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Māori literature

May 29, 2013

Introducing Māori literature in her Masters thesis (1996), Michelle Maria Keown wrote:

“The development of a substantial body of prose fiction in English by Māori writers is a relatively recent phenomenon. In pre-colonial times, Māori had a rich oral literary tradition which included genres such as whakapapa (genealogy), karakia (incantations), whakatauki (sayings), waiata (sung poetry), and kōrero (narratives). Although the amount of spoken Māori steadily declined after European colonisation, there is a large body of written material in both Māori and English which has accumulated since 1815, when early European missionaries developed an orthography for the Māori language. This written material comprises a considerable number of non-fiction texts including grammars and dictionaries of the Māori language, letters to the government, newspaper articles and other political and factual documents which have been produced as a result of contact with the Pākehā. There are also written records of the large body of oral Māori literature, including tribal histories, stories and waiata. Most original creative writing in Māori or English has been in the genre of poetry, reflecting a long tradition of composing waiata which stretches back into pre-colonial times.
In comparison, the publication of ‘new’ or original prose fiction in English is a relatively new development. Until about the late 1960s or early 1970s, most representations of the Māori in prose fiction were produced by Pākehā writers. W.H. Pearson, who has published two comprehensive articles on the depiction of Māori in Pākehā prose fiction, points out that from the turn of the century onwards, this type of writing has been predominantly characterised by ‘a feeling of guilt about, and a distaste for, the contemporary Maori’. In many novels and short stories from the 1900s to the 1930s in particular, Māori characters are stereotyped as indolent, shiftless rogues, negatively affected by the colonisation process. Other novels fall into the ‘romance’ category, some treating the wars of the 1860s ‘in which the Maoris were either ferocious and treacherous, or, later, were sentimentalised melancholy and noble savages and brave….” (p.1)

(I didn’t photocopy the next page, so only have this much in my notes… still it gives a sense of some literary history)

Ref: Michelle Maria Keown (1996) Taku Iwi, Taku Whenua, Taku Reo: The construction of Māori Identity in the Novels of Witi Ihimaera, Patricia Grace and Alan Duff. theis, M.A. English: University of Waikato [sorry I cant find the macron to go over the i in whakatauki!]


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