Tutungia te kāpura hei oranga mō te hapū: Light the fires for our collective vitality


PhD Candidate: Kapua O’Connor (Ngāti Kurī, Pohūtiare)

Primary Supervisor(s): Professor Tracey McIntosh

This PhD is an extensive study of the tikanga ahikā (burning fire). The literature reveals that there is a relatively well-understood understanding of the tikanga (Māori law / lore) of ahikā at surface level. According to the literature, ahikā was a tikanga that worked in conjunction with whakapapa (genealogy) to ascertain who had mana (authority) in a particular lands or seas. The tikanga of ahikā was part of a rigorous, well-established framework, that although different from one region to the next, the literature suggests was practiced nationwide. Ahikā itself denoted that the fires were burning steadily, referring to the hapū’s constant occupation of their lands. Ahiteretere denoted that they fires were flickering, meaning that the hapū’s occupation was sporadic or fleeting, but that they held mana in those lands. Ahimātaotao denoted that fires were extinguished, meaning that hapū had not occupied land for a significant, multigenerational period of time, meaning they no longer had mana in former lands.

To a large extent, the ahikā, ahiteretere, and ahimātaotao framework is used as a metaphor. That is, the fires are metaphorical for the hapū’s presence on their lands, or lack thereof. Although ahikā was and still is used as a metaphor, my PhD explores the literal fires that burnt on our tūpuna’s lands. Addressing a clear gap in the literature, thus PhD reminds us that ahikā was a literal phenomenon. This PhD is an exploration into the types types of fires that burnt through hapū lands, used for many uses: for warmth, for light, to cook kai, as a form of communication, and many more. Discussion about the types of fires and their purposes lays a platform for theoretical discussion that uncovers a much more nuanced, and a more well-refined, accurate depiction of the tikanga of ahikā. This research makes it clear that through understanding the use and significance of the literal fires that burnt on our tūpuna’s lands, we can glean a much deeper understanding of the tikanga of ahikā. This is captured in the study’s research question:

How can broadening our understanding of fires as a literal phenomenon enliven our appreciation of ahikā as a tikanga?