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Māori Heritage Arts Research Released

10 Dec 2010

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Toitu te toi i Hawaikitoitu ki Aotearoa

The ancient art forms of Hawaiki must endure in Aotearoa

Māori heritage arts flourish when there is strong community support for their retention and when people are regularly engaged in learning their practice from an early age, according to research published today by Creative New Zealand.

The Health of Māori Heritage Arts 2009 – Research Summary Report reviews the ‘health’ of 10 heritage artforms ranging from Toi Whakairo (carving) and oral arts to Whare Maire (martial arts) and Traditional Maori Games.

Identified as a priority in Creative New Zealand’s Strategic Plan for 2007-2010, the research included in-depth interviews with senior practitioners and a survey of other individuals involved in the revitalisation of Māori heritage arts.

“Our arts reflect the traditions of tāngata whenua and are not only integral to the well-being of Māori communities but to the national identity of Aotearoa New Zealand,” said Chair of Te Waka Toi (Māori Arts Board) Darrin Haimona.

The research found while many Māori heritage arts – such as Toi Whakairo and Ta Moko (body modification and tattoo) are in good health their success may be hiding the fragility of other customary arts.

“While we take heart in the relative good health of many of our customary arts we are aware of the need to work with Māori communities and other agencies to support those arts, which are in fragile health.

“There is real concern that without people to teach and learn some may be neglected and ultimately forgotten,” he said.

The research assessed which arts are being widely practiced and retained; whether there is sufficient access to practitioners throughout the country; if skills are being passed between generations; and if there is support available from external agencies.

While most heritage artforms were diagnosed as being in reasonable to good health there were two exceptions in Tarai Waka, particularly ocean voyaging and navigation, and traditional Māori games.Their fragile health was due to a range of factors but largely to the low numbers of senior active or emerging practitioners engaged.

Also closer examination of some arts diagnosed as being in reasonable to good health revealed exceptions amongst some of the specialist disciplines within each.For example, while Toi Whakairo is widely practiced the specialist disciplines of Whakairo Pounamu and Whakairo Hue may require support for their long term retention.

The research found that formal learning institutions such as wānanga Māori and polytechnics had had a positive impact on the retention of heritage arts by providing employment for skilled practitioners to teach, and a platform from which emerging practitioners can learn.

While this influence was appreciated it was also noted that the preferred learning environment for customary arts is where the learner is immersed in their own cultural and tribal context, whereas wānanga and polytechnics tend to be pan-tribal.

Creative New Zealand is using the research to prioritise its funding decisions and to engage with communities to set priorities for retaining and developing heritage artforms. The research will be followed up every three years to assess the impact of initiatives.

The report can be downloadedhere