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

Page 6. Writers of biography

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There have been few Māori writers of biography. At the centennial in 1940, Guy Scholefield, the author of the 1940 Dictionary of New Zealand biography (volume 1, volume 2), commented that he hoped that ‘while the material is still accessible from the old men and women and the tohungas, scholars of the Maori race will devote their attention to a comprehensive Maori biography’.1

Early biographies by Māori

In 1949, with the aid of the New Zealand Literary Fund, Rēweti Kōhere published The story of a Maori chief, a biography of his grandfather, Mōkena Kōhere. In 1951 he published The autobiography of a Maori. Both books were in English. In 1961 Pei Te Hurinui Jones published Puhiwahine: Māori poetess. However, most Māori biographies were written by Pākehā.

Later 20th century

In 1976 Amiria: the life story of a Māori woman appeared, attributed to Amiria Manutahi Stirling, as told to Anne Salmond. Eruera: the teachings of a Māori elder (1980) was similarly attributed to Eruera Stirling as told to Salmond. Composer Ngoi Pēwhairangi compiled biographical material about her mentor (and aunt) Tuini Ngāwai, published in 1985 as Tuini: her life and her songs in 1985. Buddy Mikaere’s biography of the prophet Te Maiharoa, Te Maiharoa and the promised land, was published in 1988.

Cup attack

In 1998 Benjamin Nathan, also known as Peneamine Natana-Patuawa, published Tino rangatiratanga: a political autobiography, a memoir focused on his role in attacking and damaging the America’s Cup.

Dictionary of New Zealand biography

The Dictionary of New Zealand biography (DNZB), published from the 1990s, included a significant number of biographies written by Māori, usually relatives of the subjects. There was often close consultation with whānau. The biography of Ngāti Porou war hero Te Moananui-a-Kiwa Ngārimu was written by Whai Ngata. Rewi Maniapoto’s biography was written by Mānuka Hēnare, while Pou Temara produced the biography of Tūhoe composer Mihi-ki-te-kapua.

Recent biographies

Many recent biographies were written by a close relative of the subject. In 1995 Bradford Haami published Dr Golan Maaka: Maori doctor, a book about his tipuna (ancestor). Awatere: a soldier’s story, by Arapeta Awatere, was edited for publication by his granddaughter, Hinemoa Ruataupare Awatere, and published in 2003.

Ranginui Walker’s biography of Sir Apirana Ngata appeared in 2001. In 2007 Paul Diamond’s book on Maggie Papakura, kereti: taking Māori to the world, was published. In 2008 Tania Ka’ai’s Ngoingoi Pēwhairangi: A remarkable life followed the biography she had written for the DNZB. In the same year, Ranginui Walker published Pakariki Harrison, the story of a master carver. Joe Pere’s book on his tipuna, the politician Wiremu Pere, appeared in 2010.

  1. G. H. Scholefield, ed., Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Wellington: Department of Internal Affairs, 1940, pp. xiv-xv. Back
How to cite this page:

Basil Keane, 'Māori non-fiction and scholarship – ngā tuhinga me te rangahau - Writers of biography', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 10 December 2023)

Story by Basil Keane, published 22 Oct 2014