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Dickson, Matiu --- "Maori Women and Education. Whakatauaki: "He mana te Matauranga - Knowledge is Power"" [2005] NZYbkNZJur 17; (2005) 8.2 Yearbook of New Zealand Jurisprudence 104

Last Updated: 19 April 2015


Whakatauaki: "He mana to Matauranga — Knowledge is Power" Matiu Dickson*


Acquiring knowledge allows individuals to aspire to their full potential and to contribute immeasurably to the benefit of communities. This chapter will look at how the introduction of the colonialist education system impacted upon the role of Maori women in their communities, both initially and long term. Recent Maori women writers have stated that the salvation and future of Maori people lies firmly in the hands of its women) I agree with this assessment. The present statistics show that Maori are at the bottom ofthe economic and social ladder, struggling to improve their lot as compared to that of their Pakeha counterparts.2 However there has been improvement, brought about by Maori themselves.

For this paper, I interviewed three Maori women of my community. The purpose of the interviews was to find out whether the education system in fact gave these Maori women the same opportunities that others had had. And if not, why was this so. Traditional Maori learning is also considered and the policies of the colonialist education system are looked at, as is the impact of that system on Maori generally. However the emphasis for this paper is on Maori women and how the system disadvantaged them.


In Maori traditional stories, Tane-nui-a-rangi wanted to find the origin of knowledge for his people. He reached the sacred twelfth realm of

Matiu Dickson is from the Ngaitukairangi hapa of Ngaiterangi. He is a Senior Lecturer at the Law School Waikato University. He is interested in the teaching of Kaupapa Maori in a legal context. He is also the Chairperson of Te Runanga o Kirikiriroa, a Maori urban authority.
1 Smith L, in Middleton, S Women and Education in Aotearoa p33.
2 Department of Labour, Trends in Maori Labour Market Outcomes, pl.
2005 Maori Women and Education. 105

the Gods, called Rangituhaha, and brought back to earth the putea wananga, or three baskets of knowledge. These baskets were called te kete tuauri, containing ritual knowledge such as karakia or chants; te kete tuatea, which held the knowledge of the occult; and te kete aronui, which was the source of the secular knowledge or knowledge about the world.3

Because this knowledge originated from the Gods it is noted that:

...all knowledge has tapu, that knowledge belongs to the group, that people have the responsibility to treat knowledge carefully, that knowledge should be used to benefit others, that knowledge can lead to the "world of light" (enlightenment), that knowledge acquisition and learning can be an end in itself.4

Early Pakeha ethnographers found traditional Maori society an interesting and fertile ground for research but it is debatable whether the research was for the benefit of Maori:

Distortions of Maori social reality by ethnocentric researchers overly given to generalisations were initially apparent only to Maori people. While this type of research was validated by 'scientific method' and 'colonial affirmation', it did little to extend the knowledge of Maori people. Instead, it left a foundation of ideologically laden data about Maori society, which has distorted notions of what it means to be Maoris

One of those early ethnographers, Felix Keesing, in discussing Maori methods of learning, concentrated on the physical aspect of the Maori world and the ability of the early Maori to become "splendid physical machines".6 This patronising attitude to Maori was compounded by his insulting generalisation that;

3 Barlow C, Tikanga Whakaaro p158 for a fuller duscussion.
4 Ibid p162.
5 Ibid p170.
6 Keesing F, The Changing Maori p22.

"...the hardening effect of the active open-air life kept the people fit, in

spite of a considerable lack of knowledge of even elementary laws of hygiene and a resulting lack of cleanliness and fastidiousness of taste and smell.'

It is important, then, to discern the real facts of traditional learning from the biased opinions of these early ethnographers whose influence was wide spread. Reference was made by Keesing to the fact that Maori had no form of writing (which was true) or symbolism (which was not true). Keesing also noted that all lore and thus learning was acquired and passed down by word of mouth, with the family group being the main educational institution. This last observation by Keesing was true, but was coloured by his later statement:

...the fact that the Maori had to depend entirely upon the memory of the individual for the preservation of tribal lore, tradition and history made everyone in some measure responsible for maintaining unimpaired the cultural heritage of the race. Thus the whole atmosphere of primitive life guided thought into these fossilised concepts, and the narrow content of the Maori language, together with the priestly domination, prevented any development.'

Peter Buck9 in his writing about learning in traditional society, referred to learning beginning in the home. More importantly, he noted that learning was not separated from any other of the usual activities of the family. Children learned by copying and asking questions about any matter that was of interest. Explanations were given and mistakes in understanding were corrected by the elders without any rancour. As children grew and became part of the world of the elders, they were taught aspects of behaviour that made them more part of the whanau or group. For example, they were taught how to greet their elders and how to behave toward them.

7 Ibid p22.
8 Ibid p27.
9 Ewing & Shallcrass, Introduction to Maori Education p13.

It was noted that by Buck that;

...a high standard of education was given to the sons of chiefs and priests by selected members of the tribe, who, because of their knowledge were regarded as repositories of tribal lore....some men famous for their learning gave courses in high education to a number of selected students whose admission was not by examination as to intellectual ability but by the qualification of birth. The courses were given in houses set apart for the purpose and termed whare wananga.

There is an inference from the above that women did not take part in wananga but in his book on tikanga" , Cleve Barlow refers to the fact that wananga included two priests, a man and a woman. The latter helped in the freeing of the participants from tapu. I have been unable to find written record of women being part of traditional wananga, although it is accepted that the wananga were for the rangatira class, to which women belonged. It is possible that early enthographers simply assumed that women did not take part because the activity was tapu and women were excluded. But, more importantly, they applied their own cultural norms in making assumptions of non-involvement by Maori women, which was plainly wrong. I suggest that if the type of wananga warranted the inclusion of women, that would have been done, because women were considered tohunga in some activities.

