Matauranga | Knowledge

Ko to ringa ki nga rakau a te Pakeha

Hei ara mo to tinana,

Ko to ngakau ki nga taonga a o tipuna Maori

Hei tikitiki mo to mahuna

Te matauranga-a-Ngati Porou is our unique tribal and hapu knowledge and way of thinking. This knowledge has been developed over generations, first through our whare wananga and more lately through Western forms of education. We have expressed this knowledge in many ways: through our arts, through our language and even through song. In recent years we been able to combine the best of new ways and old, and our matauranga has an exciting future. Every whanau and hapu has their own perspective of our knowledge: the following is one telling of the story…

Te Whare Wananga | Nga Kura Maori | The Church Schools | Kaupapa Maori Education | Ngati Porou Scholarship
Matauranga-a-iwi | Whakairo | Te Reo Ake o Ngati Porou | Kapa Haka


Te Whare Wananga

Education has always been critical to Ngati Porou. Our traditional methods began before birth as mothers chanted oriori (lullabies) to their unborn children. Tohunga would then prepare these tamariki for their role from birth. Ta Apirana for example was prepared during his birth by the tohunga Hakopa through karakia and other rituals. Tamariki would be taught iwi history and values through waiata (songs), whakatauki (proverbs), korero tawhito (history), purakau (stories) and whakapapa (genealogy).

More formal learning would take place through the whare wananga (houses of learning). In the whare wananga those who had been identified as having the appropriate whakapapa and characteristics would learn vast amounts of information, and also how to process information. This knowledge could cover everything from whakapapa and stories through to carving or the star patterns.

Through these Whare Wananga the matauranga of a hapu and iwi could be retained and passed down through the generations. Importance was placed on the correctness of the transmission, and there was also room for innovation and discovery.

Within Ngati Porou there were various forms of Whare Wananga. The most famous of these was Te Rawheoro at Uawa. Another was Te Tapere-Nui-a-Whatonga at Te Kautuku near Rangitukia.

Learn more about Te Rawheoro Whare Wananga...

The arrival of Pakeha soon placed great pressure on the Whare Wananga system. The introduction of literacy changed the potential for learning possibilities and methods. Colonisation also meant that our traditional knowledge was not valued by the soon-dominant culture. We also had a new Western knowledge system to grapple with that took time and resources. But although we adapted our understandings, we never lost the knowledge of who we were: we just found new ways of expressing it.

Learn more about Ngati Porou ways of thinking...

Nga Kura Maori

Western-style schooling was embraced by Ngati Porou from its introduction. The Native Schools Act 1867 established a national system of village primary schools. Many hapu viewed these schools as opportunities for their tamariki to become proficient in a new sort of education, learning numeracy and literacy and other Western skills to enable them to be part of the new world that was evolving. This was also done in a context where our reo and tikanga was strong and not viewed as being under threat.

These schools were places of cultural conflict. The education system was set up to assimilate our tamariki – to strip them of their identity as Maori. However we had strong leadership that tried to ensure that this would not happen. Ta Apirana saw the importance of schools as places of learning and for the community, and would personally test the tamariki for example on their expertise in moteatea as part of his ‘unofficial’ curriculum.

The schools were also places of excellence for Ngati Porou where whanau wished their children to excel at their studies. Unfortunately government policy often obstructed this. In 1931 the education department demanded that academic teaching no longer be the focus and that Maori children’s education focus on 'health hygiene, moral teaching and manual training' – making us essentially cheap labour for Pakeha farmers.

The schools themselves were important parts of the community. In the 1930s Tikitiki and Rangitukia Primaries were respectively the second and third largest native schools in the country and in 1935 the Director of Education described Rangitukia school as 'one of our largest and most important Native Schools'. Widespread secondary schooling did not begin until after World War Two and by the 1940s Tikitiki, Ruatoria, Tokomaru Bay and Uawa all had district high schools. In 1959 Tikitiki High School was closed and the students were sent to the newly established Ngata Memorial College in Ruatoria.

The Church schools

The Ngati Porou focus on education as a pathway to success found focus in the network of Church schools. Initially these were the Anglican Schools of St Stephen’s School, Auckland (founded in 1844); Te Aute College, Hawke’s Bay (1854); Hukarere Maori Girls’ School, Napier (1875); and Queen Victoria School, Auckland (1901). Ngati Porou played a large role in these schools, constantly fundraising for Te Aute and Hukarere in particular.

