Encyclopedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory

2017 Edition
| Editors: Michael A. Peters


  • Mere Kēpa
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-287-588-4_12


The terminology ako means, in Māori language and culture, to learn, teach, advise, study, and instruct. The word and meaning are shared with the languages of Tonga, Samoa, Niue, Tokelau, and the Cook Islands, among other groups of people from the island homelands (meaning South Pacific region). Principally, unlike the domineering English-speaking New Zealand Pākehā European culture, no distinction is made between learning and teaching. On this principle and in response to the problem of indigenous Māori people, in educational institutions, such as the university, passively receiving useless information to do things for the prevailing culture, a deeper philosophy and a broader theory of education will be considered in this chapter. Through teaching and learning as a whole and not as unrelated parts, people’s feeling about life, of gaining experience, and our senses cooperate, and through the cooperation of senses, experience, and the body with spirits, a Māori point of view will make a practical philosophy of dialogue without end, mutual learning, and mutual enhancement.

Ako, A Māori Point of View

In Aotearoa, writers, scholars, educators, teachers, students, and parents have become used to the recorded melody, the picture, and the short-lived exploit perpetuated in multimedia and projected globally. We are less accustomed, though, to understand an ancient culture of communal ways of living like that of Māori society where wisdom or the highest form of thinking was almost exclusively oral. Significantly, the ritual and shared exchange of words, in speechmaking and song, no less than the exchange of commodities, services, and women, upheld communication between tribes and sustained social coherence in the culture (Mitcalfe 1974).

Cowan writing in the 1930s hailed Māori as a group of people with an “original sense of artistic values in decoration and craftsmanship … a people of keen intellect … the creative faculty very highly developed … vast stores of folk lore and poetry accumulated in the course of untold centuries, and handed down one generation to another” (Cowan 1930, p. vii). He advised further that in spite of this beautiful tradition, Māori wisdom was passed onto others through New Zealand Pākehā European interpretive writers, rather than the Māori artists, craftsmen, and composers. Consequently, over generations, this act of oppression has separated Māori from the wisdom, beauty, and satisfaction of their culture.

To the north of Aotearoa, Beaglehole writing, in the 1940s, about Tongan people, elaborated that the most important thing wrong with the relationship between European and Tongan society was that the educational process is an effective instrument for separating the people from the satisfaction of Tongan culture and, equally, from the satisfaction of the European culture (Beaglehole and Beaglehole 1941). Similarly, Jean-Paul Sartre has conveyed to the world that “[v]iolence in the colonies does not only have for its aim the keeping of these enslaved men at arm’s length; it seeks to dehumanize them. Everything will be done to wipe out their traditions, to substitute our language for theirs and to destroy their culture without giving them ours” (cited in Fanon 1990, p. 13). The danger is clear. There is a culture where part of the world lives their life doing things and part of the world makes others do things for them or, even worse, makes the world impossible for others to do anything for themselves (Yutang 1996).

Alexander writing, in the 1970s, articulated that people, who become whole, proclaim their views of the world, loud and clear for everyone to know, are not dissatisfied, not afraid to stand up for their values and place, to recognize their shortcomings, trying to change them, and still be proud and glad to be themselves. He expressed that people, and their beautiful language and culture, customs, and values, can coexist with others with whom they share the world. Accordingly, on thinking ako in the South Pacific, from a Māori point of view, the problem to be worked out between two cultures, this ancient Māori philosophy of the body with spirits, and the domineering civilization of material prosperity are how should Māori organize our life so that we expect new answers to the problem of teaching that is separate from learning or what are better new methods of approach that are intellectual, complicated, heartfelt, and satisfying, through which Māori are awake to the world or, still better, a communal, oral philosophy to connect with an individualistic, written theory.

Of course, not all of the ancient Māori philosophy of the body with spirits, collectivity, oracy, judgment, and satisfaction will coexist with the technological civilization and vice versa because their surroundings, settings, and locations contain points of reference that are mutually alien. Furthermore, people who migrate, from, say, the Kingdom of Tonga to Aotearoa, may well elaborate the Māori philosophy, and, together, they may elaborate the technological, measured, uniform, passive cramming of useless information for profit (Yutang 1996). On balance, there is sufficient similarity in people’s feeling and forms of expression to enable the coexistence of a communal, oral philosophy to an individualistic, written theory, without losing the original ideal of learning and teaching as coexisting (Manu’atu et al. 2014; Yutang 1996; Mitcalfe 1974).

