Our recent list of the greatest New Zealand works of non-fiction featured a glaring lack of books by and about Māori. We invited a panel of indigenous experts to come up with an alternative Top 50.
The Spinoff straight messed up. When it published its list of 100 greatest New Zealand works of non-fiction last week, it featured only two titles by or about Māori. One of them was the Treaty of Waitangi and there’s a pretty strong argument for that being a work of fiction. It’s not a fair or accurate reflection of our literary history and frankly, much as we admire their knack for getting up people’s noses, Steve Braunias and associates should be put in the stocks and subjected to a 48-hour lecture by Mike Hosking on his preferred brand of hair gel.
So let us present here our own list of native non-fiction and indigenous insight.
There are many reasons why we shouldn’t have agreed to curate an alternate list of non-fiction by and about Māori. New Zealand has only one history. It’s not a binary ‘one for us, one for them’ situation. Coming up with an alternative list says we exist outside of the publishing canon, when it is in fact one of the few places Māori and Pākehā have always coexisted peacefully. In fact, (trigger warning for racist uncles everywhere) Māori were actually once more literate than Pākehā. Secondly, some of us aren’t willing to play the role of “cultural Sherpa” anymore; a point quite elegantly summed up by writer/artist Jessica Hansell in new literary journal Starling this month:
“The responsibility actually belongs to the people who choose to create and perform within an all-white or all-male environment, especially both…They need to be asked who their favourite POC, Māori, Pacific writers are, who their favourite women, queer and transgender artists are to work with – not us – cos we’re good.”
But whatever. After weighing up the aes and kāores, we still think this list should exist. It’s a good list, full of odd-shaped pieces of the New Zealand puzzle that have been lost under the couch for years, as well as worthy texts by venerable kaumātua without whom rich Europeans would still be hanging our severed, dried heads over their mantelpieces.
Our posse of problematic panelists are: Leonie Hayden, the editor of a magazine about the brown folks of Aotearoa; Aaron Smale, senior journalist and books editor for the same; Morgan Godfery, media commentator and authority-botherer of the highest degree; and Bridget Williams, publisher of some of the greatest non-fiction works by and about Māori ever produced (who very graciously didn’t submit any of her own titles, so we did it for her).
50. Te Hokioi (est. 1968)
Releasing its first issue in 1968, that fractious year of political and intellectual upheaval in the West, Te Hokioi devoted itself to “Māoris along with their Pākehā class brothers.” Explicitly Marxist—maybe comically so—the paper offered an irresistible analysis for thousands of urban Māori, many of whom were tethered to the most miserable forms of wage labour. Yet despite its early popularity the paper misread the political moment as more and more members of the Māori activist movement took a turn towards culture security over working class emancipation.
49. Te Puea, Michael King
The story of an exceptional woman, her people and her times. At his best, King could really write.
48. Wai 9: Report of The Waitangi Tribunal on The Ōrākei Claim (1986)
With all the drama of Bastion Point occupations in the 20th century, and all the injustice of dodgy land grabs in the 19th century, Wai 9 was always going to go down as one of the Tribunal’s most dramatic decisions. After exhaustive historical investigation and legal analysis, the Tribunal found that honouring the Treaty means more than just analysing the text. To discover the meaning of the Treaty we must examine the surrounding circumstances too. In other words, the decision reinforced the idea that the Treaty is more than just a legal document, it is history too.
47. Ned and Katina: A True Love Story, Patricia Grace (2009)
Rare venture by one of New Zealand’s greatest novelists into non-fiction after the family approached her to write their story. A real-life Mills & Boon about an injured Māori soldier and the Crete girl that hid him from a German patrol and nursed him back to health.
46. Māori Sovereignty, Donna Awatere Huata (1984)
The polite phrasing is “the book hasn’t aged well,” perhaps because it was an exercise in rhetoric rather than analysis, but what great rhetoric it was. Originally published in Broadsheet, the popular feminist journal, the piece electrified the public sphere. Everyone from the prime minister to Bruce Jesson felt moved to offer a view on the “Māori Sovereignty debate”. The book captured the spirit of the times, yet it enjoyed very little lasting effect on Māori political thought (even the framing, Māori “sovereignty”, was a concession to the norms Huata was meant to be rebelling against).
45. The Politics of the Brown Table, Annette Sykes (2011)
This is where clichés like ‘tour de force’ really do apply. The Politics of the Brown Table, delivered as the Bruce Jesson lecture in 2010, was a momentous critique of how certain iwi leaders, the Māori Party, and government officials “manage discontent among Māori” (and, of course, “manufacture consent” for policies that harm Māori interests). The lecture reaffirmed Annette Sykes’ status as one of New Zealand’s leading public intellectuals and it provided the intellectual whakapapa for the MANA Movement and a new generation of Māori activist.
