Matching Haapu Knowledge with Machine Learning

Te Ruapekapeka Trust partnered with Kevin Shedlock from Victoria University of Wellington – Te Herenga Waka to explore how technology such as machine learning, virtual reality and augmented reality could be used to preserve and share Māori knowledge. See how this Te Pūnaha Hihiko: Vision Mātauranga Capability Fund (VMCF) project is recreating Te Ruapekapeka Pa, a carronade and the huia bird for generations to come.

Transforming data with an indigenous approach

Te Ruapekapeka Pā, north of Whangarei, is more accessible than ever thanks to a partnership between Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington researcher Kevin Shedlock (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Porou, Whakatōhea) and Te Ruapekapeka Trust.

Led by Kevin and supported by government funding from the MBIE-administered Vision Mātauranga Capability Fund, project: Matching Haapu Knowledge with Machine Learning during the Construction of the IT Artefact explores how technology and tools like virtual reality can be used to empower indigenous people. 

“Te Ruapekapeka project came as a result of the trustees wanting to engage with technology, to better understand how technology can be used to retell some of the stories of Te Ruapekapeka Pa,” Kevin explains.

“With the advent of new and emerging technologies, we can explore how these tools can be harnessed to realise Māori aspirations for self-determined development.”

Te Ruapekapeka is one of Aotearoa’s most significant and best preserved pā sites. Located in Northland, it is a splendid example of early Māori engineering feats.

The pā was where the last battle of the Northern War took place, where about 400 Ngāpuhi and Ngāti Hine warriors stood against a combined British force of 1600 after the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi. The opening shots of this war marked the beginning of the wider North Island conflicts, often referred to as the New Zealand Land Wars.

Because of this history, the significance of Te Ruapekapeka to New Zealand extends far beyond the immediate Hāpu and Iwi – Representing a unique and sacred piece of Aotearoa New Zealand. “To me it’s not ownership, it’s kaitiaki,” says Te Ruapekapeka Trustee Marion Wikaire.

The project focused on 3 artefacts to recreate:

  • The Waharoa of Te Ruapekapeka (Carved gateway)
  • Carronade (Cannon)
  • Huia Bird

“By recreating these artefacts digitally, we now have the power to both tell and pass on knowledge to others. With both the carronade and huia bird destroyed or extinct, bringing them back to life through these tools is a big deal. I think we need to look at generations ahead,” says Te Ruapekapeka Trustee Phoebe Davis.

“One of the things talked about often is for it to be a world site heritage. And we’ve always had this dream that every Māori in the whole of Aotearoa has come to Ruapekapeka at least once in their lifetime.”

The project received government funding of $250,000 from the 2021 round of the Vision Matauranga Capability Fund.

Learn more:

Te Pūnaha Hihiko: Vision Mātauranga Capability Fund

Kevin Shedlock Profile(external link) — Victoria University of Wellington

Te Ruapekapeka home page(external link) — Ruapekapeka