The teaching and learning of very tapu knowledge was carried on in a controlled and restricted context, sometimes in specially constructed houses called whare wananga or houses of learning. Teaching was by tohunga or experts. The tapu sanctions served to protect the participants from the power implicit in the acquiring of knowledge. They also served to maintain the authority and validity of the knowledge.12

Traditional Maori knowledge was perceived to belong to the whole group and not the individual who, in any case, had the responsibility to contribute his or her knowledge for the benefit of the group. It was said that; the traditional Maori worldview, all knowledge was regarded as

being tapu...although some forms of knowledge and some skills were regarded

  1. Buck, Sir Peter The Coming of the Maori (Wellington: Whitcombe and Tombs,1966) p363.

11 Supra no 3 p158.
12 Supra no 1 p37.

as being more tapu than others. Contextual variables such as 'what could be learned', 'how it could be taught' and 'when it could be taught' could both affect and effect the level of tapu attached to that particular form of knowledge....Generally more informal (less tapu) learning and teaching was related to eking out a living and to skill acquisition for survival in the physical sense...13

So, contrary to the observations of the early ethnographers, traditional Maori society had a system of education which suited their cultural needs and world view. It included the basic requirements of an educational system, that of a knowledge base, an oral tradition and an ability to adapt to the changing environment.


The book Maori Women by Beryl Heuer14 has been criticised by Huia Jahnke because in her view Heuer relied too heavily on the Victorian interpretations of white male ethnographers which resulted in a book filled with inaccuracies, generalisations and dubious interpretations.I5
I agree with this criticism. Jahnke refers to Heuer's description of Maori women in traditional society as 'passive receptacles for the dominant male spirit' or as being 'responsible...for the greater number of Maori wars' and 'high-born women as not eligible for leadership', as being inaccurate and offensive. Particularly offensive too, for Jahnke, was the negative interpretation given by Heuer on Maori women's role in the creation and death traditions, and in the symbolism of menstruation.

A more accurate view on the position of Maori women and leadership in traditional society is given by Ani Mikaere where she says:

...Both men and women were the essential parts of the collective whole, both formed part of the whakapapa that linked Maori people back to the beginning of the world and women in particular played a key role in linking the past with the present and the future. The very survival of the whole was absolutely dependent upon everyone who made it up, and therefore each and every person within the group had his or her own intrinsic value. They were all a part of the collective; it was therefore a collective responsibility to see that their respective roles were valued and protected.16

13 Supra no 1 p34.
14 Heuer B, Maori Women, p 62.
15 Jahnke, H in Middleton, S Maori Women and Education, p 22.
16 Mikaere A, Waikato Law Review/ (1994) p125.

This view is supported by Rose Pere in her very informative writing on the spirituality of Maori society with reference to her background where she says: female forebears, prior to the introduction of Christianity... were extremely liberated as compared to my English Tupuna....the women were never regarded as chattels or possessions; they retained their own names on marriage... Retaining their own identity and whakapapa (genealogy) was of the utmost importance and children could identify with the kinship group of either or both parents'?

Maori women, particularly those of rank, found no difficulty in assuming roles of leadership within their hapu and iwi. These roles were of equal importance, and in some cases of more importance,18 than the leadership roles of their male kin. The loss of emphasis on Maori women's leadership roles can be attributed to the Victorian attitude of the colonisers and ethnographers, and the acceptance by some Maori males of those attitudes.

Marriage did not prevent Maori women of rank from asserting themselves as leaders. One such woman was my paternal kuia, whose name was Hineaturama, of Ngati Whakaaue in Rotorua. She was a kinswoman of Te Amohau and a daughter of Tokowaru of Ngati Raukawa. She was offered as a wife to the Pakeha Tapsell to bring him into the Te Arawa district to trade. She had children to him but lived an independent life, moving to the Waikato where she became involved in the land wars, and died in the battle at Orakau. She was a great composer and a leader of her people.

Another tupuna kuia of mine was Ruawahine Faulkner of Ngaitukairangi, whose marriage to John Lees Faulkner left many descendants in the Tauranga district.

Despite the number ofrecorded historic incidents involving such women, what Kathie Irwin has to say is true;

...Throughout our story as a people, Maori women have been successful innovators and leaders. Our work and deeds have had a significant impact

17 Pere R,Te Wheke p9.
18 Supra no 16 p132.

on Maori culture and society, breaking new ground, often in radical ways. And yet, our women, and their stories, have been buried deeper and deeper in the annals of time by the processes of oppression the seek to render us invisible and keep us out of the records'

For Maori women, their leadership roles in traditional society should have given them the opportunity to take advantage of the new education system but because that system came with a new world view this potential advantage was taken away from them. Despite this, there were examples of very successful Maori businesswomen after colonisation.2°


The first missionary School was set up in 1816 in the Bay of Islands but it wasn't until the 1830s that Maori began to take a real interest in the new style of education.21 That the Bible had been translated increased the interest in literacy in the Maori language and it was reported that literacy had reached remote parts of the country where no Pakeha teachers had even been. So Maori themselves were spreading this new knowledge. The spread of literacy meant that by the late 1850s about half of all adult Maori could read in the Maori language and about a third could write it.22 It is important to note that because there was no gender discrimination in the acquiring of knowledge it was conceivable that as many Maori women as men had acquired the new literacy. But there was a down side to all of this because it resulted in Maori being influenced and persuaded by Christian teachings, and the ethnocentric ideas of the colonisers that Maori culture was inferior.

