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Tikanga - An introduction to te ao Māori by Keri Opai


“If you show respect for the language and the culture, you are showing respect for the people.”


Tikanga is a way of doing things as much as it is a way of seeing things. Te ao Māori roughly translates to ‘The Māori World’ and this book is a beginners guide to understanding exactly what that is all about. Keri Opai is a linguist and is often brought in for consultation around te reo for a number of organisations in New Zealand. As a Māori he presents what he refers to as an ‘insiders’ view of the world of Māori in order to make it more accessible to those who live outside.


There has been a significant drive for the incorporation of Māori tikanga across New Zealand. From educational institutes to business to fundamental shifts in governmental policy, it seems that Māori voices are now beginning to achieve cut through. In response to this, many non-Māori can feel daunted by the prospect of learning traditions, customs and language to engage in this new paradigm. Opai’s book Tikanga - An introduction to te ao Māori makes the learning very straightforward. He explains key terms such as whanau and mana in simple and easily readable descriptions that will assist learners of the craft.


Pronunciation and language take the forefront in this book. A significant first section is dedicated to the correct vocalisations of Māori words and phrases because, largely, that is the first port of call for most non-Māori in New Zealand. The typical ‘toe-paw’ to pronounce ‘Taupō’ is a starter.


The section on marae protocol is very engaging. The pōwhiri process is explained using some of the most detailed but also straightforward language ever published making the whole procedure much less concerning for those embarking on the journey. Explorations of the language inside the marae including the order of speeches and the content of whaikorero are, again, well executed.


Of all the aspects to enjoy about the book, it is the depth of knowledge, the research, and the ease with which these complex elements are explained that make this such a stand out publication. It was the phenomenal teacher Richard Feynman who wrote, “If you can't teach something to a 6-year-old, that means you don't really understand it". I have a feeling that many six year olds will now be better off (as are many older New Zealanders) because of the strength of this book.


Reviewer: Chris Reed

Upstart Press