Place-making: Wānanga based photographic approaches

  • Rodrigo Hill University of Waikato
  • Tom Roa University of Waikato
  • Marcos Mortensen Steagall  (Translator)
Keywords: Kaupapa Māori, King Country, Photography, Place-making, Wānanga


Ka matakitaki iho au ki te riu o Waikato 
Ano nei hei kapo kau ake maaku 
Ki te kapu o taku ringa, 

The words above are from the poem Māori King Tawhiao wrote expressing his love for his homelands of the Waikato and the region known today as the King Country. The words translate to: “I look down on the valley of Waikato, As though to hold it in the hollow of my hand.” Now imagine a large-scale photograph depicting a close-up frame of cupped hands trying to hold something carefully. The words above inform Professor Tom Roa and Dr. Rodrigo Hill’s current research project titled Te Nehenehenui - The Ancient Enduring Beauty in the Great Forest of the King Country. With this project still in its early stages the research team will present past collaborations which they will show leads into new ideas and discussions about photography, wānanga, and place representation. They focus on Māori King Tawhiao’s finding refuge in Te Nehenehenui, later called the King Country in his honour. He led many of his Waikato people into this refuge as a result of the British Invasion and confiscation of their Waikato lands in the latter part of the nineteenth century. The love of and for those lands prompted him to compose his ‘maioha’ - this poem painting a word-picture of these spaces which their photography humbly aims to portray. The project advances the use of wānanga (forums and meetings through which knowledge is discussed and passed on) and other reflective practices, engaging with mana whenua and providing a thread which will guide the construction of the photographic images. The name Te Nehenhenui was conceptualised by Polynesian ancestors who travelled from Tahiti and were impressed with the beauty of the land and the vast verdant forests of the King Country territories in the North Island of Aotearoa New Zealand. The origins of the name and further relevant historical accounts have been introduced and discussed by Professor Tom Roa (Ngāti Apakura, Ngāti Hinewai), Shane Te Ruki (Ngāti Unu, Ngāti Kahu) and Doug Ruki (Ngāti Te Puta I Te Muri, Ngāti Te Kanawa, Ngāti Peehi) in the TVNZ Waka Huia documentary series. The documentary provides a compelling account of the origins of the name Te Nehenehenui, thus informing this project’s core ideas and objectives. The research fuses wānanga, that is Mātauranga Māori, and photographic research approaches in novel ways. It highlights the importance of local Waikato-Maniapoto cosmological narratives and Māori understandings of place in their intersecting with the Western discipline of photography. This practice-led research focuses on photography and offers innovative forms of critical analysis and academic argumentation by constructing, curating, and presenting the photographic work as a public gallery exhibition. For this edition of the LINK Conference, the research team will present early collaborations and current research developments exploring place-making and wānanga as both methodology and photography practice. 

Author Biographies

Rodrigo Hill, University of Waikato

Rodrigo Hill is a lecturer at the University of Waikato Te Kura Toi School of Arts. He completed a practice-led PhD in 2019 focusing on the multiple possibilities that surround photographic practices and how photography is used as a way to perceive and make place. Rodrigo’s creative interests are rooted at the intersection of lens based approaches and place-making processes in which photography plays the role of representing layered ‘place-imaginaries’.

Tom Roa, University of Waikato

Professor Tom Roa (Ngāti Maniapoto, Waikato) is a Tainui leader and Manukura / Professor in the University of Waikato’s Te Pua Wananga ki te Ao - Faculty of Māori and Indigenous Studies, and is a familiar figure on marae throughout Tainui and the country. Tom’s PhD examined questions about the theory and practices of Māori to English language translation and interpretation. Over the years, Tom has been a leading figure helping to bring the Māori language into the mainstream, and he is one of the founders of Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori movement in the 1970s.