It was commonly thought that Maori knowledge, culture and practice were primitive and barbaric. The colonisers came intending to enlighten, uplift and protect Maori and at the same time to impose their 'superior'

19 Irwin K, Feminist Voices- Towards Theories of Maori Feminisms p I .

  1. An example is Airini O'Donelly ofNgati Kahungunu, see MacGregor M Petticoat Pioneers: North Island Women of the Colonial Era (Book I, Wellington, 1973).

21 Simon J, Nga Kura Maori p3.
22 Ibid p7.

English systems on the natives. Settlement meant that land was needed and therefore it was necessary to deal with Maori, and at that time the most potent agents of change for Maori were the Church and the school. The important points to be noted have been set out thus:

  1. Maori people were genuinely interested in and excited by the new technology and knowledge brought by Pakeha and actively sought ways of gaining access to that knowledge.
  2. Maori people were initially very successful at gaining access to these ideas, for example, by gaining control over the printed word.
  3. Something changed which caused this early excitement and participation to wane quite dramatically."

The "something" referred to above was the change in the political and economical situation of Maori and the land wars of the 1860s. State funding of the missionary schools pursuant to the Education Ordinance of 1847 required that instruction be in the English language, although bilingualism was the reality. While Maori did not have to attend school there was an enthusiasm for it and some Maori provided land and money for the establishment of the schools. To qualify for the subsidies, schools had to teach industrial training as well as religious training. The authorities of the time considered that it was their duty to civilise the native peoples and to assimilate them as soon as possible so that they could enjoy the benefits of a superior culture.

However, during this period there was a change for the worse in the relations between Maori and Pakeha because of the settler demand for land and the Maori refusal to sell. Given the assimilationist agenda of the settler government, there was an inevitability that conflict would arise. It did, in the form of the land wars, provoked by the government policies and deals.

The results of defeat in the land wars saw a rapid and dramatic decline in the health and vitality of Maori, so much so that by the end of the century it was commonly believed by Pakeha that the Maori race would die out if nothing were done to reverse the downturn in health and low numbers.

23 Supra no 1 p39.

As for the impact of colonialist policies on Maori women in this period, it has been succinctly written by Jahnke that;

Within the context of colonisation, the oppressive forces of missionary evangelism and assimilationist policies instituted by the settler government successfully rendered invisible any notion of Maori women's customary autonomy, role and status. Schools were established as major sites for transforming gender roles in Maori society by constructing and redefining the roles of Maori women and men, first by the missionaries and their early as 1816 ...and later by the state. The church and the state were intent on an agenda aimed at the domestication of Maori women and girls....24

Jahnke goes on further to say;

...This provided the rationale for industrial training. Maori men were trained as agricultural labourers and their Maori wives as domestic workers in Pakeha (missionary) homes. Underpinning this new social order were assumptions about the innate racial inferiority of Maori and the identification of Maori with the working class of England...British cultural practices and images embedded in the dominant attitudes towards women emphasised women's subordination to men...Thus Maori women were seen not only as inferior to Pakeha men and Pakeha women but also to Maori men...the work of the wives and educator in the church mission schools attest to their active involvement in an agenda aimed at the social control of Maori women and girls...25

There was a concern for the moral development of the Maori girls. Some schools became boarding schools but the girls had to first reject their own Maori values and culture and accept Christian values in their place. They had to learn to be Pakeha. These girls were taught to be good domestics servants for the missionaries and to be good wives for their Maori men. Little, if any, recognition was given to the fact that some of these Maori women held important leadership roles and mana in their own communities. Only Maori teachers who renounced their native ways progressed in the teaching system.

24 Supra no 15 p4.
25 Supra no 15 p6.

Kaai-Oldman sums up the situation thus:

...Sir George Grey was totally convinced of the appropriateness of the Pakeha's civilising mission and established the policy of assimilation as the solution to the Maori problem. He subsidised the mission schools the hope of isolating Maori children from the 'demoralising influence of the Maori villages' and thus speedily assimilating the Maori to the habits and usages of the European'

The combined effects of war, epidemic and low morale accounted for a dramatic drop in the Maori population and a despair as to whether they would survive into the new century. It did not help that the colonialist government continued its legislative programme to further assimilate Maori people and deny the importance of their language, culture and land.


This Ordinance was passed after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi 1840 which, for Maori who signed, reaffirmed their authority to look after their own affairs. The Ordinance allowed state funding of Mission Schools, provided that the language of instruction was English, that industrial training was taught as well as religious training and that the schools were open to inspection by government officials.27 As to the teaching of industrial training, Judith Simon recounts that the parents of children in Otaki complained because too much time was spent on industrial training and too little time on class lessons.28

The Ordinance reinforced the government policy of assimilation and although it was not compulsory to attend school, Maori were encouraged to gift land to the government for the setting up of schools.29 Many Maori did this because they saw the new system as potentially useful for them and, as indicated above, complained if they felt that their children were not being taught properly but were instead being used as slaves.3°

26 Kaai-Oldman T, Getting it Right p22.
27 Supra no 21 p7.
28 Simon J Thesis p75.

  1. Some land was kept though not used for a school, other land was sold after the use for schooling had finished. See;Wiparata v Bishop of Wellington (1877) 3 NZJuris (NS) SC 72.

30 Supra no 21 pll.

For Maori women, this Ordinance merely confirmed for them the few choices in the educational system that were available for them. Besides suffering the negative effects of the assimilationist policies imposed on all Maori, their choice of vocation was limited to the domestic sphere. The successes of the Te Aute graduates, all men, exasperated the situation because it implied that the attainment of such higher learning was for Maori male relatives and only exceptionally, if at all, for Maori women.31 The conservative view of Pakeha expectations of women was prevalent, that is, that a woman's place was to be a good wife and mother, and to work in the home. She could not expect to seek a life time vocation other that of supporting her husband. This was and still is, in some cases, the view of society (and some Maori men) towards Maori women.


