We have just gone past the shortest day of the year. The mornings are cold and it’s harder to leave the warmth of the house for our morning jobs. Yet, just before dawn, as our boots crunch along the frost covered grass, we can look out towards the East and see the rising of a unique cluster of stars. These stars, called Matariki in Maori, mark the coming of a New Year and the lengthening of the days. It is a custom that Maori and other Pacific cultures have celebrated for millenia and next year in New Zealand we will be recognising it as a new public holiday.
We all love an excuse for a public holiday but this one has a special significance especially when you take some time to understand some of the Maori philosophies and traditions that are represented by Matariki.
For Maori, Matariki is a time to reflect on the year past and plan for the future. Each star in the cluster has its own significance and asks its people to pause, reflect and give gratitude. There are stars that connect to our sources of food (land, water, sea, rain, sky) and stars that reflect our wellbeing, remembrance for the dead and dreams for the future. Underpinning all of these meanings is a very special philosophy that is common to many indigenous cultures' world-view. In Maori this is called Whakapapa and represents how each person has a genealogical connection both back in history and into the future. For Maori, they trace their genealogy all of the way back to their origin story of where the mother, Papatuanuku (the land), and father, Ranginui (the sky) were pulled apart to create the world we live in. What this means is that all Maori have a Whakapapa directly connected to the land and the sky. The land, the sky and the natural world that inhabits it is connected and Maori share this lifeforce. This belief is behind another powerful Maori concept; Kaitiakitanga or guardianship for the land, sky and sea.
This is a powerful thought and when put into this perspective makes us think about how we are caring for our land and the people connected to it. These concepts of Whakapapa and Kaitiakitanga are behind how we run our business and our bees provide a perfect metaphor. Each generation of bees graduate from one role to the next as they age in the hive, only to be replaced by a subsequent generation also working towards the common goal of preparing for the honey flow and ensuring the hive's survival for another season. Within this cycle, there are generations of bees that will toil for the good of the hive without ever realizing the fruits of their labor. Yet they are driven to continue to work for the good of the hive. They have a connected life-force, they are part of a Whakapapa.
As the fifth generation of my family on the land, the concept of Whakapapa has a strong resonance. Each generation has spent enormous amounts of time, effort and care to raise animals on this land in order to provide a living and lifestyle for their family, only to hand over the reins to the following generation. Is there a finish line that each generation is trying to reach first? Is there some sort of ultimate prize that can be attained at the end of a lifetime working on the hills? Or is there simply a cause that is loosely defined by each generation that governs how we set about to treat the land and the animals, families and community that interact with it?
As society and the world around us changes, so too does each generation's objective of how to work with the land. My grandfather received government funding to crush and burn hundreds of hectares of Manuka forest only for my generation to begin retiring this same land back into Manuka. Yet he also covenanted 300 hectares of native bush into a QEII trust reserve. A reserve that could never be touched again for forestry or farming purposes. This reserve now acts as the focal point of the farm. The jewel in the crown and a place where we can all go to center ourselves and remind ourselves of what makes our piece of land so special and worth toiling to keep improving for each generation.
What has always and will always remain a constant from one generation to the next is the accountability, empathy and honesty in our work. The checks and balances in farming is similar to sport. If you cut corners in your training or preparation you tend to get found out when it comes to the event. The same can be said for the farm and we are reminded of this when we spend an afternoon scrambling through the bush trying to retrieve some lost stock just because we were too lazy to fix the hole in the fence. The care and empathy that my Mother gives to the animals is inspiring and a result of a working life spent seeing the joy that comes from having healthy stock thriving on the land and the pain that you experience seeing them suffer if you get it wrong. And it can be a fine line.
In businesses, many will have experienced a strange new reality while being forced to work from home during the Covid-19 lockdown. All of a sudden, there was a need for employers to find ways to direct work without direct oversight and a realization from employees that they had to be personally accountable for their own productivity and effort. Companies that had a Whakapapa and employees working with a sense of Kaitiakitanga would have found little change. Others, who had developed a culture where it was easy to hide behind bureaucracy, confused roles and responsibilities to avoid doing necessary but frustrating jobs or allowed colleagues to flounder so they looked good in comparison; well these organisations probably didn’t notice much change either.
Bee and Flow and the role of Bees and Manuka is the contribution that our family is playing on this land and our Whakapapa. By removing livestock and allowing Manuka to revert back in some of the steep areas of the farm we are preserving the soil and enhancing the biodiversity that enriches our surroundings. Incorporating Bees and Agroforestry into our farming system promotes the growth of clovers in our grass farming system which allows us to better mimic the natural role that ruminant animals play in nature while capturing the unique and incredible value of Manuka Honey.
And what’s our Ultimate goal? Well that’s a bit hard to define at the moment; but so long as our bees, sheep and cattle are looking happy and healthy and the generations that follow us can look back and think that the ‘Old fellas’ did a pretty good job. Well that might just be enough.