Within te ao Māori—the Māori world view—whakapapa, or genealogical connections, link together every being. Relationships with trees are traced through ancestral bonds that are recited through storytelling. Trees are tūpuna, elders, who hold knowledge, reflected in the etymology of rākāu (tree) being the
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Within te ao Māori—the Māori world view—whakapapa, or genealogical connections, link together every being. Relationships with trees are traced through ancestral bonds that are recited through storytelling. Trees are tūpuna, elders, who hold knowledge, reflected in the etymology of rākāu (tree) being the pū (base) of pūrākau (stories). The Atua Tāne Mahuta, sought ngā kete o te wānanga, the three baskets of knowledge. The wānanga is a place of learning and was brought into being by the god of trees, forests, and birds. Ngāpuhi artist Nova Paul’s experimental films are made with kaupapa Māori values. Her most recent films Rākau
, both 2022, reflect on lessons from trees, the latter premiering at the Sundance Film Festival 2023. These films are not so much about
trees as by
trees. Nova has made film developer from foliage of the trees that are filmed so that, for example, the riverside pōhutukawa tree is processed in a bath of pōhutukawa chlorophyl developer. For Nova, this process reveals not only an image but the mauri (life force) of the tree through the taking and then the making of her tree films. The films produced are more like an arboreal self-portrait: trees speaking directly through an embodied medium. If trees process sunlight to produce chlorophyl, here, chlorophyl produces images of light in order to communicate messages across species. The tohunga Reverend Māori Marsden wrote that photographic technologies might provide spiritual insight into perceiving life force: “Those with the powers and insight and perceptions (Matakite), perceived mauri as an aura of light and energy radiating from all animate life. It is now possible to photograph the mauri in living things.” In previous films, Nova experimented with colour-separation techniques to pull apart the fabric of time and space, which Tessa wrote about for the Third Text
online forum “Decolonising Colour?” That article was translated into Spanish for the book Pensamientos Migrantes
: Intersecciones cinematográficas
by the Colombian experimental film publishers Hambre Cine (2020). Continuing with a conversation about the ways in which experimental film practices can open up a space for decolonial thought and Indigenous epistemologies, Nova and Tessa co-write this paper in order to share the pūrākau (stories) arising from the images of these rākāu (trees), in which photosynthesis, filmmaking, and spirit, are intertwined, and where the mauri (life force) is revealed.