"This is my marae, with Tāne-Nui-A-Rangi our wharenui and Mateparae our wharekai. This is was a really important site for me to see Rakaipaakatanga in action" - Hollie Russell, Ngāti Rakaipaaka | Photo by Tessa Russell of Moemoea Collective for Hollie Russell's MA in Cultural Anthropology

Mahi Tahi: Māori and Anthropology in Aotearoa/New Zealand

Lily George and Lorena Gibson

What is the relationship between Māori and anthropology in Aotearoa New Zealand? How can we talk to, rather than past, one another about the history and development of anthropology here? These questions underpin Mahi Tahi (working together), a space for anthropologists to engage with this relationship. Taking our cue from Joan Metge’s 2001 book Korero Tahi: Talking Together, our goal is to ‘stir up the silence’ (George 2017) that often surroundes this history and facilitate meaningful, generative conversations about the relationship between Māori and anthropology in Aotearoa. These conversations will form the basis for an open-access undergraduate teaching resource we plan to publish in the future.

The idea for this space came about during the 2017 ‘Anthropology in Aotearoa’ Symposium held by the Cultural Anthropology Programme at Victoria University of Wellington. At that symposium, Lily George, Marama Muru-Lanning, Catherine Trundle, and Lorena Gibson picked up threads of longstanding conversations about this relationship (e.g., Beaglehole 1938; Te Awekotuku 1991; Kahotea 2006; Henare 2007; MacRae and George 2013; Metge, Sissons and George 2013). Inspired by the ritual encounter of a pōwhiri, which acknowledges the distance between hosts and visitors and provides a way to negotiate relationships and differences, Mahi Tahi represents our desire to step into this space and work together. We will also meet in person at venues such as the annual ASAA/NZ conferences, so we can share food (an important part of the pōwhiri process). We invite you to join us online and in person. 

Mahi Tahi is guided by a steering committee comprising: Pounamu JWE Aikman, Lily George, Lorena Gibson, Marama Muru-Lanning, Fiona McCormack, Tom Ryan, Rob Thorne, Catherine Trundle, and Tarapuhi Vaeau.

Tīmatanga: An annotated bibliography

One of our early decisions was to recruit an anthropology student to compile an annotated bibliography of anthropological work by and about New Zealand Māori. This annotated bibliography is neither definitive nor exhaustive, but it meant to serve as a useful starting point for undergraduate students and for future research to build upon. It also marks the beginnings of the undergraduate teaching resource we are developing.

In consultation with Lily George, Lorena Gibson led this project with Graeme Whimp as co-supervisor, gaining funding from Victoria University of Wellington for Summer Research scholarship. Over a 10-week period in the summer of 2017/18, Jade Gifford undertook a literature review of anthropological material by and about New Zealand Māori, using the following guiding questions:

1.     What do we mean by ‘anthropological’ and who counts as an ‘anthropologist?’

2.     What counts as ‘material,’ and what falls outside the scope of this literature review?

3.     What themes arise in anthropological work by Māori?

4.     What themes arise in anthropological work of/with Māori, by non-Maori?

5.     What relationship, if any, can we discern between the bodies of work by Māori and non-Māori?

Jade spent seven weeks reading relevant material and produced an initial bibliograpy (which does not include all of the work she read during this process). We discussed the items on this bibliography and how they might be thematically organised, and decided to add work by non-anthropologists that has had a significant impact on anthropology in Aotearoa (e.g., Linda Tuhiwai Smith and Leonie Pihama). We then collectively selected 25 items from the list to form the basis for the annotated bibliography, and Jade completed the annotations in the final three weeks of the project.

As Jade notes in her introduction, this annotated bibliography only just begins to uncover the history of the turbulent relationship between Māori and anthropology in Aotearoa. Lorena and Graeme had to impose strict parameters on the scope of the project to keep it manageable and qualify for funding from VUW’s Summer Research scholarship scheme. For example, they decided to exclude MA and PhD theses from the literature review so Jade could concentrate on books and source shorter published pieces, thus creating a larger set of annotations. They also provided Jade with clear guidelines for writing the annotations, asking her to focus on summarising each piece rather than critiquing it. The limitations imposed on this project, of course, leave much scope for future research.

We would like to thank Jade for her work in producing this annotated bibliography. As well as helping us to launch Mahi Tahi, it provides a strong foundation from which to begin critically appraising the relationship between Māori and anthropology. 

Whakatewhatewha: Research possibilities

We see exciting future research opportunities for those interested in Mahi Tahi and suggest some potential lines of enquiry below. We envisage clear research themes emerging through our collective efforts, which we will draw upon in designing the structure and content of the undergraduate teaching resource we plan to publish.

One area of future research would be to critically examine what it meant to be an anthropologist in the nineteenth century. For example, was an anthropologist someone who carried out fieldwork and wrote about it in an ethnographic style? Or was it someone formally trained in anthropology? What about ethnologists? And what does it mean to be an anthropologist today? As Lily points out, many of those earlier commentators gained their knoweldge by working among Māori, rather than undertaking fieldwork as we know it. Edward Tregear, for example, who came to Aotearoa as a 17-year old, fought against Māori in the Tauranga district in 1867 and won the New Zealand War Medal. He trained as a surveyor and between 1869-71 worked as a surveyor on the goldfields. In 1872-73 he was employed by the Land Purchase Department surveying Māori lands and then took charge of a contingent of Māori troopers and labourers in the Armed Constabulary employed in roadmaking. He travelled where few Europeans had been and lived for months in Māori communities without seeing another European. Tregear became fluent in te reo Māori and fascinated by Māori culture; but he spent much of his isolation brooding, seeing himself as a young poet exiled to desert lands. By the early 1890s Tregear was among the country’s most prominent, prolific and controversial intellectuals. He was co-editor of the Journal of the Polynesian Society along with Stephenson Percy Smith. Tregear produced journal and newspaper articles and public lectures on religion, philology, mythology, literature, science, economics, women, philosophy, ancient history, politics. But, he had no training in anthropology, or any other ‘-ology’ for that matter.

