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No. 38 (March 1962)
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The Arts of the Maori Reviewed

Photographs by Gordon Tovey, Alan Simpson and Murray Gilbert

The Education Department bulletin “The Arts of the Maori” prepared by Mr Gordon Tovey, has now been in the Primary Schools for some months. Teachers have had ample time to peruse it and to arrive at some conclusion about its value, and its usefulness as a teaching medium. Some of them are loud in their praises, some are perhaps a little disappointed that the work is not sufficiently extensive, and others will have done little more than look at the photographs before relegating the book to its place collecting dust with so much other Education Department literature.

It would be extremely unlikely that any work of this type could satisfy the expectations of all teachers and Maori culture enthusiasts, each with a little more or a little less knowledge than the others, and some with no knowledge whatsoever. Faced with meeting the requirements of such a diverse group, Mr Tovey had only one course to take—that of assuming that no one knew anything and preparing his work accordingly.

The result is a reasonably simple treatment of the different forms of Maori arts and crafts, each one introduced with some general information and copiously illustrated with photographs. Some of the simpler crafts are complete with working instructions. There is a long list of Maori songs and hakas, a glossary of reference books, a list of Maori films to be used as teaching aids, and a map showing tribal areas.

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Picture icon

A poi dance at Hiruharama on the East Coast.

In his introduction Mr Tovey evaluates the importance of arts and crafts in the culture of a people, and challenges the so often quoted adage that true Maori art is dead, and that that which is done today is but a poor imitation of past achievements. Unlike the Maori purists he applauds the improvisation by the Maori of present-day tools, materials, and ideas, and the modification and change some of the crafts and songs have undergone as a result. He insists that Maori art is still very much alive, and that given opportunity and encouragement Maori artists will continue their work with the same creativeness as their forbears.

With this conviction, he as Superintendent of Arts and Crafts in our schools has launched an extensive programme of work in Maori arts and crafts, intended for all schools. The book is only part of this programme, for it must have been obvious at the outset that it could not meet all teaching requirements. With considerable foresight Mr Tovey and his assistants have prepared detailed instructions for some of the crafts in the form of booklets, have prepared films associated also with the art of the Maori, have printed songs on tape, and have organised teacher refresher courses.

Those who have attempted some form of Maori craft with children will know the long and tedious hours spent collecting and preparing materials, and the resultant waning of enthusiasm long before the real work has begun. To avoid this Mr Tovey has organised the collection and preparation of necessary craft materials which will be obtainable on requisition from the Education Department.

This is the first real effort made by the Education Department to promote the teaching of Maori Arts and Crafts in schools. It is an acknowledgment of the value of Maori art to our New Zealand society, and as a medium of promoting better understanding between Maori and pakeha. To the Maori it means a renewal of hope that part of his cultural heritage will remain with him, and perhaps even flourish.

Should teachers become enthusiastic about Mr Tovey's work and should they make full use of the teaching material at their disposal, we can certainly expect some change or development in our culture, in the future.

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I leave you to dream

the dream that I

and many friends have

treasured through the years,

that worthwhile elements of the

old Maori culture, the things

that belong to this beautiful

land, may be preserved

for the New Zealand Nation.

sir apirana ngata

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Miss Meri Kururangi, Maori Arts and Crafts Adviser to the Education Department, with children at Hobsonville.

Will Mr Tovey's work be the forerunner of an era of intense and extensive creativeness in the fields of Maori art, resulting in the development of fresh and inspiring works which more closely express our life of today? Or are we to see the slavish imitation of existing works and the creation of stereotypes? Will our Maori songs and hakas find a niche in national ceremonies and festive occasions, or will they continue to be plied for tourist value only? Will we see the emergence of Maori song writers who are not dependent on American pop-tunes for inspiration? Will we see a greater appreciation of things Maori, or shall the Maori suffer the cheapening of his art, simply because it has become commonplace?

We know not!

Whatever happens will depend largely on our teachers and on ourselves. Mr Tovey has set the wheel turning—the rest is dependent on our enthusiasm, our inventiveness, and our ability to impart what we feel to our youngsters.

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