Ko Maui tinihanga ie – You are like Maui of Many Devices

I have worked supporting Indigenous learners in Aotearoa and Canada for over a decade. What I have learnt in that time is that we are always shape shifting in order to respond to the university’s habits. As a Pacific person, I know there is much to learn from our ancestors and this blog is dedicated to what we can learn from Maui.

Like Maui, Pacific peoples in universities are of two worlds. Maui was both a man and a God and Pacific peoples who work in higher education are invested in both the world of the university and the world of their own communities.  Stories of Maui reflect how he wanted to use his knowledge of one world (the Gods) to benefit the other world (man). Pacific peoples working in higher education want to use the knowledge of the university to benefit their own communities, (and vice versa). Maui’s actions were about unsettling the Gods world which only benefited them and excluded humankind, just as Pacific peoples unsettle university habits in an effort to end their exclusion from universities.

The Cook Island proverb of ‘Ko Maui tinihanga ie’ (you are like Maui of many devices) offers some inspiration for how Pacific peoples can unsettle the university. Maui “stole fire, snared the sun, raised the sky, trapped winds, fished up land, altered landscapes, founded dynasties, made useful inventions and killed fabulous monsters who plagued women and terrified strong men” (Luomala 1949, p.3). Just like Maui we must try many different tricks/feats/magic in order to disrupt the university. Like Maui we will not always be successful but this should not deter us from attempting to disrupt power that excludes our peoples from accessing universities.

Sometimes tricks will not be enough and like Maui we will need to shape shift. When we consider an institutional habit a problem that is preventing our community from accessing the university we may need to try several forms to change it. We may need to take the form of somebody who has read all the institutional policies and can help others to understand why their habit is working against their own policies. We may need to take the form of an activist and rally other people to come to a cause. We may need to take the form of a friend and build a meaningful relationship with those in power to instigate change. Like Maui we will need to shape shift into many forms to shift the power imbalance, it will be exhausting but ultimately it is a small price to pay for our community’s access.

Luomala, K. (1949). Maui-of-a-thousand-tricks: His Oceanic and European Biographers (No. 198). Bernice P. Bishop Museum.

For more on ways that Indigenous peoples can make changes in the academy please see: Ahenakew, C., & Naepi, S. (2015). The difficult task of turning walls into tables. In A. Macfarlane, M. Webber & S. Macfarlane (Eds.), Sociocultural theory: Implications for curricular across the sector, (pp. 181-194). Christchurch, NZ: University of Canterbury Press.