There are ongoing conversations to join about decolonisation, knowledge production, representation, and the harm caused to Māori by the work of non-Māori researchers, some of which is included in the annotated bibliography. Where are these conversations taking place, who is involved, and who is excluded? What does it mean to be a Pākehā anthropologist? What relationships do tauiwi anthropologists working in Aotearoa have with Māori and Te Tiriti o Waitangi? What does decolonisation mean for anthropology in Aotearoa?

ASAA/NZ Annual General Meetings usually involve conversations about how we practice anthropology in Aotearoa, including how and what we teach at university and whether anthropology should be introduced into high schools. In 2016 ASAA/NZ recruited an anthropology Honours student (Josh Connolly) to research and produce a report assessing the feasibility and practicalities of introducing anthropology into New Zealand high schools as part of the NCEA curriculum. Josh recommended against doing so for a range of convincing reasons, and ASAA/NZ is pursuing some of the other options suggested instead, including producing audiovisual material for use in secondary schools. We would welcome further research on this and on what our students think about anthropology. Other fruitful areas of research include our relationships with various Māori Studies departments throughout the country, and the research relationships we form with people and communities beyond academia.

There are important discussions to be had about the impact of pioneering Māori anthropologists, such as Maggie Papakura/Makereti (the first Māori woman to train in anthropology, whose post-humously published thesis The Old-Time Māori has a unique place as the first extensive published ethnographic work by a Māori scholar); Bruce Biggs (who established the first university programme in Māori language and culture under the guidance of anthropologist Ralph Piddington); Hugh Kawharu (who, in 1971, was appointed Foundation Professor of Māori Studies and Head of Department of Social Anthropology at Massey University); Ngahuia Te Awekotuku (who helped create the first set of ethical guidelines for research with Māori, among other things); Des Kahotea (a research leader in Māori heritage and indigenous archeology); Ngapare Hopa (the first Māori woman to earn a PhD from Oxford, well known for her work on the Waitangi Tribunal); and Paul Tapsell (whose research interests in contemporary Māori identity and museums & cultural heritage have provided the basis for a distinguished career within and beyond academia).

Future research might also look at how anthropology by Māori, with Māori, has changed over time. What does contemporary Māori anthropology look like? How does it fit in relation to Māori research more generally? What responsibilities and obligations arise when Māori anthropologists work with individuals and communities for social justice and transformational change?

An invitation

We extend an open invitation to all those interested in joining conversations about the relationship between Māori and anthropology in Aotearoa. There are a number of ways to contribute:

Contribute to our online library

We wish to expand upon the annotated bibliography Jade Gifford produced as part of her summer scholarship project. Our goal is to create an open-access resource to which anyone can contribute. We welcome suggestions for items to be added to our bibliography and new contributions to the annotated bibliography.

If you would like to contribute to our online library, please email Lorena Gibson for more information.

Be a guest writer for the ASAA/NZ blog

We welcome short pieces (under 2000 words) from anyone who wants to write about the relationship between Māori and anthropology. We would especially like to hear from undergraduate and graduate students, and those who have worked with anthropologists but aren’t necessarily anthropologists themselves. Our goal is to create a space for productive, respectful online conversations which might form the basis for hui as well as the undergraduate teaching resource. Please email Lorena Gibson for guidelines about how to write a guest blog post for ASAA/NZ.

Join us in person at our Annual Conference

We plan to meet in person at least once a year, which will most likely be at our annual conference.


Beaglehole, E. 1938. ‘Anthropology in New Zealand.’ Journal of the Polynesian Society, 47(188): 152-162.

George, L. 2017. ‘Stirring up silence.’ Commoning Ethnography, [S.I.], 1(1): 1-6.

Henare, A. 2007. ‘Nga Rakau a te Pākehā: Reconsidering Māori Anthropology,’ in J. Edwards, P. Harvey, & P. Wade (eds.), Anthropology and Science: Epistemologies in Practice. Oxford, England: Berg. Pp 93-113.

Kahotea, D. T. 2006. ‘The ‘native informant’ anthropologist as kaupapa Māori research.’ MAI Review, 1: 1-9.

MacRae, G., and George, L. 2010. ‘Whakapapa/Genealogies/Ancestors: Maori, Pakeha and Anthropology in Aotearoa/NZ.’ Sites: A journal of social anthropology and cultural studies, 10(1): 1-3.

Makereti. 1986 [1938]. The old-time Maori. Auckland: New Women’s Press.

Metge, J. 2001. Korero Tahi: Talking Together. Auckland: Auckland University Press with Te Matahauariki Institute.

Metge, J., Sissons, J., and George, L. 2010. ‘Whakapapa – New Zealand Anthropology.’ Sites: A journal of social anthropology and cultural studies, 10(1): 4-29.

Sissons, J. 1998 ‘Introduction: Anthropology, Maori Tradition and Colonial Process.’ Oceania, 69(1): 1–3.

Te Awekotuku, N. 1991. He Tikanga Whakaaro: Research Ethics in the Māori Community. Wellington: Manatu Māori/Ministry of Māori Affairs.

Tregear, E. 1926. The Maori Race. Wanganui: A. D. Willis Ltd Printers and Publishers.