This Act set up secular village day schools for Maori children. They were primary schools and were simply called Native Schools. The language of instruction was Maori, although Maori could be used only as an aid to teaching English. The Maori community that wanted a school had to provide the land for the school and to contribute to the teacher's salary. 32

The Act therefore established a national system of schooling and administration, with the decision making resting with the government. The curriculum still emphasised practical and domestic training for Maori, and this was to be so until the middle of the next century.


This Code was written to improve teaching standards, and emphasised the requirement for the teaching of reading and writing in the English language. There was to be a strong emphasis on the 'Europeanising'

  1. This was the strong view of one of the interviewees, her brother was sent to University and she had to stay home to work and support him financially. Her mother told her that this was to be and at the time she accepted the situation. She did not say whether her view had changed.

32 Supra no 21 pll.

of the Maori as quickly as possible.33 To this end teachers were advised that:

Besides giving due attention to the school instruction of the children, teachers will be expected to exercise a beneficial influence on the natives, old and young; to show by their own conduct that it is possible to live a useful and blameless life, and in smaller matters, by their dress, in their house, and by their manner and habits at home and abroad to set the Maoris an example that they may advantageously imitate34

There was also a sinister development in the treatment of the Maori language. Maori language was excluded from any school curriculum and focussed on negatively by the teachers and education policies. After 1900 a hard line was taken and it was decreed that speaking Maori language in the school and playground was forbidden. Those caught speaking Maori were given corporal punishment.35


By the time of the Education Act 1877, it appears that Maori realised that they needed to complement their traditional culture with that of the Pakeha to be able to survive in what looked like being a Pakeha dominated society. The ammunition that Maori needed was Pakeha knowledge. 36

The 1877 Act introduced a national, free, secular and compulsory state-funded primary school system. A central Department of Education administered the system which ran parallel to that of the Native schools system. There was no compulsion to attend either school by race and this was not for any altruistic reason. It was because the authorities thought that the Native schools would serve their purpose in turning out Pakeha Maori and that all students would eventually become part of a single-school system.

33 Supra no 1 p41.
34 Supra no 1 p43.

  1. This was the official education approach during the time that the women interviewed by the writer went to primary school. It is sadly one of the main memories they had of their school days.

36 Supra no 21 p12.

It was the Native Schools Code 1880 which sealed the fate of the Native Schools for the next 80 years or so. The main objective of the Native Schools system was to assimilate Maori in the ways of the dominant Pakeha culture so that Maori became more 'civilised'. The organising Inspector of Native schools James Pope reiterated the objective of Native School policy as: bring an untutored but intelligent and high-spirited people into line with our civilisation and by placing in Maori settlements European school buildings and European families to serve as teachers, especially as exemplars of a new and more desirable mode of life37

The above statement is interesting, given that it was made in 1900. When I started school in 1957 at Matakana Island, a remote rural Maori community in the Bay of Plenty, the only Pakeha living in the community were the headmaster's family. There was also the occasional visit from the Pakeha Catholic priest. So, even up to that time the main colonialist influences on Maori still had a presence in their communities.


The Hunn Report on Maori Affairs 1960 best defines the integration policy of government thus;

Assimilation (is) to become absorbed, blended amalgamated, with complete loss of Maori culture. Integration (is) to combine (not fuse) the Maori and Pakeha elements to form one nation wherein the Maori culture remains distinct 38

The objective of this policy was to create a singular New Zealand culture by incorporating the "better' aspects of Maori culture and the `progressive' aspects of Pakeha culture. The new singular culture would be taught to impressionable children and when they became adults, all New Zealanders would live in a 'perfect' mono-cultural world. There was encouragement for Maori children, because they came from a primitive culture, to accept this new arrangement but no compulsion was made on Pakeha children to avail themselves of this new policy39

37 Supra no 21 p14.
38 flunn Report 1960 p15.
39 Middleton, S Women and Education in Aotearoa p175.

For the Maori women whom the writer interviewed this was a period when they were putting their own children through the school system. All of the women were fluent in the Maori language. Their children, not fluent in the Maori language, were receiving information about their own culture at school but this was usually in the form of superficial activities like action songs, and arts and crafts.

All of the women seemed to accept that this was sufficient, consciously deciding not to teach their own children the language, and thus obviate the potential for punishment, even though the communities in which they lived at that time were very Maori orientated. The desire to teach the fundamentals of Maori culture, especially the Maori language, was to come later when these women came to look at their mokopuna and the kohanga reo.

There was at least some recognition by the educational authorities that New Zealand was made up of a number of cultures. The increase in the numbers of some ethnic groups, particularly the people of the Pacific islands, brought home the idea of multiculturalism.

The Maori response was to give an importance to their own culture as the indigenous people of the country, thus biculturalism was introduced to schools to accommodate this viewpoint.' Some Maori educators have interpreted the need for bicultural policies as a necessity for Maori to retain their identity as Maori in the modern (Pakeha)

Another benefit of the change in attitudes has been that women like those interviewed have been called upon or have volunteered to teach the important aspects of Maori culture in the schools of their mokopuna. All of the women did this with varying degrees of involvement and felt that their contribution was appreciated and valuable.

  1. Middleton, S Women and Education in Aotearoa p 178; where on p 201 there is also a useful Chronology of the education system and Maori.
  2. Pere R, Taku Maori-ness, in He Matapuna Some Maori Perspectives, Wellington New Planning council (1968) pl.


