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Māori Literature

A guide to resources


  1. Introduction
  2. How to find books on Māori literature
    Library Search
    Searching by iwi or region
    Key books on Māori literature
  3. Journal articles
    Journal of the Polynesian Society (JPS) and Transactions and Proceedings of the New Zealand Institute (TNZI)
  4. Bibliographies and inventories
  5. Contemporary literature written in English
  6. Anthologies
  7. Specialised indexes
  8. Manuscript material
  9. Archive of Māori and Pacific Music

1. Introduction Top of page

This guide is designed to help the researcher new to the study of Māori literature by indicating some of the major sources in the University of Auckland Library. The main focus is on traditional material but there are also a few notes on contemporary Māori writing in English

2. How to find books on Māori literature Top of page

Library Search Top of page

Many of the books held in the University of Auckland Library can be found using Library Search, the online catalogue. Some frequently used subject headings are (you don't need to use capitals or macrons in your searches):

Māori language 

Māori literature bibliography 

Māori literature history and criticism 

Māori poetry 




proverbs Māori 

songs Māori 



Māori New Zealand people legends 

mythology Māori 

Māori New Zealand people folklore 

Searching by iwi or region

Top of page

Many books have subject headings for iwi in the form

Ngati Porou Maori people
Ngati Whatua Maori people
Ngapuhi Maori people

For a complete list of iwi as subject headings enter the search

Maori New Zealand people

Look at the first screens under this heading (note you don't need capitals or macrons). Some works relating to regions and iwi are only indexed under subject headings in the following form

Maori New Zealand people New Zealand Auckland

Maori New Zealand people New Zealand Taranaki etc

Key books on Māori literature Top of page

General survey and bibliographical essay
McRae, Jane. 'Māori literature: a survey' in Terry Sturm (ed.). The Oxford history of New Zealand literature in English. 1991, pp.1-24.

The books listed below are some of the most important sources:
Alpers, Antony. Māori myths and tribal legends. 1964.

Gardiner, Wira. Haka : a living tradition. 2001.

Grey, George. Mythology and traditions of the New Zealanders = Ko nga mahinga a nga tupuna. 1854. This standard work has been republished many times since in English and Māori. Other titles include: Nga mahi a nga tupuna and Polynesian mythology. In English and Māori.

Kapiti, Pita. Nga korero a Pita Kapiti. 1997. 19th Century.

Karetu, T. S. Haka : te tohu o te whenua rangatira = The dance of a noble people. 1993.

McLean, Mervyn. Māori music. 1996.
History of waiata from traditional times to the 20th Century.

McLean, Mervyn. Traditional songs of the Māori. 1979.
Written in collaboration with Margaret Orbell. 50 waiata with music, lyrics and explanatory material. A general introduction includes notes on types of waiata and language. Indexes first lines,and song types. Bibliography.

Ngata, Apirana. Nga moteatea. [Vols.1-4]. 1985-1990
393 waiata from all over New Zealand. Collected by Sir Apirana Ngata and originally published from 1928. English translations with copious notes and explanations in the later editions.

Orbell, Margaret. The illustrated encyclopedia of Māori myth and legend. 1995.
A comprehensive coverage of the field. Brief accounts of most of the well-known stories and entries for natural phenomena, animals etc. Notes on sources and an index.

Orbell, Margaret. Waiata :Māori songs in history: An anthology. 1991.

Ruatapu, Mohi. Nga korero a Mohi Ruatapu: Tohunga rongonui o Ngati Porou = The writings of Mohi Ruatapu. 1993. Originally written down in two exercise books in the late 19th Century. Contains whakapapa and stories of tipuna and atua. In Māori and English.

Shortland, Edward. Māori religion and mythology. 1882
Includes chapters on cosmogony.

Smith, S.Percy. The lore of the whare wānanga. 1913-1915
Based mainly on material written down by Te Whatahoro Jury at a whare wānanga held at Papawai in the Wairarapa in the 1860s. In Māori and English. Includes creation myths and legends and also an account of proceedings at a traditional whare wānanga.

Te Rangikaheke, Wiremu Maihi. The story of Maui. 1975
Edited with a translation and commentary by Agathe Thornton. Thornton's main studies have been in classical European myth and legend and she brings perspectives from this field to her study of Māori mythology.

Tikao, Teone Taare. Tikao talks: Ka taoka tapu o te ao kohatu : treasures from the ancient world of the Māori. 1990. Originally published in 1939, this work comprises traditional Ngai Tahu knowledge as told to Herries Beattie.

