Tirohanga Māori at WORD Christchurch 2021

WORD Christchurch's 2021 festival has been postponed until later in the year due to Covid-19 restrictions. Dates and times mentioned in this post are no longer current. Read an updated version of this post.

In recent times literary festivals have caught flak for a certain lack of diversity in their audiences, and as a now seasoned festival goer I can confirm that this has certainly how I've experienced festivals in the past which have often felt like the preserve of the well-off, older, and largely Pākehā set.

Whether it continues to be this way in the future is in large part down to festival organisers, the people who set the down the programme, and their choices about the voices and perspectives they present to their audiences.

In Ōtautahi we're lucky to have a literary festival that has been working steadily towards more diversity for some years now and this year's programme has so much to offer, particularly with regards to stories told from a Māori perspective (tirohanga Māori), and many events are free to attend.

Like what? Well, like these:

Book launch: Atua by Gavin Bishop

Gavin Bishop is a local legend when it comes to children's books, in particular illustration. In his latest book he introduces young readers to the Atua, Māori gods, and explores some of their stories. Free but bookings required.

Atua: Maori Gods and Heroes

The living mountains

Nic Low is a Ngāi Tahu writer and also the co-director for this year's festival. He's also written about book, Uprising, about traversing the old mountain trails of the Southern Alps, Kā Tiritiri-o-te-moana - the trails used by Ngai Tahu in days gone by. Kā Huru Manu, Ngāi Tahu's cultural mapping project has been an epic undertaking documenting such trails and sites important to the iwi's cultural history. Low will be discussing both with  someone who knows a thing or two about Ngāi Tahu history, Tā Tipene O'Regan. This is a free event.


Mark Solomon: Mana whakatipu

Mark Solomon was formerly the chairman of Te Rūnanga o Ngai Tahu, the official iwi organisation's head. His move into the top job coincided with the iwi's settlement of their Waitangi Tribunal claim and subsequent payout and it was under his stewardship that Ngāi Tahu solidified and grew their holdings and operations. He was knighted in 2013 for services to Māori and business and according to the WORD Christchurch programme his memoir details "his years at the helm of the tribe, his thoughts on leadership and life, the people who influenced him, and his vision for the future of Māoridom, and Aotearoa". He'll be in conversation with Christchurch-raised broadcaster, Miriama Kamo. This session is a must for anyone interested in business, governance or leadership. Buy tickets.

Mana Whakatipu: Ngai Tahu Leader Mark Solomon on Leadership and Life

Tautitotito whenua: Reciprocal songs of the land

What are the commonalities between the Irish and Māori experiences of colonisation, and our relationships to language and land? In a session that partners with Cûirt International Festival of Literature in Galway, Irish authors will beam in to read new work while Aotearoa-side Hana O'Regan and Charisma Rangipuna will perform a new lament "exploring climate change's impact on ancestral places". There will be English translations of the Māori and Gaelige pieces as well as discussion in English. There are many Māori with "a foot in both camps" (myself included) so this sounds like a special opportunity to immerse yourself in the connections between them. Buy tickets.

Kura reo - Māori language class

At our own Spark Place, at Tūranga there will be daily opportunities to boost your reo with some Ngai Tahu idioms and whakatauki. An opportunity to "level up" for only $10 per class. Buy tickets.

Te piki o Tāwhaki: The ascent of Tāwhaki

Artwork, Tāwhaki by Fayne Robinson, assisted by his nephew Caleb Robinson, atrium stairway
Artwork, Tāwhaki by Fayne Robinson, assisted by his nephew Caleb Robinson, atrium stairway, Tūranga. Photo by Pam Carmichael Photography. TU-2018-10-11-001

If you've ever wondered about the story (and mana) behind the carved figure on the stairs at Tūranga then this will be the perfect opportunity to learn more. His name is Tāwhaki and in Māori lore he ascended to the heavens and several artworks in the building allude to this story.

A trifecta of impressive Ngai Tahu artists and storytellers will bring this story to life, namely Juanita Hepi, Joseph Hullen, and Ariana Tikao, and the library balconies will become an auditorium for the night. There will be two performances, both free.

