Commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy

Knowledge Baskets

The IUCN Commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy (CEESP) was first approached to lead the development of IUCN’s first two social science flagship knowledge products (the Natural Resource Governance Framework (NRGF) and the Human Dependency on Nature Framework, now renamed as People in Nature (PiN), in 2011.The then CEESP Chair Aroha Te Pareake Mead, agreed but sought a different way than ‘knowledge product’ to conceptualise what the Commission’s contribution would be.

At a 2012 IUCN technical workshop, participants welcomed IUCN’s readiness to enable the social sciences to contribute more directly to the important work of IUCN. Reaction to the ‘People in Nature’ was supportive of the need to look more closely at the vulnerability of communities, in addition to and as part of ecological vulnerability, and to empower communities to make better choices for the sustainability of their own livelihoods. At the same workshop IUCN was cautioned about seeing and valuing knowledge in a broader context than as products1. The idea of using knowledge baskets as a way of describing how Commission volunteers could contribute to the development of the two social science projects, as well as of enabling IUCN to look beyond a commoditised ‘product’ format was first mooted at the Bellagio Meeting.

The term ‘knowledge baskets’ is inspired by the Maori tradition of the God Tane’s ascent through the twelve heavens to bring back to earth, three baskets of Knowledge. There are several versions of the story ranging from detailed descriptions of all the trials and tribulations Tane endured as he ascended through the twelve heavens, to more simplified versions which speak more generally of the journey and the significance of the knowledge baskets once brought back to earth.

For IUCN’s work on knowledge baskets and flagship products, the term knowledge basket is a metaphor for working in a holistic way, valuing ethical respectful and reciprocal relationships as well as investing in the human social and cultural dimensions of environmental knowledge. Baskets have meaning across indigenous cultures, almost of all of whom have traditions around using baskets for functional earthly purposes as well as for sacred purposes.

The story of Tane and the three baskets of knowledge was presented to two sessions of IUCN Council as well as to two meetings of the Steering Committee of CEESP. At its’ 82nd meeting, the IUCN Council recognized the data underlying IUCN’s flagship knowledge products as global goods and also recognised that these same knowledge products are supported by standards, processes, relationships, capacity building and tools in baskets of knowledge mobilised through IUCN2. The term knowledge baskets now has currency across IUCN as well as being the approach to the work of CEESP on the NRGF and PiN. Use of the term ‘knowledge basket’ marks an important milestone in IUCN, as it involves not only incorporating a traditional knowledge concept into IUCN’s policy framework but also provides greater scope for people throughout the global indigenous conservation community to contribute to IUCN’s important scientific work.

Tane and the Three Baskets of Knowledge

Tāne’s journey to the heavens is reflected in the following ritual chant and story:

This is the journey of sacred footsteps
Journeyed about the earth journeyed about the heavens
The journey of the ancestral god Tānenuiarangi
Who ascended into the heavens to Te Tihi-o-Manono
Where he found the parentless source
From there he retrieved the baskets of knowledge
Te kete-tuauri
Te kete-tuatea
Te kete-aronui
These were distributed and implanted about the earth
From which came human life
Growing from dim light to full light
There was life. 
Tēnei au te hōkai nei o taku tapuwae
Ko te hōkai nuku ko te hōkai rangi
Ko te hōkai a tō tupuna a Tānenui-a-rangi
Ka pikitia ai ki te rangi tūhāhā ki te Tihi-o-Manono
Ka rokohina atu rā ko Te Matua-kore anake
Ka tīkina mai ngā kete o te wānanga
Ko te kete-tuauri
Ko te kete-tuatea
Ko te kete-aronui
Ka tiritiria ka poupoua
Ka puta mai iho ko te ira tangata
Ki te wheiao ki te ao mārama
Tihei-mauri ora!3

Tane was the God of the Forests and all that dwells within them. To acquire the baskets of knowledge, Tāne had to ascend to the twelfth heaven, and there be ushered into the presence of the Supreme God, Io-matua-kore, to request knowledge.. The request was granted. According to Maori tradition knowledge came before humanity. The three baskets of knowledge are usually called te kete tuauri, te kete tuatea and te kete aronui. 

Te kete Tuauri (sacred knowledge) is the basket that contains knowledge of things unknown - rituals, incantations and prayers. Well respected Maori elder and scholar, Rev. Maori Marsden describes tuauri as the real world of the complex series of rhythmical patterns of energy which operate beyond this world of sense perception.

Te kete Tuatea (Ancestral knowledge) is the basket that holds knowledge beyond space and time, beyond our contemporary experiences – it is the experience we have of connections with one another and with the past, knowledge of spiritual realities.

Te kete Aronui (knowledge before us) the basket of knowledge of aroha (love), peace and the arts and crafts which benefit the Earth and all living This basket relates to knowledge acquired through careful observation of the environment. Sometimes it has been regarded as the basket of literature, philosophy and of the humanities.

Wisdom requires that the three types of knowledge should be used together, never one in isolation of the other.

 Aroha Te Pareake Mead
Ngati Awa, Ngati Porou
Chair, CEESP (2008-2016)

 [1 ]Report of the Technical Workshop ‘ Strengthening the Role of Science in the Implementation of the IUCN Programme 2013-2016, 4-7 December 2012, Bellagio Center, Italy, pgs. 8-10
[2]Council decision C/82/13 ‘Flagship Knowledge products mobilized through IUCN’
[3] Te Ara Aotearoa, The Encyclopedia of New Zealand


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