Witi Ihimaera
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Witi Ihimaera

Witi Ihimaera

Ihimaera in October 2012
Ihimaera in October 2012
BornWiti Tame Ihimaera-Smiler
(1944-02-07) 7 February 1944 (age 76)
near Gisborne, New Zealand

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Witi Tame Ihimaera-Smiler (born 7 February 1944), generally known as Witi Ihimaera , is a New Zealand author. He was the first published M?ori novelist.[1]

Early life

Ihimaera was born near Gisborne, a town in the east of New Zealand's North Island and is of M?ori descent (Te Aitanga-a-Mahaki) and Anglo-Saxon descent through his father, Tom. He attended Church College of New Zealand in Temple View, Hamilton, New Zealand.


He is commonly believed[weasel words] to have been the first M?ori writer to publish both a novel[2] and a book of short stories.[]

He began to work as a diplomat at the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1973, and served at various diplomatic posts in Canberra, New York City, and Washington, D.C. Ihimaera remained at the Ministry until 1989, although his time there was broken by several fellowships at the University of Otago in 1975 and Victoria University of Wellington in 1982 (where he graduated with a BA).[2] In 1990, he took up a position at the University of Auckland, where he became Professor, and Distinguished Creative Fellow in M?ori Literature, and remained until 2010.[]

In 2004, his nephew Gary Christie Lewis married Lady Davina Windsor, becoming the first M?ori to marry into the British royal family.[3]


Contributions to New Zealand literature and culture

Most of Ihimaera's work consists of short stories or novels. He has written a considerable number of stories, with the most notable being works such as Yellow Brick Road, Tangi, Pounamu, Pounamu, and The Whale Rider, which became a film of the same name.[2] His stories generally portray M?ori culture in modern New Zealand. His work often focuses on problems within contemporary M?ori society.

In 1995, Ihimaera published Nights in the Gardens of Spain, a semi-autobiographical work about a married father of two daughters coming out. The main character in the book was P?keh? (European), Ihimaera's way of keeping his personal experiences somewhat concealed. He had come out to himself in 1984 and began the work, but out of sensitivity to his daughters, did not finish or publish it then.[4]Nights in the Gardens of Spain was filmed in 2010 (Director; Katie Wolfe - run time 76-mins featuring Calvin Tuteao in the central role of 'Kawa'[5]) with changes to the book, making the central character M?ori rather than P?keh?, to more closely reflect Ihimaera's life. In an article in The Sunday Star Times[6] Ihimaera was quoted as saying the change "was quite a shock to me because I had always tried to hide, to say this is a book that could be about 'everyman', this is not a specific story. So it (the film) is actually nearer to the truth than I would like to admit."[7]

Ihimaera is also an occasional poet. His poem "O numi tutelar" was recited on an occasion of particular note, namely, the dawn opening of the British Museum's long-awaited 'Maori' Exhibition.[8] Ihimaera alludes to this in the poem's italicised epigraph: "At the British Museum, London, 25 June 1998". While the poem addresses the complicity of the British Museum within the colonial sphere of Albion's empire project, Ihimaera ultimately proclaims the virtues of the Museum as a medium for cultural exchange and revitalisation: "We are Magi, bearing gifts / and our dawn is coming". The poem's subtext hints at the narrator's struggle in coming to terms with his homosexuality. The residue of colonialism is implicated in this, with "Britannia" reconfigured as "Victoria Imperatrix", implying a legacy of imperial domination. This dexterous use of language, evidenced throughout the poem, is also apparent in the title. 'O numi tutelar' riffs on 'O nume tutelar', an aria from Spontini's opera La vestale. 'Nume' means '(a) god' in Italian, with 'numi' the word's plural form. Hence the invocation late in the poem "Take heed, oh Gods of all other worlds, numi tutelar". 'Numi' is also a M?ori word, translating as 'bend' or 'fold'. Here the Italian and M?ori come together, with Ihimaera implementing the plurality of language, bending it to his purpose. The final word of the poem's title, Tutelar, from the Latin tutelaris, refers to a guardian or protector. The poem goes on to demonstrate that language, properly employed, can be indispensable in a tutelary role.

Literary scholar and Professor Emeritus at the University of Otago Alistair Fox in The Ship of Dreams: Masculinity in Contemporary New Zealand Fiction (2008) devotes four out of the eleven chapters in the book to the writings of Ihimaera indicating his importance within the context of New Zealand literature. Fox describes his epic novel The Matriarch as "one of the major and most telling 'monuments' of New Zealand's cultural history in the late twentieth century as far as the situation of M?ori in this postcolonial society is concerned," noting that Ihimaera "has remained at the forefront of M?ori arts and letters to an unprecedented degree, with an impressive output across a range of genres."[9]

