The best books about the Māori people

2 authors have picked their favorite books about the Māori people and why they recommend each book.

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Telesa

By Lani Wendt Young,

Book cover of Telesa: The Covenant Keeper

This trilogy, grounded in Sāmoan mythology, has been called ‘the pacific Twilight.’ It is a thrilling dive into the world of Sāmoan magic and mystery, with an exciting adventure, a compelling love story and it vividly brings Sāmoa’s exotic beauty alive with a supernatural twist. It’s claimed to be ‘the first ever YA novel with an all-Pasifika cast, set in Sāmoa and around the Pacific'. Push out your boundaries and enter Lani Wendt Young’s wonderful imagination . . .


Who am I?

As a writer from Aotearoa New Zealand who cares deeply about social issues and human rights, I believe fiction has the power to change hearts and minds and bring us all together with greater compassion and understanding. When I was growing up here, there were few books published by Pacific or Māori writers and we were taught little about their customs or mythologies. I’ve loved watching this change over the last forty-odd years (and particularly the last ten years) and can see how access to these stories has not only empowered Māori and Pacific youth and brought them closer to their culture but enriched everyone who lives in our pacific paradise! 


I wrote...

The Crossing: Blood of the Lamb, Book 1

By Mandy Hager,

Book cover of The Crossing: Blood of the Lamb, Book 1

What is my book about?

Maryam refused to play by The Rules, and now they’re out to get her blood...The people of Onewēre, a small island in the Pacific, know that they are special – chosen to survive the deadly event that consumed the Earth. Now, from the rotting cruise ship Star of the Sea, the elite control the population – manipulating old texts to set themselves up as living ‘gods’. But what the people of Onewēre don’t know is this: the leaders will stop at nothing to meet their own blood-thirsty needs . . .

Winner of the 2010 NZ Post Children’s Book Awards: Young Adult Fiction, Shortlisted for the LIANZA Young Adult Fiction Award, Shortlisted for 2010 Sir Julius Vogel Award. 2010 Notable Book (Storylines Children’s Literature Charitable Trust).

The Whale Rider

By Witi Ihimaera,

Book cover of The Whale Rider

I love the ocean, and love stories about strong, ground-breaking young women. This tale is beautifully set in a coastal town in New Zealand. Kahu, a young girl from a lineage of Maori leaders, can communicate with whales. Her grandfather does not expect this and rejects her because of her gender. Kahu proves without a doubt that she is a competent and natural leader. I love how Kahu prevails. She is strong in herself, and she never shies away from the truth – that she is the natural leader and a whale rider like her ancestor.


Who am I?

I was an avid reader from the age of six. Books inspired me and, as a shy girl, stories helped me find the confidence to be myself. I felt amazed and inspired by reading – finding out about parts of the world I had never been to. Especially as an adult, I’ve been blessed with wonderful, female friends. These are the themes I explore now in my books. I hope to inspire young readers to be themselves and celebrate friendship. I love travelling and nature. I've lived in various parts of the US and England. Through my writing, I hope to share the wonder of different cultures and natural settings.


I wrote...

Element Girls: The Lost Goddess

By Giulietta Maria Spudich,

Book cover of Element Girls: The Lost Goddess

What is my book about?

In this magical adventure set in Hawaii, four loyal friends discover they have the powers of the elements. 

Susie, Elizabeth, Tess, and Amelia have been together for as long as they can remember. When Amelia suddenly vanishes, they find themselves drawn into a world of magic they never knew existed. The amulets they wear as a symbol of their friendship give them elemental powers. Will these new powers be enough to save Amelia from dangers they didn’t even know existed outside of books?

The Porangi Boy

By Shilo Kino,

Book cover of The Porangi Boy

A book about conquering bullying and standing up for what you believe in, the Māori word ‘pōrangi’ in title means mentally ill. It tells the story of Niko, who lives in a small, rural Aotearoa New Zealand town with a sacred hot spring—and a taniwha (a water monster of Māori legend) named Taukere. When his grandfather dies, Niko must bring the townsfolk together to stop a prison being built on sacred land and convince them the taniwha is real.


Who am I?

As a writer from Aotearoa New Zealand who cares deeply about social issues and human rights, I believe fiction has the power to change hearts and minds and bring us all together with greater compassion and understanding. When I was growing up here, there were few books published by Pacific or Māori writers and we were taught little about their customs or mythologies. I’ve loved watching this change over the last forty-odd years (and particularly the last ten years) and can see how access to these stories has not only empowered Māori and Pacific youth and brought them closer to their culture but enriched everyone who lives in our pacific paradise! 


I wrote...

