Story: Māori Studies – ngā tari Māori

Page 3. Māori studies at Auckland University

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Maharaia Winiata

The eventual catalyst for Māori studies to become part of tertiary education was the migration of Māori to cities from tribal hinterlands, and the problems of social dislocation and youth offending that resulted. In 1946 a Māori adult education advisory subcommittee persuaded the Regional Council of Adult Education in Auckland to appoint a tutor to teach Māori arts, crafts, language and folklore to urban migrants. Maharaia Winiata, the first tutor-organiser for Māori adult education, was appointed in 1949.

Matiu Te Hau

Winiata used his tribal networks to establish classes in the southern half of the University of Auckland district, which encompassed Waikato and the Bay of Plenty. The demand for classes led to the appointment of Matiu Te Hau in 1952 to service the northern half of the district.

Responding to community needs

Te Hau and Winiata responded to community needs by establishing classes in Māori language, culture, health, education and land development. They also established a wānanga – a school of Māori arts and crafts – to teach carving and weaving skills that were then used in the renovation and decoration of ancestral houses in tribal areas.

Māori Leadership Conference

One of the most influential projects undertaken by Te Hau and Winiata was the revival of the Young Māori Leaders’ Conference at Auckland University in 1959. The conference drew in delegates from Māori communities in the top half of the North Island. Discussion focused on Māori language education, health, housing and land development.

Further community conferences

The stimulation the conference provided created a desire to spread its influence to the grassroots – Māori in rural communities. Conferences were subsequently held at Kaitāia, Ngāruawāhia, Whakatāne and Gisborne in 1960, and at Tauranga, Taupō, Rotorua and Wairoa in 1961. At these conferences university lecturers in law, anthropology, Māori studies and adult education were active participants, sharing information and recording discussions. Their presence enhanced the mana of the university in Māori esteem.

The long and the short of it

Bruce Biggs, New Zealand’s first Māori language lecturer, was of Māori descent but learned Māori as a second language. As a teacher, he was a leading proponent of double vowels (for example, ngaati) rather than macrons (as in ngāti) to denote long vowels in written Māori. This method became increasingly unpopular among other writers and readers of Māori, and the Māori Language Commission eventually established the macron as standard.

Bruce Biggs

In 1951 Professor Ralph Piddington, head of the Anthropology Department at the University of Auckland, appointed Bruce Biggs as lecturer in Māori language. The professor of French argued that Māori was not a language of scholarship because it was an oral and not a written language. In response Bruce Biggs fetched from the university library Māori textbooks including Ngā mōteatea, Nga mahi a ngā tupuna, Te paipera tapu and many others including Te haerenga o te manene, the Māori translation of The pilgrim’s progress.

Professor Piddington moved the motion for Māori language to be taught in the Anthropology Department. He argued that teaching the native tongue was essential to the discipline of anthropology. The successful passage of the motion finally brought into reality the university senate’s 1929 decision for Māori to be a subject for the bachelor of arts degree. In 1991 Māori studies at Auckland separated from anthropology to become an independent department.

First bachelor of arts in Māori language

At the outset, the core business of Māori studies at Auckland University was teaching te reo Māori (the Māori language). The programme was underpinned by knowledge about language learning that Biggs had gained from his PhD in linguistics at the University of Indiana in 1957. His model for teaching the language, as set out in his textbook Let’s learn Maori, was well suited to second-language learners of Māori.

Addition of Māori cultural studies

The admission of Māori language into the university paved the way for the introduction of the study of Māori culture. Māori studies came to include kawa o te marae (marae protocol), whaikōrero (oratory), waiata (songs and chants), myths, tribal traditions, material culture, and the arts of whakairo (carving), tukutuku (woven panels) and raranga (weaving).

Māori studies was later extended to include contemporary topics such as Māori politics, the Māori response to colonisation, Māori resource management, indigenous studies, the Treaty of Waitangi and the settlement of Māori land claims against the Crown.

How to cite this page:

Ranginui Walker, 'Māori Studies – ngā tari Māori - Māori studies at Auckland University', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 11 December 2023)

Story by Ranginui Walker, published 22 Oct 2014