The most significant recent developments in Maori education have been the beginning of the kohanga reo, kura kaupapa Maori, whare kura and wananga.

These developments have all been initiatives of the Maori Community. The kohanga reo were intended to revitalise the speaking of the Maori language by immersing pre-school children in a totally Maori language environment. These kohanga reo have been phenomenally successful. The first pre-school participants are now the parents of new preschoolers for kohanga reo.

The kura kaupapa Maori and whare kura have been a natural progression from kohanga reo and share the same philosophies and principles or kaupapa as the kohanga reo. The teaching and learning of the curriculum is through the immersion of the students in the Maori language. While attending kura kaupapa Maori the notion of being Maori is the norm and there are no doubts about identity and self worth. The kura are strongly supported by the kura families because it is the first time that Maori families have had a direct input into the control and direction of the schools their children attend. Similarly, the development and growth of the wananga has lifted the numbers of Maori seeking a tertiary education.

It is said that the lifeblood of any culture is its language.42 Without its language, the culture becomes irrelevant, unimportant and pointless. The culture will eventually die. According to Dr Kuni Jenkins;

...Anthropologists and Linguists discuss the significance of language as a culture-bearing mechanism which holds and binds societies together... the decisions from many hui in the early 1980s were to the effect that any attempt to legitimate and validate Maori society, without its own distinctive language and culture, was not merely inconceivable but was also insufferable

  1. The Language Commision, Te Taura Whiri was established by Government in 1990s to promote the use of the Maori language.

43 Jenkins K, The Politics of Learning and Teaching in Aotearoa, p163.

A good modern example of the determination of Maori to retain their language is the Kohanga reo Movement which was established in 1982.

My experience in establishing a Kohanga reo at Matapihi in Tauranga in 1984 for my own children convinced me that it was my female relatives, young and old, who were going to and did in fact carry the kaupapa of the Kohanga. Subsequently, in becoming involved in other Kohanga, I found this to be the norm. Further to this, the majority of native Maori speakers in my community were women so their involvement was inevitable.

In 1980, the National Advisory Committee on Maori Education released a report called "He Huarahi"44 (meaning a pathway) which included reference to research carried out by Dr Richard Benton. This research pointed out that the demise of the Maori language was imminent if nothing were done to reverse the loss of the spoken language. In referring to the disappearance of the Maori language, Dr Benton stated:

...the decision that the minority language shall not be transmitted is made by the dominant speech community, whose members will not themselves learn the minority language and who, through conscious and unconscious pressures transmitted through social institutions like the school, and mass media, encourage children to resist their parents' efforts to transmit to them their linguistic heritage

This report naturally alarmed Maori leaders gathered at a Hui Whakatauira in 1981 and after much debate it was decided to go back to the old methods of teaching. The idea of the kohanga reo or the language nest was the response of those leaders. Thus the kohanga reo was put into place with the full support of those kaumatua and kuia. It was a Maori solution to a dire situation and was intended to revitalise the use of the Maori language.46

  1. The membership of the Committee included the well known Maori educators of the day and like Advisory Committees before it, this one was mainly concerned with the underachievement of Maori and sought ways to improve the system.

45 Benton R, He Huarahi p17.

  1. The name Kohanga Reo or language nest was chosen for the nuturing aspect of this method of transferring language to youngsters.

The idea was that Maori language would be the reo or language of instruction in the kohanga reo, it being spoken by fluent and not so fluent speakers of Maori to the mokopuna or toddlers and preschoolers of the community. The programmes for the mokopuna would be similar to programmes for pre-schoolers, but with a Maori cultural input.

This approach was new and innovative:

The aim of the kohanga programme launched by Maori communities in partnership with the Maori affairs Departments was first to arrest the decline of Maori speaking persons in New Zealand; secondly to give Maori people greater control over their own lives and the ability to plan and organise their own future within the context of the extended family; and thirdly, to achieve Maori control over Maori resources47

The method of instruction and the need for community and whanau involvement made it natural that Maori women would participate and later take over the process of the setting up and managing of kohanga reo, thus ensuring its success. Importantly, in day to day activities kaupapa Maori was the priority and was to be observed. This was a first for Maori in the education system.

Many Maori women were attracted to and then excelled in the application of the teaching methods. They were able to utilise their already existing authority within their own communities to make kohanga succeed. It allowed kuia to learn new ways and to contribute their own knowledge and wisdom to the kaupapa. But in my experience, this did not always go smoothly and compromise was sometimes necessary.

For example, I recall that in the kohanga reo established on my marae, the kuia were reluctant to allow the children to play with water toys and the like because, as they said, "kei maka!"48 They did not like the children getting their clothes wet and it took some explaining to them

47 Kaai-Oldman T, Maori Education, p27.

  1. Meaning "but they'll get wet!" Nor did they like the children to paint because `Kei paruparu!' They might get paint over themselves. Playing for playing sake was new and innovative! But it also reflected the habit of having separate clothes for school and home as was the practice in most Maori homes where money was short.

that this activity was a normal part of pre-school learning. The kuia, however, explained that their learning background was that they learnt while doing an activity which was for the benefit of the whanau, usually collecting kai. It wasn't only for play. A common example used by the kuia was the collecting of titiko (mud snails) for the whanau table in Waipu bay, below the marae. They went swimming after the collecting had been done. Later, during the summer, this activity in fact became the favourite of the kohanga reo mokopuna.

