Maori Maps [.com]

June 2011 saw the launching of the Maori Maps website.  By 2013 it aims to map out all tribal marae across Aotearoa, including photographs of the marae, information, and directions how to get there.  Scanning the satellite, or reading the road map, those who have lost their ancestral marae can now hunt their heritage out Google-styles.

Back in mid-2010 the pending arrival of the Maori Maps project was announced by Waatea News, and I put forward some thoughts in an earlier post.  With its eventual arrival in 2011, the makers of Maori Maps have put more information out about what they are trying to achieve (see, for example, here and here).  And, of course, we now get to see the maps.

The makers of Maori Maps say the site is a solution to several problems.  Many tribal marae are dying, so locating and mapping them will help ensure they are preserved.  Their disappearance would not only be an issue for Maori, the website authors claim, but also for all New Zealanders since marae represent the identity that makes this country unique.  Urbanisation has caused generations of Maori to become detached from their past, causing youth issues.  Reconnecting these city-dwellers to their home marae could help solve social issues by re-establishing identity.

There is no room for non-tribal marae in Maori Maps.  Hoani Waititi is missed, as are marae that are part of other institutions (such as at Unitec or AUT).  These are not part of New Zealand’s unique identity according to the makers of Maori Maps.  Marae constructed to cater for the urbanisation that has occurred over the last 100 years are left as imposters, or false signifiers of identity.  Rather than being accepted as cultural developments in response to the process of colonisation, they are ignored for fear of disrupting the linear progression of tradition (1).

Drawing the line in this manner is at odds with the methods and approaches of Maori Maps.  The adaptation of Google-like satellite views to map marae is an acceptance of new tools to achieve traditional aims in the modern context, the same tactic that saw the development of urban marae.  The choice of map is not neutral either – rather it is a rejection of the traditional modes of referencing place in favour of a dominant modern paradigm that the audience will more readily be able to interpret.  As Giselle Byrnes notes;

“Land was identified through a system of rights and privileges which often relied on boundary markers.  While whakapapa and ‘mental maps’ were called upon in navigating the land, geographical features such as hills, rocks, and rivers also indicated boundaries.  Stones and holes in the ground functioned as boundary markers between tribal areas, and individual cultivation plots were frequently the most enduring divisional marks.  In traditional Maori society, however, there was usually little need to delineate boundaries.” (2)

The image that greets you upon opening Maori Maps is easily familiar, and as Jan Kelly notes this leads us to think of ‘our’ maps as ‘ordinary’ maps (3).  The accuracy of such maps also fools us into thinking they are the ‘right’ or the ‘correct’ representation of reality.  Of course these maps are but one form of representation, and the use of other (and in this case, more traditional) constructs of referencing place and symbols to represent these can yield a vastly different views.

Even the choice of photography to represent the ‘marae’ complicates Maori Maps‘ mission.  Nearly all the images used to represent marae are photographs of wharenui or whare whakairo.  The overwhelming impression given is that marae = wharenui, and even when wharenui are not depicted, the images still focus on some type of built form – most often waharoa – rather than reflecting the much wider concept of marae as simply a space acting as a meeting place.  Photographs are familiar to the lost city-dwellers, but ironically they potentially give a false impression of what it is that the lost are actually supposed to be looking for.  To connect to the traditional, a medium is used which is wholly unsatisfactory for expressing the traditional.

Nothing is more architectural than how space is constructed and represented.  For Maori, this has changed significantly over the last 200 years.  In attempting so hard to revitalise the traditional, Maori Maps has implicitly invalidated one development in the construction and representations of Maori space (urban marae), but in doing so has had to adopt methods and approaches which fail, or at best complicate, the exact goal they aim for.  Worst of all, while urban marae make clear their appropriations and adaptations, it seems that Maori Maps expects us to ignore theirs.

(1)  Other directories of marae do not take this approach.  For example, Te Puni Kokiri’s Tamaki Makaurau Marae Directory lists a large number of ‘urban’ marae in Auckland, as opposed to Maori Maps‘ eight.

(2)  Giselle Byrnes, “Surveying – the Maori and the Land”, New Zealand Journal of History, 31(1), 1997, p.96.

(3)  Jan Kelly, “Maori Maps”, Cartographica, 36(2), 1999.


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