A history of Aotearoa New Zealand in a single frame

This talk was originally given as part of the celebration of the National Library’s 50th Birthday and also later as a presentation to the guardians of the Alexander Turnbull Library.

Dr Aroha Harris belongs to Te Rarawa and Ngapuhi. She is a senior lecturer in history at the University of Auckland. Prior to her university appointment, Aroha variously worked in both historical and social research for Government departments (including the Waitangi Tribunal Division), private organisation and iwi.

Aroha is a founding member of Te Pouhere Korero, the national organisation of Māori historians, and co-editor of their journal of the same name.

Her first book, Hikoi: Forty Years of Māori Protest, was published in 2004. Her most recent book, Tangata Whenua: An Illustrated History (2014), was a collaborative effort with Professor Atholl Anderson and the late Dame Judith Binney.

Aroha was appointed a member of the Waitangi Tribunal in 2008, and is currently a guardian Kaitiaki of the Alexander Turnbull Library.


The analytical frame through which research and historical problems are viewed is deeply important to the production of history, whether published or curated. Yet that framing – typically built from key philosophies and principles that guide fundamental tasks, like the selection of sources and research methods – often goes unnoticed. This presentation will both notice and ponder how the past is or could be framed. It will also reflect on the responsibility of guardians of Māori documentary heritage to take seriously their own role in shaping and framing public views of the Māori past.

Stream the talk (17 min):

Download 'A history of Aotearoa New Zealand in a single frame' (mp3, 20MB)

A history of Aotearoa New Zealand in a single frame, for the National Library, as it looks forward, on the occasion of its 50th anniversary

In this presentation I am interested in how the analytical frame through which we view historical problems guides our approaches to them, including the philosophies and principles that underpin and influence the choices we make about that framing process. Effectively, I am referring to methodology here, which is deeply important to the construction (and destruction) of history. (I have written about this some years ago for the methodology section of the Rangahau website, available here: http://www.rangahau.co.nz/methodology/58/). This is by no means a new discussion. The call to decolonize research methodologies, as espoused by Linda Smith in Decolonizing Methodologies is well known.

In effect, methodology determines who constructs history and how, which in turns gives us the histories that fill our nation's bookshelves. It gives us not only what we remember about ourselves and our past, but also what we forget. In Māori history, methodology has been concerned on one level with re-honing the Māori tools of historical enquiry, and on another with finding a historiographical location for its results.

Locating history and framing history go hand in hand. For Māori history, locating history often consists of escaping the past. That is, Māori historians are frequently involved in writing histories that help Māori escape the past into which they have found themselves written; the dominant historical discourse which tends to locate Māori history in the context of British colonialism and expansionism.

Tuki’s map of Te Ika a Maui and Te Waipounamu

Let me unravel what I’m saying here a little more, and turn to this very-hard-to-see map. You are possibly already familiar with it, both because it is reasonably well known and because it is currently on display in the ‘Unfolding the Map’ exhibition of New Zealand cartography from the Library’s collections.

In 1793 the crew of the Daedalus kidnapped Tuki and Ngahuruhuru (or Te Hurukokoti) from Motukawanui in the Far North. The two men were taken to Norfolk Island to teach the colony’s prisoners how to produce rope from flax. While there, and amid questions about their country and the ways of the Māori, Tuki drew a map for the Governor (of NSW and Norfolk Island) Philip King. The map that survives, commonly referred to as Tuki’s map, was probably committed to paper by one of King’s officers.

Tuki's Map by Tuki Te Terenui Whare PirauTuki's Map by Tuki Te Terenui Whare Pira London: Cadell & Davies, 1804 MapColl 830ap/[1793]/(1798)/42785

Tuki’s map affirms the depth and breadth of the knowledge that Māori possessed about the areas around and beyond their immediate domain, in practical and not just mythical terms. Specifically, the map provides an insight into how Tuki understood the world: it is a map of his knowledge of the places that were important and well known to him; his tribe, its enemies and friends; and some aspects of traditional histories and beliefs, as seen in his depiction of Te Ara Wairua and Te Reinga.

A number of scholars have written about the map, including Anne Salmond, and the late Judith Binney. Salmond says the map is unique because it includes social, spiritual and political information written at Tuki’s dictation.

Tuki’s map shows the two main islands, ‘Te Aho no Maui’ (The Fish of Maui) and ‘Pounamu’ (Greenstone), Manawatahi (the Three Kings), and the Cavallis. Tuki also drew Te Ara Wairua running the length of the North Island to Te Reinga and along which the wairua, or soul, travels after death. At Te Reinga he marked the pohutukawa tree, where spirits depart this world for the next.

The map focuses on the top of the North Island, demonstrated in both depth of information and scale of the drawing. Hokianga is marked on the uppermost (western) coast. Tuki’s home is shown on the lower (eastern) coast, on the northern side of the Oruru River mouth at Doubtless Bay. Two ornately carved wharenui belonging to the Oruru chiefs are shown in some detail. And Tuki noted the residents of those two territories enjoyed friendly relations.

