding of the underpinning science and te ao Māori concepts and deepen student learning as they play Kiwi Kai:

    Rights: Dr Megan Balks

    Te Parapara Garden

    Kūmara plants, growing in Te Taupa at Te Parapara Garden.

    Te Parapara is designed to incorporate two realms representative of both wild, uncultivated foods and cultivated or farmed foods. Te Ara Whakatauki (Path of Proverbs) lies between the Piazza (section of garden) and the waharoa (gateway). This realm represents the unculivated foods under the care of Haumiatiketike. Te Taupa sits beyond the waharoa and is under the care of Rongomātane renowned as atua of cultivated foods such as the kūmara.

    The garden takes its name from the pre-European Māori settlement that occupied the site.

    Mana atua

    In te ao Māori, Papatūānuku is the Earth Mother and Ranginui is the Sky Father. Papatūānuku and Ranginui form a backdrop to the habitats within Kiwi Kai’s virtual farm environment. All things originate from them, so the earth, air and water must be respected.

    As students explore Kiwi Kai scenarios, they encounter atua representations and whakataukī relating to food growing. For example, as students enter the ngahere (forest) habitat they are met with the whakataukī: Iti noa ana he pito mata – From a withered tree, a flower blooms. Students learn about atua Tāne Mahuta in ngahere scenarios. Papatūānuku is involved when students make decisions about soil and paddocks. In the repo (wetland) and awa (river) habitat, students will come across Tangaroa, atua of freshwater and moana (oceans).

    Rights: Public domain


    In te ao Māori, Papatūānuku is the Earth Mother and Ranginui is the Sky Father. Their children include Tāne (atua of the ngahere), Tangaroa (atua of the ocean and streams), Rongomātāne (atua of cultivated foods like kūmara) and Haumiatiketike (atua of wild/uncultivated foods such as roots of wild plants and fern fronds).

    Other habitats in Kiwi Kai are overseen by relevant atua – Rongomātāne (atua of cultivated foods like kūmara) and Haumiatiketike (atua of wild/uncultivated foods such as roots of wild plants and fern fronds).

    Rūaumoko (atua of volcanoes and seasons) and Tāwhiri-mātea (atua of winds and weather) are also part of Māori cosmology but are not directly referred to in the learning tool.

    A glossary in Kiwi Kai’s notebook function holds a collection of te reo Māori words, including atua, with their English translations and definitions.

    Exploring mana

    Mana is prestige, influence and authority. There are different forms of mana such as mana atua, mana tūpuna/tīpuna and mana tangata. Mana atua is mana derived from the atua. Mana tūpuna/tīpuna is mana passed down from ancestors (chiefly authority and status, which gives us authority to make decisions and exercise leadership). The mana derived from our lands, forests, estates, water and resources is known as mana whenua. Mana tangata is mana bestowed to individuals to sustain and enhance the living environment/te taiao (through key concepts such as kaitiakitanga and tikanga).

    Te taiao, whenua and people

    Nāu te rourou, nāku te rourou, ka ora ai te iwi.

    With your food basket and my food basket, the people will thrive and be healthy.

    This whakataukī speaks of interconnectedness, co-operation and encouraging wellbeing through healthy food production. Its essence is reflected throughout the Kiwi Kai learning tool.

    The virtual farm is set within the wider environment – te taiao. Te taiao is the natural world, environment or nature. Whenua (the land), sits within te taiao. He oneone is the soil. These are natural features. On the land and soil are the constructions of people for cultivating food: pātiki (paddocks) and maara kai.

    Farms sit within their wider environment. Farm practices and te taiao are all connected. Therefore, what we do on land affects the whole surrounding ecosystem.

    A kaiahuwhenua is a farmer or agricultural worker who can manage this balance. Students can begin to navigate how to find this balance through Kiwi Kai.

    Rights: NZ Landcare Trust

    Taiao ora, whenua ora, tāngata ora

    Taiao ora, whenua ora, tāngata ora – healthy nature, healthy land, healthy people. When the environment and the land are healthy, people are healthy. Farming practices should consider the impacts on the wider ecosystem.

    Illustration by Phil Jones.

    Mauri – the life force

    Mauri is an interconnected life force that is present in all things. The mauri of a healthy environment (taiao ora) can be sensed through strong, vital energy and plenty of biodiversity present.

    During the Kiwi Kai scenarios, students’ choices have an impact on the health of the habitats such as the awa. This encourages thinking about mauri, connections, impacts of agriculture and our role as consumers so that we can all contribute positively to the mauri, wairua and the mana of te taiao. Actions chosen within Kiwi Kai can influence these aspects of the virtual farm environment. For example, in Kiwi Kai scenarios, if students decide to remove the weeds in te repo, the message given is “Now the mauri of te repo can recover”.

