Are you a Fire Keeper or Fire Seeker? Maori Innovators and Entrepreneurs

One thing I worry about us as a Maori people, is our sometimes inward focus and navel gazing tendancies. I don’t want to completely dismiss this practice as there is importance in ‘loving’ ourselves but we sometimes take this too far. The all-knowing Google defines navel-gazing as;

self-indulgent or excessive contemplation of oneself or a single issues, at the expense of a wider view

I get that we are awesome (and we are), but this constant inward focus at ourselves needs to be balanced (key word here is balance) and recognized that we live in a globalized world, and globalization is a serious threat to our existence and survival.

Globalisation can seek to encroach us in two ways. The first risk is our culture and language being completely consumed by western society and secondly our economic security is vulnerable due to our somewhat low status in certain factions of our society. How do we combat these things?

Innovators and entrepreneurs are now seen as a key aspect to our survival and can help to keep pushing back the invading tendencies of globalisation. The beauty of these concepts, is that they encourage the people themselves to find opportunities for development. This is quite different from past government strategies of development (colonization, assimilation and dependency for example) which sought to eradicate our ways of being. But our situation differs from mainstream, we are essentially fighting two fights and therefore we need two approaches…Fire Keepers and Fire Seekers!

Fire Keepers: Ahi Kaa Entrepreneurs and Innovators

Ahi Kaa is the cultural concept that explains our people who look after the homefront. They keep the home fires burning. These types of people are what I call inward focused innovators and entrepreneurs. They are important because they help to combat and fight against the disappearance of cultural taonga. They focus on rebuilding, maintaining, care taker responsibilities that look after our cultural capital and traditional values associated with whakapapa, whenua and whanau. These might include marae development initiatives, innovative reo strategies, digital application for things such as kapahaka, mau rakau, tikanga etc. It is imperative we look after our Ahi Kaa Entrepreneurs and Innovators because they take care of the heart and soul of our culture.

Fire Seekers: Ahi Kimi Entrepreneurs and Innovators

However, it is extremely important that our communities are not be developed in isolation with our external environment, it must be connected, advanced alongside and in connection with it. Maori society must have and design systems that integrate with it (not to be confused with being absorbed by it). Not enough emphasis is given to this.

The rate of change has increased dramatically with modernisation and this is especially evident within technology and innovation industries. These are hyper-competitive environments. To survive we need an adaptive and flexible culture that responds to change. Responding to change is helped by searching and seeking activities, and this is why fire seekers are important. Fire seekers are the modern day Maui, who go out there and into the big wide world and play with fire!

We tend to validate and give more emphasis to Fire Keepers and their work, and it is important work. But what needs to compliment it, is the work of Fire Seekers. Even when they are involved in businesses and products that appear to have no connection to Te Ao Maori, they still bring beneficial spillover effects into our communities. Fire Seekers explore and scan the environment, they bring information and messages back to our communities about what is happening out there in the world especially when the reach of our tribal eyes and ears are limited to what happening with Iwi or whanau politics. They bring new and fresh thinking into our tribal dynamics. They bring new connections, diverse relationships and social capital that we might not otherwise have access too.

In an ideal world our Fire Keepers and Fire Seekers interplay and are in constant communication with each other, each feeding into the other, to create a virtuous upward spiral of positive development.

So which one are you? Fire Keeper or Fire Seeker, maybe you are talented and are both! We need to develop the culture of Fire Keeping and Fire Seeking and build communication between the two. I encourage you to develop and ignite your entrepreneurial fire. To get involved in innovation and entrepreneurship means you believe in a better future. Entrepreneurship and innovation is actually another way of expressing hope for the future and if there is one thing our communities could do with more of, its hope.


8 thoughts on “Are you a Fire Keeper or Fire Seeker? Maori Innovators and Entrepreneurs

  1. I’m up for the exploration you promise in your intro. In this blog you offer the idea of fire keeping or fire seeking. It is my offering to the debate that we are inherently both. Traversing the great oceans of Moana A Kiwa to begin again because of the limitations our homeland is indeed both entrepreneurial and innovative. A deliberate decision which ensured the survival of our people. And along the way great additions to our culture story. Our contribution to the world wars and the legacy of the 28th Maori Battalion further supports my view. Except not many would have realised the long term effects of our desire to pay the price of citizenship. This act of fire seeking had devastating and long lasting affect on our culture, language and leadership.
    Fire keeping or fire seeking are concepts which accompany our own cultural journey. Otherwise I might suggest that it is more opportunitism you offer as opposed to the the concept of ahi Kaka or ahi kimi. I definitely agree that our survival and development must compliment what is happening around us locally and globally. Like Maui and others of our cultural icons, we have much to offer and much of this is based on our cultural foundations made available today because of the Ahi Kaa, and the basis for launching into the world of opportunity.
    Des Ratima

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Kia Ora Des

      Totally agree with you that we are inherently both. But sometimes those who are doing seeking activities, that don’t appear to be directly influencing the kaupapa are dismissed as not being Maori (enough).


      1. Kia ora ano, I have certainly witnessed how our people who are learning te Reo and any mispronounciation or sentence structure error brings out the Reo police to openly challenge and correct. I guess that might be an example of not being Maori enough.
        Maori as described by the individual supported by their whakapapa, are a privileged people. Maori who are described as either a fire keeper or seeker is not a whakapapa concept, rather it is a responsibility placed on people that demonstrate their skills and passion and are recognised by the hapu and therefore undertake the roles.
        There are many other tikanga that can be beneficial to the Whanau and hapu. Karakia, mahia nga kai, whakairo, raranga, oratory. Each has components of keeper and seeker. Then we are able to cross the language line to converse in English or any other language where we would also understands their culture, government and financial systems.
        Keeper or seeker is a personal choice supported by the hapu.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. What, if we dont identify as either? Not saying people arent one or the other but rather its how they make sense of it in their own diverse realities. I pondered on this and asked 3 people which one are you? Two identified being one or both the other said neither. This of course facilitated a whole other discussion (great discussion).


      1. maybe we need to define that, these are pretty successful Maori 2 living in Oz and have a number of successful projects and businesses. I wouldnt call myself an entrepreneur although i have a couple of successful business projects but i can fit both categories. Food4thought

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Being a Maori who has lived off shore in Australia and for 30 years now in the US, I finally feel that someone has duplicated how I see things, how I fell things and how I understand things -UTTERLY!

    I am an entrepreneur/ businessman and all that you define as a “Fire seeker”, when I go back home – (try to every year), it blows me away the opportunity that folk just let slide by. Drives me nuts. Here you fullas are living in paradise and all my cusses are telling me they are “Lost”!! It seems they want to live like the guys from “straight out of Compton” and when I talk to the guys in Compton, all they dream about is to live like the guys back home@?
    &$!! People we got a serious orientation problem. The compass is broke, stuck or something. This article just gave it a big enough whack that it might just start working again. For Maoridoms sake, let’s hope it gets it going again!


  4. Yes, a great debate. Please consider all points above are important and need to be performed by people. The right leadership will orchestrate an operational organization that allows for the internal and external functions to be actually performed. There is no option one or the other both must be done to maintain Maori Culture.
    Each Individual is important, and it is OK to be proud of your heritage and elegantly carry the wisdoms from that in to the future.
    There is a lot of value in that. Take the best of any generation and we all benefit from that.


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