That many kohanga reo were marae-based allowed these Maori women, young and old, to use their influence from the marae setting to establish and run the kohanga. It was an environment they were used to. As has been noted:

Te Kohanga Reo is one of the most dynamic and innovative educational programmes in the country...while these centres exist to teach pre-schoolers the Maori language, the unforeseen side effects extend to the many young parents who are not only learning their own language with their children but also becoming politically active as they grapple with the constraints imposed by the Pakeha for an equitable distribution of those resources required to attain their goals49

The first kohanga reo opened in 1982 at Waiwheta marae in Lower Hutt. It was an immediate success and that success was attributable to the support of the whanau of the marae. The enthusiasm spread and before long many Maori communities wanted to set up kohanga reo to teach their own mokopuna. Public reaction was very positive: in fact the kohanga reo was the only positive development going for Maori education at that time. More was to come later.

In 1986, the Waitangi Tribunal subjected the education system to scrutiny

by delivering a damning report concerning the state of Maori education. It was reporting on a claim concerning the Crown's duty toward the protection and promotion of the Maori language. The Tribunal made the observation;

49 Supra no 47 p27.

...The education system in New Zealand is operating unsuccessfully because too many Maori children are not reaching an acceptable standard of education. For some reason they do not or cannot take full advantage of it. Their language is not adequately protected and their scholastic achievements fall far short of what they should be. The promises of the Treaty of Waitangi of equality in education as in all other human rights are undeniable. Judged by the system's own standards Maori children are not being successfully taught, and for that reason alone, quite apart from a duty to protect the Maori language, the education system is being operated in breach of the Treaty5°

It is useful in looking at the above to remember that, apart from the Maori initiative of starting the Kohanga reo, nothing much had changed since the introduction by earlier Pakeha colonisers of their education system.

Evidence of the success of kohanga reo was that by 2003 the number of enrolments had reached 10,319 children, which was up from 4,123 in 198351. The majority of kohanga reo were started by Maori women and continued to be organised and run by them. It is generally accepted that had it not been for the input of these Maori women and their support of the kaupapa, kohanga reo would have been struggling. And, as a likely consequence, there would have been the loss of the Maori language as wel1.52

Professor Mason Durie has pointed out that there has been a steady increase in the numbers of Maori speakers as a result of the introduction of Kohanga reo, while noting that the state of the language may not yet be fully secure:

A decade or more of innovative Maori Language development has almost certainly saved to reo Maori from extinction. Though not on an absolute secure footing, the level of awareness, and the enthusiasm for learning and, perhaps more importantly, for speaking Maori escalated well beyond the popular forecasts of 1984. Success in one sphere has generated enthusiasm

50 Waitangi Tribunal, WAI 66 Report on the Maori Language 163.

  1. Ministry of Education, Maori in Early Childhood Education and Schools 2003 p2 NB: The Maori enrolments at pre-school level was 62% of 2 to 4 year olds compared to the non- Maori rate of 76%.
  2. A new generation of Maori speakers was born with a better general appreciation of Maori reo. All of the interviewees for this assignment worked or were connected through their mokopuna to their marae kohanga reo.

in another, a snowballing effect which has given confidence to both young and old speakers of Maori53

Other positive effects of the kohanga reo have been described as follows:

...Te Kohanga Reo, furthermore, discouraged research but encouraged autonomy amongst its individual units. A consequence of such autonomy is there was space for whanau to solve problems for themselves and this process generated a wide range of activities, one of which was information gathering. It was also a process which committed parents to thinking far more seriously about education and the relationship between schooling and society.54

It bears repeating, then, that the success of kohanga reo resulted mostly from the input of Maori women. Despite this, it has taken too long for the abilities of these women to be recognised by their own communities and the wider community.



In referring to Stephanie Milroy's guidelines in conducting Maori interviews,55 I decided to interview Maori women who are members of my own iwi and hapu. The iwi is Ngaiterangi and the hapu is Ngaitukairangi. The name of the Maori community is Matapihi in Tauranga. A number of factors should be mentioned.

The women were my close kin and therefore I knew that I would at some stage be answerable to them to explain the purpose and results of the research. I always meet these women on frequent trips back to my community and take every opportunity to keep them informed. I intend to give the women copies of the research paper, together with further explanations if necessary.

53 Durie M, Te Mana Te Kawanatanga p74.
54 Smith L, Decolonising Methodologies p169.
55 Milroy S Maori Women and Domestic Violence. p62.

I know the women well: they are kuia at my marae, and I approached them informally first to see whether they would feel comfortable about being interviewed. They were happy to do so and in fact had contributed in the same way to research by my cousin, Ngareta Timutimu, who completed a Master of Arts (Honours) in Education. She dealt with the interviewees in a way similar to the writer and this made them comfortable.

These kuia have always supported the younger members of their hapu in the pursuit of 'higher' knowledge. Although they initially questioned whether what they had to say would be of any use, their contribution was invaluable and their memories improved during the time of the interview.

The kuia were all fluent in the Maori language and, without prompting, the interviews were held entirely in Maori. Using the Maori language to interview them made the kuia more relaxed and forth-coming in telling their stories. I speak Maori and I transcribed the tapes.

The interviews took place in the homes of the interviewees. The 'home-place'56 situation is the most desirable for the interviewing of Maori, especially the elderly, because they are relaxed and comfortable and are able to relate to their physical surroundings. In this case it was the home-place of the Maori community in which they lived. One interviewee lived in the Kaumatua flats of the marae, another lived within view and walking distance and the other lived equal-distant from her two marae.

I wanted to increase the recorded information for the hapu and iwi to which the I belong.

There is a lack of recorded knowledge for the Ngaitukairangi hapu, particularly stories of hapu elders.

56 The writer attended an Oral Traditions Hui at Massey University on 4 June

1999 and attended a presentation by Huia Jahnke. The reference to home-place was part of her presentation about interviewing Maori for research.