    Te mana o te taiao

    Te mana o te taiao is the mana of the environment, the natural world. Taiao is the world, our natural or living environment. Te mana o te taiao is therefore the mana of the living environment. Te mana o te taiao means giving status, authority or energy to the living environment that we depend on and draw our wellbeing from. We can give mana to the environment through making decisions and carrying out practices that sustain and enhance the environment (taiao). Māori do this through key concepts such as tikanga and whakapapa.

    Tikanga is a custom, practice or correct protocol. It refers to the customary system of values and practices that have developed over time and are deeply embedded in social and cultural values and te ao Māori belief systems. Whakapapa means genealogy, genealogical links or lineage that give Māori connection to the natural environment.

    Manaakitanga and whakawhanaungatanga

    Manaakitanga is about sharing resources and upholding the mana, mauri and dignity of people. Whakawhanaungatanga is about relating well to others and maintaining relationships. Scenarios in Kiwi Kai’s virtual farm such as helping a neighbour milk their cows, plant or herd their livestock create opportunities for students to learn about and practise manaakitanga and whakawhanaungatanga.

    Actions to support Papatūānuku

    So once you’ve played the game, what next? How do you and your students connect to te taiao and Papatūānuku?

    What can schools and ākonga do with their new learning? For example, students could start a school food-growing garden or maara kai, plant harakeke and other culturally important species of plants, grow rongoā plants and learn about them or plant near water bodies and along paddock borders.

    School and community gardens have many benefits – social, environmental and cultural. Many communities are building shared maara, whānau maara and composting systems as well as building community resilience and infrastructure. These actions also target waste and climate issues. Papatūānuku Kōkiri Marae is a great example of a collaborative project that is leading the way for food growing as a community and providing education and produce for people, enhancing hauora (wellbeing).

    Extending learning

    Kiwi Kai’s virtual farm introduces students to traditional cultural practices from te ao Māori such as maramataka, mahinga kai and rongoā. These practices are as relevant today as they were in the past.

    Learn more about maramataka, mahinga kai and rongoā below.

    Maramataka and food growing

    Maramataka encompasses practices of agriculture, timing of fishing, lunar cycles, planting, crops, Māori cosmology and tohu. This system is changeable – it can vary with the cycles of nature and climate change, with tohu appearing at different times. Kiwi Kai’s virtual farm is played across the seasons, showing some links to maramataka. The Maramataka illustration below is a good summary introduction for students. It is from the Connected article Listening to the Land.

    Rights: Crown copyright 2018

    Maramataka – the Māori calendar

    The lunar calendar is used for observing changes to te taiao.

    Illustration by Isobel Joy Te Aho-White, from Listening to the Land, 2018 Level 3 Connected journal Cracking the Code published by the Ministry of Education, New Zealand.

    Mahinga kai

    Mahinga kai/mahika kai is about the value of natural resources that sustain and support life, including the life of people. Mahinga kai is about managing and protecting these resources in the same way that ancestors have done before us, supporting biodiversity and cultural values and enabling resources and taonga to be sustained.


    Rongoā is traditional Māori healing incorporating native plant medicines, mirimiri massage and natural healing methods.

    Learn more with these resources:

    Related content

    Kiwi Kai – key terms also provides information about some te ao Māori concepts covered in this article.

    Tupuārangi is a whetū in the Matariki cluster. It is connected to food and growth above the ground and has a strong connection with birds. This article explores our connection to Tupuārangi.

    The Connected article Whakaotirangi and her kete of kūmara recounts an important story from the oral tradition of Tainui. It tells of how the iwi’s ancestor Whakaotirangi first brought kūmara and other plants to Aotearoa and describes the techniques she used to plant, grow and store them.

    Māori were New Zealand’s first soil scientists and modified soils to promote crop growth.

    Te reo Māori article Ngā rongoā o ngā repo describes wetland plants used in Māori traditional healing.

    Te whakamahi i ngā rauemi o Tuihonoa Te Reo o Te Repo hei whakarite ara whakaako is a collection of te reo Māori resources drawn from Te Reo o Te Repo – The Voice of the Wetland.


    This article was written in collaboration with Garth Harmsworth Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research, te reo phrases were checked or translated by Te Ngaru Wehi.

    The Kiwi Kai project aims to build an understanding of nature-friendly primary production in an engaging way for ākonga. This mahi has been produced with the support of Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research, Curious Minds | Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, New Zealand’s Biological Heritage National Science Challenge and many partners.

    Rights: Logos are the property of individual schools and organisations

    Kiwi Kai project partners and funders

    The Kiwi Kai project has been supported by a wide range of partner organisations. It was funded by Curious Minds, New Zealand’s Biological Heritage National Science Challenge and Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research.

      Published 24 May 2023 Referencing Hub articles
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