A chat with Aotea Founder, Tama Toki

We chatted to Aotea Founder, Tama Toki about the principle of Tikanga Māori, how it can be applied to a modern setting and how it intertwines in every aspect of Aotea's brand ethos and manufacturing processes. 

Aotea Made

Tikanga Māori is a fluid concept. How do you define it? 
 
In simple terms Tikanga means the correct way of doing things; it is derived from the word 'tika’ meaning correct, or right. Ultimately derived from Proto Eastern Polynesia, as this word carries the same meaning in Tahitian, Mangarevan, Rarotongan.

So on the surface it is taken to mean the correct way of doing things, and the customs and practices that go with living in a group. It is a system prescribing what is considered normal and right, and these practices are similar to those followed by our ancestors so there is precedent. 

However, to fully understand Tikanga, you have to understand the mechanisms that support the Tikanga as well. And this often comes with living in a way that allows for those mechanisms to exist. Understanding Te Ao Māori and Māori cosmology are important because it creates a nexus or reason for why certain mechanisms and protocol are there; and they fundamentally revolve around how Māori see their place within nature. Examples of mechanisms are things like mana, ihi and wehi and tapu to name a few, but they all have a role in establishing the foundations that Tikanga sits upon. 

It is also really important to note that Tikanga is fluid, as protocols change, and society changes, Tikanga must change with it. But the pillars or Kawa that Tikanga sits on does not. 
 
In your opinion, has the principle of Tikanga Māori developed, and how can this be applied in a modern setting?
 
I believe it depends on what interpretation of Tikanga you are using. Principles of Tikanga have been imported into legislation like the Resource Management Act, as well as District Health Boards’ best practice policies on how they serve people within their constituency. So it is being applied, but perhaps only the surface level aspects. 

It is hard to really practice Tikanga unless you understand why it is there in the first place. For example, a principle of Tikanga is Kaitiakitanga (stewardship) of the resources of the earth. But it isn’t there because being ‘sustainable’ is now socially acceptable, it is there because of how Māori see their place within the cosmos; that Māori are ultimately children of Papatūānuku and Ranginui, and therefore there is an obligation to make sure the life force remains, and practice of these principles enables the life force of certain areas, (lakes, rivers, fauna) to remain in balance. It is not for us to determine what is sustainable, it is a spiritual understanding and connecting to the earth. 

Aotea Made
 
How is it related to mana whenua?
 
The connection between tikanga and mana whenua is significant. Mana whenua really means authority over the land, but it is derived from tikanga passed down through generations. The experience of our elders and our ancestors inform the way we act. There are other ways of exercising mana, such as winning conflicts, or an expert in a certain area, but the Tikanga again determines the rules of how one can exercise mana whenua.
 
How does Aotea intertwine the principles of Tikanga Māori into its brand ethos? 
 
I would say that how we practice our business is from the Tikanga of the family and area I was raised in. And then perhaps the direction of the business is a reflection of the broader māoritanga of what we’re doing. 

For example how we operate as a business is Tikanga-centric. We grow our own flora, our little facility is solar powered, and our distillery is operated under a reticulating water system so we don’t lose or waste water. These are related to the Tikanga of the area. 

 
How did your upbringing on Aotea influence how you apply Tikanga Māori?

Where I am from is a māori community. And although the Tikanga isn’t what it was, or perhaps not as practiced as it was; what I know is a direct reflection of what I was taught by my kuia and koro (grandparents). 

To find out more about Aotea's story, click here. 

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