Putting Maori stories into print

By Whare Akuhata


The desire of a Te Arawa woman to see Maori stories shared and promoted led to a flourishing enterprise which 20 years later is still going strong.

Robyn Bargh's dream resulted in the launch of Huia Publishers in the early 1990s, a time which also saw the establishment of kohanga reo, kura kaupapa and Maori media, creating a demand for language resources.

She has been nominated for the Nga Toa Whakaihuwaka (Maori of the Year 2011) awards, which will feature on TVNZ's Marae Investigates on Sunday. Ms Bargh received the nomination for her work in education.

The Huia Publishers managing director said getting such recognition from one's own people was special. "It's an acknowledgment that you've made some sort of contribution."

Ms Bargh was made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the 2012 New Year honours for services to the Maori language and publishing. She said that honour belonged to a lot of people because in the publishing business many were involved in the process. "I couldn't have done it all by myself."

The publishing firm was established to tell Maori stories, promote Maori writers and te reo and "get a Maori perspective out there".

Ms Bargh said that for a long time there were not that many Maori stories being told. She was brought up on a farm in Horohoro, just south of Rotorua, and she said her world there consisted of the whanau, the farm and the marae. As she grew up, she did a lot of reading and realised there were few stories about the people and the places she knew.

"The little world that was important to us wasn't in books."

She went to school in Rotorua and she found her home experiences were very different from those of her classmates.

"It was common for us to go to school on the bus then, if there was a tangi or something on the marae, we'd get off the bus and spend the rest of the day there."

Ms Bargh said it was like living in two worlds with different attitudes and values and this was highlighted when she was not allowed to learn Maori at Rotorua Girls' High.

"You could only study Maori if you were in the lowest streamed classes. This reinforced the institutional racism that encouraged Maori to believe their world wasn't valid and the Pakeha way was the only way."

Ms Bargh and her husband Brian Bargh set up the Wellington publishing company in 1991. She said that in the past 20 years there had been many challenges and some successes, especially with the number of Maori writers.

Huia actively developed and promoted Maori writers, especially though its Pikihuia Awards programme, which was established in 1995 and was a stimulus for the growth. She said in the early 1970s and 1980s, Witi Ihimaera and Patricia Grace started writing stories about Maori but she felt there were a lot more stories that needed to be told.

More recently, Huia introduced Te Papa Tupu programme, which Ms Bargh described as a six-month incubator scheme in which six writers were engaged for six months to write full-time. This resulted in three published novels.

"There has been a huge growth in Maori academic writers, with many gaining tertiary qualifications including a number of doctorates. As a result, there is an enormous amount of research work being carried out in all sorts of areas - social sciences, politics, architecture and the sciences."

This led to a number of books being published by Huia, including one of its most popular, Tikanga Maori: Living By Maori Values by Sir Professor Hirini Moko Mead. In 2009, Huia published Beating Hearts - A Socio-Economic History of Te Arawa by researchers Vincent O Malley and David Armstrong.

"There is not just one Maori perspective but there are many and there are a lot more stories to be told." She said there was still a big need for more books in te reo. What was especially needed was books that captured older language that might otherwise be lost.

Ms Bargh was prompted to publish material in te reo to meet the growing needs of Maori-medium schools and because her mother, the late Hepora Young, was a writer of te reo.

Ms Bargh is of Ngati Kea Ngati Tuara and Ngati Awa descent. She still spends quite a lot of time in Rotorua with her whanau and hapu interests.

She is a trustee and negotiator for Te Runanga o Ngati Kea Ngati Tuara and is a director on the board of the Maori Arts and Crafts Institute.

- Rotorua Daily Post

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