They were truly "invisible" in the literary world (Bardolph 132).
A character in one text even refers to Maori as "a bookless society" and declares that such a society "didn’t stand a show in [the] modern world" (Duff 4).
Then slowly, Maori began to emerge in texts written by westerners, but only to fulfill stereotypical roles: bloodthirsty cannibals, exotic natives, members of "a noble and dying race" (Bardolph 132).
As an ethnic group, "Maori functioned as the objects rather than the subjects of representation" -- a reflection, through literature, of the consequences of colonialism (Orr 77).
The turn of the twentieth century saw the exploitation of New Zealand’s exotic appeal by Pakeha writers, and Westerners, not New Zealanders, read these texts (Orr 78).
By penning their own stories, Maori repossessed the ability to interpret and define their values, lifestyle, and culture.
This triumph in literature is not without its downfalls; some Maori, both academics and members of the general public, feel that the language in which Maori literature is written influences the literature’s potential affect and message.
In his essay "Whare Whakairo: Maori ‘Literary’ Traditions," Hirini Melbourne asserts that Maori literature is incomplete because it is written primarily in English in a number of non-traditional forms, and that: So long as Maori can only assert the values and attitudes of their culture in English, they necessarily remain victims of the colonial legacy.
Only when Maori writers can rely upon there being a sizeable body of readers in the Maori language will Maori culture truly be able to assert its independence.
If we as Maori are to ‘exist in our own terms’[...]then we must turn to the language which will allow us to be not merely ‘a product of a Pakeha imagination.’ (Melbourne 129) While this declaration of independence may be true, Maori literature will lack an audience of outsiders if Maori writers publish texts wholly in the language Maori (Simms 101).
In the midst of the twentieth century, Maori characters appeared in literature as romantic or comical figures (Williams 78), recipients of derision and malevolence, and even personifications of the qualities Pakeha lacked (Pearson 21; Hanson qtd. A study of a New Zealand newspaper in the 1950s revealed public opinion about Maori.
Positive qualities attributed to them included magnanimity, hospitality, athletic ability in rugby, musical and artistic talent, and military prowess; negative qualities included indolence, shiftlessness, contentedness to live in poor housing conditions, superstition, naīveté, and tendencies to take advantage of political opportunities and to own considerable portions of land incautiously (Pearson 21).
The 1970s brought about significant changes in New Zealand’s literary trends.
The "relatively homogenous literary scene" transformed with the first Maori writers, who, with their published poems and short stories, began an ethnic and academic revival that gradually gained momentum and support (Orr 78).
Witi Tame Ihimaera published , the first novel written by a Maori, in 1973 (Orr 73).
Some of their texts, including Alan Duff’s , provide insight into Maori civilization by displaying cultural conflict between Maori and Pakeha (New Zealanders of European descent), the importance of sustaining native culture and identity, and unity as a means to rise up from oppression and overcome social and personal hardship.
These texts are vital because they provide an opportunity for Maori to assert their feelings and opinions, to make themselves known, to have a voice.
This voice emerges from beneath the burden of colonialism and demands to be heard.
Maori literature symbolizes both Maoris’ growing social stature and a resurgence of their ethnic and cultural pride.
Prior to European contact, written Maori literature simply did not exist; traditional stories survived through the powerful practice of oral history, but there were no written stories, Maori authors, or Maori characters.
This literary rebirth, dubbed the Maori Renaissance (Orr 77), "created an audience, both Maori and Pakeha, and assisted in halting New Zealand’s monocultural perception of itself" (Bardolph 133).
New Zealanders began to recognize, understand, and appreciate Maori and their culture.
The initial work published by Maori writers proved groundbreaking, for fellow Maori as well as fellow New Zealanders.
The first poems, short stories, and novels "present the full dignity of a culture from the inside" as books written by outsiders could never do (Bardolph 133).
The early Maori authors and their literature provided Maori with a sense of pride and encouraged others to follow in their stead.
Miala Leong with ‘Anakala Eddie Ka‘anana outside the Belau National Museum, Korror, Republic of Palau, in July 2004.
Miala is a 2017 graduate of Pacific University; she wrote "Te Reo Tokahitanga" as her senior thesis for that institution. -- Maori proverb Colonialism often robs the colonized of valued possessions; political power, social prowess, land, and livelihood are only a few of them.
Though often downplayed, one particular possession taken from the colonized is that of a voice in literature, whether this occurs through the suppression of literature or of language.
In a contemporary setting, if the colonized maintain a form of literature, that form is often belittled in the academy, leaving them with few opportunities to assert themselves in that branch of academia.
This effect of colonization is particularly apparent in New Zealand; authors descending from the native Maori of New Zealand only regained a voice in literature towards the end of the 20th century.
Literature also provided a means through which Maori authors could voice their political views -- and many took advantage of this opportunity in their writing (Arvidson 119).