44. Wi Parata v Bishop of Wellington (1877)
The Treaty, declared Chief Justice Prendergast in his famous judgment, is a “simple nullity”. How could “primitive barbarians” expect to enforce an agreement against the world’s greatest empire? Well, in theory, one would turn to the courts, yet when the courts are also invested in the status quo then the theory tends to collapse. The case, filed after the Anglican Church obtained a Crown grant to land it wasn’t entitled to, demonstrates how the law works not as an instrument of justice but a statement of the dominant power relations.
43. The Welcome of Strangers: An Ethnohistory of Southern Maori 1650-1850, Atholl Anderson
This and similar books set in specific localities take us into the history of that people in that place. There are many of these, from iwi in different parts of the country that had very different lifestyles, together forming a much bigger narrative.
42. Māori Origins and Migrations: The Genesis of Some Pākehā Myths and Legends, Keith Sorrenson (1979)
Myths are Sorrenson’s subject too. It’s probably fair to say that, for much of New Zealand’s modern history, what Pākehā knew of Māori was just an accumulation of myths: they arrived in a great migration, possibly from South America, or perhaps they’re a lost tribe of Israel. Sorrenson confronts this myth-making head on, “[doing] what historians always try to do—examine what intellectual ingredients go into the making of texts.”
41. Tikanga Maori: Living by Maori Values, Hirini Moko Mead (2003)
In this authoritative (and accessible) introduction to tikanga Māori, Professor Mead takes the reader through tikanga as it was, as it is, and as it might be. Far from a musty old account of ancient social rituals, Tikanga Māori explores how Māori values might apply to the everyday, from dealing with crime to caring for the land. I’ll be honest: the book is written for Māori, but don’t let that discourage you.
40. Renata Kawepo’s record of his travels with Bishop Selwyn (1843-1844)
Māori society’s first travel essayist! Kawepo’s early writing, mostly transcribed in another person’s diary, represents the first extended narrative by and for Māori. It seems he caught the bug, so to speak, as later in life he turned to political criticism: “this law,” he wrote in 1873, “is the cause of oppression to the Native.” Suffocatingly political, but that’s because Māori writing was political from the very beginning.
39. The Māori Representation Act 1867
There’s debate over whether the Act really was intended to safeguard Māori political power. Invested historians like Michael Bassett argue that the intentions were pure and Māori historians like Danny Keenan argue otherwise—but there’s no denying that the Māori seats in Parliament are now a form of Māori political empowerment. New Zealand would look very different without them.
38. Decolonising Methodologies, Linda Tuhiwai Smith (1999)
Outside of Māori society, this book remains obscure in New Zealand, and that’s despite the fact it acts as an essential textbook for North American social scientists. In Decolonising Methodologies, Smith explores the intersections between imperialism and research. Do imperialist assumptions operate as “regimes of truth”? How do we reclaim traditional epistemologies? The book is positively Focaultian, absolutely Fanonian. It even hints at the dialectical, yet it retains a Māori core.
37. Chiefs of Industry, Hazel Petrie (2006)
Chiefs of Industry demonstrates convincingly that Māori adapted readily to the trade opportunities that settlement opened up. New Zealand’s export economy was founded on Māori enterprise, which is too often overshadowed by what followed in the 1860s.
36. Maori and the Criminal Justice System, Moana Jackson (1987)
Jackson’s call for a separate Māori justice system sent shivers down the spines of every bureaucrat at the Ministry of Justice. “Who commissioned this bloody thing?”, cried the Justice Secretary, sobbing into his papers as he prepared for a blasting from the Justice Minister. Jackson’s investigation into the racist impact of the justice system immediately altered our understanding of Māori law and dramatically reshaped the national debate.
35. Syd Jackson’s column in Metro and Ranginui Walker’s column in the Listener (1980s)
Every writer suspects that his or her work is probably ephemeral, almost certainly insubstantial, and guaranteed to register only with a privileged few. Against the urgency of tangible political struggle, writing can often seem self-indulgent. But somehow I doubt Syd Jackson and Ranginui Walker felt this way. Both men integrated their activism into their columns and, throughout the 1980s and ‘90s, translated the struggle for Māori rights into language Pākehā audiences might understand. Unfortunately Jackson and Walker were both the first and the last as there are now no regular Māori columnists in the mainstream media.
