26 Mar 2024

Ngāi Tahu uses storytelling to prepare for future earthquakes

5:50 pm on 26 March 2024
The Alpine Fault is marked out on satellite images by the western edge of the Southern Alps snowline.

A satellite images shows the alpine faultline by the western edge of the Southern Alps snowline. Photo: NASA

Ngāi Tahu are weaving mātauranga Māori and their own creation stories with scientific knowledge to help boost earthquake preparedness.

It's highly likely that a magnitude 8+ alpine fault earthquake will happen within the next 50 years, and an earthquake of that size would cause widespread damage and disruption across Te Waipounamu (South Island).

Geological evidence also shows that the alpine fault has a remarkably regular history of producing large earthquakes. It has ruptured 27 times over the past 8000 years, every 300 years on average, and the last significant quake on the alpine fault was in 1717.

To help whānau prepare for such an event, Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu has joined with the science modeling programme AF8 to strengthen understanding of the alpine fault.

Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu kaiwhakahaere Justin Tipa said some of the facts surrounding the alpine fault will be confronting for whānau, which was why the iwi was using a combination of storytelling and scientific modeling.

"Particularly with our younger generations, I think just talking cold hard facts doesn't have that emotion and that whakapapa connection so it's a lot harder to buy into. So it's really that deeper connection that people feel to the kōrero," he said.

Sharing kōrero and pūrākau (stories) would help paint a picture of earthquake risks in a way that resonated with whānau, he said.

"We are well aware how our culture is rooted in oral tradition, history, customs, beliefs have been passed through storytelling so it connects us to knowledge and place and helps us make sense of the world and enables us to share that with others."

The campaign centerpiece is a video of a whānau travelling to Te Tai Poutini (West Coast) to explore the stories of the alpine fault and Ngāi Tahu whenua. A pōua (grandfather) tells his mokopuna (grandchild) stories from their tīpuna, so they can understand what it means for their future:

Tipa said it was about weaving oral tradition with western science, which could go together seamlessly.

"There's a place for mātauranga Māori, there's a place for western science and when it comes together that's where the real magic is, so I think we haven't really seen that friction, combining our knowledge can only make us stronger and it's especially true in this context."

Tipa said the rūnanga were working a double pronged approach - on one hand educating whānau, and on the other preparing marae in the region to respond to an earthquake.

They were now in the process of distributing emergency supply pods to marae across the rohe (region), he said,

"When, not if the alpine fault goes the reality is a number of our whānau will be isolated for extended periods of time, this particular kaupapa is focusing on that whānau preparedness, because it could be a couple of weeks before anyone gets to them.

"If I think about our Poutini Ngāi Tahu whānau in those rural regions on the West Coast that's particularly relevant to them."

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