Storytelling enlivens our past and helps forge the future

Issue: Volume 98, Number 10

Posted: 13 June 2019
Reference #: 1H9v6r

Teachers are being encouraged to use storytelling as a way to expand students’ understanding of our country’s past and the first encounters between Māori and European.

As the events of Tuia 250 get underway, commemorating 250 years since the first onshore meetings between Māori and non-Māori, Dr Wayne Ngata, Raukura Chief Advisor Te Ao Māori, says many local stories of the people and events that helped to shape Aotearoa New Zealand are still waiting to be told. 

“It’s our opportunity to acknowledge other stories, especially Māori ones that are seldom heard but have long been a part of our landscape. This is our shared history and these encounters – some good and others not so good – had profound consequences for what our country would become.”

He says stories can inspire students to ask more questions and be curious about the history of a region, the experiences of the people who lived there, how they lived, and the encounters and events that led to settlement.        

Storytelling can take many forms. When asked to share his account of Māori coming to Aotearoa, Dr Ngata, a former teacher and noted te reo Māori specialist, composed He Oriori Mō Te Hourua – a genealogical and geographical song – to tell the story.

Navigating the future

Dr Ngata’s developing experience with navigation and the waka hourua (double-hulled canoe) is reflected in the song. He says the waka hourua is an ideal vehicle for exploring the oceans, as well as a metaphor for how we navigate the future together.

In 2012 Dr Ngata was part of the waka hourua crew who made the return voyage from Aotearoa to Rapanui (Easter Island) using the stars, tides, and winds to navigate. He pays tribute to the late Sir Hekenukumai Busby who built both waka hourua that took part in this journey, and was instrumental in disseminating this voyaging knowledge and practice over several decades.

It’s an experience Dr Ngata wishes all New Zealanders could have. “You are in the middle of the ocean with blue above and blue below; it’s a surreal reality. You fully appreciate the absolute insignificance of humankind when you’re out there. You come to appreciate the world, you appreciate your little bit in the whole world story.”  

Two waka hourua will join a va’a moana from Tahiti and three heritage vessels, including an HMS Endeavour replica, to form a flotilla that will sail around the country between October and December this year. The flotilla voyage will promote the exceptional feats of Pacific, Māori, and European voyaging.  

Dr Ngata says that with a thousand years of voyaging heritage preceding the arrival of James Cook and Abel Tasman, students should know those stories and learn how Māori prepared for and survived their long journeys. 

The flotilla will launch in Gisborne and also land at Uawa (Tolaga Bay). The East Coast settlement is home to Dr Ngata and his people, Te Aitanga a Hauiti, who in 1769 had direct contact with the Endeavour and its crew. Much of the visit to Uawa will focus on Tupaia, the expert Tahitian navigator, priest and interpreter who interacted with the locals there and helped the British trade and replenish supplies for the ship. Many Māori regarded him as the captain of the Endeavour. 

Students to visit flotilla

Dr Ngata says the flotilla landings offer students the chance to engage with the crews to learn about the vessels and celestial navigation. There will be guest speakers and educational sessions, as well as wānanga and programmes about sustainable oceans. 

The flotilla will also visit Meretoto/Ship Cove in Tōtaranui/Queen Charlotte Sound. Here the iwi has teamed up with local historians and the education, arts and tourism sectors in a partnership to develop the curriculum across literacy, social sciences, science and art. 

The efforts of the Tōtaranui Trust are great examples of what a community can achieve when it comes together to educate young people about the history and dual legacy of a region, says Dr Ngata.

“Invoking inquiry and information seeking by students has produced rich results for the children themselves. They have made resources that other schools can adapt for their own use.”

Owning our history

Tuia 250 gives those who have concerns about the way our history has been told an opportunity to retell it.

“If we don’t provide a space to do that, then we lose the opportunity to grow,” says Dr Ngata.

“If we want to mature as a nation, then we have to own our history and not be selective or one-sided about the stories we tell.”

He cites a whakataukī by the late Professor James Te Wharehuia Milroy: ‘Ko te whakaiti te whare o te whakaaro nui. Humility is the citadel of wisdom.’

“I hope we would apply that thinking to how we engage and interact with each other now to construct our future.”

So how can schools tap into local stories and share them with students? 

There are many access points for stories, he says, but it always starts with the community.

“Talk to parents, whānau, local iwi and hapū leaders. Visit the marae. It doesn’t have to be complicated; reach out and talk to the people who have always lived in your area. They will all have stories to share.”

To learn what’s important in their communities, schools and students can research and visit sites of local significance and use local libraries and museums to support the development of local curriculum. There are also stories, biographies, information and ideas relevant to Tuia 250 on websites like NZHistory and Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand.

Dr Ngata says that both sides of the learning and teaching equation have contributions to make.

“We need teaching professionals and parents and whānau to contribute. The two working in unison will optimise the success that our young people have to tap into the histories and stories of our past.”

He says that exploring our past legacies creates an exciting dynamic for having conversations about our country’s future. 

“Some of those conversations may be challenging, but all of them are vital for forging a shared future. How do we take the best from our past legacies and go forward as a country today with a multitude of cultures, ethnicities, and races?

“Tuia 250 is about gathering all these strands of encounter and navigation together and weaving them into something strong to help us shape our future.” 

Tuia means to weave or bind together and is drawn from a whakataukī (proverb) and karakia (ritual chant) that refer to the intangible bonds established when people work together.

Links to related Education Gazette articles:

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 9:25 am, 13 June 2019

Get new listings like these in your email
Set up email alerts