34. Waitangi Tribunal reports
The writing can be turgid, which seems inevitable when the audience is a dusty old tribunal. Some reports feel like they’re unfinished or abandoned—indeed many are, because of the funding and settlement process that can cut short further research. And the contents can read like a UN report on human rights violations. But the wealth of sources about events that are too easily forgotten make them a powerful witness to the history that still dogs us as a nation. The impact is already there; but this will go on resonating through years to come.
33. New Zealand Maori Council v Attorney-General (1987)
President Cooke described the case as “perhaps as important for the future of our country as any that has come before a New Zealand Court”. He was almost certainly right. The decision established the Treaty principles in common law and policy practice. Advocates argue that the decision represents a glorious legal revolution, while opponents argue it merely legitimised the status quo in a time of crisis and helped establish legal norms that bureaucratised the powerful Māori protest movement. However you look at it, the decision remains one of the most important in New Zealand legal history.
32. Journal of the Polynesian Society (1892)
You could waste several years clicking through this journal’s online archives. Sure, much of it is obscure; other parts are impenetrable, yet it remains a rich repository for New Zealanders who want to learn more about their country and its history. The Society, a non-profit organisation based at the University of Auckland, holds thousands of indigenous texts from New Zealand and the Pacific. For many years it was the intellectual engine for analysis of Māori society and the preservation of its traditions.
31. Panguru and the City: Kāinga Tahi, Kāinga Rua – An Urban Migration History, Melissa Matutina Williams (2015)
An intimate account of the process of urban migration told through the korero of the Panguru community and their descendants who made Auckland home. Williams is well placed to tell the story—her mother’s whanau was from Panguru and she puts that story in the wider context of New Zealand society.
30. Colonising Myths, Māori Realities, Ani Mikaere (2011)
Ani Mikaere’s best work is urgent, analytical and stubborn—there are no concessions to good intentions. “The ease with which Pākehā cast themselves as victims of their own past never fails to amaze me,” writes Mikaere, “Pākehā need to own up to the truth about how they have come to occupy their position of dominance in our country.” This reads like a polemic, but the book is so much more: part history, part philosophy and thoroughly Māori. Mikaere demolishes the myths settler society tells itself.
29. Two Worlds (1991), Between Worlds (1997), Anne Salmond
In these volumes history doesn’t start with the arrival of Europeans and their political institutions and intentions—that arrival is merely a dramatic shift in the world of Māori.
28. Te Hokioi e Rere Atu Na (1861)
The resistance paper’s printing press now resides in the Te Awamutu museum, something that seems too parochial for the most important newspaper in the Māori political tradition. Published in 1861, the paper carried the proclamations of King Tawhiao and would grow to become a powerful propaganda tool for the Kingitanga/Māori King Movement (so much so that Governor Grey instructed John Gorst to publish an opposing press and paper called Te Pihoihoi Mokemoke). But when Lieutenant General Duncan Cameron and British troops crossed the Mangatawhiri River in 1863, Te Hokioi ceased and the press was abandoned. Te Hokioi, the worker-focussed paper, tried to briefly revive the tradition of resistance.
27. Judith Binney’s quartet: Mihaia, Nga Morehu, Redemption Songs, and Encircled Lands (1979 – 2009)
Mihaia, Nga Morehu, Redemption Songs, and Encircled Lands are the most exquisite New Zealand histories ever written. Binney, a Pākehā, takes her subject’s historical narrative and perfects it. She’s a sensitive analyst who isn’t afraid of taking positions or confronting received wisdoms (like the supposed heroism of some early 20th century Māori political figures). After almost single-handedly reshaping how we write and understand Māori history, Binney’s research into Tūhoe history helped underpin the case for their historic Treaty settlement in 2014.
26. The New Zealand Wars, James Cowan (1922)
Cowan was one of the first New Zealand writers to receive financial support from the state and he put it to good use. The son of an Irish immigrant who fought in the land wars, he grew up on a farm that was confiscated land. This gave him a life-long interest in the frontier between races and it imbued his career as a journalist. The New Zealand Wars was notable for its sources. Fluent in te reo, Cowan interviewed Māori and Pākehā who took part in the conflicts and were still alive at the time of writing.
25. The Treaty of Waitangi (1840)
Professor Philip Joseph celebrates it as a “text for the performance of a nation,” others applaud it as the “Māori Magna Carta,” some call it a fraud. New Zealand’s founding document continues to generate disputes, angst and disappointment— and that’s a very good thing. The strength of the Treaty is constant reinterpretation. It doesn’t stand still, it develops with the nation (or it develops the nation) and no New Zealander can ignore that.