Marata is the second youngest of her twelve siblings. Her parents were dairy farmers. She is seventy four years old and is the last of her siblings still living. She is renown in the whole of Tauranga for her expertise in karanga and her contribution to the kohanga reo in the region.58 With other younger female relatives she started the first kohanga reo in the Tauranga district and her advice is always sought concerning tikanga for Ngaiterangi and Ngati Ranginui tribes

When she was six years old she started school. Her first language was Maori but she had an understanding of English. She remembers vividly being strapped for speaking Maori when not allowed to do so. She and other Maori students spoke Maori secretly among themselves. She was taught English and, while learning it, was allowed to speak Maori but as her fluency in English improved she was not permitted to speak Maori anywhere at school. Her parents spoke Maori only although her mother, a half-caste, knew some English.

Her mother was the main influence in her schooling. Her mother believed that it was better for the boys in the family to further their education. Marata's oldest brother was sent to Auckland Grammar School in the 1920s and he went to university. He was supposed to have studied law but got into some minor trouble and was sent home. He became an interpreter for the Maori Land Court. The brother just older than her went to the local secondary school and eventually became the Member of Parliament for the Eastern Maori seat. He held that position for nearly 20 years. Only one of her six sisters went to secondary school and Marata thinks this was only because that sister was being brought up by a maternal aunt who had no children.

Marata describes her family as poor but hardworking. Her mother took in washing from Pakeha families to pay for the fees of the boys who went to secondary school. The girls were to help their mother in this purpose. Their mother explained that it were better for the boys to further their education because they would come back to the community

57 Names are fictitious.

  1. She was awarded the OBE for services to the community not long after the interview.

to assist their relatives. Marata accepted this explanation and did not question her mother about it, in fact she admired this attitude and did all she could, then and later, to promote the leadership of her brothers. Marata said her family came to be known in the Maori community as the "clever" family, whichever way one interpreted that.59

She said, however, that she treated the academic abilities of her own children equally. She had seven daughters and one son and at her insistence they all went to secondary school. She got extra work so they could go to secondary school.

Her mother died when she was twelve years old and she was expected to finish school and stay at home to help her father with the farm. She did all the cooking and household chores. She did this for several years before getting employment in the town. The employment was that of a housekeeper for a Pakeha family. After that she got work as a waitress in a hotel and then went to work at the hospital as a cleaner.

When she had mokopuna she started the first kohanga reo for Tauranga, and her leadership in this area of the Maori community has been strong. She later regretted that she never had the opportunity to go to University.


Rangi is sixty nine years old and was born at Rangiwaea Island, a very rural district of Tauranga. The community was totally Maori. Maori was the first language. She married a man from Ngaitukairangi and has lived within her husband's community for fifty years. She has whakapapa connections to the hapu. Her parents were farmers and she was brought up by her maternal grandparents.

When, aged seven, she started school at Matakana Island she could not speak English and she assumed that speaking Maori was allowed. She was caught speaking Maori and strapped for it. When she told her

59 This comment is added because not all Maori families in the community thought

Pakeha knowledge was the ultimate achievement. Some families not "highly" educated were still the authorities on tikanga within the hapu. Pakeha knowledge was sometimes looked at with suspicion by Maori even when acquired by other Maori.

grandmother why her hand hurt, her grandmother got on her horse, went to the school and threatened to report the teacher to the police for assault. Rangi recalls this incident and admires her grandmother for her tenacity.

Getting to school was a problem because the wagon carrying the children had to cross to Matakana Island on the tide. If the tide was too high the children did not go to school. Rangi feels that she missed a lot of school for that reason and because her grandmother would not send her if she were even slightly sick.

When she got older Rangi was sent to Hukarere Boarding School. She thought that it was too strict and that she was only taught things she could have learned at home like cooking and house keeping. She played up at school and spent most of her time in trouble. She did not enjoy being there and was very hurt that when her mother died she and her older sister, who was also at the school, were not allowed to travel home to the tangihanga but had to wait until later in the year.

Rangi left school and went to work as a waitress and then as a cook at one of the hotels in Tauranga. She did this for some twenty years and then she worked in a clothing business as a supervisor. She was well known in her community for her business acumen but had to give up her employment for health reasons. She was responsible during the 1960s and 1970s for securing employment for many of the young Maori girls in her community. During the 1980s she involved herself with Kohanga reo and the teaching of sewing courses to unemployed youngsters at the marae.

She and her husband are now teachers ofNgaiterangi traditional waiata at the marae and travel with other members of the hapo to all of the hui in Tauranga and elsewhere. She is a kai—karanga of her marae.

(Sadly this kuia passed away in 2003 from the long term effects of diabetes, an illness too common among MoiorL)


Hoana is from Ngai-Tuhoe. She is sixty nine years old and was born at Whakatane. She married a man from Ngaitukairangi and has lived in Matapihi for fifty years. She regards herself as Ngaitukairangi and they accept her as such. She has accepted the task of being one of several kai-karanga at the marae, such is her feeling for the community.

Hoana says that Maori is her first language. She did not teach her children to speak Maori when they were going to school at Matapihi in the 1950s and 1960s because she says that that was the acceptable thing to do, even though the community was a bilingual community. Two of her children were brought up in Ruatoki by kin there and they are fluent Maori speakers.

There were twelve children in her family and when she started school in Ruatoki, if they were caught speaking Maori, " ka strapngia matou!". Her father valued learning and would encourage them to acquire Pakeha knowledge, especially the ability to speak and write English.