For the moment, the dangerous issue for Māori colonized to the ideologies of global consumerism and capitalism is that education connected to material prosperity is of a magnitude transcending the spiritual vivacity of their daily living. However, the people’s explication of the relationship is not to extinguish the greater strength of material prosperity; the notion of elimination is both fanciful and cruel. They should not do away with the aspiration, imposed or not, to accumulate material wealth; the idea has been so well established and is so compelling that eliminating their hope for material wealth is both capricious and malicious. The accumulation of wealth is not the issue of importance. The worry is when Māori prosper materially beyond their spiritual wisdom to learn and live in peace and harmony (Manu’atu et al. 2014).

In the South Pacific region, many groups of people share a similar struggle to coexist with the prevailing machine society; therefore, any thinking on ako must start out with understanding the beauty of the pagan world, a strong feeling of the limitations of life, and a sense of dignity. In reality, ancestors of Māori were philosophers, and they thought deeply about the coexistence of the body with spirits. In the present day, Māori people would have heard the ancient story of Rātā that expresses the sacred relationship between gods and people.

Rātā, a young man, went to the forest to decide on a tree with which to build a canoe that would carry enough men to punish those who had killed his father. The young man selected a large tree and for the rest of the day he felled and trimmed. The next morning, he returned to commence making the hull of the canoe from the tree, only to become aware that the log was once again a living tree. There was no sign of the tree that he felled the previous day! Rātā, perplexed, nevertheless, selected a new tree and set to felling and trimming again. The following morning he found that the tree had been restored to life. After a third felling, Rātā hid close by, hoping to catch the culprits in the night. As the sun set, the forest came alive with the “hordes of Hakuturi, the tribes of little people” (Mitcalfe 1974, p. 22). They were heard by Rātā to chant a karakia, an incantation to restore life to the tree. From the Hakuturi, Rātā learned the proper ritual of appeal to Tāne, the god of the forest, for felling trees. The spirits taught him, too, that people are no match for Tāne and that they are not the masters over gods.

Karakia are the body with spirits of Māori culture; the incantations are the source of imagery, enriching the more humdrum forms of language from oratory to songs and to poetry. In their ceremonial settings, exemplified by baptismal rites of newborn children of high-ranking parents and the ritual chants of welcome and death, karakia interpose between the people and the gods; the sacred chants stand beyond yet within the communal consciousness, similar to the way the subconscious serves to the conscious mind, storing and replenishing wisdom (Mitcalfe 1974). The ritual chants are the way with which Māori come to grips with the impact of spiritual forces on material substance and vice versa. Karakia that accompany actions of offerings to the god of the forest, and so forth, have been passed down through Māori Antiquity, and the word is the main medium to symbolize and express tribes’ relationships, not only with the spirits but also with each other and death.

Concomitantly, the story of the Israelites entering the Promised Land, in the Book of Joshua in the Holy Bible, has resonance for this Māori point of view of ako, in the South Pacific. Like the Israelites, Māori and migrants such as from the Kingdom of Tonga to Aotearoa have had to live and remain living underprivileged lives. Through the European culture, Māori have learned to accept that the Christian God is omnipresent and to believe that they, too, are that God’s chosen people and that this God demands that they should be virtuous, moral people. For them, too, there is the experience of “crossing the Jordon” in their migration, over generations, from the tribal lands across rural Aotearoa, and the Kingdom, to the market gardens, factories, and ghettos of urban New Zealand. They live by faith and trust in this God just as the Israelites do. The narration is plain. In the South Pacific, a philosophy of the body with spirits is at home with material prosperity.

Ambitiously, ako is the principle through which to share the good in the bad and bad in the good to make a philosophy of spiritual and material prosperity. As mentioned previously, Māori shares the principal of teaching and learning without distinction between the two actions with the people of Tonga, among others. The point is that together, their words and wisdoms may well elaborate a practical philosophy. While Māori culture was produced in Aotearoa and most of what Māori believed about their changed circumstances was indigenous wisdom formed in Aotearoa, their language had no contact with other languages because these tangata whenua, the first people, remained isolated from their island homeland in the Pacific Ocean, for centuries. The matter of importance is not the geographical distance, rather the idea that Māori and Tongans share a common linguistic ancestor, that is, their languages belong to the same subgroup of Austronesian: Polynesian. The traditional stories that Māori brought with them are the same as those told in Tonga. The idea that language changes is neither particularly remarkable nor useful to this discussion (Kēpa 2008). The satisfaction lies in the notion that ako is an ubiquitous, linguistic influence in the South Pacific.