24. Moko, Michael King and Marti Friedlander (1972)
Michael King’s affection for his subjects is a remembered fondly by whānau of the women. Moko was also a landmark for photographer Marti Friedlander, whose portraits captured a generation of women that linked the past to the present. As a visual record, as important as anything by Goldie.
23. Maori: A Photographic and Social History, Michael King (1983)
Another rich visual history of Māori. It’s hard to convey the feeling of finding your ancestors looking back at you from these pages.
22. The Price of Citizenship, Sir Apirana Ngata (1943)
A short treatise by one of the 20th century’s greatest Māori leaders. Ngata argued that Māori support of the war effort was the ultimate way to honour the treaty and gain equality with, and the respect of, Pākehā. Many of Ngata’s themes were the basis for his formation and recruitment of the 28th Maori Battalion, whose record of service in every theatre of WWII was a price paid in full. However, the equality Ngata aspired to throughout his political career was not to materialise in his lifetime.
21. A Show of Justice, Alan Ward (1974)
First published in 1974, this was the first detailed study of state policies towards Māori in the 19th century. Sir Eddie Durie concluded it showed “that scholarship could establish so amply what Maori were on about”.
20. The Treaty of Waitangi, Claudia Orange (1987)
The definitive account of our nation’s founding document. Other books have added to our understanding and but this is still a great starting point.
19. Kupapa, Ron Crosby (2015)
Kupapa takes a hard look at a contentious, long-neglected and crucially important topic: the Māori who sided with the Crown during the conflicts of the 19th century. Crosby shows the complexity of their motives and centrality of their role an even Belich the revisionist gets the revisionist treatment. Crosby is a member of the Waitangi Tribunal and deeply familiar with the sources.
18. The New Zealand Wars, James Belich (1986)
Belich would later refer to his first publication as a “young man’s book”. The revisionist streak running through it was a vigourous challenge to some long-held assumptions about who actually won the land wars and how. It also generated a popular TV series that gave the book’s ideas a broad audience.
17. Ask that Mountain, Dick Scott (1975)
The story of Parihaka was well known among Taranaki Māori but it took a communist Pākehā to bring the ugly reality before a mainstream audience. The first version of the book was widely condemned by a public who didn’t like being reminded of what happened in their back yard.
16. Encircled Lands, Judith Binney (2009)
There are many tribal history books but few reach the heights of scholarship and love of Binney’s massive Tūhoe volume.
15. Buying the Land, Selling the Land, Richard Boast (2008)
In what is essentially a legal history that charts the way the Native Land Court was used to dispossess Māori of their land, Boast’s grasp of the details is balanced by his sympathy for those affected by the processes. A heartbreaking read.
14. Nga Tama Toa: The Price of Citizenship, Monty Soutar (2008)
A Ngāti Porou soldier himself, Soutar set out with a team to record the korero of the C Company veterans and their whānau. Both hilarious and tragic, it is the definitive history of a bunch of decorated cowboys. A te reo version was recently released.
13. Te Whiti O Rongomai and the Resistance of Parihaka, Danny Keenan (2015)
Despite the great efforts of earlier writers like Dick Scott the story of Parihaka is one that still needed to be told by someone from Parihaka whanaunga. Keenan not only has the whakapapa, he also has the academic credentials. Mention should also be made of Huia Publishers who have long championed books by and about Māori.
12. Wai 262: Ko Aotearoa Tenei (2012)
The most comprehensive Treaty claim to come before the Waitangi Tribunal, Wai 262 examines how the Treaty shapes Māori relationships with traditional knowledge, intellectual property, genetics, the environment, rongoā (medicine), international Treaty-making and more. Almost 20 years passed between the first claim and the final publication. The report’s findings— which attracted little public attention in 2012—are becoming more important than ever as Māori groups challenge the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the twelve nation trade agreement that impacts every facet of Wai 262.
11. Ngā Mōteatea, Āpirana Ngata (written over four decades)
Ngata’s four-volume classic is a collection of songs and chants from iwi across the country. The first three volumes included invaluable translations and annotations by Ngata and Pei Te Hurinui Jones, a remarkable scholar who was Jewish/Ngāti Maniapoto (and perhaps best known for his translations of Shakespearean dramas). The edition that remains in print (published by Auckland University Press) is translated by Professor Mead. Ngā Mōteatea was and is a taonga.
