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

red line

NEVER MISS A STORY

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox by signing up to our free weekly newsletter!

red line

Related items

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox every Friday.

LATEST HEADLINES

Subscribe to Geographical!

University of Winchester

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Winchester

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • The Human Game – Tackling football’s ‘slave trade’
    Few would argue with football’s position as the world’s number one sport. But as Mark Rowe discovers, this global popularity is masking a sinister...
    Essential oil?
    Palm oil is omnipresent in global consumption. But in many circles it is considered the scourge of the natural world, for the deforestation and habita...
    National Clean Air Day
    For National Clean Air Day, Geographical brings together stories about air pollution and the kind of solutions needed to tackle it ...
    The Nuclear Power Struggle
    The UK appears to be embracing nuclear, a huge U-turn on government policy from just two years ago. Yet this seems to be going against the grain globa...
    Mexico City: boom town
    Twenty years ago, Mexico City was considered the ultimate urban disaster. But, recent political and economic reforms have transformed it into a hub of...

MORE DOSSIERS

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...

Explorers

From Calcutta to the Himalayas, in The Last Englishmen, author…

Development

As part of our monthly series of reports looking at…

Development

Using WhatsApp to monitor and predict deadly landslides in Colombian…

Explorers

During her time in Ghana, Sarah Begum experienced the lives…

Development

An investigation reveals how the illegal export of talc, used…

Cultures

Land rights for the indigenous are still a problem, but…

Development

New statistics suggest rising healthy lifespans in China, at the…

Cultures

The addition of traditional Māori names to Wellington’s urban landscape is…

Cultures

Native American communities in the US are devising their own…

Refugees

Calais’ continuing refugee crisis may not make daily headlines now…

I’m a Geographer

With fellow student Tom Micklethwait, Charles is travelling the route…

Development

As part of our monthly series of reports looking at…

Development

Few would argue with football’s position as the world’s number…

Explorers

For British cave divers, Chris Jewell and Jim Warny, who…

Cultures

Love it or hate it, there’s no denying that football…

Development

A German recycling scheme is proving to be a source…

Development

The Galápagos are often thought of as a unique natural…

Development

China’s ban on plastic imports will displace more than 110…

Cultures

If you think you can escape the ballyhoo of the…