3D printing brings kūmara history to life
Rangatahi (youth) in Rotorua have been printing 3D models of kūmara as part of rediscovering the importance of this sweet potato in history and today.
Ākonga (students) from Rotorua Boys High School have been exploring the true value of the humble kūmara in a project combining 3D technology with history, mātauranga (Māori knowledge), culture and science.
The project began in 2016 with kōrero (stories) about kūmara history and mātauranga, told by project leader Te Rangikaheke Kiripatea of Kai Rotorua, along with hands-on learning relating to growing and harvesting it.
Te Arawa stories tell of the kūmara voyage from Hawaiki (ancestral homeland) to Aotearoa in a kete (basket) carried by the woman Whakaotirangi. Despite trials at sea, most of the kūmara varieties stored in the kete made it to Maketū, and on to Mokoia Island in Lake Rotorua. There, kūmara flourished in the gardens of Te Arawa settlers.
Te Rangikaheke started this project because he believes that the simple activity of planting kūmara can be a tool to restore the young boys’ connection to Papatūānuku (Earth) – and can help them maintain a sense of themselves amongst today’s complicated and stressful lifestyles.
“Indigenous food is a great connector for these boys, it helps to stabilise them in their lives and presents challenges of its own, but they’re challenges that can be easily met. The idea is to allow the boys the opportunity to continue to engage in this process,” he explains.
This year, Kai Rotorua brought Scion on board to weave in a different science and technology angle through creating a 3D printing element to the project.
“We needed to reach our young men at another level and that meant taking their learning to that other level. Another sphere. Tapping into the science of it, where our students, including iwi Māori through them, remain connected to this taonga (treasure). Unbroken,” Te Rangikaheke says.
Materials scientist Roya Rezanavaz is leading Scion’s project team, bringing her unique experience in 3D modelling and printing complex shapes with different types of 3D printers.
“We want to provide students with a practical opportunity to engage in science and technology using their own cultural heritage and show them how to become a bridge between western science and mātauranga Māori,” Roya says.
After the students harvested the kūmara with Te Rangikaheke, they went on to take part in 3D modelling and 3D printing workshops led by Roya and her Scion colleagues Dawn Smith and Ali Nazmi.
The workshops enabled the students to understand how to use 3D modelling software, by using the harvested kūmara as examples for how to create and prepare a model for 3D printing.
The students all created their own virtual kūmara designs, which they then saw come to life when visiting Scion’s laboratories in Rotorua, where their designs were printed out in 3D using a corn-based natural plastic.
“I liked learning how to harvest kūmara out of the ground properly, knowing you don’t just rip it out of the ground and just learning what our ancestors back in the day did,” student Taipari Walkers says. “This [3D modelling] is my bread and butter - this is what I like doing. I’ve been enjoying learning about what I can do with computers and tech.”
Fellow student Jacob Rawles echoed his comments, “I like the link to the science and the Māori side. It’s cool to be part of the kaupapa (programme).”
Rotorua Boys High School Teacher Tiahomarama Fairhall said the project was of great help to the boys. “Just in this short time I have seen the benefits, especially in regard to the boys learning to harvest kūmara, learning how their ancestors grow and plant food and also adding the science of it.”
Kai Rotorua will display the printed models in their planned community food hub and kūmara museum, depicting the different varieties of kūmara brought to Aotearoa from Hawaiki.
Photos and story source: Scion
About the Project
This project is run by Kai Rotorua with support from Scion and the Unlocking Curious Minds contestible fund.
Read Roya Rezanavaz's Women in STEM profile to find out more about her experience in 3D printing at Scion.
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