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He Reo Wãhine: Mãori Women’s Voices from the Nineteenth Century


Lachy Paterson and Angela Wanhalla have put together a collection of letters and documents sourced from many archives within a defined period – 1830 to 1900 – to produce a valuable resource for readers who have an interest in New Zealand history. The University of Otago associate professors [Paterson in Mãori, Pacific and Indigenous Studies: Wanhalla with History] gratefully acknowledge all the researchers who offered them valuable relevant material to enrich their publication.

Gathered together here is a comprehensive collection of writings which give an insightful view of the colony in its early years. These are the thoughts from clear thinking women within Mãori communities who endeavour to put forward strong cases before the colonial officers for consideration. Sadly, at this time in history women, both Mãori and Pakeha were second class citizens. Women’s points of view were rarely heeded nor valued, yet these ‘voices’ appealed for justice and restitution. The range and diversity of concerns covered illustrate fresh perspectives of our colonial past. Manuscripts and letters with reminiscences are no longer just oral recollections but become carefully preserved written works which can be referenced and studied.


For scholars in Te Reo it is gratifying to read the language, closely followed by modern English translations. The women’s point of view is presented well.

Pleas for land rights, explanations for battles fought, or complaints about land acquisitions and raupatu (confiscations) are concisely outlined by intelligent women. The matters discussed were of importance to Mãori communities and effected everyone; men, women and children. Although men assuming leadership roles usually interacted with government officials there was a place of standing for women within the tribal structure and these writings outline their value. The petitions put forward by women remind the recipients of their obligations, even when they were ignored. Uncertainty in dealing with constantly changing colonial authorities probably did not help. Unscrupulous translators may have offered what the listeners wanted to hear, rather than whatever the writer originally intended.


Items selected for this collection come from all over New Zealand geographically. They illustrate a wide range of interests including requests for advice on social, legal, and family matters. In some instances explanations of tikanga (customs) or requests for restitution or for economic and educational material are included. Most of the recorded contact between Mãori and the authorities (and settlers) was through the Mãori Land Courts so these proceedings provide much material.


An excellent bibliography and sound background references will be especially valuable for future researchers. Comprehensive references and indexing are excellent.


REVIEWER: Sonia Edward

TITLE: He Reo Wãhine: Mãori Women’s Voices from the Nineteenth Century

PUBLISHER: Auckland University Press

RRP: $49.99

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