A rāhui, or ritual prohibition, is more than a fishing ban - it is about respect

A Rahui was announced from New Plymouth's Back Beach to the Mokau River after Matt Smith went missing after the boat he ...
Andy Jackson

A Rahui was announced from New Plymouth's Back Beach to the Mokau River after Matt Smith went missing after the boat he was in capsized off the coast.

Several weeks ago a call was made to establish a rāhui (ritual prohibition) over the Taranaki coast.

This was in response to the disappearance, and suspected drowning, of a fisherman in rough seas off the coast of Port Taranaki.

Regardless of those who automatically dismissed the idea of the rāhui as an attempt to limit their freedom to fish or collect seafood, the rāhui has many practical applications.

Moreover the rāhui implements tikanga Māori to respect the dead and the whānau (family) who are grieving over their lost son.

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A rāhui is not simply a 'fishing ban' as is usually reported because the rāhui has long been used in te ao Māori (the Māori world). 

A rāhui is the tikanga (customary practise) that prohibits access to an area (either on water or land) or resources.

It can encompass a wide area, like the entire coastline of Taranaki, or it can be restricted to the bend of a river.

Professor Hirini Moko Mead wrote about the different types of rāhui in his book Tikanga Māori. 

According to Mead there are three types of rāhui: the drowning rāhui, the conservation rāhui and the political rāhui.

A drowning rāhui refers to death within the water and applies to the body of water where the person died.

In a sense the water is contaminated by human death and is therefore tapu (restricted).

Mātaitai (seafood) cannot be gathered from that area, nor can fishing be undertaken.

The rāhui is established through karakia (prayers or incantations) and is enforced through acceptance by the community.

Generally the rāhui will be for a set period, although with a massive tragedy it can be extended indefinitely.

Rāhui have been proclaimed in Taranaki before, the most recent was in 2012 when three young people died at Paritutu.

Ngāti Te Whiti hapū proclaimed the rāhui and it was only in place for several days.

In the case of a great tragedy the rāhui can be extended. 

For example in 1846, the ariki (high chief) of Ngāti Tuwharetoa Te Heuheu Tukino and his people perished in a landslide in Kakaramea, at Lake Taupo.

The rāhui on that area lasted for five years.

Of course, any accidental death is a tragedy.

Personally I've long wondered when we will respect those who perish on Taranaki maunga.

Although it may be controversial, why can't we consider rāhui when people die on his slopes.

How is it that a person can die on our sacred maunga and nothing is done to show respect? 

Another tramper may walk past that same spot later that day and inadvertently trample on the tapu of that place.

Just as it would be wrong to eat seafood from the same beach where someone recently died.

The second type of rāhui is the conservation rāhui.

This rāhui is applied to restore the mauri (life force, health) of the land or waterway.

By prohibiting access, the resources of the area would be given time to be restored.

In a way, marine reserves act in a similar way by forbidding taking of kai (food) from the areas.

We already have marine reserves like the Tapuae Marine Reserve or the Parininihi Marine Reserve.

In this sense we conserve our resources and secure the future for our grandchildren.

The third type of rāhui is the political rāhui.

This may include an aukati (no trespass) or a political action.

Back in 1979 the idea of a political rāhui was brought to national attention when the All Blacks were due to tour to South Africa.

Due to the ongoing apartheid in that country, and the racial tensions of the time, Professor Hirini Mead of Victoria University suggested applying a rāhui to Māori rugby players joining in the tour.

It made many people very angry, both Pākehā and Māori, especially rugby supporters.

Mead got into quite a lot of trouble, and even had threats to shoot him.

But Mead supported the kaupapa (issue) on the national stage and contributed to a continuing debate around the later Springbok tour of 1981.

Whenever the concept of rāhui is raised, there is always someone who complains it impacts on their rights.

Often this opinion looks very similar to selfishness. 

And it extends to a cold heartedness that denies anyone else their grief if it effects the freedom to do whatever a person wants.

As a community we need to debate how this traditional custom of rāhui can serve our common interests.

And thereby show respect to the deceased and to our land and waters. 

Mauri ora


 - Stuff

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