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How to use the oral history featured in Kia Mau to enhance teaching and learning

The Kia Mau resource is unique in its use of first hand oral history. History teachers can enhance their delivery of important historical events and people (such as the Māori Battalion in World War Two) by exploring the role that oral history plays in the greater narrative of this event. In particular it is important to emphasise that waiata and haka are legitimate forms of knowledge. They are a traditional vehicle for the intergenerational transmission of knowledge in the Māori world, and need to be understood, respected and used in conjunction with other forms of historical memory. The following notes are designed for the teacher and should be used as part of class discussion on the nature of oral history, before students delve further into the interviews contained in Kia Mau.

An overall definition of oral history (taken from NZ History.net)

“Oral history is a method of gathering information. It is the sound or video recording of an interview with someone who speaks from personal experience about a subject of historical interest. It can also be the printed version of the material that has been recorded, whether a verbatim transcript or one that has been edited for publication”.

Benefits, and the nature, of oral history (taken from NZ History.net)

“One of the values of oral history is that it adds the view of eyewitnesses to existing records, providing new or additional information and insights. It is not about repeating what has already been written and recorded about the past. Instead it gives us the personal perceptions of individuals who were there, so we can learn not only what happened to people in the past but also the thoughts and feelings they recall having at that time.

Oral history can also give a voice to people who are often left out of historical records, the ordinary men and women who have taken part in significant events and whose reflections may throw new light on the past. This is particularly so in the case of war oral history. We may know the dates and outcomes of, for example, the battle of Cassino – but what was it actually like for a New Zealand soldier fighting in the rubble of that bombed town? Oral history provides some answers”.

What are haka and waiata?

Waiata (songs) are traditionally used to preserve the wisdom and knowledge of tīpuna/ancestors. Unlike traditional waiata, many tunes during the period of World War Two were borrowed from ’pop’ songs, with Māori lyrics written to match. An example is the “Blue Eyed Waltz”, used as a basis for the song “E Pari Rā”, selected in this resource to represent D Company.

Haka is often referred to as a posture dance. It can be a vehicle for raising issues, recording events and honouring someone special. Haka were traditionally used before battle; for example, to invoke the God of War, Tūmatauenga. They were also used specifically by members of the Māori Battalion to help them prepare for battle. An example is the haka Ka Eke i te Wiwī, selected in this resource to represent A Company.