Europeans have commented on Maori since 1642. These accounts, when examined beyond their own cultural views52, give us snapshots of how parents were socialising their children. After Abel Tasman’s confrontation in the South Island and James Cook’s travelling around the New Zealand coast, most of the earliest accounts of Maori were in the northern areas. Both Tasman and Cook were searching for prospective colonies. In 1807, John Savage added to observations. Others followed soon after. In their observations, the European methods of raising children with some form of punishment, was evident and they expressed surprise at shared parenting.

The observations of the tipuna raising children

Earliest observers commented about the loving care given to the babies and children by both parents and indeed all adults. Child prisoners were greatly prized and lived with the whanau but they remained slaves for life53. “The father was devotedly fond of his children and they were his pride and delight”54, wrote Polack, a Jew and a trader for some years. He was an astute observer. He observed, and judged, that the children were over indulged because they, “..are seldom or never punished. They are obstinate, ‘beyond belief’; the children try to harm themselves when thwarted”.55 He considered the children according to his culture and concluded that they, “…needed a severe castigation”56.

Edward Shortland said that, “with Maori a parent is seldom seen to chastise his child, especially in families of rank”57. He was told that the,

Artwork of a ‘Native Family’ by Augustus Earle

Image credit: https://www.aucklandartgallery.com/explore-art-and-ideas/artwork/12993/native-family

“... Freedom given children, made them bold, brave and independent in thought and act ... curbing the will of the child by harsh means was thought to tame his spirit, and to check the free development of his natural bravery58

Edward ShortlandPublished in 'Maori Religion'

In this artwork, a mother is breastfeeding her child.

Oliver, Richard Aldworth, 1811-1889 :Half-castes of Pomare’s pah (Bay of Islands). Capt Oliver delt. Dickinson & Co. lith. [London, 1852]. Ref: PUBL-0032-6. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23018275

The children were tapu and therefore untouchable59 so that confidence in themselves and their abilities developed.

In 1772, Captain Crozet of Du Fresne’s “Mascarin” observed over two months in the Bay of Islands that the women seemed to be good mothers and showed their affection for their offspring. He often saw them play with the children, caress them, chew the very tough but starchy aruhe or fern root, pick out the stringy parts, and then take it out of their mouth and put it in to that of their nurslings60.

A number of the earliest observers recorded seeing shared parenting of children:

“When the baby boy was weaned, his father took over his care and the mother cared for the girl babies. He generally bore the burden of carrying them continually within his mat, whose rugged texture must be very annoying to the tender infant.61

Joel Samuel PolackPublished in his book 'New Zealand'
Maori Baptism Ceremony by Louis Auguste de Sainson

In this artwork, the father to the left is carrying a child.

Devillier, active 1844. [Sainson, Louis Auguste de] b 1801 :Nouvelle Zelande; ceremonie de bapteme. Devillier sculp [Paris 1844]. Ref: A-211-013. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22728764

In this artwork, note the man standing to the left is carrying a child.

Gilfillan, John Alexander, 1793-1863. [Gilfillan, John Gordon?], 1839-1875 :Putiki Waranui pah Wanganui / J.G. [Early 1860s?]. Ref: C-142-003. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22299264

Crozet noted that, “Children were suckled until they had teeth and could walk, and their parents carried them around with them or placed them on mats or dog skins on the floor of their houses. Fathers, like mothers, looked after the physical needs of their children” 62, and they were ‘excellent nurses’63.

Savage, a surgeon who was only in the Bay of Islands in 1807 for a short time described New Zealand as being very suitable for colonising. He noted the transport of children and the provision of playthings for the child64,

“The mode of carrying the children, if not the most graceful, is certainly not the most inconvenient. The child is placed astride on the shoulder of the nurse, who secures it in this posture by one of its arms; the other being left at liberty, it employs it in playing with the ornaments on the head of its mother; and as these are sometimes numerous, consisting of feathers, shells, buttons, and sharks teeth, the child is provided with an ample source of amusement65. It is taught to twine its arms round its father's neck; asleep or awake, it remains the whole day thus suspended, protected from the weather by the same mat which covers its parent; and in his longest journeys as well as his most laborious occupations, it is his constant companion. ”

Michael Joseph SavagePublished in 'Some Account of New Zealand'

Heeni Hirini and child by Gottfried Lindauer

Image credit: http://www.lindaueronline.co.nz/maori-portraits/heeni-hirini-and-child-previously-known-as-ana-rupene-and-child

Māori mother and child by Sydney Lough Thompson

Image credit: https://christchurchartgallery.org.nz/collection/69-113

Note the last person on this waka is wearing a child.
Chazal, Antoine 1793-1854 :N[ouvel]le Zelande. Habitans et pirogue. N[umer]o 45. [Copied 1825 or 1826 from an 1824 drawing by Jules Louis LeJeune] Reference Number: C-082-098

Unidentified Maori group, steaming baskets of food. Ref: 1/2-066390-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/228719071

At the bottom of this image is a woman wearing a child while she works.

Giles, J W, active 1847. Angas, George French, 1822-1886 :Whatas, or patukas. (Storehouses for food) / George French Angas [delt]; J. W. Giles [lith]. Plate 30. 1847.. Ref: PUBL-0014-30. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23053951


52 Smith, Decolonising Methodologies 28.
53 Hiroa, Coming of the Maori 351, 401-2.
54 Polack J. New Zealand being a narrative of travels and adventures during a residence in that country between, the years 1831 and 1837. London, 1840. 37.
55 Polack, New Zealand 57, 377, 378.
56 Polack, New Zealand 57, 377, 378
57 Shortland, Maori Religion 156
58 Shortland, Maori Religion 156.
59 This is expressed in the oriori.
60 Salmond, Two Worlds 422.
61 Polack, New Zealand 374; Other writers recorded similar incidents. Savage, J. Some account of New Zealand : particularly the Bay of Islands, and surrounding country : with a description of the religion and government, language, arts, manufactures, manners, and customs of the natives, &c. Originally 1807. Dunedin: Hocken Library, University of Otago, 1966. 28; Craik, George L. The New Zealanders. London: C. Knight, 1830. 386.
62 Crozet in Salmond, Two Worlds 422.
63 Nicholas, J. L. Narrative of a voyage to New Zealand, performed in the years 1814 and 1815, in company with the Rev. Samuel Marsden, Principal Chaplain of New South Wales. London: Printed for James Black and Son, 1817. 307-308.
64 Craik The New Zealanders 386.

The content of this web page was originally published in the Traditional Maori Parenting report published in March 2011 as commissioned by the Office of the Children’s Commission (OCC). The content is republished here with their permission as copyright owners of this work.

You can download the whole report from the OCC website.