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No. 24 (October 1958)
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The place of Maori culture in the schools is a much debated subject today. We are therefore glad to be able to offer readers this authorative statement from the Officer for Maori Education.


Maori culture is part of the birth-right of every Maori child. This article will give some first-hand account of what is being done in Maori education to help the children acquire a knowledge of their own cultural background.

The school can never keep alive any phase of a national culture without some support from the homes of the people. The schools alone cannot save the Maori language, Maori arts and crafts or Maori song and dance. The Maori people themselves as a race must take the prime responsibility for the perpetuation of their culture or for its passing. This does not however mean that the schools have no responsibility in the matter; their responsibility is very real and policy indicates this in the following resolution passed at the first meeting of the National Committee on Maori Education (1955):

“The teaching of Maori culture, including Maori history legends, songs and arts and crafts is necessary for the full personal development of the Maori.”

“The Committee supports the teaching of the Maori language and recommends that everything possible be done to implement it.”

This policy has been endorsed by the Government. Here is an outline of what is being done.


Among the most valuable contributions made towards a knowledge of Maori history and Maori living is that of the School Publications Branch of the Department of Education. Bulletins issued to all primary schools include:

Ruatahuna, by Ray Chapman-Taylor,

Life in the Pa, Pts 1 and 2, by Ray Chapman-Taylor,

The Maori and the Missionary, by Harold Miller,

The Coming of the Maori, by Roderick Finlayson,

The Coming of the Musket, By Roderick Finlayson,

The Coming of the Pakeha, by Roderick Finlayson,

The Golden Years, by Roderick Finlayson.

The Return of the Fugitives, by Roderick Finlayson,

Changes in the Pa, by Roderick Finlayson,

The New Harvest (in preparation), by Roderick Finlayson,

The Treaty of Waitangi (in preparation), by Ruth Ross.

The series of bulletins by Roderick Finlayson describe, taking as an example one Maori family, how the changes of the nineteenth century affected the Maori people. They explain the facts about the changes in Maori culture almost like a novel, and so simply that children can without difficulty understand what happened. Life in the Pa outlines traditional Maori custom, and Ruatahuna describes the life of a present day Maori community in the back country.

These booklets, together with the bulletin on the Treaty of Waitangi yet to come, present a good and lively historical background for Maori as well as European children.

They do not, of course, cover the facts about Maori culture in any comprehensive way, but it seems to me such a historical background is an excellent basis for other cultural reading, and further bulletins are being planned.

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An in-service training course we held at Ardmore Teachers' College in September last. Those invited had recently been appointed to schools where for the first time in their careers they would be teaching Maoris. It was a windy spring afternoon and 500 young teachers in training were entering the College grounds after the spring vacation. Here and there an obvious stranger felt his way towards the administration building till the whole twenty teachers of the special Maori course, from schools as far apart as Te Hapua and D'Urville Island gathered for the Principal's welcome and the opening session. They were a diverse group from the beginning, but one in their enthusiasm to gain a better knowledge of the cultural heritage of the children they had to teach and of the most effective approach to that teaching.

Eight mornings were spent in lectures and vigorous discussion on the teaching of English and its problems, the background of the Maori five year old and infant method, arithmetic in the Maori school, social development and health of the Maori child, a study of the Maori community. Discussion ranged from the infant class to the difficulties encountered at school certificate level. There was much pointed argument. The points of view of the tentative theorist and those of the forthright practitioner were all heard and debated and time was all too short.

There were eight afternoons of carving and tukutuku and taniko work. Everyone actually participated in the craft work and took samples of his work away with him. Song and dance and poi and haka all were made real to these teachers at the Maori colleges they visited. And eight afternoons were far too few.

The evenings provided intellectual fare that was a challenge to people interested in racial relations and national cultures. And the result of it all was an insistent demand that the same twenty people meet again in the near future. Up till now the Maori people owe a great deal to teachers of the Maori service for keeping alive much in their national culture, from now on their indebtedness will be extended to an ever widening group of teachers in the schools of New Zealand.


Maori culture is part of the ordinary classroom teaching of many an isolated Maori school. Let us describe a typical scene in such a classroom. Two Maori assistant teachers are in attendance and in front of the class is a Maori elder explaining the connection between a certain waiata and the historical event with which it is associated. The children are intent, their faces show it; they forget that they are the children of modern millworkers, but become conscious of their inheritance, of belonging to a proud race.

Such a race must not discard its language and again Maori District High Schools, Maori Colleges and one or two post-primary schools have done much to encourage Maori children to a knowledge of their native tongue. A new and more vigorous approach to the teaching of of Maori is necessary. The Refresher Course held at Whakarewarewa in May has helped to show the way. (This Course is described on page of this issue.) To a great proportion of Maori people their native tongue can no longer be the

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At refresher courses, teachers exchange notes on Maori crafts. Here carving designs are copied, to be later used in classroom work in Maori schools. (Photo: Peter Blanc.)

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One part of Maori culture now widely taught in Maori schools are stick games. Sticks, often made by the children themselves, are a popular part of this Northland school's equipment. (Northern Advocate Photograph)

everyday means of communication but it will remain part of their cultural heritage.

In another corner of the North Island a small group of people is at work—some are Maori, several are European. A piece of their work is before me. It consists of instructions designed to enable any teacher to give guidance in the performance of several poi dances. Illustrated and very clearly set out it should enable many more Maori children and indeed Europeans too to participate in this most graceful, most relaxed rhythmic dance.

Among these efforts is one that reaches schools and children indirectly—it is the excellent point of view and background expressed in the pages of Te Ao Hou. Indeed the actual work of children from the schools is given a place in these pages and the magazine is greatly valued in many of our schools.

The graciousness, warmth, and strength of Maori personality are revealed through many of these cultural activities. As happens in Teachers' Colleges and in Maori schools where European joins Maori in cultural activities, could not all European children learn something of Maori culture, not through history alone, but through direct participation in song and dance, in art and craft? In this way they could absorb something of the best that an older Maori culture can give to a developing New Zealand culture.