Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Tau mai e Kapiti te whare wananga o ia, o te nui, o te wehi, o te toa: Reclaiming early Raukawa-Toarangatira writing from Otaki

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posted on 2021-11-13, 19:59 authored by Loader, Arini May

Maori writing in the nineteenth-century was prolific. Maori writers worked in multiple genres including, but not limited to biography, correspondence, historical narrative, political response, memoir and song composition. Much of this immense body of work is currently housed in libraries and other archival institutions around Aotearoa New Zealand. An indeterminate amount is held in private ownership. Of the small number of these manuscripts which have been published, many have gone on to become key texts for studying Maori language, customs, practices, beliefs, and history. Responding to the calls of Australian and American Indian literary studies for researchers to engage both critically and creatively with Indigenous literatures, this thesis will focus on specific nineteenth-century Maori literary works in order to explore the nature and stakes of early Maori writing. The impact of European contact which informed many nineteenth-century Indigenous experiences will be interrogated as will the substantial manuscript and archival records that assist us, the descendants of these writers, in reclaiming our written heritage.  Specifically, this thesis will explore a small selection of the written legacies of Tamihana Te Rauparaha, Matene Te Whiwhi and Rakapa Kahoki. These tupuna wrote letters, petitions and historical texts, acted as scribes and composed waiata. As well as sharing close Ngati Raukawa and Ngati Toarangatira whakapapa and moving in similar social and political circles, these tupuna were based in Otaki where they were actively involved in issues of local, tribal and national significance. Focusing this thesis on the specific place of Otaki provides an opportunity to reflect on the nature and significance of Maori writing more broadly and also anchors this thesis in ancestral space. An academic revisioning of these ancestors‘ written work is long overdue and is especially timely while Indigenous peoples continue to be engaged in projects of intellectual recovery and reclamation.  This thesis presents readings of several manuscripts that were produced by Tamihana Te Rauparaha and Matene Te Whiwhi as well as two waiata texts composed by Rakapa Kahoki relatively early on in our encounters with tauiwi and the written word. Where many historically based studies have made use of these manuscripts as source documents, this research instead offers a literary exploration of the manuscripts which sees the manuscripts themselves as the main point of reference. This thesis essentially draws attention to the ‗written-ness‘ of the texts. It is a literary study which highlights the literary skills that our ancestors employed in their written work and which have tended to be overlooked in the scholarship. This study is also influenced by developments in a number of academic fields including but not limited to history, linguistics, Pacific studies, comparative studies and post-colonial studies. It is moreover, a Maori studies thesis which centres a Maori world view and the concerns of Maori people and communities.  Ultimately, it is anticipated that this thesis will forge new pathways into the study of Maori literatures, and that these pathways will clear some much needed intellectual space in which a deeper analysis of the writing of tupuna Maori can be articulated. Furthermore, beyond its focus on the literature of Ngati Raukawa and Ngati Toarangatira, this thesis extends the scholarship on Maori writing and literatures, Maori historical studies and Maori intellectual history and in this way speaks to a contemporary Indigenous intellectual agenda.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Maori Studies

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

950308 Mātauranga Māori (Māori Knowledge)

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Maori Studies : Te Kawa a Māui


Higgins, Rawinia; Te Punga Somerville, Alice