A Whaikoorero reader: Comparative perspectives for the study of waiata and other traditional Māori speech forms. 1984.

White, John. The ancient history of the Māori: His mythology and traditions. 1887-1890
In English and Māori. There are six volumes divided into Takitimu and Tainui canoe areas. A seventh volume contains engravings. Includes cosmology, myths, legends and more recent history. Notes for volumes 7-13 were never published, but are on microfilm. White's scholarship has been attacked (see Andersen, J.C. White's Ancient history of the Māori), but much of his material has not been recorded elsewhere. Indexed by Fletcher (see page 7.)

3. Journal articles Top of page

Special indexes and bibliographies in other published works

The research tools listed below are the most useful for finding sources in this field.

Index New Zealand (INNZ) 1987-

Look for recent journal and newspaper articles in Index New Zealand (INNZ).

All searches are keyword searches which search all the words of the record unless the computer is instructed to search only one particular field. The asterisk is the truncation symbol.

Try the searches Maori and mythology, Maori and legends, Maori languages, Maori and literature, Maori and fiction, Maori and literary criticism, Maori and newspapers, Maori and literacy, Maori music, Maori dance, Maori arts etc.

Add the words and book reviews to your search to locate book reviews.

Index to New Zealand periodicals 1941-1986
The precursor of INNZ, the Index to New Zealand periodicals, indexes only journals, including the Māori Affairs Department publication, Te Ao hou. It covers the years 1941-1986. Look under Māoris.

Journal of the Polynesian Society and
Transactions and Proceedings of the New Zealand Institute Top of page

Nineteenth and early twentieth Century material was generally published in the Journal of the Polynesian Society (JPS) or the Transactions and proceedings of the New Zealand Institute (TNZI) which have their own indexes as well as being indexed by Taylor.

Journal of the Polynesian Society. 1892-
Indexed to 1970 by Taylor bibliography (see above) but also has its own centennial index for the years 1892-1992. Personal, place and other proper names in early contributions are indexed by Fletcher (see p.7). The JPS has published a large number of myths, legends, tribal histories and analysis of them in Māori and English over the years. Contributors included Māori scholars from various iwi.

Transactions and proceedings of the New Zealand Institute. 1868-
Before the JPS was started this was the journal for scholarly articles about Māori. There are several indexes covering different periods which are shelved with the volumes. Subject approach is under the general heading "Papers - Anthropology and Philology". Also indexed by Taylor and Fletcher.

4. Bibliographies and inventories Top of page

The books listed below are some of the most important general bibliographies and published inventories. Bibliographies in other books may also prove useful. Books with bibliographies can be found by adding the words and bibliography to any keyword search.

Curnow, Jenny. Nga taonga o Te Tai Tokerau. 1998
Bibliography listing manuscripts, theses and books about the history, traditions, language, genealogies, incantations, localities, proverbs and customs of Tai Tokerau

Iwidex : Ngapuhi. 1993
Covers manuscript and printed sources for Ngapuhi history, traditions, whakapapa and culture.

McRae, Jane. Nga iwi o te Tai Tokerau : nga korero nonamata me naianei hoki...a catalogue of the Māori language relating to the history and traditions of tribes in Tai Tokerau. 1981. Inventories some of the more important collections

Simmons, D.R. The great New Zealand myth : a study of the discovery and origin traditions of the Māori. 1976. A careful investigation of the sources of the generally accepted versions of the canoe traditions. Includes an 82 page bibliography of printed and manuscript material, covering a much wider range of sources than the particular focus of the book. The entries for the more important collections, such as the Grey MS (pp.413-420), include an inventory of the individual items.

Taylor, C.R.H. A bibliography of publications on the New Zealand Māori and the Moriori of the Chatham Islands. 1972.
Covers books and journal articles published prior to 1970. It is classified by subject and includes sections on, language, pp.64-70, folklore, pp.71-77, traditional history, pp.77-81, music, songs,games, chants and recreations, pp.81-84, tribal and local Māori history, pp.85-91. Entries are not annotated and there is no access by iwi or region.

Williams, H.W. A bibliography of printed Māori to 1900 and Supplement.. 1975
Originally published in 1924. The 1975 edition includes a supplement compiled by A.D.Sommerville comprising emendations and additions to the original list and extending the period covered to 1947. The supplement is also available as a separate publication

5. Contemporary literature written by Māori in English Top of page

There is no particular subject heading on Library Search which can be used to locate this material.

