How a tohunga could have enlightened Woods about fog and cycles before Pyper partnership was agreed

Research, Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods perhaps did not take all available advice before she committed the government to a partnership with New Zealand aerospace start-up, Pyper Vision.

Announcing the partnership, she said it could help make fog delays a thing of the past for passengers, freight, airlines and airports around the world.

Pyper Vision – she explained – is developing a technology that disperses a safe water-absorbing environmentally-friendly product via drone that soaks up moisture in the air and clears runway fog so that pilots and air traffic controllers can operate safely.

RNZ turned that into something more readily digested:  

Christchurch-based company Pyper Vision is developing a spray that can absorb moisture from the air quickly, clearing fog.

It aims to ease flight disruptions such as the three day backlog in flights at Wellington Airport last week, when fog rolled in on Tuesday afternoon, and didn’t ease until Thursday afternoon, affecting more than 200 flights.

The team is being assisted by the Government’s Airspace Integration Trials Programme, which aims to support the adoption of new aviation technology safely into the existing transport system.

Megan Woods said:

“It’s a simple idea that could solve a multi-billion dollar problem. A critical area of sky can be cleared in as little as 10 minutes,” she enthused.

“We all know what it’s like as a passenger flying in and out of New Zealand airports experiencing flight delays caused by heavy fog. As well as being frustrating, there are large costs for exporters, airlines and airports as well as significant carbon emissions from diverted flights”

Pyper Vision aims to test and use its technology in airports throughout New Zealand, with a view to taking the product global.

The absorbent used by Pyper Vision is approved for use by the Environmental Protection Authority and meets drinking water standards.

But whoa.  As we said earlier in this post, maybe Megan failed to take all available advice.

Our attention has been drawn to a Waatea  News report headed Foggy thinking not plane solution.

The Waatea News team has done what Woods failed to do:  it consulted  a tohunga and tikanga expert, a bloke called Rereata Makiha.

He says a plan to clear fog from Wellington Airport is short sighted (because longer sight has been impeded by Wellington fog perhaps).

Waatea News explained:

Mr Mahika says kohu or fog acts as an important mediator between Rangi and Papa at this time of year, with an Uenuku, a rainbow being a sign of harmony.

It’s a natural cycle.

“What those scientists should do is predict those repeating cycles and you know kohu is going to come in eh, mitigate that by moving the airport somewhere else or the incoming passengers like they used to do in the past so because we don’t know the effect on the environment if you start doing stupid things like that,” he says.

Rereata Makiha should not have been overlooked by Woods on this matter – or the government – because he is this year’s KiwiBank Senior New Zealander of the Year for his contributions to mātauranga Māori.

But not being familiar with the work of tohunga, Point of Order consulted the Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, which advised us    

What is a tohunga?

Priests were known as tohunga. Māori scholar Te Rangi Hīroa (Peter Buck) suggested that the term derives from tohu, meaning to guide or direct. Ngāpuhi elder Māori Marsden suggested tohunga comes from an alternative meaning of tohu (sign or manifestation), so tohunga means chosen or appointed one.

The term tohunga is also used for an expert in a particular field. An expert in tattooing (tā moko) was a tohunga tā moko. An expert in carving (whakairo) was a tohunga whakairo. A priest was a tohunga ahurewa (sacred place tohunga).

Too tapu

Some tohunga were so tapu that they were unable to feed themselves. They were fed with food placed on a stick and put in their mouths, and water was tipped into their mouths from a container. In some cases, a specially made funnel, a kōrere, was used to pour water into their mouths. Tapu tohunga could not get their hair cut.


Atua and spirits would communicate through a tohunga, who acted as their medium. The tohunga would speak in a different voice, regarded as the voice of the god. One example is a famous tohunga of Ngāi Tūhoe named Uhia, who became a medium of a spirit, Hope-motu, whom he renamed Te Rehu-o-Tainui.

A person through whom a god was being channelled was termed a waka atua (vessel of a god), or kauwaka (medium).

The Encyclopaedia of New Zealand article explained it was the role of tohunga to ensure tikanga (customs) were observed.

Tohunga guided the people and protected them from spiritual forces. They were healers of both physical and spiritual ailments, and they guided the appropriate rituals for horticulture, fishing, fowling and warfare. They lifted the tapu on newly built houses and waka (canoes), and lifted or placed tapu in death ceremonies.

We are sure Woods is aware of the value of tohunga and the contributions they can make to work done with the science budget for which is responsible.

We say this because on March 28 the National Science Challenges issued a press statement headed Restoring Power To Marae And Hapū Is Climate Adaptation:

The statement said:

Climate adaptation research in Aotearoa is set to be invigorated by an unprecedented 14 research projects led by Māori, for Māori. These highly localised projects, made up of multidisciplinary teams including tohunga and kairangahau, will investigate climate impacts and responses and shine a light on indigenous leadership through the urgent challenges of the climate crisis.

Research led by Māori, for Māori?

The benefits are not to be shared with the wider New Zealand community, we may suppose.

The core thread connecting the 14 projects (according to the press statement) is the knowledge that hapū and iwi have the ability, experience and research expertise to identify and activate robust adaptation solutions. Each reflects an exciting and overdue development for climate adaptation research. They are:

All projects centre mātauranga, tikanga and te reo Māori, and together showcase the inherent adaptability and relevance of ancestral knowledge to solve contemporary challenges.

These research projects, lasting between one and two years, recognise that cultural and spiritual health is inextricably linked to the health of the taiao.

Teams will investigate multiple interrelated kaupapa, including (to name only a few), takutai moana, tohu taiao, well being, food sovereignty, indigenous capability and tikanga Māori decision making.

Sandy Morrison, Chair of the Kāhui Māori of the Deep South Challenge,describes this as a game-changer.

“Communities have been saying for a long time that they’re ready to lead their own climate adaptation research, but too often hapū and iwi are completely excluded from the environmental, social and political decisions that directly impact them. It’s time to remove the barriers and restore power to marae and hapū to define and develop their own appropriate solutions.”

And what is this costing us?

Point of Order failed to find the data on this, but Morrison said:

“While funding 14 kaupapa Māori climate research projects is unprecedented in Aotearoa, these are only a fraction of the number of proposals we received. Māori urgently need more funding to support our research aspirations and capacity. Kua tae te wā.”

While the Ardern government  is running things, we can be sure they will get more funding.

Oh – and fair to say, the government’s investment in Pyper Vision, if there is one, wasn’t spelled out in Megan Woods’ statement, either.

5 thoughts on “How a tohunga could have enlightened Woods about fog and cycles before Pyper partnership was agreed

  1. I think the stories about the tohunga need to get a lot more publicity. It helps show just how stupid and gullible politicians are.. Be a good millstone around the Minister’s neck to taunt her with.
    Though we can laugh, the saddest thing is it takes research funding away from real science, including the Maori who have done real degrees.

    Liked by 2 people

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