Nina Whittaker (Cataloguing Librarian) and Geraldine Warren (Māori Resources & Mātauranga Advisor), in conversation with Leone Samu and Te Whai Mātauranga Smith about how decolonising the systems that we use to catalogue books and, by extension, knowledge, broadens access for everyone.

Whaowhia te kete mātauranga
Fill the basket of knowledge

As the museum’s cataloguing librarian, I spend my days creating what I think of as “dating profiles” for the books in our collections. There is nothing more exciting to me than the idea that someone, somewhere, is searching for this book with all of their soul, and that person and pukapuka might one day “match” through the data I create. This also leads to the sadness when I see records for books where the data excludes people from finding the match of their dreams.  

The conventional approach to cataloguing creates a very particular “dating profile” for a book - one based on the English language, and on Western ideas of information classification and hierarchy. When we describe our books from this Western perspective, we reduce the chances of anyone “matching” with the book using Māori ideas and language. Instead of looking for pakiwaitara, you have to search for “Folklore—New Zealand”; instead of mana whenua, “Land tenure—New Zealand”. To catalogue a book in Aotearoa New Zealand today, we must do better to create “matches” between each book and Māori communities, Māori language, and Māori ideas. 

The Māori Subject Headings Working Party was created in 1998 to create a list of “Māori language terms that enables quality access and findability for te Reo Māori language users and Te Ao Māori thinkers.”1 The kaupapa was developed through the dedicated work of many people, including Rangiiria Hedley and Whina Te Whiu, who connect our museum to this vital mahi. 

Officially launched in 2006, Ngā Upoko Tukutuku (Māori Subject Headings) are structured around Māori ways of knowing, Māori organisation of knowledge, and te Reo Māori. Including these keywords in our records gives our books a fighting chance at “matching” with an Aotearoa audience that speaks te Reo Māori and embraces Māori knowledge. Since its launch, it’s been recognised around the world for its mana.2

However, Ngā Upoko Tukutuku are often used just for materials on Māori topics. This is strange – why would a culture only want to know about itself? Judging from our bookshelves, people are curious about many things: botany, war, history, cooking, the many cultures of the world... That we don’t afford the same curiosity to those seeking information from a Māori perspective increases racial inequity in access to knowledge. As Māori information advocacy group Te Rōpū Whakahau ask, “if Māori youth are first language speakers of Māori, are educated  in Māori culture, why would they want to find material that only describes information by, for and about Māori?”7

With this in mind, I partnered with our Māori Resources & Mātauranga Advisor, Geraldine Warren, to select ten books as broad and as varied as the Museum collections themselves. We wanted to showcase what Māori Subject Headings can look like on books about the Pacific, or Shakespeare, or illustrated birds. We wanted to showcase how these keywords not only increase access, but also enhance the meaning of records - for all audiences. 

And so for each of the ten books, Geraldine selected a broad range of Māori Subject Headings that explained their kaupapa. Then, in conversation with Documentary Heritage team members Te Whai Mātauranga-Smith and Leone Samu, we wrote down some whakaaro (thoughts) that arose from the pairing of each book with its headings.

It is our hope that these examples will provide inspiration to readers and cataloguers alike on how Māori Subject Headings can be used to create stronger, more accessible records. This mahi will not only increase equity in access, but will also serve to hold high mātauranga and reo Māori as the indispensable heart of Aotearoa’s intellectual life.  

Land of Birds: an illustrated tribute

Land of Birds: an illustrated tribute

by Niels Meyer-Westfield (Craig Potton, 2014)

Ngā Upoko Tukutuku
Manu māori
(native birds) ; Manu ki tātahi (seashore birds) ; Manu maunga (mountain birds) ; Manu moana (birds of the open ocean) ; Manu ngahere (birds of the forests) ; Manu pāmu (farm birds) ; Manu repo (swamp birds) ; Manu waimāori (freshwater birds) ; Mātauranga koiora (biology) ; Taiao (Papatūānuku/the world and its environment) ; Waituhi (paintings), Pukapuka whakaahua (picture books)

Many Manu
One needs only to look at Witi Ihimaera’s book Sky Dancer to see the complex history of the birds of Aotearoa. The sheer number of subject headings available just for birds shows the richness of mātauranga Māori. And with such a holistic and interconnected worldview, we don’t try and limit ourselves to a “set number” of headings. Instead, we can add as many subject headings as needed.

