ko te mea nui o te ao he tangata? the most important thing in this world is people? I disagree.


The title and theme for this post is based on the whakataukī (proverb) as follows,

‘he aha te mea nui o te ao? Māku e kī atu, he tangata, he tangata, he tangata’

What is the most important thing in this world? It is people, it is people, it is people.

Yeah.. nah. I disagree — on a surface level.*

This type of conditioning from our environment, from the media, from well-meaning but dis/misinformed people and the rest, has got us to where we are today — with our taiao in distress, a state of global warming, facing the effects of climate change, with land being lost to business and corporate greed (disguised as “progress”), currently at Ihumātao in Aotearoa, NZ and Mauna Kea, in Hawaii and also historically, everywhere around the world.

An environment that encourages putting people first and above all else has resulted in referring to our natural environment as a ‘resource’, as something for us to rape, pillage and plunder to satisfy our own wants and desires. Putting people first encouraged a system subject to their greed for power, control and dominance over others.

Basically, what I’m trying to get at is people decided people were the most important thing in the world. And it wasn’t indigenous people. Because tangata whenua descend from the natural environment. Not only that, we were nurtured by it, sustained by it and are accountable to it. The mountains, winds, stars, earth, waters and everything around and between them are our tupuna (ancestors), our tuakana (elders), our lifeline.

— it is our inherent responsibility to protect and care for and preserve our whakapapa.

Show me a pūrākau (story, legend), oriori (lullaby), karakia (incantation), or thread of mātauranga (traditional knowledge) that reaffirms te ira tangata (humankind) as the most important thing in the world. That we, us little tiny humans who’ve only been around for a couple thousand years… are more important than our maunga, our awa, our moana, our whenua and even more important than the mauri of those spaces?

Save your energy — there aren’t any. Instead, we have the tools I mention above and also kawa and tikanga. Kawa are the governing protocols that are upheld by tikanga (traditions) which evolve overtime.

Kawa have a hierarchy to them, they follow a rank of evolution and also importance. And humans, let alone the physical expression of our environment are so, so, soooo far down on the list.

For Te Arawa, we have at least 24 kawa, beginning with Io, Te Kore and the metaphysical representations of Rangi and Papa° making up kawa 1-4 with the physical representation of the sky and earth coming in somewhere around the 20s and te tangata, humankind somewhere further down.

So based on the protocols that inform my worldview, based on a millennia of mātauranga and based on whakapapa, I say.. he aha te mea nui o te ao? What is the most important thing in this world? It is not people

— it is whakapapa.

It is connection, it is understanding, it is aroha, it is life. It runs deeper than any physical connection or being. It demands that we uphold our obligation to protect and nurture those who allowed us to be here today.

For Ihumātao, for Mauna Kea, for our whenua, for our taiao.

Tēnā tātou.

*Not to dismiss the history, significance and context of the whakatauki, which as I’ve learned since publishing this post, was coined by Meri Ngaroto to stress the importance of life during a time of warfare and conflict between iwi in the Far North and in an effort to save tamariki, whānau and the taiao. I apologise for my ignorance and thank you for those who sent messages and comments to educate me.

°Io - creator, supreme being, existence.

Te Kore - the potential, formless, energy.

Rangi - Ranginui, Sky Father.

Papa - Papatūānuku, Earth Mother.

Would’ve been too messy to include the translations in the paragraph.