Using traditional knowledge to preserve information about natural hazards

Japan and Matatā township are examples of traditional knowledge being used to preserve information about natural hazards.


4 min read

Photography Wikimedia Commons

Japan’s tsunami stones

Japan has a long history of earthquakes and tsunamis due to its position on the Pacific ‘Ring of Fire’. Its coastline is dotted with stone tablets that record the extent of previous tsunami damage. Some tsunami stones are over 600 years old.

A tsunami stone in Aneyoshi, a small coastal village, provides a straightforward warning:

“Remember the calamity of the great tsunamis. Do not build any homes below this point.”250 It was erected after a previous tsunami destroyed the village. Because the village didn’t rebuild below the level, Aneyoshi was left unharmed by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, which caused extensive damage along the Japanese coast.251

Matatā township flooding

The Matatā area in the Bay of Plenty is home to a major reserve with native birdlife, the Awatarariki and Waitepuru Streams, and a small township. Local pūrākau (myth/legend) warned that a taniwha resided there that had a long, sinuous body, and that it went down to the Bay of Plenty and cautioned those who wanted to live there to “beware of the taniwha’s flicking tail”.

In 2005, as predicted by the pūrākau, the taniwha vigorously flicked its tail. The resulting flood and landslide from the Awatarariki and Waitepuru Streams inundated Matatā township, triggering a managed retreat from the locality. Dozens of buildings were rendered uninhabitable but none of the three marae in Matatā were affected.252 In February 2021, the Bay of Plenty Regional Council and Whakatāne District Council approved a plan change to end human habitation in locations affected by the 2005 flood and landslide.