In this philosophy of the body with spirits, consider, too, the Tongan word taulangi that refers to “reaching for the sky.” Principally, the ideal will enable new approaches that coalesce around a dialogue without end to convey spiritual and material prosperity, rather than education as assimilation, colonization, and genocide. While the principal is concerned with Tongan wisdom, this spirit of passion and approach to spiritual and material prosperity is familiar to Māori. The important change is that Māori and Tongans will no longer only be instructed for manual labor in New Zealand society; rather, they will learn about spiritual and material prosperity, citizenship and wisdom, education and work, and discrimination and the economy.

In 2013, Auckland University of Technology’s School of Education Te Kura Mātauranga commenced teaching the Bachelor of Pasifika Education Early Childhood Teaching (BPasifikaEdECT) (Kēpa and Manu’atu 2012). The qualification called for Tongan, Māori, Samoan, Cook Islands Māori, and Niue educationalists, among others, who are passionate enough to make a change of approach in education, knowing full well that whatever is made may be disliked by their colleagues and countrymen and rejected by politicians and administrators who organize New Zealand society. They had to be firm in their spirit to make a change in the school’s individualistic curriculum and pedagogy, to resolve debates themselves, without calling on outside authority. They had to show fortitude and good sense and to proceed with these principles, rather than to react to the dominant culture mechanically and uniformly. Passion is the close companion of creative education. For unless people in education are passionate, there is nothing to start out change of the individualistic, written theory at all. In truth, passion is the spirit of success, light in education, judgment in the economy, beauty in work, satisfaction in citizenship, and happiness in wisdom. The promise is mutual learning and enhancement.

Continuing in the spirit of hope, this approach to learning and teaching, led by Tongan and Māori educationalists, among others from the South Pacific, will shake the education culture in Aotearoa. They will articulate the spiritual and material forces that will decide the organization of the people at different times and places, thereby clarifying the changing relationships between them, the State, and education in a neoliberal era. Critically, changes will be questioned through drawing on the rise and fall of those ideas by which they are trained for manual labor in the dominant education culture, and the new philosophy will coalesce around taulangi, creative education.

Similarly, the term ngā pae o te māramatanga that refers, in Māori society, to many horizons of insights of wisdom is an ambitious approach to end the separation of teaching and learning (Kēpa and Manu’atu 2012). The approach is imbued in the body with spirits from the South Pacific. In fact, Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga (NPM) is a Centre of Research Excellence (CoRE) funded by the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) and hosted by the University of Auckland. NPM is an important agency by which Māori society is becoming a key player in international indigenous research and affairs. Once again, the spirit is to draw on the creative faculty and ancient wisdom of Māori and to bring about change for the better, for all people, in Aotearoa, New Zealand. The CoRE is the funder of the International Indigenous Writing Retreat held twice a year in an isolated coastal village in northern New Zealand.

The writers who withdraw from the mundane world could suppose that attending the retreat is a condition demonstrating the value an employer has for an employee and vice versa. The analogy with equity or fairness elaborates on the purpose of participating in the sanctuary which is to retreat from the invasive computerized workplace; to commit to the academic responsibility to write; to ponder on language that is full of ambiguities; to portray thoughts that are intellectual, complicated, and creative; to enjoy the freedom to debate with no sense of loss of approval, blame, and satisfaction; to confront the intellectual impoverishment of the computerized workplace; and to come to grips with issues and conditions beyond the experience of the individual. Purposively, the retreat is to support the well-being of the writers and so to support the transformation of societies and economies for the material and spiritual prosperity of their people. The purpose of education for coexistence is the light.

The program has been established for writers from the colonies to retreat from their dominant society to dialogue together. For 16 retreats writers have arrived from universities across New Zealand, Tonga, the USA, Canada, Nepal, India, Mongolia, and China. These writers come from the disciplines of education, Māori studies, indigenous studies, anthropology, psychology, sociology, public health, medicine, and so forth; they bring collective values on words and wisdoms to scholarship and dialogue. The retreat is not a laissez-faire gathering of preoccupied intellectuals, nor a purely egalitarian or communist state of affairs. During the day, the writers are engaged in contemplating and writing scholarly articles, chapters in books, books, submissions, research proposals, essays, reviews, technical reports, and cultural reports; discussing areas of shared research interest with one and two new colleagues; and sharing texts and ideas in a particular research area with colleagues. The retreat most closely resembles a sanctuary wherein the writers are hopeful in sharing suffering, loss, inspiration, aspiration, and satisfaction and in imagining education committed to spiritual prosperity and material prosperity. These words are the ethical principles that distinguish ako.

Ultimately, from a Māori point of view, ako is the genius handed down from one generation to another. Ako is a dialogue without end through which the people share their thinking and make a philosophy of education that is mutually creative, curious, and dignified.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Singapore 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Medical and Health SciencesSchool of Population Health, University of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand