Story: Ngā tamariki

Page 4. Māori childhood changes

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Te Aute students

In the 20th century members of Te Aute College Students’ Association (later the Young Māori Party), led by Apirana Ngata, challenged Māori youth to take leadership roles in improving the welfare and living conditions of Māori families and children. Their slogan was ‘Ka pū te rūhā, ka hao te rangatahi’ (the old net is cast aside, the new net goes fishing).

E tipu e rea


In 1949 Apirana Ngata wrote in the autograph book of schoolgirl Rangi Bennett, ‘E tipu, e rea, mo nga ra o tou ao, ko to ringa ki nga rakau a te Pakeha hei ora mo te tinana, ko to ngakau ki nga taonga a o tipuna Maori hei tikitiki mo to mahuna, a ko to wairua ki to Atua, nana nei nga mea katoa.’ (Thrive in the days destined for you, your hand to the tools of the Pākehā to provide physical sustenance, your heart to the treasures of your ancestors to adorn your head, your soul to God to whom all things belong.) This became much quoted as a vision for Māori youth.


Urban migration

Large-scale Māori migration from rural to urban areas during the mid-20th century further disrupted traditional patterns of child-rearing. Native schools were based in rural and mainly Māori districts, and became less important to Māori education as their pupils migrated to towns and cities. Parents of young children found themselves living in unfamiliar and often cramped urban surroundings, far from their relatives and facing new social expectations from mainly non-Māori neighbours and landlords. In these difficult circumstances, many traditional child-rearing practices either disappeared or were greatly adapted. The effect of these social changes, combined with the generally low economic status of Māori people, meant that Māori children had poorer health and worse rates of accidents and youth suicide than non-Māori. The Māori Women’s Welfare League was formed by Māori women to address issues of housing and health.

Child abuse

Experts on tikanga Māori agree that incest (kai-whiore or ngau-whiore) and rape (pāwhera) are abhorrent to traditional Māori values. Until the period of mass urban migration by Māori, the physical or sexual abuse of children was limited both by these traditional values and by the constant presence of other adults. However by the early 21st century the rate of sexual and physical abuse of Māori children was nearly 12 per 1,000, double the rate for non-Māori. In some cases offenders were tried on a marae, rather than in a court, and their sentences have included traditional punishments such as losing speaking rights on their marae. In 2007 Māori, led by Dr Hone Kaa, began to develop a strategy to end child abuse, forming Ngā Mana Ririki (the power of the little ones).

Working with offenders

A 1988 Department of Social Welfare report, Puao te ata tu, called for a system for dealing with young Māori offenders that recognised Māori customs, values and beliefs. The resulting Children, Young Persons and their Families Act 1989 required social workers to consider the views of a Māori child’s whānau, hapū and iwi. The family group conference, in which extended families work with welfare professionals to plan safe outcomes for their children, became the basis for state decision-making on the care or protection of children. These conferences, first introduced in New Zealand, were later adopted in other countries.

Te reo Māori

In response to evidence in the 1970s that Māori was becoming an endangered language, Māori kaumātua (elders) formed Te Kōhanga Reo (Māori-language pre-school). The first kōhanga opened in Wainuiomata in 1982. This was followed by the development of Kura Kaupapa Māori and Whare Kura (Māori-language primary and secondary schools). A speech competition, Te Korimako (later Ngā Manu Kōrero), encouraged children to pursue excellence in the language.


Young Māori have had notable success in national and international sports. Lui Paewai was the youngest ever All Black rugby player at 17, on a famous side known as the Invincibles. George Nepia was another notable young rugby player. A side from Te Aute College won the Moascar Cup for secondary schools rugby in 1979. The Silver Ferns national netball team has also had prominent young Māori players, including Louisa Wall who joined the team at 17 years old. Michael Campbell played in Māori golf tournaments as a youth and went on to win the US Open in 2005.


Iwi and hapū have many initiatives to assist Māori children. Tribes offer scholarships to descendants for secondary and tertiary education. The Tūhoe tribe run Te Hui Ahurei giving youth the opportunity to return to their traditional lands and participate in tribal traditions. Other tribes also offer youth opportunities to immerse themselves in tribal language and culture.

How to cite this page:

Rawinia Higgins me Paul Meredith, 'Ngā tamariki - Māori childhood changes', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 12 December 2023)

Story by Rawinia Higgins me Paul Meredith, published 5 May 2011