Education Policy | Post Primary | Preschool | Primary | Tertiary | Search


Māori alphabet blocks help build Te Reo

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Māori alphabet blocks help build Te Reo

Māori alphabet blocks designed by a Massey student are bringing Te Reo and Māori culture into the homes of New Zealanders.

Māori graphic designer Johnson Witehira has collaborated with American company Uncle Goose to produce the first set of Māori alphabet blocks in the world.

The printed wooden blocks include the Māori language alphabet surrounded by traditional carving patterns and figures from six iwi throughout New Zealand. The figures of Tāne, Tangaroa, Tāwhiri-mātea, Tūmatauenga, Haumia-tiketike and Rongo-mā-Tāne can be stacked on top of one another and are interchanged with tukutuku (ornamental lattice) patterns and letters.

Mr Witehira, a Massey Māori Fine Arts PhD candidate, says the blocks will help children become familiar with both Te Reo Māori and visual aspects of the culture.

It also put into practice ideas from his thesis, which focuses on articulating and developing Māori design practices. “In my research I’m trying to articulate the syntax and grammar of Māori design through the analysis of customary carving. At the same time, I’m trying to develop culturally appropriate guidelines for contemporary Maori designers. I saw the block project as a great opportunity to test some of the ideas within my thesis about Māori design practice.”

Mr Witehira says when he showed the first prototypes of the blocks to friends, both Māori and Pākehā, they were blown away. “One of them said they could see this being the new buzzy bee! Though that wasn’t the intention, I do see this as a way of getting Māori culture into the homes of all New Zealanders. And it’s nice to see these blocks appeal to both Māori and Pākehā.”

Massey School of Māori Studies head Professor Robert Jahnke is supervising Mr Witehira’s PhD and says the 29-year old is an extremely versatile designer who is not afraid to push the envelope.

“It [alphabet blocks] places Māori imagery and alphabet with the early childhood learning environment, allowing children of all nationalities to engage with the images of patterns like poutama (a tukutuku pattern) and the stylised human forms of the tiki from various regional styles,” he says.

Uncle Goose already produces alphabet blocks in more than 19 different languages, and its owner Peter Bultman has always wanted to design a set of Māori blocks. “I needed a person of Māori descent, and someone with a great design sensibility,” Mr Bultman says. “Sometimes you just have a feel about a designer when you see their work, it either resonates with you or not. Johnson's previous work had all the right vibes.”

Mr Witehira recently showcased his work on digital billboards in New York’s Times Square, after winning a digital art competition. The Māori alphabet blocks are now on sale in New Zealand, Australia and America. Mr Witehira is currently in Japan and can be contacted via email on

© Scoop Media

Culture Headlines | Health Headlines | Education Headlines


Arts Festival: An Evening With Richard Dawkins

In a special one-off, New Zealand event at the Michael Fowler Centre, Dawkins will reflect on his eminent career as a scientist, and expand on the themes of inspiration, influence and ideas in his recent memoir, Brief Candle in the Dark: My Life in Science. More>>


Scoop Review Of Books: Worldly And Unworldly

"Being Magdalene" by Fleur Beale The situations shown in this youth novel are shocking, scary, and very moving as we experience Magdalene’s struggle to be a perfect girl as defined by the cruel and unreasonable leader of “The Children of the Faith”, as she moves reluctantly into young womanhood. More>>

Whistle Stop: Netball NZ To Implement New INF Rules

Netball New Zealand (NNZ) will implement the new Official Rules of Netball, as set down by the International Netball Federation (INF), from January 1, 2016. Key changes include the elimination of whistle following a goal, amendments to injury time and changes to setting a penalty. More>>


Scoop Review Of Books: Waiata Aroha

Vaughan Rapatahana on Chappy by Patricia Grace: With this eminently readable novel Patricia Grace returns to the full-length fiction stage after a hiatus of ten years. More>>

'Ithaca' At Q Theatre: Introducing NZ's World Class Cirque Troupe

NZ’s very own cirque troupe is set to become a household name with the premier of its adaptation of Homer’s Odyssey having secured a key season in Auckland. More>>

Music Awards: The Tuis Are Broody This Year

Topping off a sensationally eventful year both at home and internationally, Nelson born brother-sister duo Broods has taken home four Tuis from this year’s 50th annual Vodafone New Zealand Music Awards. More>>


Sport: Richie McCaw Retires From Rugby

Richie McCaw has today confirmed he is hanging up his boots and retiring from professional rugby. The 34-year-old All Blacks captain and most capped All Black of all time has drawn the curtain on his stunning international career which started in Dublin 14 years ago, almost to the day, and ended in London last month when he hoisted the Webb Ellis Cup aloft for the second time. More>>


Get More From Scoop



Search Scoop  
Powered by Vodafone
NZ independent news