Some well-known authors (Alan Duff, Patricia Grace, Witi Ihimaera, Robert Sullivan, Apirana Taylor, Ngahuia Te Awekotuku, Briar Grace-Smith and Hone Tuwhare) are covered by the New Zealand Literature File. This lists the author's own works as well as reviews, criticism and biographical material.

Use INNZ to locate journal articles, book reviews, biographical material for writers not covered by the New Zealand Literature File.

See also
Dirty silence: Aspects of language and literature in New Zealand. 1991
Includes three essays on contemporary Māori writing and some useful bibliographies.

Wevers, Lydia. 'Short fiction by Māori writers' in Commonwealth: Essays and studies, Vol.16,No.2, pp.26-33 (Spr 1994)

Pearson. Bill. 'The Māori and literature 1938-1965' in The Māori people in the nineteen-sixties. 1968. This covers writing by Māori as well as writing about Māori.

6. Anthologies Top of page

See also the anthologies of Māori writing edited by Witi Ihimaera and published as the Te Ao marama series. Five volumes have been published to 1996:

Te whakahuatanga o te ao : reflections of reality. 1992.

He whakaatanga o te ao : the reality. 1993.

Te puawaitanga o te korero : the flowering

Te ara o te hau : the path of the wind. 1994.
Writing for children.

Te torino : the spiral. 1996.

7. Specialised indexes Top of page

Barlow, Cleve. He pukapuka whakataki kupu o te Paipera Tapu = A concordance of the Holy Bible.
Although the Bible has been translated from English it remains an important early text. This index includes proper names and ordinary words and can be used in conjunction with any edition of the Bible in Māori.

Fletcher, Henry James. [Index of Māori names]
Indexes names of people, hapu, iwi, waka and places from the most important early published sources. Covers early volumes of the Journal of the Polynesian Society, the Transactions and Proceedings of the New Zealand Institute, John White's Ancient History of the Māori, Sir George Grey's Polynesian Mythology and Proverbial and popular sayings, Richard Taylor's Te Ika-ā-Maui, S. Percy Smith's Lore of the Whare Wananga, the early bulletins of the Dominion Museum, Edward Shortland's Māori religion and mythology and The Southern districts of New Zealand.

Harlow, Ray. A name & word index to Nga moteatea. 1986
Indexes the first three volumes of waiata published by Sir Apirana Ngata and Pei Te Hurinui Jones, many of which contain references to myth and legend

Harlow, Ray. A name and word index to Nga mahi a nga tupuna. 1990
Indexes proper names and also all the general words used in the 1971 edition.

Kirtley, Bacil F. A motif-index of traditional Polynesian narratives. 1971.
"Analyses and classifies traditional Polynesian (including NZ Māori) myths, tales and legends by motif." Indexes Māori material from the JPS, TNZI, Anderson, Best, Cowan, Grace, Grey, Smith, White and Wohlers under the headings cosmology and cosmogony, animals, tapu, magic, ogres, tests, wise and foolish, deceptions, reversal of fortune, ordaining the future, chance and fate, society, captives and fugitives, unnatural cruelty, sex, religion, character traits. These categories are further broken down into sub-categories so that it is possible to search for myths about the moon for example.

8. Manuscript material Top of page

Māori literature stems from an oral tradition. The first appearance on paper was generally in manuscript form in a whakapapa book, in a compilation put together at the request of Pakeha researchers or in the field notes of the researchers themselves. Only later did collections of stories appear in published form.

Grey, George. [Papers], ca 1854-1890
The originals are kept at the Auckland City Library (corner of Lorne and Wellesley St) but a photocopy is held in the Matauranga Māori Collection in 100 bound volumes. The collection contains stories from many parts of New Zealand and has been extensively inventoried.

Whatahoro, H.T. [Genealogies], 8 vols.
Ngati Kahungunu and Whanganui history and traditions.

9. Archive of Māori and Pacific Music Top of page

The Archive of Māori and Pacific Music is a large collection of tape recordings. It includes waiata, karakia and whaikorero from all parts of New Zealand. Indexes are available to the names of composers and performers, places of recording, and first lines. It is also possible to track down items by the name of a particular iwi or hapu.
Contact Christina Muaiava.

Printed catalogues have been produced for several of the major parts of the collection. (The Māori Purposes Fund Board recordings of 1953-1958, the McLean Collection from 1958-1979).

Contact: Māori and Pasifika Services
File Last updated: 14 December, 2015