An anthology of Gilbertese oral tradition

An anthology of Gilbertese oral tradition

Translated by A.F. Grimble and Reid Cowell  (Institute of Pacific Studies of the University of the South Pacific, 1994) 

Ngā Upoko Tukutuku
Tangata o Te Moana-Nui-a-Kiwa (Pacific Island nations and culture), Kōrero nehe (stories of the past), Whakapapa (genealogy), Mana tūpuna (chiefly power handed down through generations), Pūrākau (legends)

Metadata Pasifika
Auckland Museum’s Pacific dimension, Teu le Vā, has origins in the Indigenous Samoan saying ‘Ia teu le vā’ which can be translated as encouragement to nurture the relationship. Metadata is a crucial way to Teu le Vā by increasing community access to collections, forging new connections between collections, and opening up new research opportunities. 

Auckland Museum’s work with the Pacific Collections Access Project (PCAP) brought 5000 items to Auckland-based Pacific communities. We learned a great deal about preferred languages and terminologies from the communities that shared their knowledge. Now, we’re collaborating with colleagues from across Te Moana-Nui-a-Kiwa to build on and enhance our use of Pacific metadata. Working directly with knowledge holders and native speakers of Pacific languages will continue to be vital to this mahi.

Miscellany of sweet recollections

Miscellany of sweet recollections

by Patricia J. White (self-published, [2019])

Ngā Upoko Tukutuku
Kōrero taumata (biography), Maimai aroha (farewell tribute), Poroporoaki (speech of farewell), Pōuri (grief), Mārenatanga (marriage), Tūhono (connection, relationship).

Ahakoa he iti...
It’s hard to find the right subject headings for the small everyday joys of a long marriage, as expressed in this book. Nostalgia, love, and companionship are all abstract concepts that can be hard to capture. New words are added to Ngā Upoko Tukutuku each month to broaden its reach and better express the huge variety of concepts found in literature.

Decolonizing methodologies: research and indigenous people

Decolonizing methodologies: research and indigenous people

by Linda Tuhiwai-Smith (Zed Books, 2012)

Ngā Upoko Tukutuku
Iwi taketake (indigenous peoples and culture), Kaupapa rangahau (research methodology), Taipūwhenuatanga (colonisation), Tōrangapū (distribution of power within society), Mana whakairo hinengaro (intellectual and cultural property rights), Tino rangatiratanga (Māori sovereignty), Mana raraunga (data sovereignty)

Empowering untranslatable kupu
Ngā Upoko Tukutuku offer a clear set of words that can be used for ideas around mātauranga, sovereignty, and power. Words like
tino rangatiratanga are difficult to translate accurately, and convey a huge wealth of history and meaning. Including these concepts in their whole, untranslated form acknowledges the power of language, and its power within our history.

Death and Dying in New Zealand

Death and Dying in New Zealand

Edited by Emma Johnson (Freerange Press, 2018)

Ngā Upoko Tukutuku
Pōuri (grief), Tikanga (correct protocols), Hura kōhatu (headstone unveiling ceremony), Kawe mate (mourning ceremonies), Matenga (death rituals), Whānau pani (grieving family), Aituā (death, disease, misfortune, accidents), Maimai aroha (farewell tribute), Ōhākī (dying wishes), Poroporoaki (speech of farewell)

Tapu, noa, and Māori knowledges  
Within Tikanga Māori, there are complex sets of protocols surrounding tapu, noa, and death. These are differentiated carefully in the Māori Subject Headings, and are applied to books through an understanding of tikanga Māori. It’s important to note that Māori knowledge is plural - while Ngā Upoko Tukutuku gives us a way to connect books with te Reo Māori, it doesn’t necessarily capture the differences between regions, iwi, and hapū. These differences are important, and are captured using the Iwi/Hapū Names List and local keywords.

Te awa atua: menstruation in the pre-colonial Maori world

Te awa atua: menstruation in the pre-colonial Maori world

by Ngahuia Murphy (He Puna Manawa, 2013)

Ngā Upoko Tukutuku
Hinengaro (the pathway of thought), Mana wahine (the female element and position held in society), Pūhuruhurutanga (puberty), Te Awa Atua (menstruation), Tikanga (correct protocols), Tikanga-ā-iwi (customs or traditions of a particular iwi), Whare tangata (the house of human life), Whakapapa (genealogy).

