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From drop-out to doctor

12 December 2013

From drop-out to doctor

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Arini Loader knew nothing about university when she enrolled at Victoria as a 23-year-old high school drop-out and solo mother—yesterday she graduated with a doctorate in Māori Studies.

In the intervening decade, Arini has gained three university qualifications, with her PhD making it four, worked as a tutor and researcher at Victoria, had a second child and she and her firstborn son, now 13, have become fluent in te reo Māori.

“I started studying te reo because I thought I should,” says Arini, who is of Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Whakaue and Te Whānau-a-Apanui descent, “but then I fell in love with it and was hooked.

“No one else in my immediate family speaks te reo so I ended up practising with my son and we’ve learned together.”

She has also studied English Literature and Linguistics and is now a postdoctoral fellow in the University’s History programme.

“Being a student of Māori Studies connects you to language and history in a whole range of ways,” says Arini. “The focus on the Treaty of Waitangi and treaty settlements in the last 30 years have put an unprecendented spotlight on Māori history and on te reo Māori.”

Arini’s Master’s and PhD research reflect the same intersection of interests, with her Master’s thesis looking at the writings of the Ngāti Rangiwewehi rangatira Wiremu Māihi Te Rangikaheke who lived and worked with Governor George Grey. Te Rangikaheke authored or contributed to at least 800 pages of manuscript material on a vast array of topics and across different genre.

“For my PhD research, I thought about getting out of the 19th century but I just couldn’t. There is a massive body of 19th century Māori writing which is housed in archival institutions around Aotearoa New Zealand and the world, and in private ownership, which is yet to receive any serious scholarly attention.”

She explored the written legacies of some of her ancestors from the period—Tāmihana Te Rauparaha, Mātene Te Whiwhi and Rākapa Kahoki—who, Arini says, wrote letters, petitions and historical texts, acted as scribes, composed waiata and more.

The three lived in Ōtaki, moved in similar social and political circles and were actively involved in issues of local, tribal and national significance.

“These writings often defy traditional English literary genres—is the text biographical or historical, is it poetry or waiata? Is it all of these things or something else entirely? We almost need to develop another set of terms to describe the Māori writing of this era.

“I grappled with whether to write my thesis in Māori or English. I believe all New Zealanders have an obligation to learn te reo and I don’t want to provide people with another excuse not to do that.

“But I had to balance that with the issue of access. The reality is that a lot of people cannot read Māori, including many of our own people as well as scholars in other places, such as Australia, the Pacific and the United States, with whose work it is important that we engage.

“In order to reach the widest possible audience but retain the integrity of the original texts, I wrote the thesis in English but chose not to provide translations for the excerpts from the manuscripts included in the thesis or a glossary of Māori-language words and terms used.”


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