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The contested nature of oral histories

It is important to discuss with students the contested nature of oral history. Are oral histories as legitimate as written or “state” histories? Why/why not? Why were they often regarded as less important in mainstream historiography? Is this valid? Why/why not?

The importance of oral history to Māori

“Oral histories are important to Māori because they are grounded in the Māori world, and told with Māori voices. As long as histories drawn from the state's record continue to take precedence, that voice will struggle to be heard...the potential of oral history has sometimes been down-played, reduced to the role of offering perspective or examples of personal experience against the administratively constrained views of the state...it means giving Māori voice a turn with the historical microphone, without reducing it to the role of back-up singer”.

 - Paraphrased from Aroha Harris, University of Auckland, from the Māori research website Rangahau.

 Māori interviews demand special consideration

“In an interview you get one person telling one story and then another one tells you a whole other conflicting story. Cross checking is important; if there is written material and other accounts, read it. Talk to others who may have been there. At the end of the day, there is no truth to any situation. Whānau interviews are not about collecting truth, they are about collecting people’s memories. The thing to note is that there are different accounts and [to] respect the differences”.

 - Paraphrased from information compiled by the Māori Community Research Workshop, Wanganui, on the Māori research website Rangahau.

Students need to be aware of these basic ideas when viewing and discussing the Kia Mau interviews from an historical perspective. For the people being interviewed, the haka and waiata associated with the Māori Battalion are personal, important stories that seek not only to convey facts but to sustain knowledge through future generations within their whānau, hapū and iwi.