10. The Coming of the Māori, Te Rangi Hīroa (Sir Peter Buck), (1949)
Behold, Te Rangi Hīroa’s comprehensive study of Māori life, from speech to weapons to common games. A well-known politician and anthropologist who taught at elite universities across the world, Hīroa developed the book after delivering a similar paper at the Pacific Science Congress in Melbourne. Hīroa’s conservative politics and ideology aside, it’s a fascinating insight into nearly every corner of Māori life. It remains an integral work in the Māori canon.
9. The Foreshore & Seabed Act, 2004
There’s nothing quite like a shared enemy. When then Prime Minister, Helen Clark, announced that the government would legislate to ensure no foreshore or seabed could be classed as Māori customary land, Māori from across the political spectrum came together to give a unified ‘kefe!’ to the proposal. From this the Māori Party was formed, later seeding the Mana Movement, arguably giving Māori more political empowerment than ever before.
8. Te Ao Hou (1952 – 1976)
Described as a “Marae on paper”, Te Ao Hou might be responsible for the Māori tradition of literary criticism. The magazine, produced by the Māori Affairs Department, published leading Māori writers like Jacqueline Sturm, a pioneer who would go on to inspire a new generation of Māori women writers like Patricia Grace and Keri Hulme. Writing as Māori is “a way of feeling,” Sturm would explain, and that’s how Te Ao Hou operated—there was no need to pander to Pākehā sensibilities or privilege European aesthetics over indigenous forms, instead it was one of the few spaces where Māori writers could write as Māori.
7. Raupō Concise Māori Dictionary, AW Reed (1948)
If you’ve ever been in a Māori home or classroom then you’ve almost certainly been within spitting distance of one of the 200 textbooks published by AW Reed. Also came in teeny, tiny Liliput editions.
6. Te Kawenata Hou/The New Testament (1837)
The New Testament was prepared and issued on the Paihia Press in 1837, perhaps a landmark year in the social history of this country. Explosive demand meant printing was eventually shifted to London and, come the end of the 1840s, the colony found itself saturated with copies (approximately 72,000, in fact). Aside from the uptake in this strange new religion (which was very slow at first), the early translations of the Bible helped fix a uniform form of te reo Māori, grew its vocabulary and modified some of its structures.
5. Māori oral tradition
Saying words with your mouth! Prior to the written word being introduced, Māori had access to a vast database of information on a range of subjects, from gardening to carpentry to astrology, available upon request from your mum, dad, aunties, uncles and grandparents. Cheaper than Whitcoulls and more reliable than Wikipedia.
4. Ka Whawhai Tonu Mātou: Struggle Without End, Ranginui Walker (1990)
Works of history can date very quickly—sensibilities shift, new information emerges and the intellectual moment passes—yet Walker’s classic remains relevant because it’s more than accumulation of historical facts, it’s also a stunning work of cultural and political criticism. One of New Zealand’s most valuable thinkers.
3. The Report on Stage 1 of the Te Paparahi o Te Raki Inquiry (2014)
175 years after the Treaty of Waitangi was signed, director of the Waitangi Tribunal Julie Tangaere announced at Te Tii marae in Waitangi: “Having weighed all of this evidence, as carefully and dispassionately as it could, here is what the Tribunal has concluded.
“The rangatira who signed te Tiriti in February 1840 at Waitangi, Waimate and Mangungu did not cede their sovereignty to Britain.”
Which is why we prefer…
2. The Declaration of Independence (1835)
Recognised in Britain and acknowledged by King William IV, the Declaration of Independence predated the Treaty of Waitangi by five years and proposed a Māori legislature and a Parliament of chiefs, to “make laws and pass regulations” on behalf of the emerging nation. Māori were themselves to form the government. Not only would the new nation join the international community as an independent state, but Nu Tirene was to be a state where Māori values, practices and aspirations would determine future directions. In 1840 the Treaty of Waitangi countered the Declaration and removed the possibility of a Māori-led state.
1. Tangata Whenua: An Illustrated History, by Aroha Harris, Judith Binney and Atholl Anderson (2014)
Like a supergroup of historian rock stars producing the best album of all time. Far from succumbing to triumphalist history, Tangata Whenua meets Māori history on its own terms and rejects some of the comfortable assumptions of a flawless pre-colonial society. That’s valuable, but the book’s lasting legacy is how it expands the scope of Māori history, weaving together knowledge from archaeology, anthropology, linguistics, law, political science and of course oral history. This is theory at its finest, it resists treating its subject in isolation, instead searching for connections to make sense of the world as we find it.
The Spinoff’s book coverage is sponsored by Unity Books.