Five Reads for Te Reo and Tikanga Maori

Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori is 9-15 Mahuru/September 2019 and to celebrate we’ve put together a list of five BDS titles that feature te reo and tikanga Māori/Māori language and customs.

Every New Zealander can contribute to the revitalisation of the Māori language. Why not challenge your book group by creating a quiz to see how many new Māori words and phrases you’ve added to your vocabulary from one of the following books? Or discuss as part of your meeting the importance of language as a means to connect with another culture’s worldview.

There is a Māori whakataukī/proverb that says: Ko te reo te taikura ō te whakaaro marama — Language is the key to understanding; and another that says: He pai ake te iti i te kore — A little is better than none!

So, let’s open our minds to Te Ao Māori/the Māori World by engaging with the language — give something new a go in the company of friends, and let’s make the Māori language strong.

Kia kaha te reo Māori! 


Patricia Grace

Fiction, 2015

In a few words

Daniel, a young man needing to find his place in the world, travels to New Zealand to reconnect with his whānau. He becomes immersed in the story of his Māori grandmother Oriwia and his Japanese grandfather, Chappy. Played out against the changing backdrop of the 20th century, Oriwia and Chappy’s love story is fraught with cross-cultural misunderstandings and peppered with the challenges of racial discrimination. 

This absorbing novel of the Pacific, steeped in the mystery and nature of family, is set across Japan, Hawaii and rural New Zealand, but this is unmistakably a story of Aotearoa: As Oriwia tells Daniel, “You can be anywhere in the world, but you have a tūrangawaewae that cannot be denied you.”

What our groups say

"A window into a different world — we really enjoyed it." (WELL 008)

"All really enjoyed the setting of the book and learning more about our country's history/way of life. Well-developed characters and written in an intriguing way. Great discussion had!" (HAMIL 056)

"Good story and themes...identity, war, belonging, survival, intergenerational development, spirituality. Fascinating the connections between Japanese and Māori oral traditions [both being] very strong. Good to have the discussion on Māori language week." (AUCK 360)


Witi Ihimaera

Fiction, 2015

In a few words

The story of two rival Māori families, the Mahanas and the Poatas, who clash constantly in sport, kapa haka competitions, and finally in the inaugural Golden Fleece Shearing Contest.

Narrated by 15-year-old Simeon, grandson of Tamihana (known as Bulibasha, a Gypsy word for ‘King of Gypsies’), and set in a time when society was beginning to change and teenagers were pushing against traditional boundaries, a powerful patriarch’s long-held beliefs and control over the family are challenged.

The setting of 1950s rural New Zealand is vividly depicted and the characters richly portrayed. The book encompasses several universal themes: love, loyalty, jealousy, deceit and dislocation, interwoven by some brilliant humor — including a bunch of raunchy aunts, and three transvestite cousins who temporarily join the family hockey team.

A movie adaptation directed by Lee Tamahori and starring Temuera Morrison, Mahana, was released in 2016.

What our groups say

"The group thoroughly enjoyed the book. We had a stimulating discussion around underlying themes of the book i.e. Māori mythology, family structures." (CULV 001)

"A fantastic book enjoyed by everyone in the group. The book had a clever, compelling storyline, with lots of humour, twists and turns, and an unexpected ending. Would definitely recommend this book to other groups." (TAUR 034)

"What a great book! Everyone loved it! Now we are up for a DVD night to watch Mahana. With his humour and descriptive writing skill, you can almost smell the sheep in the woolshed! Just wonderful." (TURA 001)

Where the Rēkohu Bone Singswhere the rekohu bone sings

Tina Makareti

Fiction, 2014

In a few words

From the 19th century invasion of Rēkohu (Chatham Islands) through to contemporary Aotearoa, this is the story of a truly New Zealand family: Moriori, Māori, and Pākehā.

In order to have a life together, Mere and Iraia, star-crossed lovers with irreconcilable differences in status, must leave their home in the 1880s Marlborough Sounds and start afresh in Wellington. A century later, fraternal twins Lula and Bigs, born with Māori and Pākeha heritage will have their own demons to grapple with — and binding them all together, an ancestral voice. 

Bringing to light a neglected part of NZ history, and tackling the challenge of fluid identity, this is a unique and satisfying read from an author with a unique multicultural perspective.

What our groups say

"For the first time in a long time, our group was unanimous in their enjoyment of this wonderful book. We all gained an understanding of the Moriori, their treatment by Māori and Pākehā.Told in an interesting fictional style, by a new writer, [it] was quite outstanding." (NELS 058)

"A fascinating book enjoyed by all who read it. Some found it difficult to begin with because of the three periods it was written in. Later it was difficult to put down. We found the careful research by Tina Makereti very informative. Three of our group read Michael King's Moriori for a better understanding of the Moriori people. We had one of our best discussions as a group. The notes and questions were valuable." (WELL 007)

The Good Doctorthe good doctor

Lance O'Sullivan

Non-Fiction, 2015

In a few words

This autobiography doesn’t just give the reader an inspiring personal story but also cogent analysis of New Zealand's health-related social issues.

Benefit-raised by a solo Pākehā mother, and struggling with the absence of his Māori father, O’Sullivan was despised on all sides. Life could have gone either way for him: Two of his secondary school teachers expected him to end up in jail, but he eventually connected with his Māori heritage, found key mentors, and went on to study medicine.

Lance has since been acknowledged as Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year, a Sir Peter Blake Emerging Leader, Public Health Champion, and Māori of the Year. With a passion and commitment to those who are disadvantaged, particularly Māori in Northland, he exemplifies the book's subtitle: breaking the rules, making a difference. 

What our groups say

"This book generated a great discussion on a wide range of topics: health, the effects of colonisation, societal and cultural issues — and also raised the political dimensions of health decisions. Mixed feelings on style in which the book was written; lots of repetition especially in the first part of the book." (WELL 047)

"Every member of our group enjoyed this book. We were full of admiration for Lance's work in the north and his innovative ideas. We voted it a 4.5 instead of a 5 because some members had an issue with the quality of the writing and editing. Our discussion was epic! It was the liveliest discussion/debate on any book in our 15-year history!" (NELS 023)

The Bone Peoplethe bone people

Keri Hulme

Fiction, 1984

In a few words

A provocative and highly poetic novel set in a remote South Island beach community. The story centres around three fiercely unique, but damaged characters: Kerewin, a part-Māori woman painter who can’t paint; Joe, a Māori man who knows loss and failure intimately; and Simon, a mute European child who washed up on the shore from a shipwreck. The characters go through some terrible experiences sure to bring tears, but also some wonderful ones, and it is all intricately bound in Māori mythology and Christian symbolism.

The Bone People was Keri Hulme’s first novel. It took twelve years to write and was the Booker Prize Winner in 1985.

What our groups say

"Those who could get into the book found it very addictive. Some parts are a little hard to follow but the language and use of words are very clever. The author gives beautiful descriptions of NZ nature — the plants, locations, fish and others. The Māori language throughout was novel for the times. There is violence and a lot of alcohol. The depth of the book was noted by all, with many layers of themes. This all led to deep conversation within the group." (PALM 029)

"We all enjoyed the book — very thought provoking. Many felt they needed to read it again to uncover more themes, ideas etc." (CHCH 088)

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