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The remarkable people who ensured the recording of the history, skills and tikanga of Māori in the early twentieth century

Hei Taonga mā ngā Uri Whakatipu | Treasures for the Rising Generation: The Dominion Museum Ethnological Expeditions 1919–1923

Te Papa Pres

RRP $75.00

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Māori were the subject of many books and monographs throughout the nineteenth century but these often lacked a systematic or scientific approach  It was not until the early twentieth century  that proper ethnological studies  were undertaken the most important being four expeditions  by teams from the Dominion Museum. Their studies coincided with the end of World War I and the Spanish Flu Epidemic and at the time of several major hui which celebrated the return of Māori soldiers from the battlefields of Europe. These hui which involved many tribes, featured performance, demonstrations of Maori arts and crafts as well as, food preparation.

In the early years of the twentieth century there was a burgeoning of ethnographic studies around the world particularly in the Pacific, the most notable being the studies done by Margaret Mead in the early 1920’s which resulted in her book “Coming of Age in Samoa”. It was a characteristic example of twentieth century ethnography which placed reliance on observation rather than statistics for data. That book  which had  an underlying notion of cultural determinism caused some later 20th-century ethnographers to question both the accuracy of her observations and the soundness of her conclusions

Expeditions and studies by Mead and others were  generally undertaken within a colonial framework where the input of the indigenous people was only as subject matter and had no say in the planning, observations and recordings of the events and interviews.

A New book “Hei Taonga mā ngā Uri Whakatipu, Treasures for the Rising Generation” tells the story of the four expeditions that The Dominion Museum undertook in  1919–1923 and the efforts of early twentieth century Māori leaders, including Sir Apirana Ngata, Sir Peter Buck (Te Rangihiroa), James Carroll, and those in the communities they visited, to pass on ancestral tikanga for new generations.

The expeditions made by the Dominion Museum were initiated  by Ngata’s and travelled to tribal areas across The North Island to record tikanga Māori that Ngata believed might be disappearing. 

Ngata wrote about the issues in the 1920’s saying “It seems to me that the language must be maintained. Indeed the English language fails in appeal to those subtle things that influence the mind & the heart of the Māori no matter how well educated he may be … So also must we hang on to Māori arts and crafts”.

The book provides insights into the ways in which efforts had been made to acknowledge the need to engage in preservation and to see Maori as part of the cultural fabric of the country.

These ethnographic expeditions, the first in the world to be inspired and guided by indigenous leaders used then cutting-edge technologies that included cinematic film and wax cylinders to record fishing techniques, art forms (weaving, kōwhaiwhai, kapa haka and mōteatea), ancestral rituals and everyday life in the communities they visited.

James McDonald, Henare Te Raumoa Baineavis,and Elsdon Bestr at a recoding session with an unnamed man at the Hui Aroha in Gisborne 1919

The  first of these was  the Hui Aroha, held at the Gisborne Racecourse and billed as “The  Largest Meeting of Māori ever attempted.” The hui also saw the official arrival of the Māori Battalion back to New Zealand. The team from the Dominion Museum  used the opportunity to record the various activities on film, on phonograph along with general observations, interviews and discussions

They  also attended  the 1920 welcome to the Prince of Wales in Rotorua, visited communities along the Whanganui River (1921) and in Tairāwhiti (1923). The doctor-soldier-ethnographer Te Rangihīroa the expedition’s photographer and film-maker James McDonald, the ethnologist Elsdon Best and Turnbull Librarian Johannes Andersen recorded a wealth of material.

The accounts of each of these expeditions features observations by the various members of the team, an overview of the daily proceedings along with photographs of the events and participants. The book itself is something of a study of the ethnographic process and provides an example of the way in which other such international expeditions should have been undertaken.

James McDonald and Johannes Anderson

James McDonald acknowledges that as a European ethnographer engaging with and filming the indigenous people was difficult and that it was the involvement of peoples like Ngata and  Te Raumoa Baineavis which ensured the success of their enterprises.

The book also provides biographical material on many of the important Māori leaders of the time and how they were able to incorporate their knowledge of tikanga with European concepts of law, social history and science.  The lives of the Europeans engaged in the work are also of interest with the work of Elsdon Best, the photographer James McDonald and  the Danish polymath  Johannes Carl Anderson who was responsibility for the sound recordings during the expeditions.

The appendices include two articles by Apirana Ngata, one on the terminology of whakapapa where he links the notions of weaving, the architecture of the meeting house and genealogical structure. The other article is a detailed account of the relationship terms used in the study of genealogy

It’s a significant book recounting remarkable times in the history of New Zealand revealing some remarkable people who attempted to understand and record the history, skills and tikanga f Māori

The book is superbly designed and the inclusion of original and contemporary photographs provides a real insight into the period of these expeditions.

The authors of the various chapters are Wayne Ngata, Arapata Hakiwai, Anne Salmond, Conal McCarthy, Amiria Salmond, Monty Soutar, James Schuster, Billie Lythberg, John Niko Maihi, Sandra Kahu Nepia, Te Wheturere Poope Gray, Te Aroha McDonnell and Natalie Robertson

By johndpart

Arts reviewer for thirty years with the National Business Review

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