Story: Māori non-fiction and scholarship – ngā tuhinga me te rangahau

Beginning with letters written to politicians and Māori newspapers in the 19th century, Māori non-fiction has included tribal histories, academic publications and biographies.

Story by Basil Keane
Main image: Golan Maaka's sketches, made while a student at Te Aute College

Story summary

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Letters and newspapers

Māori were introduced to written language by missionaries, and soon began writing letters. They wrote to politicians and to Queen Victoria, hoping to influence government policy. Māori also wrote many letters to Māori-language newspapers, about topics such as land, war and the Kīngitanga (Māori King movement). Māori-owned newspapers gave Māori an editorial voice.

Traditions and tribal histories

In the mid-19th century Māori began to write down their traditions and tribal histories. Many later wrote for the Journal of the Polynesian Society. Tribal histories have often been written by Pākehā, but some were also produced by Māori.

Academic writing

From the late 19th century Apirana Ngata and Te Rangi Hīroa (Peter Buck) published papers in the proceedings of conferences of Te Aute College Students’ Association. Both continued to write about Māori culture and traditions. Mākereti Papakura studied anthropology at Oxford University in England, and her thesis was published as The old-time Maori.

Later Māori academics included Maharaia Winiata, Bruce Biggs and Linda Tuhiwai Smith. In the 2000s Māori involvement in academic research and writing continued to grow.

Reference works and translations

The 19th-century Māori-language translation of the Bible was revised by a mostly Māori committee in the mid-20th century. Another committee revised the Williams Māori dictionary. The Ngata dictionary was published in 1993.

Pei Te Hurinui Jones translated several of Shakespeare’s plays into Māori.

Protest and activism

Non-fiction emerged from the Māori protest movement of the 1970s and 1980s. Books included Donna Awatere’s Māori sovereignty, Hugh Kawharu’s collection of perspectives on the Treaty of Waitangi, and Ranginui Walker’s Ka whawhai tonu mātou: struggle without end. Walker was also a columnist for the New Zealand Listener and Metro magazine.


The Dictionary of New Zealand biography published in the 1990s included biographies of Māori that were often written by relatives. Other recent biographies include Bradford Haami’s biography of his tipuna (ancestor) Doctor Golan Maaka, Ranginui Walker’s biography of Apirana Ngata, and Tania Ka’ai’s biography of composer Ngoi Pēwhairangi.

How to cite this page:

Basil Keane, 'Māori non-fiction and scholarship – ngā tuhinga me te rangahau', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 19 April 2024)

Story by Basil Keane, published 22 October 2014