Indigenous Literary Studies in Aotearoa New Zealand
- Tina MakeretiTina MakeretiVictoria University of Wellington School of English, Film, Theatre, Media Studies and Art History
As the second decade of the 21st century draws to a close, Indigenous literary studies in Aotearoa New Zealand are characterized primarily by tension between abundance and scarcity. The abundance relates to a wealth of writers, texts, and forms, both contemporary and archival. Many historical texts and literary contexts are being revealed and investigated for the first time. Abundance in this context also signifies the richness of approach, technique, and language use in both contemporary and archival texts. The significance of this deep archive is yet to be fully realized, due in part to the scarcity of scholars in Indigenous literatures of Aotearoa, a lack which is cemented and institutionalized by the absence of university courses that focus primarily on Indigenous literatures in English. A paucity of published Māori and Pasifika creative texts, particularly long-form fiction, further solidifies a perceptible absence in New Zealand writing. Significant scholarship is being developed despite this, however. And rather than being limited to viewing Indigenous literatures through the lens of English or New Zealand literary history, Indigenous scholars present innovative historical, geographical, and creative genre frameworks that open up multiple ways of reading and engaging with Indigenous literatures. In New Zealand, Māori literature is any writing produced by the Indigenous population. Māori and Moriori are the name of the Indigenous peoples of New Zealand, who also identify within distinct tribal groupings. In international contexts, the word “Indigenous” may be used more frequently to describe Māori, but in a New Zealand context, the term “Māori” is almost exclusively used. It should be noted that Māori is not a literary category, however. It is a cultural identity. It therefore follows that any form of literature can be produced by a Māori writer, and may be labeled “Māori writing.”
Drawing on a long literary whakapapa, or genealogy, Māori writers and literary scholars are crossing colonially imposed boundaries to recognize distinctively Indigenous creative and critical epistemologies. Having passed through the Māori cultural renaissance of the 1970s to the 1990s, Māori writers no longer grapple with the need to articulate their right to existence as distinct peoples, but instead enjoy the autonomy to decide how that distinctive existence may best be expressed. One of the most lively aspects of contemporary Indigenous literature in New Zealand is the emphasis on new ways to present, read, incorporate, and interpret te reo Māori in English language texts.