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Recognition for Māori history scholar and translator

27 March 2023

A leading history scholar will be awarded an honorary degree in recognition for his work revitalising te reo Māori.


Ross with his wife Ariana, daughter Matahana and son, Tama-te-ra, at the launch of He Pukapuka Tātaku i ngā Mahi a Te Rauparaha Nui/A Record of the Life of the Great Te Rauparaha at Te Papa in November 2020 Credit: Heeni Collins

Ross Calman (Ngāti Toa, Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāi Tahu) will receive an Honorary Doctorate – Doctor of Arts from Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha | University of Canterbury (UC) at a graduation celebration being held at Christchurch Arena next Thursday.

Calman has authored more than a dozen works, including books on the Treaty of Waitangi and the New Zealand Wars, edited more than 100 books in te reo Māori and English, translated a number of books into te reo Māori, and written numerous articles and chapters on Māori history and traditional Māori society.

Ross Calman Ross graduating from the University of Canterbury with a Bachelor of Arts with First Class Honours in English, May 1994.

One of his most well-known books is He Pukapuka Tātaku i ngā Mahi a Te Rauparaha Nui – A Record of the Life of the Great Te Rauparaha, published by Auckland University Press in 2020. The work held deep personal significance for Calman who is a descendant of Te Rauparaha. He describes the book as a “pinnacle” in his career.

“For me, Te Rauparaha was a remarkable leader who was also involved in some very violent campaigns,” he says. “But it’s important to understand the historical context for those events and to explain those nuances and provide more information for people trying to interpret these events today.”

Calman’s expertise with te reo Māori is even more impressive considering when he enrolled at UC as an undergraduate, he had only a superficial understanding of his whakapapa and very little te reo Māori. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts with First Class Honours in English in 1994.

“When I started at UC in 1990, I didn’t really know what my whakapapa was,” he says. “It wasn’t until a couple of years later after talking to my grandmother that I found out about my iwi, and that I was descended from Te Rauparaha.”

While he was studying in the University library, he came across a bound photocopy of a manuscript about the Ngāti Toa leader written in te reo Māori by his son Tāmihana Te Rauparaha. “I thought, ‘This would be amazing, I need to read this’, so it sent me off on a quest to learn te reo Māori, over many years really.

“It was over 20 years later before I picked up that manuscript again, in 2014, and started trying to decipher it. The resulting book is my biggest achievement and the thing that means the most to me and has the most personal significance in terms of the journey I’ve been on.”

Calman’s wife Ariana Tikao, who is a writer and taonga puoro musician, has shared parallel interests to his own, he says, and been a huge support to his career.

Calman is currently working on adapting He Pukapuka Tātaku i ngā Mahi a Te Rauparaha Nui – A Record of the Life of the Great Te Rauparaha into a podcast series and is also translating other historical Māori manuscripts and letters with a view to publishing them as a follow-up work.

UC Ngāi Tahu Centre Pou Whakarae | Te Maire Tau, says over the past two decades Calman has become a pre-eminent researcher, editor and translator who has enriched New Zealanders’ understanding of the Māori past.

He says Calman’s career is all the more remarkable given that he only had a superficial understanding of te ao Māori when he first came to UC.

“However, in collaboration with his wife, Ariana Tikao, who is also Ngāi Tahu and prominent in related disciplines, Ross is now a leading scholar in the field of Māori history.”

Professor Tau says it is entirely fitting that UC, supported by Te Ngāi Tūāhuriri, recognises Calman with an Honorary Doctorate in light of his “outstanding intellectual trajectory”.

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