Story: Te Ara – a history

Page 5. Māori content, biculturalism and translation

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The path to a bicultural reference work

From the inception of Te Ara its general editor, Jock Phillips, had a strong desire to see Māori cultural and intellectual knowledge appropriately reflected in the encyclopedia. He decided to seek advice from the Māori community, and two hui were held. The first was at Auckland University, organised by Manuka Henare. The second was at Massey University in Palmerston North, organised by Mason Durie. Taiarahia Black and Monty Soutar were important contributors. The hui recommended that Te Ara follow the Dictionary of New Zealand biography and Historical atlas models, both of which incorporated a Māori advisory committee.

Te Ara Wānanga

A Māori advisory committee was set up under the leadership of Ranginui Walker. At one of the early meetings Wharehuia Milroy made a call to arms for the committee, noting its role was ‘keeping the canoes in battle formation to reach our destination’.1 An early task of the committee was to assist in employing a Māori editor. The inaugural Māori editor was Rangi McGarvey, who was succeeded by Basil Keane in early 2005. The committee was also responsible for the name 'Te Ara' for the encyclopedia.

Wētā, ferns and treasures

Te Ara Wānanga considered a number of options for names for the encyclopedia. These included Ngā Wētā (Wētās), Tātai Hikohiko (Digital genealogies), Rarauhe Hiriwa (Silver fern), Te Mātāpuna (The source) and Te Kura Nui (The great treasure). On the final shortlist were Ngā Pakiaka (The roots), Te Awa Kōrero (River of discourse) and Te Ara Rau (The many paths). The last was chosen and simplified to Te Ara.

The committee made a decision to rename itself in recognition of Charles Royal's observation that 'Māori committee' was a ‘somewhat inelegant term’.2 He noted that the committee was like a wānanga (traditional house of learning), as it took the role of creating new knowledge. Royal suggested the title Te Ara Wānanga, and this was accepted as the new name of the Māori advisory committee.

Māori thematic content

An early decision made with the advice of Te Ara Wānanga was to spread the Māori theme out across the encyclopedia. Within each theme the general editor and Māori editor would put together a draft list of entries and run them past Te Ara Wānanga for advice. Around 170 Māori-focused entries were published overall, with the intention of eventually bringing them together as a single theme.

Iwi entries

The first theme of Te Ara, New Zealand Peoples, was, as Phillips noted, about New Zealanders introducing themselves to each other. As well as entries on nationalities who settled in New Zealand, there were entries for the major Māori iwi (tribes). The Māori conception of this as expressed at Te Ara Wānanga was 'Nō hea koe?' (Where are you from?). It was decided that the Māori editor would approach iwi and ask who they wanted to write their entries. The list of entries was drawn up by Rangi McGarvey and Charles Royal before being confirmed by Te Ara Wānanga. There are 34 iwi entries, some of which include clusters of iwi.


The initial plan was to translate the entire encyclopedia. However, resource constraints meant that only entries with a Māori focus were translated. A translator was appointed and the initial set-up of translation was overseen by Te Ara Kōmiti Whakamāori (the Māori translation committee). Initially quality assurance was provided by Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori (the Māori Language Commission). Later, experienced external translators took over the quality assurance function. After the integration of the Dictionary of New Zealand biography into Te Ara the combined te reo (Māori-language) corpus on Te Ara was over a million words. There is no bigger corpus of historical writing in te reo Māori on the internet.

  1. Te Ara Wānanga meeting, 2 December 2002. Back
  2. Te Ara Wānanga meeting, 2 December 2002. Back
How to cite this page:

the Te Ara team, 'Te Ara – a history - Māori content, biculturalism and translation', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 16 May 2022)