The Crossing: Blood of the Lamb, Book 1

By Mandy Hager,

Book cover of The Crossing: Blood of the Lamb, Book 1

What is my book about?

Maryam refused to play by The Rules, and now they’re out to get her blood...The people of Onewēre, a small island in the Pacific, know that they are special – chosen to survive the deadly event that consumed the Earth. Now, from the rotting cruise ship Star of the Sea, the elite control the population – manipulating old texts to set themselves up as living ‘gods’. But what the people of Onewēre don’t know is this: the leaders will stop at nothing to meet their own blood-thirsty needs . . .

Winner of the 2010 NZ Post Children’s Book Awards: Young Adult Fiction, Shortlisted for the LIANZA Young Adult Fiction Award, Shortlisted for 2010 Sir Julius Vogel Award. 2010 Notable Book (Storylines Children’s Literature Charitable Trust).

Falling into Rarohenga

By Steph Matuku,

Book cover of Falling into Rarohenga

Tui and Kae, fourteen-year-old twins, are sucked into the Māori underworld, Rarohenga, and must rescue their mother before they’re all trapped there forever. Exciting, mysterious, and full of Māori mythology, this book shows how, in order to truly understand our own unique identity, we must also understand who and where we came from. 


Who am I?

As a writer from Aotearoa New Zealand who cares deeply about social issues and human rights, I believe fiction has the power to change hearts and minds and bring us all together with greater compassion and understanding. When I was growing up here, there were few books published by Pacific or Māori writers and we were taught little about their customs or mythologies. I’ve loved watching this change over the last forty-odd years (and particularly the last ten years) and can see how access to these stories has not only empowered Māori and Pacific youth and brought them closer to their culture but enriched everyone who lives in our pacific paradise! 


I wrote...

The Crossing: Blood of the Lamb, Book 1

By Mandy Hager,

Book cover of The Crossing: Blood of the Lamb, Book 1

What is my book about?

Maryam refused to play by The Rules, and now they’re out to get her blood...The people of Onewēre, a small island in the Pacific, know that they are special – chosen to survive the deadly event that consumed the Earth. Now, from the rotting cruise ship Star of the Sea, the elite control the population – manipulating old texts to set themselves up as living ‘gods’. But what the people of Onewēre don’t know is this: the leaders will stop at nothing to meet their own blood-thirsty needs . . .

Winner of the 2010 NZ Post Children’s Book Awards: Young Adult Fiction, Shortlisted for the LIANZA Young Adult Fiction Award, Shortlisted for 2010 Sir Julius Vogel Award. 2010 Notable Book (Storylines Children’s Literature Charitable Trust).

Two Worlds

By Anne Salmond,

Book cover of Two Worlds: First Meetings between Maori and Europeans, 1642-1772

Two Worlds, by Dame Anne Salmond, is another crossover work—part history and part anthropology. The author, an eminent New Zealand anthropologist, uses her knowledge of traditional Māori culture (what people believed, what they ate, how they lived) to flesh out the historical record left by early European visitors to Aotearoa/New Zealand. The result is a rich, authoritative account of encounters that for far too long have been described from only one point of view.


Who am I?

A dual citizen of Australia and the US, Christina Thompson has traveled extensively in the Pacific, including through most of the archipelagoes in Polynesia. She is the author of two books about Polynesia: a memoir of her marriage to a Māori man called Come on Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All and a history of the ancient voyagers of the Pacific called Sea People. She edits the literary journal Harvard Review and teaches in the writing program at Harvard University Extension. 


I wrote...

Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia

By Christina Thompson,

Book cover of Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia

What is my book about?

A thrilling intellectual detective story that looks deep into the past to uncover who first settled the islands of the remote Pacific, where they came from, how they got there, and how we know. For more than a millennium, Polynesians have occupied the remotest islands in the Pacific Ocean, a vast triangle stretching from Hawaii to New Zealand to Easter Island. Until the arrival of European explorers, they were the only people to have ever lived there. Both the most closely related and the most widely dispersed people in the world before the era of mass migration, Polynesians can trace their roots to a group of epic voyagers who ventured out into the unknown in one of the greatest adventures in human history.

How did the earliest Polynesians find and colonize these far-flung islands? How did a people without writing or metal tools conquer the largest ocean in the world? This conundrum, which came to be known as the Problem of Polynesian Origins, emerged in the eighteenth century as one of the great geographical mysteries of mankind.