Te Aute College produced a generation of leaders for the iwi

Te Aute was a particularly strong incubator for Ngati Porou leadership. Under the guidance of founding principle John Thornton a generation of new leaders came out of the schools strong in both Western academic achievement and in their identity and mission as leaders for their iwi. These Ngati Porou graduates included Apirana Ngata, Reweti Kohere and Tutere Wi Repa, amongst others, alongside others such as Te Rangihiroa (Peter Buck) and Maui Pomare from Taranaki.

Thornton was visionary in that he expected these young Maori to excel in the Western world, setting no limitations on their potential. Through his focus on academic excellence these students went on to be the first generation of Maori to graduate from Universities, becoming leaders not only for their iwi but for the nation. Thornton fought hard for his students, fighting a demand in 1906 that the students focus on farming instead of academic subjects based on the racist idea that Maori were only suited for manual labour. These students went on to establish in 1897 the Te Aute College Students Association (later known as the Young Maori Party) which worked to transform Maori communities across the country.

Many young people were sent away from the Coast to church schools through the great sacrifices of their whanau over the decades. This was helped by increasing income from the development schemes as well as scholarships such as the Makarini. Other popular schools were St Joseph’s Maori Catholic Girls’ School, Napier (established 1867); Hato Paora Catholic College, Feilding (1948); and the Mormon church-based Maori Agricultural College at Hastings (1912).

Kaupapa maori education

From the 1980s the growth of Kohanga reo has been a major educational initiative of the iwi. Not only have kohanga revived the reo, but they have taught a generation how to think as Maori as opposed to the assimilationist educational system. These were followed by kura kaupapa and wharekura, giving our tamariki and rangatahi the opportunity to learn in the context of a world view that is strongly based on the principles of Ngati Porou and Te Aho Matua.

Today Ngati Porou have a wide range of successful schools. Kura such as Te Kura Kaupapa o Te Waiu, Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Kawakawa mai Tawhiti, and Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Mangatuna are not only producing a new generation of leaders for the iwi, but excelling nationally in the expression of our matauranga-a-iwi through kapa haka and manu korero competitions.

Ngati Porou scholarship

Ngati Porou not only embraced primary and secondary schooling, but we were the first iwi to break though and excel at Western-style tertiary education. In 1893 Ta Apirana was the first Maori to graduate from a University with a BA in political science from Canterbury University. He would then complete a law degree in 1896 becoming the first Maori lawyer, and would later add a Masters degree for good measure. Ta Apirana became a recognised scholar, especially in the field of anthropology where he worked on the Journal of the Polynesian Society. His books Nga Moteatea are one of the greatest collections of matauranga Maori ever produced, and sit alongside his Rauru-nui-a-Toi lectures as preeminent works of scholarship.

Professor Linda Smith is a world-leading scholar

Ta Apirana began a tradition in which Ngati Porou men and women would lead the way in research, learning and thought based on the best of our own traditional knowledge as well as the best of global understandings. We have a tradition of Ngati Porou teachers and academics going out to serve other iwi as well as our own. Te Kapunga Matemoana "Koro" Dewes taught for many years at Victoria University in Wellington, empowering a generation in their use of the reo; Graham and Linda Smith have revolutionised Maori education; Amster Reedy helped to develop the field of Maori studies; Ta Tamati Reedy was the foundation dean and professor of the School of Maori and Pacific Development at the University of Waikato; Dr Monty Soutar is our tribal historian. We also now have a new generation of academics making waves in a range of fields from Dr Ocean Mercier who teaches Maori science at Victoria University through to Dr Nepia Mahuika teaching history at Waikato University.

We also have our pakeke who remain experts in our reo and tikanga based at home. We have our kuia and kaumatua who continue to teach the next generation whakapapa and the art of whaikorero and karanga. We have those who in the words of Ta Apirana have sought global knowledge “Ko to ringa ki nga rakau a te Pakeha, Hei ara mo to tinana” and those who have steadfastly and expertly maintained our own unique knowledge “Ko to ngakau ki nga taonga a o tipuna Maori, Hei tikitiki mo to mahuna”. And we have striven for excellence in both fields.


