Te Kōparapara: An important study of the resilience of Māori culture

by Ann Beaglehole / 11 October, 2018
The prophet Te Whiti addresses a hui before his arrest in 1881. Photo/Getty Images

The prophet Te Whiti addresses a hui before his arrest in 1881. Photo/Getty Images

RelatedArticlesModule - Te Kōparapara

New collection Te Kōparapara isn’t just an insight into Te Ao Māori, it’s a significant study of how Māori culture survived colonisation.

How do cultures survive? Some struggle and never properly recover. How have Māori survived wars, colonisation, population decline, land loss, loss of mana, the onslaught of European diseases and the undermining of their beliefs and values? The authors of Te Kōparapara show the resilience of Māori culture from waka migration to the present day. But, as Rewi Maniapoto and later Ranginui Walker (quoted in the book) put it, Ka whawhai tonu mātou (struggle without end).

Te Kōparapara, written from an indigenous perspective, introduces Māori history, culture and society to students and general readers. It draws on southern Māori knowledge and language, complementing the often better-known stories and scholarship about northern Māori. The editors, who research and teach at Te Tumu, the School of Māori, Pacific and Indigenous Studies at the University of Otago, chose te kōparapara – the local version of the bellbird’s name – for the title to acknowledge the people who live in southern Te Waipounamu (the South Island) under the mana of Kāi Tahu, also called Ngāi Tahu.

The book is organised into three sections to consider “the past, present and possible future of Māori society”. The first introduces readers to the traditions, principles, institutions and practices of the Māori world and to pivotal concepts underlying tikanga Māori, such as the value placed on collective interests and on custodianship and guardianship of the environment and people.

The second focuses on “how Māori confronted, resisted and adjusted” to changes after the arrival of Pākehā explorers, sealers, whalers, traders, missionaries and immigrants. There are useful histories on complex matters, such as the meaning of the 1835 Declaration of Independence, and on whether Māori who signed the Treaty of Waitangi gave up their sovereignty to Britain. The Kingitanga, religious resistance movements such as Pai Mārire/Hauhau and the Māori urban migration are among other topics.

The third section, “Futures”, has essays on health and the Māori world view, education, te reo Māori and on what it means to be Māori today.

One of the book’s strengths is its depiction of the diversity of the Māori world and of the various choices Māori have made. Māori knowledge and tikanga are shown as evolving, not set in concrete. It draws on both oral tradition and archaeological evidence, ensuring a nuanced representation of the past. There is a note of warning about the future. While the whakapapa and historical narratives endure as a connection from past to present, the challenge is “to hold on to those traditions”.

Te Kōparapara is an important addition to existing literature on Aotearoa and deserves wide readership.

Te Kōparapara: An Introduction to the Māori World, edited by Michael Reilly, Suzanne Duncan, Gianna Leoni, Lachy Paterson, Lyn Carter, Matiu Rātima and Poia Rewi (Auckland University Press, 2018, $69.99)

This article was first published in the September 22, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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