Her older brother was sent to St Stephen's Boarding School but unfortunately he died in an accident. Her sister went to Hukarere on a scholarship but she died of meningitis. When it came to Hoana, her parents had no money to send her to secondary school. When she was fifteen years old her father asked her to finish school so that she could go and work. She ended up working at the Rotorua hospital as an untrained nurse with Maori patients. She liked her work but, in retrospect, would have liked the opportunity to be a trained nurse, as was her older sister. She met her husband at Rotorua, and returned to Matapihi to live and raise their fourteen children.


In the case studies the kuia accepted that it was their lot to support their male siblings in their pursuit of Pakeha knowledge because they were part of a whanau and it was believed that the benefits would come back to the whanau and wider iwi in due course. The choice of males seems to me to be a carry over of the Pakeha attitude as to the position of men. Some Maori whanau may have conformed simply because it was less troublesome than trying to explain why women were not sent away to school, or not to upset Pakeha who dominated the system anyway.

As a consequence of not enjoying the full benefits of the education system, these kuia were resigned to the fact that their employment opportunities were limited to menial and domestic work. One kuia had wished she could have been the doctor rather than the nurse aide that she was. Another realised that she could have been an effective teacher and was carrying out volunteer work at the kura kaupapa Maori for which her colleagues were being paid.

All of the kuia attended Native Schools during the 1930s when the assimilationist policies of government were in full force. The kuia related stories of how they were treated if they or other Maori children spoke Maori anywhere near the school. At primary school allowance was made in some cases for Maori to be used, but only for the purpose of learning English. In the case of Rangi, her grandmother took exception to her being punished for speaking Maori. But it is interesting that although Rangi's mother went along as well to confront the teacher, she was more apologetic for the grandmother's behaviour than anything else. This showed the different attitudes of each generation. The parents of the other two kuia accepted that it was for their children's benefit to learn English, although they disapproved of the methods of punishment employed for those who spoke Maori.

It appears that as a result of their language being put down while they themselves were at school and the acceptance by them (and their parents) that what this was acceptable, none of the kuia actively taught their own children Maori. Their children have an understanding of Maori from living in a bilingual community but there is a whole generation whose fluency in reo is diminished. The mokopuna of the kuia, however, have had the benefit of being taught in the Maori language and acquiring fluency.

The children of these kuia attended school during the time when the policies of integration and biculturalism were being implemented. While those policies gave only a superficial knowledge of Maori culture, they nevertheless constituted some form of recognition, and Maori were lulled into believing that that was enough. Fortunately for the Matapihi community and the mokopuna, these kuia have since come into their own as the teachers of Maori language both at kohanga reo and primary school level.

All of the kuia said that they came from poor but hardworking backgrounds. All felt that they belonged to their whanau and hapa, and accepted that any decisions made by the elders were for the good of all. Therefore all of the kuia accepted that if there was no money to further their own education, it was right that it should go to a male relative in the family or hapa who could in the long term return the support. That relative was usually the tuakana of the family.

Being poor was the main reason given by the kuia for their parents not furthering their education. This of course is a good reason but where resources were limited it was decided to do what the majority of Maori whanau were doing and that was to fully educate only selected members of the whanau. This was all undone for some whanau whose sons and fathers went to fight in the two world wars and died.

When it came time for their own children to go further in their education, the kuia worked extra jobs for this to happen. They wanted their children to have better opportunities and greater choice than they themselves had had.

The expectations of the kuia were not raised higher than that of getting jobs as waitresses, housekeepers, cooks and the like. Although in later life they showed aptitude, while at school they were focussed by the school system to accept that their future was in domestic type jobs. Because there was plenty of that type of paid employment around, these kuia accepted this as their lot. Getting paid meant independence from family but also an ability to repay and support them.

Thus, the life experiences of these kuia have moulded their present attitudes toward education of their own children and mokopuna.

However, these attitudes should be understood as being the end result of the educational policies that have impacted on Maori since the first contact with Pakeha. The traditional Maori roles of men and women, the tuakana and teina, were completely turned around by the colonialist education system and the different world view it brought with it. Part of the reason for the survival of Maori as a cultural identity and as a people has been their tenacity and the collective strength of whanau and hapu.

It is my contention that the lowered expectations of these kuia in the education system and the poverty of their whanau forced them to make decisions which showed their loyalty to whanau members, especially to their parents and elders. Their decisions were based on tikanga, that is, the survival of the group. But in doing this, these particular kuia and many besides, were not given the opportunity to realise their full potential and therefore their contribution to their own whanau and community may have been less than what it could have been. That is not to say that these kuia were not leaders for the whanau and hapu, for clearly they were.

However, despite their missed opportunities, these kuia were generally optimistic about the future of Maori people and philosophical about the past. They indicated to me that their experience should not be forgotten but rather used to build a better future for their mokopuna, that too being a fundamental tenet of Maori cultural belief.


Throughout this chapter I have endeavoured to show how the education system affected Maori generally and Maori women specifically. It appears that even though Maori women held positions of power and leadership before PAkeha contact and subsequently, for a time, the Pakeha system took that influence from them and reduced them to mere supporters of their male kin.

The colonial education system perpetuated the stereotype that women, Maori and European, were chattels of their husbands and fathers. In fact, Maori women had formerly been of equal status to Maori men, and sometimes of a higher status. Their roles were of a complementary nature.

Colonisation ignored and distorted this position and regrettably some Maori men collaborated in this process. This attitude persisted until these last several decades when on the back of a renaissance of Maori reo and culture, Maori women have deservedly placed themselves in roles of leadership, as their tupuna Papatuanuku did, to nourish the people.


Education Ordinance 1847
Native Schools Act 1867
Education Act 1877

Native School Code 1880


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