Aspects of Maori history, Angela Ballara

Te Haurapa: An Introduction to Researching Tribal Histories and Traditions
Te Ahukaramu Charles Royal,
Bridget Williams Books and Historical Branch, Department of Internal Affairs, 1992, $17.95

He Rourou Iti: Selected speeches of Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu
Miria Simpson (ed),
Miria Simpson and Daphne Brasell Associates, 1992, $24.95

Nga Waka Maori: Maori Canoes
Anne Nelson,
MacMillan Company of New Zealand, 1991

Of the hundreds of books about Maori, those from which I, a Pakeha historian, can learn the most are written by Maori or dominated by their teaching. The difference derives from the perspective – from the inside rather than the outside. Two of three new books on Maori subjects, reviewed here, have that advantage. Te Ahukaramu Charles Royal is the author of Te Haurapa, an introduction to researching tribal history and tradition. It is one of the first two published in a series of research and publication guides, produced under the auspices of the Historical Publications Branch of Internal Affairs. Miria Simpson, in Te Rourou Iti, has commemorated the silver jubilee of Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu as leader of her people. Anne Nelson, author of Nga Waka Maori, presents Maori canoes through an informative text and superb illustrations.

It is significant that Royal and Simpson through Dame Te Ata have both quoted Sir Apirana Ngata’s famous proverb ‘E tipu, e rea’, for they have in common an urgent message to convey, similar to his. But where Simpson’s selection of Dame Te Ata’s gentle pleas for aroha are directed to Pakeha as well as Maori, Charles Royal, adopting the stance of the tangata wero (‘challenger’), addresses himself exclusively to Maori.

Royal’s book is important, primarily to Maori researchers, but also to New Zealand historiography. Perhaps because it is addressed exclusively to Maori neophytes in the complex and difficult world of coaxing exacting elders to impart traditional knowledge, it gives fascinating and instructive insights also to non-Maori readers. Not since Dame Joan Metge wrote Talking Past Each Other has there been in print so comprehensive a guide to the sensitivities which require attention not only when young Maori approach their elders, but also when Pakeha writers attempt to understand the concepts of mauri, wairua, mana and tapu, and the relationship of the Maori past to whakapapa.

This latter result may have been inadvertent. While Te Haurapa‘s subtitle might lead the reader to expect a guide for researchers of any ethnic background, it was written in fact ‘primarily for those Maori who are just beginning the journey into the world of their ancestors’. It is not apparent that Royal ever considered addressing a wider audience. Throughout the book there is an underlying assumption that only Maori should attempt to pursue the deeper knowledge of their iwi or hapu, and that such knowledge is tribal property. But should Pakeha researchers be excluded from the field of tribal history? How are they to interact with their neighbours and kin, the tangata whenua of Aotearoa and Te Waipounamu, unless they too study the diverse tribal traditions of the different regions? Without such study, Pakeha writers might continue to produce the static models, condemned by Royal, which assume the existence of ‘Maoritanga’ and something called ‘traditional Maori society’. While with justification Royal condemns the often insensitive and ill-informed works of many past writers, should he assume that all but a few ‘revisionist’ Pakeha will continue to repeat the mistakes of their predecessors?

These criticisms derive mainly from the title of the book. Within the text Royal has splendidly carried out his expressed and limited intention of providing a guide to help Maori researchers along the spiritual journey towards their ancestral past. He discusses research techniques, provides guides to the ethics and practice of oral history, sound advice on the use of libraries and other sources of knowledge, apposite warnings about the hazard involved in some of the materials available. This book should be read.

He Rourou Iti is the right name for Simpson’s compilation; the ‘small basket of a little knowledge, aroha and goodwill’ that Dame Te Ata herself presented in an address in 1990. Her speeches reveal the woman herself; gentle, compassionate, humorous, aware of trends, diplomatic, redolent of mana and the leadership qualities also displayed by her predecessors throughout the Kingitanga years. The speeches are addresses for great and small events, ranging from ‘a few suitable words’ to major reviews of the Kingitanga past and present. They display a distinct progression, not only over time (from 1977 to 1991), but of her understanding of her own role and the changing issues faced by Maori and Pakeha. The book’s attraction would have been increased with better cover design and more illustrations. Sections of a few of the speeches contain little of lasting interest; their inclusion mars a commemorative publication otherwise well presented.

Anne Nelson has given us a beautifully illustrated and informative book about Maori canoes. In including traditional Moriori craft she has continued the practice of her predecessor, Elsdon Best, who included in his 1925 volume, The Maori Canoe, not only discussions about Moriori craft but also non-Polynesian canoe technology. There is a sense of struggle in this book; scholarship is warring with journalism. Nelson has attempted to fit two books into a limited space; one, a scholarly dissertation on the origins, roles and developments of Maori canoes over time; the other, a sensitive but journalistic report on the tremendous efforts to construct a fleet of Maori canoes, both traditional and innovative, in time for the 1990 Treaty of Waitangi celebrations. While the second objective has not suffered, and provides an important record of that unique phenomenon, the first has some surprising gaps. Chronology is disconcertingly ignored; strict editing would have improved matters. But this book will be an excellent source for students at many levels. Like its subjects, the canoes of yesterday and today, it will be a valued taonga.


Angela Ballara is a writer and editor for the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography.


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