From hui to whare wananga, we have never lost our ability to share our knowledge with one another so that we could grow. In 1983 Ta Tamati Reedy returned from his study at the University of Alabama and initiated the Ngata Memorial Lectures, commemorating Sir A. T. Ngata and his monumental service to Ngati Porou and the nation. The lectures remain an annual showcase of the huge range of Ngati Porou matauranga. The annual Te Rangitawaea Festival celebrates the unique creative and innovative ICT/ digital media achievements of the amazing students 18 Ngati Porou East Coast schools from Potaka to Kaiti.

Nga Toi a Ngati Porou

The matauranga of Ngati Porou finds expression through our creativity. Arts in various forms are a way we have of stating who we are and how we see the world. From kapa haka to our reo to our art, we continue to evolve new ways of understanding who we are.


Modern Ngati Porou carving was initiated by Iwirakau, trained at Te Whare Wananga o Te Rawheoro in Uawa. Waiapu carving was disrupted by the Ngapuhi raids of the 1820s, and further interruption was caused by unscrupulous traders taking whakairo for sale to Pakeha – many of which still reside in collections overseas.

From the 1830s our architecture also began to change as we built bigger whare for different purposes utilising new technology. With the arrival of Christianity we started to build large whare karakia, often decorated with tukutuku and whakairo. The Whare karakia at Whakawhitira in 1840 could seat more than 1000 people and was decorated with kowhaiwhai, while the whare karakia at Rangitukia had a huge carving of Moses’ serpent at the rear of the building. Although there were conflicts with the missionaries who objected to any form of decoration at all in a church (and especially Maori designs), we built whare karakia that reflected our own understandings and were expressions of our own matauranga.

From the 1870s to the 1920 at last 30 wharenui were built in the Waiapu including Porourangi at Waiomatatini and Hinetapora at Mangahanea. Carvers from this era included Hone Ngatoto and Hoani Ngatai, who would go on to carve Ruatepupuke (now in the Field Museum in Chicago). Hone Ngatoto would also go on to carve many wharenui including Hinerupe in Te Araroa, O Hine Waiapu in Rangitukia and St Mary’s Church in Tikitiki, training his protege Pine Taiapa along the way.

Ta Apirana had a vision for these arts to spread out across Aoteaoa, binding iwi together and reaffirming each in their identity. In 1928 as Minister of Native Affairs he established the School of Maori Arts in Rotorua to train tohunga whakairo for many iwi. From 1928-1940 seven Marae and dining halls were built on the East Coast alone. He also found funding for wharenui to be constructed across the motu. Ta Apirana used £100 from the Ngati Porou Dairy Company to kick-start the construction of the Waitangi Centennial House, led by Hone Ngatoto, and another major accomplishment was Mahingarangi at Turangawaewae in Ngaruawahia, opened in 1929. On the Coast over 3000 people were present for the 1934 opening of Te Hono ki Rarotonga at Pakiririki Marae in Tokomaru Bay.

Learn more about Pakirikiri Marae...

In more recent times Ngati Porou art has had the confidence to diversify its expression. Artists such as Robyn Kahukiwa and Robert Jahnke have found new ways of expressing age old principles of matauranga. Toihoukura, the School of Maori Visual Art and Design based in Gisborne has had a huge impact on Ngati Porou art since its foundation in the early 1990s under the leadership of Derek Lardelli and others. Toihoukura designed the nine carvings representing our founding tipuna that sit on top of Hikurangi Maunga, an eternal testament to our understandings of ourselves.

Te Reo Ake o Ngati Porou

The Ngati Porou reo is unique and is a reflection of both our identity and our environment. It is the single greatest expression of who we are as a people.

Our reo has been under threat since the advent of colonisation. One of the features of colonisation is the imposition of one, dominant, culture on another. And due to the importance of language our reo has been under threat for many decades now.

This struggle took place through the education system. What should have been a place of nurture and growth instead became a site of ‘cultural conflict’. From very early on in its establishment the Western education system wanted to impose the English language as the sole medium for instruction on our tamariki, thereby attempting to take our world view from us. By the early twentieth century official policy became that English wold be the only language to be spoken in the schools, often reinforced by corporal punishment.

Initially our reo could survive these policies because our tamariki would return home to Maori language environments. However after World War Two and our mass migration to the cities we quickly began to lose this reo capacity at home. Combined with the pressures at school our reo quickly began to fade. Many Maori came to see English as the language of success, achievement and advancement.

