Māori oral histories and the recurring impact of tsunamis in Aotearoa – New Zealand

Māori oral histories from the northern South Island of Aotearoa – New Zealand provide details of ancestral experience with tsunamis. Exchanges with key informants from the Māori kin groups of Ngāti Koata and Ngāti Kuia reveal that these histories, recorded in a narrative form, are not merely another source of information about past catastrophic saltwater inundations but, rather, reference multiple layers of experience and meaning, from memorials to ancestral figures and their accomplishments, to claims about place, authority and knowledge. Notwithstanding these confirmations, to engage as insider–outsiders with Māori oral histories (and the people who genealogically link to such stories) requires close attention to a politics of representation as well as sensitivities to the production of new and plural knowledge itself. Individuals and families from Ngāti Koata and Ngāti Kuia permitted us to record some of their histories. They share the view that there are multiple benefits to be gained by learning from differences in knowledge, practice and belief. This paper makes these narratives available to a new audience (including those families who no longer have access) and recites these in ways that might encourage those more intimately connected to know and transmit these histories differently.

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