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

Related items

Subscribe to Geographical!

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

Sign up for our weekly newsletter today and get a FREE eBook collection!

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

DOSSIERS

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

  • Natural Capital: Putting a price on nature
    Natural capital is a way to quantify the value of the world that nature provides for us – the air, soils, water, even recreational activity. Advocat...
    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...
    Alien views
    The tabloids would have us believe that immigrants are taking our houses, our jobs, our school places and our hospital beds. But a close reading of th...
    The Money Trail
    Remittance payments are a fundamental, yet often overlooked, part of the global economy. But the impact on nations receiving the money isn’t just a ...

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

The Arabian Desert may not be everyone’s first choice when…

Cultures

Film-maker Jane Labous documents the taboos faced by Senegalese women…

Development

Gene editing technology means scientists are close to changing small-scale…

Explorers

Impassioned teacher and marine conservationist Libby Bowles looks back at…

I’m a Geographer

Simon Reeve is an author and TV presenter whose latest…

Cultures

Morocco reintroduces compulsory military service, one of many countries debating…

Development

In this penultimate instalment of our monthly series of reports…

Explorers

With the RGS-IBG’s annual Explore weekend on the horizon, the…

Development

The ‘golden triangle’ switches from growing opium crops to coffee

I’m a Geographer

Fearghal O’Nuallain is a geography teacher and explorer. His edited…

Explorers

In the Indonesian archipelago of Raja Ampat, new measures to…

Cultures

The small southern African nation of Eswatini has a rich…

Development

Many countries that are classified as being ‘not high income’…

Development

As part of our monthly series of reports looking at…

Explorers

Fifty years since the great Blue Nile was first traversed,…

Explorers

When author Lydia Syson set a historical novel on a…

Development

A new vaccination strategy aims to eradicate peste de petits…

Development

Over 100 years have passed since São Tomé could claim…

Cultures

As one of the biggest displays of Caribbean culture in…