Te Kōparapara: An introduction to the Māori world, eds Michael Reilly, Suzanne Duncan, Gianna Leoni, Lachy Paterson, Poia Rewi, Lyn Carter and Matiu Rātima (Auckland University Press, 2018), 484 pp, $69.99
In the same way that we search a crowd for someone we might know, or scan a group photo for a familiar face, my eyes ran down the contents list on the inside pages of Te Kōparapara. Initially I was drawn not to the chapter headings, but to the names below each title.
Some I knew, some I knew of, and some I didn’t know but wanted to. Then I read the chapter headings for each to see what their particular kaupapa was, their contribution, their gift to this impressive and weighty compendium.
The book is presented in three sections – roughly chronologically structured into foundations, histories and futures – and so, we are taken on a cultural journey.
Starting with the creation of all things, and also our arrival and settlement in Aotearoa, Part One explores our rituals of encounter, social structure and relationships, understandings of death and mourning, the marae, and the tikanga that guide our living and interaction with the natural world.
This section would be useful to someone new to our country who is seeking insights to tangata whenua practices and philosophies, and equally to those of us who have lived our lives here and wish to broaden our understanding. Chapter two covers many of what I believe are foundational values and principles required for understanding anything about us as a people. Concepts such as mana, tapu, noa, mauri, wairua and utu are unique to tangata whenua, and thread through our thoughts, actions and perceptions of the world.
Our journey continues in Part Two, which examines our shared histories, and which covers the arrival of Pākehā and the resulting conflicts, losses and struggles, but also elements of resistance, resilience and advancement. Both the 1835 Declaration of Independence and the Treaty of Waitangi are covered in chapter 10, each set in the context of their time. The next four chapters cover the century that followed the signing of the Treaty in 1840, and the section culminates in an exploration of the rapid urbanisation of our people, in a chapter that presents both narratives: that of the state, and that of the author’s father, who experienced urbanised relocation. This is poignantly reflected in the quote:
My mountain doesn’t move. But I had to.
Our journey through Te Kōparapara culminates in the final section, on futures, which is particularly interesting to me as it covers topics not typically explored in other texts on tikanga and history, such as the Waitangi Tribunal and the settlement process, the changes in reo education within the wider context of language revitalisation, Māori and technology, and Maōri identity. Chapter 18 centres hauora Māori in a Māori worldview, connecting our whakapapa and creation understandings to reflections on health today, and chapter 19 looks at the role of indigenous knowledge with regard to development in a modern context, with a particular focus on Māori values and philosophies and the development of the quadruple bottom line. The chapter on identity certainly touched a personal note with me, and each subheading is bound to strike a chord with many of us:
- But you don’t have brown skin.
- How fluent are you?
- Can’t you sing and play the guitar?
The authors in this section expertly navigate the underlying themes of racism, privilege, identity, stereotypes and implicit bias. The material here is sometimes confronting, yet there is understanding and therefore healing in these pages.
While the sections of the book are logically organised, reading the chapters in the order written can sometimes require a slight shift of gears as we change from one writing style to another between authors. Despite being an academic text, the style of writing overall is designed to reach the widest audience; the chapters average around 18 pages in length, and are neatly organised with clear subheadings throughout, making the 472-page publication easily digestible and readily accessible. The book prioritises te reo Māori in the chapter titles, and contains photographs, maps, diagrams, whakapapa and waiata, and tables that provide clear summaries in places.
Named after the bellbird, Te Kōparapara sings wth the voices of these many authors. Most are past or present staff of Te Tumu, the School of Māori, Pacific and Indigenous Studies at the University of Otago, Dunedin, where this collection will be used as a textbook for the Māori Society paper, and I’m sure it will prove a valuable contribution to studies elsewhere. Many other experts in their field have contributed to the chapters. If I had one suggestion for change in the structure of the book, it would be to have the author information near the front, where we can make that connection at the beginning of our relationship with this publication.
That’s what we do as Māori, scan the faces in a crowd to see if there’s someone we know, rove the photos on the wall to see if we can see ourselves in those faces and find a sense of familiarity. We run our eye down the authors’ names on the contents page, to see how we might connect.
I roamed the pages of this book, diving deep in places, skimming in others, as I went seeking that connection, that thread of whakapapa that would bind me, my whānau, my realities, to the themes, events and histories written here. I was not disappointed.
I could see myself in these pages.
Kia ora koutou.
SHIRLEY SIMMONDS (Raukawa, Ngāti Huri, Ngā Puhi) is a mother of two young sons, Tamihana and Raukawa, and is a Kaupapa Māori health researcher and adult educator. She is dedicated to raising her children in te reo Māori with the values passed onto us by our ancestors, and to living a more sustainable life. Shirley has an interest in creative writing, is an avid reader, and spends much of her spare time in the garden.