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Ngā Ūpoko Tukutuku: building a house with the right words

July 27th, 2012 By Catherine Amey

Coming in from the outside

I was taken aback when I was asked to talk about Ngā Ūpoko Tukutuku for this blog post - it feels strange as a Pākehā to comment on a project which is built on a Māori paradigm and which must be led by Māori.

Around 18 months ago I was daunted (but honoured) when I was asked to join the Māori Subject Headings Working Group (now Te Whakakaokao) - a joint initiative of Te Rōpū Whakahau, LIANZA, and the National Library of New Zealand. It has been an interesting journey, and the rest of the group welcomed this rather nervous and very Pākehā-looking Pākehā with grace!

I’ve found it a tremendous privilege to be allowed to contribute in a tiny way to the project. I’ve developed a deep appreciation as a Pākehā librarian of the significance of Ngā Ūpoko Tukutuku.

Building on another foundation

A diagram showing the connections between the parts of the Māori worldview.
The connected parts of the Māori worldview.

Ngā Ūpoko Tukutuku is a bilingual thesaurus that incorporates a Māori worldview in its construction. The terms are woven into a wharenui (meeting house) structure. Ngā Ūpoko Tukutuku creates pathways that can be used by cataloguers, archivists and reference librarians to describe and access Māori material.

I learned that the thesaurus recognises the relationships between te taha tinana (the people), te taha wairua (the spiritual) and te taha hinengaro (the mind) - it incorporates Māori ways of thinking and te reo Māori into an information retrieval model

Found in translation

Since starting here, I have discovered that much Māori information is difficult or impossible to access using conventional Library of Congress (LC) subject headings, which are based around an entirely different paradigm.

For example, the LC heading for ‘Land tenure’ has quite a separate meaning from ‘Mana whenua’ which has the English scope note “Customary law relating to the iwi/tribe's connection, ownership rights and role of stewardship to a particular area of land.”

Sometimes there may be no LC heading at all – for example we recently added ‘Kī-ō-rahi’, a term describing “ancient traditional Māori ball games played with two opposing teams on open fields and beaches.”

Ngā Ūpoko Tukutuku entry for Haumaru ā-waka (Waka ama)​.
Ngā Ūpoko Tukutuku entry for Haumaru ā-waka (Waka ama).

Starting a reo journey

As there are relatively few cataloguers with te reo skills and knowledge of mātauranga Māori at the moment, Ngā Ūpoko Tukutuku is designed for both Māori and English speakers. One of the side effects is that this can provide Pākehā librarians with a way in to help discover te reo.

The experience has offered me something of a window into Māori paradigms, helping me (I hope) to become both a wiser cataloguer and a wiser person. It’s also motivated me to go to night school to learn more te reo – another fun and interesting journey, apart from my quivery knees when I have to get up and speak!

We constantly receive requests for new headings at a faster rate than Te Whakakaokao can fulfil these. As it’s Māori Language Week I hope so much that Ngā Ūpoko Tukutuku receives the support, authority and expertise it needs to realise its full potential – in order to acknowledge the Māori language as a taonga, and to make Māori information accessible to iwi and hapu, students, researchers and communities.

So that every week is Māori Language Week.

Teaser image: Maori souvenir - whare

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