Ko te atua  
If we want to access material using mātauranga Māori, could we use the atua to express subjects within their domain? Could war and peace fall under Tūmatauenga and Rongo-ma-Tāne, wildlife under Tāne-Mahuta or Tangaroa? This approach also brings up more questions - when would we use Tangaroa as opposed to Hinemoana?  The University of Hawai’i Libraries have recently been exploring a similar idea with Hawaiian akua - what connections might we find across the Pacific?

A practical scheme for soldier settlement on cheap lands

A practical scheme for soldier settlement on cheap lands

(Waioatapu Settlers Association, 1919)

Ngā Upoko Tukutuku
Kāwanatanga (government), Hōia (soldiers), Ika a whiro (veterans), Whenua raupatu (confiscated land), Taipūwhenuatanga (colonisation), Tōrangapū (distribution of power within society).

Nā te whenua, nā te wahine, ka mate te tangata
Using Ngā Upoko Tukutuku allows us to look more closely at our own history. For example, this booklet on soldier settlement talks about cheap lands - which were anything but. Alongside the neutral English heading “Land Tenure”, we can use the words taipūwhenuatanga and whenua raupatu to place our books squarely within its history context, and explore colonisation, land confiscation and loss. With New Zealand history entering our curriculum by 2022, Māori Subject Headings offer a complex and powerful lens for historical publications.

Constitution of Agender NZ

Constitution of Agender NZ

(Agender NZ, 2017)

Ngā Upoko Tukutuku
Takatāpui (LGBTTIA+), Tuakiri (identity in relation to others), Mana ake (personal identity), Ira (life principles), Tikanga tangata (human rights), Mana whakahaere (group administration and processes).

LGBTTIA+ - what’s in a name?
There are a lot of different acronyms for the rainbow community - LGBT, LBGTQ, and most recently, LGBT
TIA+, which includes a ‘T’ for takatāpui. In modern use, this Māori word is an umbrella term for all our rainbow whānau. Using this Māori Subject Heading lifts up Aotearoa’s unique history of sexual and gender diversity.

Memoire sur les races de l’Oceanie

Memoire sur les races de l’Oceanie

by Charles Cauvin (Imprimerie Nationale, 1882)

Ngā Upoko Tukutuku
Iwi taketake (indigenous peoples and cultures), Pūtaiao (science), Whakahāwea iwi (racial discrimination), Taipūwhenuatanga (colonisation).

Community (mis)representation
Eugenics, phrenology, and other pseudoscientific practices are challenging to classify as their biases and fallacies become clearer with the passing of time. Although they are part of the history of science, they are also part of the history of the classification and subjugation of many indigenous peoples. 

Where headings for eugenics or pseudoscience are awaiting development, Māori Subject Headings can be paired with the work of Traditional Knowledge Labels, which include a TK Non-Verified option for material that has not been verified by the community. It shows that this knowledge was sourced or analysed without the full consent of the people who are being represented.

Te tangata whai-rawa o Weniti = Merchant of Venice

Te tangata whai-rawa o Weniti = Merchant of Venice

Translated by Pei Te Hurinui (H.L. Young, 1946)

Ngā Upoko Tukutuku 
Toi whakaari
(theatre), Reo Māori (Māori language), Pūkōrero (person skilled in oratory), Whakamāori (translations), Tuhinga auaha (dramatic or creative expression)

Tōku reo, tōku ohooho
Pei Te Hurinui was a Bard himself - a skilled orator and writer in both te Reo Māori and English. He brought the beauty of Māori oratory to this translation, which was then adapted into the 2002 film, also entirely in te reo. The deep language knowledge that Te Hurinui was renowned for, the history and imagery beyond nouns and verbs, is a true taonga tuku iho. 

By weaving te Reo Māori into our books, libraries, and cultural heritage, we can help support the deep revival of this taonga beyond nouns and verbs. Ngā Upoko Tukutuku provide us with the opportunity to nurture our next generation of Bards and orators, to nourish and inspire us in a fast moving world.

Closing remarks

MSH might be compared to a first fresh layer of kokowai being applied to a whakairo after it has had its many layers of red paint removed.  MSH applies this indigenous ‘coat’ of culture, meaning, observation and interpretation, allowing our books to connect with the whenua upon which we stand - and each one of us who stands there.



1  Te Rōpū Whakahau, Ngā Ūpoko Tukutuku (MSH).

2 Roy, L. & Frydman, A. (2013). Library Services to Indigenous Populations: Case Studies. 



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