Review: Fire that Kindles Hearts: Ten Māori Scholars

fire-that-kindles-hearts-coverSelwyn Katene (ed.), Fire that Kindles Hearts: Ten Māori Scholars. Wellington: Steele Roberts, 2015, 226pp. ISBN 9781927242889

Melissa Kennedy

This most recent collection of short biographies of well-known Māori joins a tradition of documenting Māori lives, celebrating their difficulties as much as their successes. These include Judith Binney and Gillian Chaplain’s Nga Morehu/the Survivors: The Life Histories of Eight Māori Women (1986), Amy Brown’s Mana Wahine: Women Who Show the Way (1994), and Paul Diamond’s A Fire In Your Belly: Māori Leaders Speak (2003). The focus in Fire that Kindles Hearts is Māori scholarship, a concept that specifically refers to Māori academics and more generally considers Māori forms of knowledge and knowledge sharing. The ten academics who contribute to this volume are: Ranginui Walker, Ngāhuia Te Awekotuku, Mason Durie, Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Graham Hingangaroa Smith, Taiarahia Black, Ngāpare Hopa, Wally Penetito, Margie Maaka, and Atholl Anderson. As an ethnographic document, such short biographies are fascinating for documenting twentieth-century Māori lives, marked by milestones such as the Great Depression, World War Two, and the 1951 Waterfront Dispute. The lives of all of the Māori featured in this book, most of whom are now retired, were significantly shaped by the period of Māori sovereignty and protest, the Treaty of Waitangi grievance process, and the institutionalization of biculturalism. Or perhaps more accurately, it is they who shaped this signal era in the nation’s history, as policy makers and practitioners in law, health, and education.

The collection reveals many similarities of experience and attitude shared by the contributors. All of them are the first in their families to go on to tertiary education, and they all situate their upward mobility as exceptions from intergenerational family norms of low schooling expectations and working-class jobs, clearly represented by the number of times the freezing works is mentioned, either as a summer holiday job for these students and full-time employment for many in their family. Their stories are also a reminder of the long history of study abroad, particularly in the UK and West-Coast USA, where they were exposed to other minority rights movements, particularly from fellow Commonwealth students in the UK and indigenous struggles in Canada, the USA and Pacific. Most striking in the collection, as reflected in the book’s title, is a strong conviction of putting to use an individual education working for the Māori people, on hapu, iwi or national levels. Many describe their involvement in their iwi’s Tribunal claims, offering a practical example of applying their research skills to local contexts. This kaupapa informs their inclusive understanding of Māori scholarship to include community involvement, both learning from kaumātua, and mentoring younger generations.

Fire that Kindles Hearts unapologetically promotes these ten Māori scholars as models of Māori achievement in academia, one of the bastions of Western knowledge and power. Such a book of academic success is surely attractive to all those who believe that education is the key to personal fulfillment of potential, social mobility, and participation in building a better society for the future. Through their teaching, research, and educational programmes for Māori, these ten role models suggest an optimistic outlook for Māori scholarship, with increasing Māori participation contributing to the knowledge economy of Aotearoa-New Zealand.

Melissa Kennedy is an external lecturer in literature and culture studies at the University of Vienna and at the University of Passau. She writes on New Zealand Maori fiction and postcolonial studies of economic inequality. She has recently finished a book called Postcolonial Economics: Reading Inequality in Colonial, Neocolonial, and Neoliberal Capitalism.