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

Page 2. Māori traditions and tribal histories

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Te Rangikāheke

In the mid-19th century Māori began to write down their traditions and tribal histories. One of the best-known of these writers is Wiremu Maihi Te Rangikāheke, who has been described as New Zealand’s earliest professional historian. The prolific Te Rangikāheke produced 21 manuscripts of which he was the sole author, and contributed to 17 more – nearly 800 pages in total. His writings were the basis of most of the prose material in George Grey’s Ko nga moteatea, me nga hakirara o nga Maori (1853) and around a quarter of Ko nga mahinga a nga tupuna Maori (1854) and its translation, Polynesian mythology (1855).

John White

From the mid-19th century, author John White paid Māori to write down their traditions in te reo Māori (the Māori language). Many writers took advantage of this offer, and various histories from around the country were recorded. Writers included Hoani Meihana Te Rangiotū, Te Whatahoro Jury and Hāmiora Pio. Much of the information given was subject to negotiations and conditions. In other cases, writers refused to supply information, or their whānau or iwi refused for them.

Journal of the Polynesian Society

Many Māori also wrote for the Journal of the Polynesian Society, established in 1892. Some of the first Māori contributors to the journal included Hare Hongi, also known as Henry Stowell (Ngāpuhi), Hoani Tunuiārangi (Ngāti Kahungunu), Timi Waata Rimini, Tutu Tamari, Te Kāhui Kararehe (Taranaki), Hoani Nahe and Takaanui Tarakawa (Te Arawa).

Māori tribal histories

Tribal histories were often written by Pākehā. However, some iwi histories were authored by Māori, generally members of that tribe.

In early 1900, as a result of concerns about loss of traditional knowledge, a committee was formed to oversee tribal traditions in Wairarapa. Te Komiti Tūpai o Tānenuiarangi considered a number of documents and confirmed them as tribal history.

In 1944 Tiaki Mitchell wrote about Ngāti Kahungunu in his book Takitimu. In the same year Apirana Ngata’s Rauru-nui-a-toi lectures and Ngati Kahungunu origins was published. A limited edition was reprinted in 1972. Pei Te Hurinui Jones’s Māori-language history of Tainui was published posthumously in 1995.

Contemporary tribal histories

Ruka Broughton’s masters thesis (1979) was on Ngā Rauru, his iwi, while his writings on war leader Tītokowaru were published posthumously in 1993. Both were in Māori. Wiremu Wi Hongi and Pat Hohepa worked with Jeff Sissons to write about Ngāpuhi in The puriri trees are laughing (1987). Rongowhakaata Halbert’s history of the East Coast, Horouta, was published posthumously in 1999. Ranginui Walker’s Ōpōtiki-mai-tawhiti: capital of Whakatōhea (2007) was a history of Te Whakatōhea, while Tony Sole’s Ngāti Ruanui: a history was published in 2005. Te Maire Tau and Atholl Anderson edited Ngāi Tahu: a migration history (2008).

How to cite this page:

Basil Keane, 'Māori non-fiction and scholarship – ngā tuhinga me te rangahau - Māori traditions and tribal histories', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 29 March 2023)

Story by Basil Keane, published 22 Oct 2014