Māori Oral Tradition: He Kōrero nō te Ao Tawhito

Jane McRae


Māori oral tradition is the rich, poetic record of the past handed down by voice over generations through whakapapa, whakataukī, kōrero and waiata. In genealogies and sayings, histories, stories and songs, Māori tell of ‘te ao tawhito’ or the old world: the gods, the migration of the Polynesian ancestors from Hawaiki and life here in Aotearoa.


A voice from the past, today this remarkable record underpins the speeches, songs and prayers performed on marae and the teaching of tribal genealogies and histories. Indeed, the oral tradition underpins Māori culture itself.


This book introduces readers to the distinctive oral style and language of the traditional compositions, acknowledges the skills of the composers of old and explores the meaning of their striking imagery and figurative language. And it shows how ngā kōrero tuku iho – the inherited words – can be a deep well of knowledge about the way of life, wisdom and thinking of the Māori ancestors.



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Jane McRae was a lecturer in Māori language and literature at the Māori Studies department of the University of Auckland from 1993 to 2003; since then she has been a freelance translator and researcher of nineteenth-century Māori literature.



Among her publications are, as author, ‘Maori Literature: A Survey’, in Terry Sturm (ed.), The Oxford History of New Zealand Literature (1998) and Ngā Mōteatea: An Introduction / He Kupu Arataki, translated by Hēni Jacob (Auckland University Press, 2011), and, as editor with Jenifer Curnow and Ngapare Hopa, Rere atu, taku manu! Discovering History, Language and Politics in the Maori-language Newspapers and He Pitopito Kōrero nō te Perehi Māori: Readings from the Maori-language Press (Auckland University Press, 2002, 2006).

March 2017, 228 x 152 mm, 260 pages
Paperback, ISBN 9781869408619, $45