In collaboration with mana whenua, New Zealand’s oldest university – established 1869 – is refreshing its visual identification in a bold and exciting way.
Most New Zealand universities have used the Māori name “Te Whare Wānanga o…” at some point. In modern te reo Māori “whare wānanga” often specifically denotes a university. For example; Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha (Canterbury) and Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato. Although these names accurately represent the universities as learning institutions, they partly omit the metaphorical beauty of te reo Māori titles. Auckland University and Victoria University recently both got less literal and more emblematic ingoa Māori: Waipapa Taumata Rau and Te Herenga Waka, respectively. Te Herenga Waka means the mooring place of many waka, which became official during the institution’s 2019/2020 rebranding. Waipapa Taumata Rau was gifted by Ngāti Whātua ki Ōrākei in 2021. It references local waterways (Waipapa) and the achievement and excellence (Taumata) of many (Rau).
As of March the 15th, 2023, The University of Otago, Te Whare Wānanga o Otāgo, is kicking off a consultation to replace its generic “Te Whare Wānanga” name with a new symbolic Māori one. The word Otago is actually a two-century-old mispronunciation of Ōtākou, so it makes sense that the university’s proposed new ingoa Māori is “Ōtākou Whakaihu Waka”, a name that nods to the academic excellence of the university, and its place as a kainga for the mana whenua and manuhiri who study and teach there every year. Otago is also consulting to adopt a Māori tohu, meaning that its logo with the old-school blue-gold shield featuring the Latin phrase “sapere aude” (dare to know) will be used mainly for ceremonial purposes.
Tuakiritaka is what Otago University is calling this rebrand, a reference to identity through culture and language. Recently appointed vice-chancellor, Professor David Murdoch, wants to progress Te Tiriti-led policy tangibly – like partnership with mana whenua. One key policy is an aspirational, inclusive visual identity. Edward Ellison (Kāi Tāhu, Ngāti Mutunga), the upoko of Te Rūnaka o Ōtākou, says the rebranding resets Otago University’s ahua “in relation to place, culture, Treaty and takata whenua.” Dunedin’s mana whenua welcome steps forward like tuakiritaka, which they co-designed. A mana whenua steering group including experts in te reo Māori, whakapapa, tikaka and pūrākau constructively engaged in the rebranding process.
Paulette Tāmati-Elliffe (Kāi Tāhu, Te Atiawa) is an expert on the Kāi Tāhu dialect, and was a vital member of the mana whenua co-design team that selected the name Ōtākou Whakaihu Waka. Ōtākou refers to the eastern awa (channel) that leads from the open seas, into the harbour. Across history, the Ōtākou awa brought waka and ships into what is now Dunedin. Eventually, Pākehā whalers and settlers attached the name primarily to the whenua instead of the awa and distorted the name Ōtākou to Otago.
“Whakaihu” means two things to Tāmati-Elliffe. Literally, it can refer to a headland, that being the striking point that waves of seafarers were drawn to. Metaphorically, whakaihu can mean the “champion” or the first to do something. It references Otago University as the motu’s first university and its recognised international standard of academic excellence. Yet it also references the students as champions of their whānau and communities. Tāmati-Elliffe mentiones that many Māori students are the first in their whānau to graduate from university. These first-generation Māori graduates break ground that their future mokopuna can eventually build upon.
In this context, waka refers not only to the boats that first brought takata Māori to these motu but also the western ships, planes, cars and carriages that have since brought manuhiri to the area. “There is a place for everyone within that name,” says Tāmati-Elliffe, since it covers all the various “waka” arrivals.
Tāmati-Elliffe is thankful that with the new Māori name, Kāi Tāhu gets to “be part of something where our worldview is being included.”
The local dialect replaces g and ng with k, as in Ōtākou not Ōtago, wānaka not wānanga and tikaka not tikanga. The name Otago is meaningless to mana whenua, so restoring the name Ōtākou works towards reclaiming the integrity of the original Kāi Tāhu dialect, Tāmati-Elliffe affirms. She believes that “giving consideration to a Māori name that isn’t just a translation, and has layers of connection to our people,” will enable Otago University to become a better Treaty partner.
Tuakiritaka is currently going out for consultation among the university’s community. The consultation process will continue until mid-April and is an opportunity to inform the university council on how to proceed with the rebrand. The consultation plan has already started among some critical stakeholders like mana whenua rūnaka, student associations and the university council. Otago is seeking further feedback from current students and staff (both academic and professional) alongside their vast alumni network. The consultation will be held in person and online.
Tuakiritaka was enabled by a rōpū of mana whenua teaching Otago University about local history and whakapapa. Deputy vice-chancellor Tony Ballantyne doesn’t mince his words when talking about that history. He says that colonisation marginalised mana whenua and created the inequalities of today. But across history, notes Ballantyne, there had been historical moments of Māori-Pākehā reciprocal relationship building in the rohe. Co-designing tuakiritaka is the latest constructive chapter in that relationship. Getting a new metaphorical ikoa Māori brings with it “a real responsibility to deliver” for Māori at the university, says Ballantyne.
The whakatauki “Kia whakatōmuri te haere whakamua” – “walking backwards into the future with eyes fixed on the past”, comes to mind when talking about the rebranding process thus far. Tuakiritaka recognises the precariousness of the past while enabling collaboration with mana whenua to enhance the future. In that way, Murdoch acknowledges that the new branding reflects history better than the old version ever could.
The university is taking a generational strategic planning approach with its longterm “Vision 2040” scheme leading up to the 200th anniversary of the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, our nation’s founding document. Tuakiritaka is one part of Vision 2040. Redefining cultural identity necessitates focusing on the “key relationships that shape the institution”, says Ballantyne, referring to the relationship with mana whenua. He notes that tuakiritaka “for the first time clearly articulates the importance of those relationships in a visible way.” A generational view is required to redefine Otago University’s culture from solely a Scottish-New Zealand institution to one that is genuinely inclusive of te ao Māori.
Tāmati-Elliffe anticipates that because there is a story behind the new name, it will inspire a cultural shift towards greater awareness of te ao Māori at the university. She believes that greater “awareness and understanding that there is more than one worldview” will enable mātauraka and Western knowledge systems to collaborate and support one another better.
This rebranding has been a collaboration since it was first initiated four years ago. Murdoch says that this has been “one of the best projects that I’ve been involved in” during his two decades at Otago University. The mana whenua/university relationship has been continuously and positively growing since 2000 when formal relations between the two were re-established, says Ellison. He calls tuakiritaka a “turning point” for this relationship, a sign of genuine partnership going forward. Throughout the process, the university has been careful to act in a way that follows tikaka, and Ellison says this has helped to strengthen those relationships with mana whenua.
Tuakiritaka is just one part of Otago University’s wider plan to create a safer space for takata whenua by 2040. The university has been staunch in their aim to create a more inclusive environment, and are making “very serious attempts to do that”, investing in areas to reduce institutional barriers to Māori advancement. Murdoch is excited that tuakiritaka will cause a fundamental shift in direction for an 150+ year-old institution. Creating an inclusive institution for takata whenua won’t happen overnight, but the rebranding is an “opportunity for an old institution to take a good step into the future,” says Murdoch. Ellison calls the rebranding a reawakening of respect for takata whenua, making it easier to do “what should have been done since the Treaty.”
Mana whenua and Otago University leadership hope that the wider community shares their sentiments, and that from the years of mahi it’s taken to get to this point, Ōtākou Whakaihu Waka is born.