The New Zealand Wars | Ngā Pakanga o Aotearoa

By Vincent O’Malley,

Book cover of The New Zealand Wars | Ngā Pakanga o Aotearoa

Just a few years after New Zealand became a British crown colony, armed conflict broke out in 1845 between representatives of the crown and local Māori. These frontier wars continued to be fought, particularly across New Zealand’s North Island, up until 1872. Understanding New Zealand in the present requires gaining an understanding of the New Zealand Wars. Vincent O’Malley’s book provides an insightful introduction to these complex conflicts. He explores in some detail what caused these conflicts, where and how the various battles that make up the wars were fought, and who might rightfully claim the various victories involved. O’Malley also usefully examines the consequences flowing from the New Zealand Wars. His book is richly illustrated with many evocative full color and black and white images depicting key participants, places, and moments in the New Zealand Wars.


Who am I?

Kristyn Harman is an award-winning researcher who successfully completed doctoral research investigating the circumstances in which at least ninety Australian Aboriginal men were transported as convicts within the Australian colonies following their involvement in Australia’s frontier wars. She has published extensively on historical topics, and currently lectures in History at the University of Tasmania in Hobart, Australia. Having lived in both countries, Kristyn is fascinated by the different understandings that New Zealanders and Australians have of their nation’s respective pasts. She is particularly intrigued, if not perturbed, by the way in which most New Zealanders acknowledge their nation’s frontier wars, while many Australians choose to deny the wars fought on their country’s soil.


I wrote...

Aboriginal Convicts: Australian, Khoisan and Maori Exiles

By Kristyn Harman,

Book cover of Aboriginal Convicts: Australian, Khoisan and Maori Exiles

What is my book about?

Many people have heard about the tens of thousands of English and Irish convicts transported to the Australian penal colonies. Far fewer are aware that Australian Aboriginal men and Māori from New Zealand were also transported to, and within, these penal colonies. This book reveals for the first time how warriors were arrested and taken into custody following their involvement in the frontier wars fought across Australasia (Australia and New Zealand) between the British colonists and First Nations people, and also following frontier conflict at the Cape colony. Rather than being treated as prisoners of war, these warriors’ militant actions against the invaders were criminalised. After standing trial, a few were hanged. Others were sentenced to transportation. Most Aboriginal convicts died in custody. Very few survived to return home.

The Burning River

By Lawrence Patchett,

Book cover of The Burning River

Though not packaged as YA, I think it sits well here. It’s speculative cli-fi, imagining an Aotearoa New Zealand ravaged by climate change. Steeped with Māori references, it’s a rollicking good yarn with a serious undertow and questions about how we care (and don’t care) for our environment, and the things that join and divide us.


Who am I?

As a writer from Aotearoa New Zealand, I’ve always been interested in social justice and human rights, and my own writing explores such issues, including who holds the power and who exerts the control. By writing about real-world issues in a speculative future, it allows us to peel back the layers of conditioning and look at ourselves and our actions through the eyes of an outsider – which forces us to examine our best and worst human traits. I love the way speculative fiction can do this, and I love that it challenges us to do better.  


I wrote...

The Nature of Ash

By Mandy Hager,

Book cover of The Nature of Ash

What is my book about?

Ash McCarthy thought he finally had it made: revelling in the freedom of student hostel life. But life is about to take a devastating turn when two police officers knock on his door. Their life-changing news forces him to return home and impels him into a shady world of political intrigue, corruption, terrorism, and lies...so many lies.

As if this isn’t bad enough, the whole country is imploding. While trying to protect his brother, along with strangers Travis and Jiao, his fight to uncover the truth turns into a nightmare race to save their lives. The Nature of Ash is a fast-paced thriller that explores love and loss, assumptions and prejudices, truth and fiction, and the many faces of ‘family’.

Aboriginal Convicts

By Kristyn Harman,

Book cover of Aboriginal Convicts: Australian, Khoisan and Maori Exiles

If the British empire’s first historians had a knack for anything it was omitting to mention what some of what their predecessors did for the sake of empire. Aboriginal Convicts is one of those books that really challenges us to rethink the stories we have received about British colonization. By tracing the lives of Indigenous people in South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand who were sentenced to transportation as convicts this groundbreaking book turns the table on the way we see Britain’s empire in the nineteenth century.


Who am I?

I’m a professional history nerd who is perennially interested in both sides of the history coin: What happened? How do we know? I’ve got a PhD in sixteenth-century European history, have written articles that cover things from antiquity to Vikings in America, and have written several history books about Australia and its region. I like history that is robust, so I’m always looking for books that make clever use of sources. And I love stories that disrupt preconceptions, so I enjoy researching and writing and reading histories that make you think.


I wrote...

1787: The Lost Chapters of Australia's Beginnings

By Nick Brodie,

Book cover of 1787: The Lost Chapters of Australia's Beginnings

What is my book about?

