Te Wiki o te reo Māori – Māori Language Week will see the launch of a new book by Otago historians Associate Professor Angela Wanhalla and Associate Professor Lachy Paterson.

The pair collaborated to write He Reo Wāhine: Māori Women’s Voices from the Nineteenth Century – showcasing the experience of Māori women in colonial New Zealand through Māori women’s own words – the speeches and evidence, letters and testimonies that they left in the colonial archive.

He Reo Wāhine: Māori Women’s Voices from the Nineteenth Century

Associate Professor Wanhalla says they wanted to challenge the idea that Māori women were silent in the past and that they did not leave any sources from which to explore their historical experience during the colonial era.

In reality, during the 19th century, Māori women produced letters and memoirs, they wrote off to newspapers and commissioners, they appeared before commissions of enquiry, gave evidence in court cases, and went to the Native Land Court to assert their rights.

“There are few book-length studies concerned specifically with Māori women’s history, and no comparable books that look at Māori women’s voices in the 19th century. We felt that a book that focused solely on Māori women’s views, feelings and desires was long overdue,” Associate Professor Wanhalla says.

She says they discovered over 500 texts in both English and te reo Māori, written by Māori women themselves, or expressing their words in the first person, and drew upon a selection of these for the book.

“In bringing to light women’s words, we see how they engaged with the state and its institutions in order to protect their interests, and how colonialism worked and operated more generally in their lives.”

Associate Professor Paterson says some historians have suggested that it is “too hard” to do Māori women’s history, or that there is nothing much in the archives.

“We hope that this book has shown that this is not true, and that more scholars will feel comfortable exploring this field of history.”

Associate Professor Paterson says that while both he and Associate Professor Wanhalla are historians, their respective skills complemented each other in creating the book.

“Angela is an expert in women’s history and Māori history. My particular expertise is in Māori-language texts. We both spent considerable time in the archives identifying material for the book. We had our own draft chapters that we concentrated on, but we then worked on these together to produce a coherent final product.”

He says they chose Te Wiki o te Reo Māori to launch this book because a number of texts included are in te reo Māori as well as English.

He Reo Wāhine will be launched at Hocken Collections today (Wednesday 13 September), at 5.30pm.



The University of Otago is celebrating Māori Language week by promoting rangahau Māori (Māori research) – in particular Postgraduate Māori research, with displays in each of the University’s libraries and research presentations at the Hocken throughout the week.