Story: Fiction

Page 10. Māori and Pacific writers and writing about Māori

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Pākehā writers on Māori topics

Roderick Finlayson developed close relationships with Māori in the Bay of Plenty while working as a farm labourer in the 1930s. He published Brown man’s burden, a collection of stories sympathetic to Māori culture and society, in 1938. A second collection of stories, Sweet Beulah land (1942), was followed by his novel Tidal creek in 1948. Finlayson’s stories are precursors to work by Māori writers like Witi Ihimaera and Patricia Grace.

Noel Hilliard’s five novels and three collections of short stories, the best-known of which was Maori girl (1960), depict the collision between Pākehā racism and western capitalism, and Māori values, such as communalism. Hilliard’s fiction was commercially successful and Maori girl was translated into Russian.

Te Ao Hou

Te Ao Hou, a bilingual journal published by the Māori Affairs Department, was responsible for encouraging Māori writing in the 1950s and 1960s. Prominent writers included J. C. Sturm, Hirini Moko Mead, Pei Te Hurinui Jones, Kingi Ihaka, Rowley Habib and Patricia Grace.

Witi Ihimaera

By 2013 Witi Ihimaera (Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki, Rongowhakaata) had published 15 novels and numerous collections of stories, and edited significant anthologies of Māori writing. In 1972 he published Pounamu, pounamu, the first book of short stories by a Māori writer. Ihimaera followed with two novels, Tangi (1973) and Whanau (1974).

In the 1980s, after 10 years in which Ihimaera abstained from writing, his fiction became overtly political and more diverse. The matriarch (1986) traverses five generations of Māori history under colonisation; The whale rider (1987), about a young girl’s kinship with her ancestors, won international acclaim; Bulibasha (1994) is a Māori western which subverts western stereotypes; Nights in the gardens of Spain (1995) is a novel about coming out as gay.

Patricia Grace

Patricia Grace (Ngāti Toa, Ngāti Raukawa, Te Āti Awa) is another key figure in Māori writing in English. By 2013 she had published seven novels, a number of story collections and several children’s books and received critical and popular acclaim.

Waiariki (1975) was the first story collection by a Māori woman writer. Potiki (1986) won the New Zealand Book Award for fiction. The importance of Grace’s work to Māori and to readers around the world has been recognised with the 2008 Neustadt International Prize for Literature.

Keri Hulme and Alan Duff

The best-known of the Māori writers who followed in the wake of Ihimaera and Grace are Keri Hulme (Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Māmoe) and Alan Duff (Ngāti Rangitihi, Tūwharetoa).

Woman power

the bone people owes its existence to a feminist publishing collective, Spiral, who handset the first edition after Hulme rejected the desire of more mainstream publishers to edit the manuscript.

Keri Hulme’s the bone people (1983), a mystical, semi-autobiographical and savagely realist novel set on the West Coast of the South Island, won the Booker Prize in 1985.

Alan Duff’s first novel, Once were warriors (1990), describes the impoverished and violent lives of Māori gang members and their families. It is a searing indictment of violence and the conditions in which it thrives. The novel was made into a widely acclaimed film and has never been out of print. Duff published a number of novels subsequently, including two which continued the narrative of the Heke family from Once were warriors, but none received the acclaim of his first book.

New Māori writers and Pacific writers

New Māori fiction writers who have appeared in the 2000s include Paula Morris, Alice Tawhai, Kelly Ana Morey, Tina Makereti and James George. Their work was partly fostered by the active Māori literary and publishing environment, which has also assisted the development of Pacific writers such as Sia Figiel.

The most prominent Pacific writer is Albert Wendt. Sons for the return home (1973) describes the experience of a young Samoan man in New Zealand. Wendt’s subsequent nine novels and short-story collections have been instrumental in shaping a Pacific literature in English, especially in its evolution from oral to written form. His long and influential career was recognised with the Prime Minister’s Award for Fiction for 2012.

How to cite this page:

Lydia Wevers, 'Fiction - Māori and Pacific writers and writing about Māori', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/fiction/page-10 (accessed 22 May 2019)

Story by Lydia Wevers, published 22 Oct 2014, updated 19 Aug 2015