This is the story of the dawn of a truly global history, told through exploration and encounter. Until Dutch and Spanish voyagers reached the coasts of Australia, New Guinea, and New Zealand the Indigenous peoples of a whole continent and its surroundings were largely cut off from the world’s other peoples and cultures and from each other. This history explores what happened in this region during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries by turning the tables on the way Australia’s history is normally told.

The Musket Wars

By R.D. (Ron) Crosby,

Book cover of The Musket Wars: A History of Inter-Iwi Conflict 1806 – 1845

While many New Zealanders realize that frontier wars were fought following the country’s annexation by England in 1840, very few are aware of a series of bitterly contested battles that took place over the half-century prior to New Zealand becoming a crown colony. This book is significant as Ron Crosby reveals how, after Europeans began to visit the north of New Zealand, Māori traded with the newcomers. They grew food, and replenished supplies for whalers, timber getters, and even for missionaries in exchange for European trade goods that included muskets. Armed with muskets, Māori iwi (tribes) from the far north of New Zealand became well placed to go to war against other iwi with whom they had issues to resolve. Fueled by European technology, the resulting series of battles, referred to as the ‘musket wars’, saw more than 20,000 Māori killed prior to 1840. Many more were enslaved or became…


Who am I?

Kristyn Harman is an award-winning researcher who successfully completed doctoral research investigating the circumstances in which at least ninety Australian Aboriginal men were transported as convicts within the Australian colonies following their involvement in Australia’s frontier wars. She has published extensively on historical topics, and currently lectures in History at the University of Tasmania in Hobart, Australia. Having lived in both countries, Kristyn is fascinated by the different understandings that New Zealanders and Australians have of their nation’s respective pasts. She is particularly intrigued, if not perturbed, by the way in which most New Zealanders acknowledge their nation’s frontier wars, while many Australians choose to deny the wars fought on their country’s soil.


I wrote...

Aboriginal Convicts: Australian, Khoisan and Maori Exiles

By Kristyn Harman,

Book cover of Aboriginal Convicts: Australian, Khoisan and Maori Exiles

What is my book about?

Many people have heard about the tens of thousands of English and Irish convicts transported to the Australian penal colonies. Far fewer are aware that Australian Aboriginal men and Māori from New Zealand were also transported to, and within, these penal colonies. This book reveals for the first time how warriors were arrested and taken into custody following their involvement in the frontier wars fought across Australasia (Australia and New Zealand) between the British colonists and First Nations people, and also following frontier conflict at the Cape colony. Rather than being treated as prisoners of war, these warriors’ militant actions against the invaders were criminalised. After standing trial, a few were hanged. Others were sentenced to transportation. Most Aboriginal convicts died in custody. Very few survived to return home.

Come on Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All

By Christina Thompson,

Book cover of Come on Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All: A New Zealand Story

Come On Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All portrays the contact between seeming opposites: the author who grew up in Boston and traveled to New Zealand when she was a graduate student in Australia and the Maori man she met there and married; the “colonizers” who were her direct ancestors and the “natives” her husband descended from; the history of the encounters between the two groups (including the story of Captain Cook).  At the heart of this complex, mesmerizing, and unflinching story is the couple’s devotion to their three sons—boys growing up in a Boston suburb and navigating their identities as “a little bit of the conqueror and the conquered, the colonizer and the colonized” as Ms. Thompson explains to them in a letter she tucks into the folder containing her life insurance policy.


Who am I?

Although two of my nonfiction books—The Dream of Water and Polite Lies—are about traveling from the American Midwest to my native country of Japan, I'm not a traveler by temperament. I long to stay put in one place. Chimney swifts cover the distance between North America and the Amazon basin every fall and spring. I love to stand in the driveway of my brownstone to watch them. That was the last thing Katherine Russell Rich and I did together in what turned out to be the last autumn of her life before the cancer she’d been fighting came back. Her book, Dreaming in Hindi, along with the four other books I’m recommending, expresses an indomitable spirit of adventure. 


I wrote...

The Dream of Water: A Memoir

By Kyoko Mori,

Book cover of The Dream of Water: A Memoir

What is my book about?

In 1990, at the age of 33, I traveled to Japan to revisit the landscape of my childhood. I had fled the country at 20 to attend an American college and never went back. My hometown of Kobe hadn’t felt like home after my mother’s suicide and my father’s remarriage. I had no intention of living there again. But when I received a travel grant from the small college in Wisconsin where I was a tenured professor, I decided to spend the summer in Japan to work on my second novel.

I wanted to reconnect and hear the family stories I hadn’t fully understood. The Dream of Water is the book I wrote instead after uncovering a handful of secrets from my own lifetime.

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