War and peace

Ross Calman undertook a decades-long te reo Māori journey in order to translate the handwritten biography of Ngāti Toa chief, Te Rauparaha, written by his son, Tamihana (one of Calman's tīpuna). He'll be discussing the Ngāi Tahu/Ngāti Toa conflict, notably that of Kaiapoi pā, with Upoko of Ngāi Tuāhuriri, Te Maire Tau. This one is a must for anyone with an interest in local iwi/hapū history. Ngāi Tahu musician Ariana Tikao will provide taonga pūoro musical accompaniment. This is a free event.

He Pukapuka Tātaku I Ngā Mahi A Te Rauparaha Nui

New Regent Street Pop-up Festival

With a huge mix of mini, bit-sized sessions spread up and down the street that are all free to attend, there's a lot to love about the New Regent Street Pop-up Festival. Some highlights from a Te Ao Māori point of view are:

  • Works by Māori Writers in the windows of The Caffeine Laboratory
  • Launchpad Upstairs at The Last Word will have mini book launches including Cassie Hart reading from her new novel – Butcherbird – a tale about uncovering truths and unshackling guilt and Madi Williams will touch on the history of South Polynesia during the ‘Middle Ages’; exploring themes of movement, migration and history without forcing it into a Western chronology via her recent publication Polynesia, 900-1600.


Poetry, music and a celebration of the vā, - that which binds pacific people together. Featuring a mix of Māori and Pasifika artists including Ben Brown, Karlo Mila, Juanita Hepi, Dietrich Soakai, Hana Pera Aoake, Ruby Solly and Tusiata Avia, curated by the inimitable Daisy Speaks. Buy tickets.

The next generation

Patricia Grace and Witi Ihimaera, after long and successful careers are now household names, but what of a younger generation of Māori writers? Juanita Hepi will kōrero with Hana Pera Aoake, Rebecca K. Reilly, and Ruby Solly. Fiction and poetry fans should definitely have this one on their list. This is a free event.

Greta & Valdin

A Bathful of Kawakawa and Hot Water

Tōku Pāpā

Kā wai o Tahu: Ngāi Tahu's legal action over water and Kā wai o Tahu: Marlon Williams, Ariana Tikao, Ruby Solly

Ngāi Tahu has taken the Crown to court over freshwater. Current Chair of Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, Lisa Tumahai, with Te Maire Tau and freshwater specialist, Mike Joy will discuss the whys and wherefores with Mike McRoberts. Good backrounders, if you want to read up beforehand are Enough is enough: Why Ngāi Tahu is suing the Crown over its waterways, and Water Rights for Ngāi Tahu: a Discussion Paper.

This should be a very interesting and important kōrero coming, as it does, at a time of heightened interest around water quality and climate change. This is a free event.

A musical companion event will evoke the sound and wairua of water itself when three of Ngāi Tahu's most accomplished musicians (and special guests) perform together. I'd suggest you buy tickets but it's already sold out.

Patricia Grace: From the centre

I was lucky enough to attend a similar session with Patricia Grace at the Auckland Writers Festival earlier in the year. Grace has had a long and distinguished career in fiction and her memoir, From the centre: A writer's life allows her the time and space to discuss the story of her own life, the family that she came from, and the struggles that have shaped her. Fellow Māori writer Paula Morris, an experienced interviewer who never fails to elicit the best from other authors, will be guiding the conversation. Buy tickets.

From the Centre

Matariki and Star lore

Who better to learn more about Matariki from than two knowledgeable experts in the form of Professor Rangi Mātāmua and Victoria Campbell. How does Māori star-lore relate to contemporary science? What else can we learn about the ancient traditions of Matariki? Shilo Kino (Marae journalist and author of The Pōrangi Boy) chairs this session. Buy tickets.



He Waiata Hou: Indigenous writers wānaka

This is a unique opportunity for emerging writers to be in the presence of greatness (Patricia Grace! Ben Brown!) but also to connect with other writers, share kai and to explore ways of telling our own stories. This is another free event but there are limited spaces available so get in quick! Buy tickets.

And more!

The above is not an exhaustive list as there are lots of other WORD events that include amazing Māori writers, thinkers, and performers like:

More WORD Christchurch 2021