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Knowledge-making in southern New Zealand

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Michael Stevens (University of Otago, New Zealand) belongs to Kai Tahu whanui, the iwi (Maori tribe) whose traditional tribal area covers the majority of New Zealand’s South Island. Michael is a participant in the annual customary harvesting of titi (sooty shearwaters/muttonbirds) from islands adjacent to Rakiura (Stewart Island) in Foveaux Strait. The right to harvest titi, or, in local parlance, to go muttonbirding, is an exclusive one inherited genealogically. In this paper, Michael uses the titi harvest to illustrate changes in Kai Tahu knowledge and ways of life since (and as a result of) European contact in the late eighteenth century. Looking at colonial-era commentaries on the harvest, he argues that the persistence of the titi harvest a pre-contact custom—and traditional knowledge associated with it, is not evidence of Kai Tahu rejection of modernity, but rather, a crucial thread in its own conception of modernity.

This talk is part of the Cabinet of Natural History series.

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