Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

City of culture: returning to Māori roots

City of culture: returning to Māori roots Megan Laybourn
31 Jul
2018
The addition of traditional Māori names to Wellington’s urban landscape is proving traditional language can be applicable to 21st century environments

From Auckland to Christchurch, New Zealand’s urban landscape – including street names and major urban features – is often named after symbolic British motifs assigned by colonial settlers. This is perhaps most significant in the capital, Wellington, after Arthur Wellesley, first duke of Wellington. Wellington City Council aims to change this. In a policy entitled adopted last month, the council pledged to make the Māori language, ‘te reo’, a core part of Wellington’s identity by 2040, to make the language widely seen, heard and spoken throughout the capital.

‘For me, the te reo city policy is really exciting,’ says Dr Ocean Mercier, senior lecturer at the School of Māori Studies, Victoria University of Wellington. ‘Sometimes the English names mask really critical local information, both the immediately apparent and historic. For instance, the suburb where we work, Kelburn, used to be known as Pukehinau, “the hill where the Hinau trees grow”. Hinau trees were significant because of – among other things – their delicious berries.’

The policy’s first concrete step was central Civic Square officially being given the name Te Ngākau, which translates as ‘the heart’, to reflect the square’s role as the city’s social hub for all residents, while Wellington mayor Justin Lester revealed that the council are finalising te reo names for other parts of the city, such as the Botanic Gardens, and various city signage and public facilities. ‘At its heart it’s about recognising the long-standing relationship between “mana whenua” – the people with guardianship over a place – and the land,’ continues Mercier. ‘But then it’s also reflective of the relationship between mana whenua and more recent arrivals. It’s not just about the revitalisation of te reo names. It’s ideally about nurturing that relationship, and ensuring mana whenua have agency and voice in the urban space that grew up around them.’

‘We’re probably quick to assume anything Māori is, or must be, traditional,’ says Dr Vini Olsen-Reeder, lecturer at the School of Māori Studies. ‘The language is contemporary and pragmatic and totally fit for today’s society. That means letting the language breathe and grow as organically as English. This is the real power of applying this principle to naming urban and spatial planning.’

This was published in the August 2018 edition of Geographical magazine

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox by signing up to our weekly newsletter and get a free collection of eBooks!

geo line break v3

sub 2020 copy

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

geo line break v3

geo line break v3

University of Winchester

geo line break v3

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Derby

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in PEOPLE...

I’m a Geographer

Danny Dorling is an author and professor of geography at Oxford…

Development

A newly discovered microbe could uncover how soil absorbs carbon…

Explorers

A single entry in a 118-year-old Arctic whaling logbook diverted…

Refugees

As the world grapples with a new pandemic, humanitarian organisations…

Development

Virtualising nature – an affront to the glory of the…

People

Boredom may be creeping into the lockdown experience. For the…

Refugees

A landmark ruling by the United Nations Human Rights Committee…

People

In today’s interconnected global society, new diseases can travel through…

Development

The best GIS dashboards record in near real-time the number…

Cultures

Geographical’s monthly print magazine has always sought to help its…

Cultures

As Iran and the US slog it out to dominate…

Development

For Bhavani Shankar, a trip to an Indian vegetable market revealed…

Explorers

Laura Waters paddles from ocean to source on the Noosa…

I’m a Geographer

Martin Hewitt is the founder of the Adaptive Grand Slam…

Development

As we come to terms with our hermetically-sealed situation during…

Explorers

At Geographical, we want to amplify the voices of the…

Cultures

Sohei Nishino uses photography, collage and cartography to pioneer unique…

Development

A rapid change in eating habits is deemed necessary to…

I’m a Geographer

Evelyn Habasa is the founder of Ride 4 a Woman,…