Accusations of plagiarism

In 2009 book reviewer Jolisa Gracewood detected short passages from other writers, especially from historical sources, used without acknowledgement in Ihimaera's historical novel The Trowenna Sea, a work on the early history of Tasmania.[10][11] Confronted by The Listener magazine with this evidence, Ihimaera apologized for not acknowledging the passages, claiming this was inadvertent and negligent and pointing to many pages of other sources that he had acknowledged.[12] The University of Auckland investigated the incident and ruled that Ihimaera's actions did not constitute misconduct in research, as the actions did not appear to be deliberate and Ihimaera had apologised.[13] Ihimaera removed the book from public sale, purchasing the remaining stock himself. A revised edition, with fuller acknowledgements, originally planned for 2010, has since been cancelled.[14]

Awards and honours

In the 1986 Queen's Birthday Honours, Ihimaera was awarded the Queen's Service Medal for public services.[15] In the 2004 Queen's Birthday Honours, he was appointed a Distinguished Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services to literature.[16] In 2009, following the restoration of titular honours by the New Zealand government, he declined redesignation as a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit.[17]


Memorial plaque dedicated to Witi Ihimaera in Dunedin, on the Writers' Walk on the Octagon


  • The Lair (1972)
  • Tangi (1973)
  • Whanau (1974)
  • The Matriarch (1986)
  • The Whale Rider (1987)
  • Bulibasha: King of the Gypsies (1994)
  • Nights in the Gardens of Spain (1995)
  • The Dream Swimmer (1997)
  • Woman Far Walking (2000)
  • The Uncle's Story (2000)
  • Sky Dancer (2004)
  • Whanau II (2004)
  • The Rope of Man (2005) - features 'Tangi', and its sequel 'The Return'
  • Band of Angels (2005)
  • The Trowenna Sea (2009)[18]
  • The Parihaka Woman (2011)

Short stories

  • His First Ball (published 1989 in Dear Miss Mansfield)
  • The Makutu on Mrs Jones
  • The Seahorse & The Reef

Short story collections

  • A Sense of Belonging
  • Pounamu Pounamu
  • Tangi
  • The New Net Goes Fishing
  • Growing Up M?ori (1989)
  • Yellow Brick Road
  • Return To Oz
  • Ask the Posts of the House
  • Dustbins
  • The Whale Rider
  • Big Brother Little Sister
  • The Escalator
  • Gathering of the Whakapapa
  • Clenched Fist
  • Catching Up
  • Passing Time
  • Kingfisher Come Home
  • Masques and Roses
  • Where's Waari?
  • The Thrill of Falling
  • "Dear Miss Mansfield"


  • "O numi tutelar"

See also


  1. ^ Black, Eleanor (12 March 2016). "The Career Diplomat". The Dominion Post - Your Weekend magazine. Wellington. p. 9.
  2. ^ a b c Kiriona, Renee (7 June 2008). "Queen's Birthday Honours 2004: Witi Ihimaera". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 2016.
  3. ^ Chapman, Paul; Davies, Caroline (27 July 2004). "A palace wedding for Lady Davina and her sheep-shearing Maori surfer". The Telegraph. Retrieved 2017.
  4. ^ Aldrich, Robert; Wotherspoon, Garry (2002). Who's Who in Contemporary Gay and Lesbian History. Routledge. pp. 204-5. ISBN 978-0-415-29161-3.
  5. ^ https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1754277/
  6. ^ To coincide with the screening of the film on Television New Zealand (Sunday 23 January 2011 - TV 1, 8.30pm)
  7. ^ Sunday Star Times, 23 January 2011
  8. ^ Wood, Briar; Henare, Amiria J. M.; Lander, Maureen; Kanawa, Kahu Te (2003). "Visiting the House of Gifts: The 1998 'Maori' Exhibition at the British Museum". Journal of New Zealand Literature (JNZL) (21): 83-101. ISSN 0112-1227. JSTOR 20112357.
  9. ^ Fox, Alistair (2008). The Ship of Dreams: Masculinity in Contemporary New Zealand Fiction. Dunedin, New Zealand: Otago University Press. pp. 133, 14. ISBN 9781877372544.
  10. ^ Gracewood, Jolisa (2009). "Keeping it real". The Listener. 221 (3627). Archived from the original on 23 May 2010. Retrieved 2010.
  11. ^ Black, Joanne (2009). "Other people's words". The Listener. 221 (3629). Archived from the original on 23 May 2010. Retrieved 2010.
  12. ^ Savage, Jared (20 November 2009). "Plagiarists 'like drug cheats'". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 2009.
  13. ^ "Witi Ihimaera admits plagiarism". New Zealand Herald. 6 November 2009. Retrieved 2010.
  14. ^ Harper, Paul (21 September 2010). "Controversial novel not republished". New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 2010.
  15. ^ "No. 50553". The London Gazette (3rd supplement). 14 June 1986. p. 33.
  16. ^ "Queen's Birthday honours list 2004". Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. 7 June 2004. Retrieved 2020.
  17. ^ Young, Audrey (14 August 2009). "Helen Clark loses: Ex-Labour MP takes title". New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 2020.
  18. ^ Megan Nicol Reed (18 October 2009). "I write for the New Zealand I wish it to be". The Sunday Star-Times. Retrieved 2011.

External links

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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