There were those though that strove to keep our reo alive. From its establishment in the 1950s for example the Maori Women's Welfare League – with many Ngati Porou women involved – strove to keep the reo as a force through influencing government policy in this area. By the 1970s ropu such as Nga Tamatoa in Auckland and the Te Reo Maori Society in Wellington were actively agitating for the revival of te reo. Breakthroughs were made. In 1975 Maori language week was recognised, and the Te Reo claim to the Waitangi tribunal in 1985 had many spin offs including Maori radio (including Radio Ngati Porou); the Maori Language Act of 1987 that recognised te reo as an official language; and eventually the Maori Television Service – Whakaata Maori.

Outside of government policy other initiatives took place, driven by whanau, hapu and iwi. Ngati Porou women were heavily involved in founding the Kohanga Reo movement in the early 1980s. This ensured that a generation of our tamariki were raised as natural speakers and thinkers in te reo. This was followed by the establishment of kura kaupapa and then whare kura, and today we have many successful rangatahi who are fluent in te reo.

We also had academics such as Te Kapunga (Koro) Dewes who was writing in te reo o Ngati Porou in the 1970s, leading the way for a generation of Ngai Porou academics. Kahurangi Katerina Te Heikoko Mataira worked with Ngoingoi Pewhairangi to establish Te Ataarangi, an innovative and effective way of learning te reo.

Today the iwi has established the Toitu Ngati Porou charitable trust and part of its mandate is to sustain and grow the reo amongst our whanau and hapu. The translation of the book Nga Tamatoa is an exercise in bringing together our experts in our local hapu dialects, as is the work of Te Ururangi o Te Matauranga Wananga at Wharekahika. Also the Porou Ariki Wananga bring together our best reo exponents to celebrate, test and strengthen our language life.

Te Ururangi o Te Mātauranga Wananga has become a bastion of our Ngāti Porou reo

Te Ururangi o Te Mātauranga Wananga has become a bastion of our Ngāti Porou reo

Today our reo still struggles. In 2013 only 26.6% of Ngati Porou could hold a conversation about everyday things in te reo Maori, down from 28.2% in 2006. However this is above the Maori average of 18.4%. We also still have nationally-recognised experts and a cohort of rangatahi coming through to lead the way so that our reo can not only survive but, in time, thrive.

Kapa Haka

One of the greatest expressions of our Ngati Porou identity is through kapa haka. Haka for example, was a way of invoking spiritual powers for a purpose, be it battle, celebration, strength or even for kumara. We had moteatea, waiata-a-ringa and many other forms of expressing our existence and identity – our matauranga.

Learn more about Ngati Porou moteatea...

By the early twentieth century these forms found new outlets through kapa haka as an evolution of these arts. Ta Apirana was one of our first composers in this new era, writing songs commemorating the soldiers who served in the First World War. In 1931 our best ever composer Tuini Moetu Haangu Ngawai (Te Whanau-a-Ruataupare) began her long and prolific career. Tuini, like Ngoingoi Pewhairangi after her followed in a long tradition of Ngati Porou women composers. During World War Two Tuini established Te Hokowhitu-a-Tumatauenga, a performance group whose work assisted Ngata in his recruiting efforts for the 28th New Zealand (Maori) Battalion. The Waiata ‘Arohaina mai e te Kingi Nui’ written in 1940 caused Ta Apirana to call Tuini a composer of genius, and the waiata became the unofficial hymn of the Maori Battalion.

Learn more about Tuini Ngawai and Te Hokowhitu a Tumatauenga...

After the War kapa haka continued to evolve its role in Ngati Porou. The Mihinare (Maori Anglican) church began to hold Hui Topu, large annual gatherings that discussed church business but had kapa haka as a highlight. Pariha would compete against pariha, with Hikurangi Pariha often the leading ropu. The Tamararo festival also had its origins in these church hui, established in 1952 in memory of Karaitiana Tamararo and held every year since. Now this competition finds the Tai Rawhiti ropu to enter into Te Matatini, the national kapa haka competition.

Kapa haka is a forum to put forward ideas about issues before us as a people today. From social issues such as smoking and domestic violence through to rangtairatanga and rights, kapa haka can be a way of expressing our views of the world. It is also a highly effective way to retain and strengthen our reo and our tikanga.