The map includes Whangaroa (‘Wongar-ooa’), capable of mobilising two thousand fighting men. It identifies Tukarawa, (‘Tu-ko-rawa’, the brother of Hauraki) as the chief, an adversary of Oruru (‘Hododo’) and Te Rawhiti (‘Teer-a-witte’), but in league with Hauraki (‘T’sou-duckey’), Muriwhenua (‘Moodoo Whenua’) and Tettua Woodoo (possibly Te Tai Hauauru?).

Huru’s home is marked in a district which is possibly Matauri Bay and supposed to contain three fighting thousand men.

Also shown are the places where Tuki was captured and later returned (by Governor King on the Britannia in November 1793).

When Governor King showed Tuki a copy of Cook’s map, which I’ll get to next, Tuki observed that Cook had omitted the vast Hokianga. He then went on to describe ‘Pine Trees of an immense size’ which grew there.

Let’s step back and think about the earlier point I made about the scale and detail being focussed in the north – the territory with which Tuki was no doubt most familiar. But he wasn’t ignorant of distant places, admitting that much of the detail about the South Island had been received from the people of Hauraki. This, as Binney pointed out, was Tuki’s world, and it would be reasonable to expect other similar but different worlds throughout Aotearoa, each rendered from distinct iwi positions and combining to make a multi-layered multi-iwi understanding of Aotearoa.

Cook’s map of New Zealand– also on display in the Unfolding the Map exhibition – was charted on Cook’s first visit to Aotearoa in 1769–70 was published in Sydney Parkinson’s Journal of a voyage to the South Seas (1773).

ALTTEXTChart of New Zealand, engraved by I Bayly London: Strahan & Cadell, 1773 qREng HAWK Acco 1773b

The South Island – Te Waipounamu (Toai Poonamoo) - is narrow in the middle because Cook did not realise how far east the Canterbury Plains extended. While sailing around the South Island, winds often kept the Endeavour well offshore and, because he had no chronometer, Cook sometimes struggled to fix his exact longitude. But the island is easily recognisable, including its mountainous areas. Furthermore, although the map contains some minor mistakes, it was remarkably accurate for its time and circumstances.

Again, like Tuki’s map, this is a map of knowledge. Cook applied his mapping knowledge to a land he had encountered for the first time. In contrast to Tuki, he seemed more interested in geography and natural resources (trees, swamps, mountains) than people, although to be fair he didn’t have the same access to people and their stories that Tuki did.

But, both maps are maps of knowledge representing two divergent world views, or two frames for understanding Aotearoa New Zealand.

Side-by-side they provide a useful, graphic way of thinking about how our history is and could be written. Each map has a full and dynamic story to tell, but neither is complete or perfect, leaving room for more and more stories.

Tuki’s map illustrates the Māori territory in which Māori history might be grounded and located. It perhaps reminds us that there exists a Māori trajectory for New Zealand history. It has a local or iwi emphasis, though without sacrificing knowledge of areas beyond iwi confines. But the stories to be garnered from Tuki’s understanding of the world are difficult to access, dictated between languages and cultures, and presented in faint pencil lines.

To me, Cook’s map represents New Zealand history as many of us has come to know it – the progressive New Zealand story of Britain’s ‘discovery’ of a resource-laden South Pacific country, those resources to be refined, clarified, exploited and distributed (or colonised). The lines are clearer, the lay of the land more familiar to the twenty-first century eye. 

The challenge – for all historians, but tonight for those who produce public history, such as the National Library on the occasion of its 50th anniversary – is to think about how we frame (and present) the narratives we draw in the production of history. I make no claim to having all, or even any, of the answers, but I do offer a few suggestions. These are proposals for things to think about, and are definitely not a list of things that must be done. 

  • There is more to it than selecting content, more to it than ensuring the right or right amount of content. Rather, what frameworks allow Māori content the freedom to be expressed on Māori terms, unfettered by ill-fitting or inflexible frames? We are probably familiar with, for example, the frame that understands Māori as either resisting or collaborating, but nothing more sophisticated than that. 
  • It’s similarly not about popping over to the Māori world (from Cook’s map to Tuki’s), and importing New Zealand ways to take the same approach on Māori ground. It might be more honest to pop over to the Māori world and ask for a guide.
  • Be mindful of our own individual framing – mindful and critical of the frames within which we may not notice we are operating already. So in creating or curating history, it’s not just about choosing a frame that suits a commitment to aligning our work with Māori need, but also about being conscious of the frame (worldview) in which we probably already operate.

By Aroha Harris

Dr Aroha Harris, of Te Rarawa and Ngāpuhi, is a senior lecturer in history at the University of Auckland.

Post a Comment

(will not be published) * indicates required field

Be the first to comment.