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He Atua He Tangata (The World of Māori Mythology) by A.W. Reed


Alexander Wyclif Reed was a heck of a writer. Prolific in fact. With over 200 titles under the guise of A.W. Reed, he is recognised as one of the leading early documenters of Māori culture using English language. Much of his writing was passed to him and he was able to get it written, printed and circulated around the nation. He has contributed much to the preservation of these stories in notated form. This is a comprehensive curation of the stories across numerous publications that chronicle the oral traditions of Māori mythological history.


Texts like this should be recommended reading for all New Zealanders. Understanding the heritage and history of the country and the mythology associated with it should be as commonplace as the Italians and Greeks consider their own version of histories and celebrate it. That is not to suggest that they should be wholesale believed, rather they should form part of the woven narrative that fits with Aotearoa New Zealand.


It's a popular genre, the celebration of mythology has captivated generations of readers. Modern interpretations by the likes of Neil Gaiman and Stephen Fry have demonstrated the level of interest in such ideas. It’s a good time to celebrate our indigenous culture and the integration of these ideas into modern society.


From the initial stages of nothingness through the escapades of Māui and his famous jawbone. The stories are rich with imagery and narrative. Along the way Reed incorporates traditional stories that are isolated to certain areas, a narrative from Ngāi Tahu or a story from Ngāti Porou. These inclusions show the variances and the integration of the stories across the islands.


This collection has been curated and revised by Ross Calman - with some footnotes along the way to explain some intricacies of the presentation of these gods, myths and legends from Māori culture.


It is great to see the full story of some of the famous stories popularised for young children by people like Peter Gossage. Māui, in particular, has a fascinating development of character in the text. Disappointingly, it’s taken nearly 40 years for our family to know how Māui met his end. It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to suggest that many others are in a similar boat. Hence the call for greater universal knowledge around this particular set of events.


As enjoyable as it was enlightening, this collection brings together the comprehensive celebration of the oral form of history that has long been a part of our indigenous culture. It’s time to really own our stories and celebrate te ao Māori in its most traditional form.


Reviewer: Chris Reed

Oratia Books