What is kaupapa Maori?

Explained on Sparrowhawk/KāreareaAndrew Little and the Māori lightbulb moment:

OK, for those of you who may be unsure as to what is meant by the phrase ‘kaupapa Māori’ in the first place, here is Te Aka’s definition:

Māori approach, Māori topic, Māori customary practice, Māori institution, Māori agenda, Māori principles, Māori ideology – a philosophical doctrine, incorporating the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values of Māori society.

It’s a pretty broad set of ideas. Others have said kaupapa Māori is a way of doing things from a Māori worldview. Operating from a kaupapa Māori perspective then has nothing whatsoever to do with the battles you win or lose, but more with the way you think, act and make decisions. Kaupapa Māori can be exercised by individuals and groups, but will obviously have more impact when collectively undertaken. In fact, have a look at the Māori Party constitution if you want to get a sense of what operating from a base of kaupapa Māori can involve.

Some may have a more exclusive view than I do; maintaining that kaupapa Māori can only be employed by Māori for Māori; I would say people who are not Māori can learn to operate from a kaupapa Māori perspective. Actually, I have also known some Pākehā who probably don’t even know they view the world in a way absolutely consistent with Māori values and Māori philosophies. I wouldn’t say they operate from a kaupapa Māori bases, but they are not so very far from those of us who do. On the other hand there are also Māori who claim to operate from a kaupapa Māori base who completely undercut such claims in what they say and do.

Kaupapa Māori is not a respecter of political affiliation, I don’t ask for kaumatua’s voting record before he or she gives karanga or whaikōrero, or offers me kai.   Nor does kaupapa Māori require stridency. The quietest voice in the room may be that espousing a kaupapa Māori view, for those with the ears to listen.

Further, kaupapa Māori is not a topic. Nor does it comprise a set of finite issues. World-views tend not to be so restricted. Saying people coming from a base of kaupapa Māori may only opine on things relevant to Māori is as ridiculous as saying a French speaker may only converse in matters of relevance to France.

This was in relation to Andrew Little versus kaupapa Maori.


  1. Brown

     /  February 22, 2017

    It means whatever you want it to mean so is a pointless term to measure anything by. Does it include the violence inherent in Maori life 100 years ago (and still apparent some would claim) or do we cherry pick to suit?

    • PDB

       /  February 22, 2017

      I always thought it meant ‘the Maori way’, a rather vague term that seems to imply Maori solutions to Maori problems, a distinctly Maori view of the world.

    • Gezza

       /  February 22, 2017

      It means a lot of things, but in general I always take to mean those protocols or ways of doing or seeing things which, even after over a century & a half of forced adaptation to living in a pakeha-worldview-dominated society, are still important to, and sometimes unique to, hapu iwi Maori, and which sometimes (but not always) different from the pakeha way of looking at & doing things.

    • @ Brown – “Does it include the violence inherent in Maori life 100 years ago?”

      Don’t you mean 170+ years ago?

      And the simple answer is NO, because that was then, 100 years ago, and this is now, today.

      Unless you believe, as some appear to, that only Pakeha have adapted, changed and ‘modernised’ in all this time while Maori have remained exactly the same? The ‘Stone Age Culture’ argument, which I also call utter puerility …

      And what of the violence inherent in Pakeha life 100 or 170 or 200 years ago? Slavery? Hung, drawn and quartered? Convict transportation? The venal carnage of WW1?

  2. Alan Wilkinson

     /  February 22, 2017

    I take it to be a claim to the moral high ground and ancestral approval. That seems to be its usual mode of deployment.

    • Gezza

       /  February 22, 2017

      I put that down to either intransigence or ignorance Al. Maybe both.

    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  February 22, 2017

      The i word you are searching for in vain is insight, G. Tinged with a dash of cynicism.

      • Gezza

         /  February 22, 2017

        *Incite, Al.

        • Alan Wilkinson

           /  February 22, 2017

          It’s up there with Treaty Principles, G. Like Moses with his tablets their wisdom comes straight from God. An atheist like you won’t recognise that though.

          • Gezza

             /  February 23, 2017

            I’m only an atheist in respect of the Abrahamic & other historical & traditional religions, Al.

            So’s God. God & me get along just fine. 😇

  3. High Flying Duck

     /  February 22, 2017

    Interesting. I wonder if there IS a “Maori way”? Do other races have a particular “way” or do people develop their own way of seeing the world and acting within it, albeit shaped somewhat by their cultural upbringing.

    Perhaps to the extent culture and upbringing within a traditional Maori framework would guide your worldview it may exist. But to me it implies a homegeneity of thought that doesn’t exist.

    The definition above certainly shows up Andrew Little’s ignorance as his comments never even skirted what kaupapa Maori it.

  4. Pakeha ‘truth, justice and righteousness’ is also a “broad set of ideas” … and how does the pakeha record of “completely undercut such claims in what they say and do” stack up?

    Whatever else it may be, kaupapa Maori certainly appears adaptable, as hapu iwi have been all through the colonial period.

    Tony Simpson explains it forthrightly in ‘Before Hobson’ – (I love the title considering the subsequent appearance of ‘Hobson’s Pledge’) – Chapter: In the Time of Old Morality, pg 194 onwards … that “… those who have tried to understand (the decade leading up to the declaration of British sovereignty) … have fallen into the ethnocentric error of assuming Europeans alone are capable of actively analysing their altered situation … and adapting … to deal with the challenges …

    … a people who had quickly adapted their agriculture from its tropical origin to its new temperate environment … who without a qualm abandoned their own neolithic technologies in favour of such things as clinker-built boats, or iron implements, when the latter proved superior …

    … what the missionaries and others saw as the social breakdown which had brought their target converts to grace and civilisation (finally in large numbers during the 1830s) was nothing of the sort. It was a self-conscious adaptation and transition …

    These transitional arrangements … sometimes dubbed “cargo cults”, are most commonly found in conceptually sophisticated cultures which are nevertheless not as technologically developed as those they encounter …

    There were a number of recorded mass ‘conversions’ to Christianity [during the 1830s] which bear an eerie resemblance to later descriptions of ‘cargo cults’ …

    To some extent kaupapa Maori may be a contemporary adaptation and application of the old ways … I’d love to hear a Maori person’s perspective on it … How much has actually changed?