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Theoretical approaches to Māori groupings

Several researchers have attempted to categorise the Māori population into typologies, with the distinguishing factors relating mainly to connectedness to Māori culture and the level of integration with Pākehā. This chapter outlines these approaches.

Māori cultural heterogeneity is recognised by Durie (1994), who identified three Māori subgroups:

  • ‘Culturally’ – Māori who understand Māori whakapapa (genealogy) and are familiar with te reo Māori (Māori language) and tikanga Māori (Māori customs)
  • ‘Bicultural’ – Māori who identify as Māori but also operate effectively among Pākehā 
  • ‘Marginalised’ – Māori who are not able to relate to either Māori or Pākehā effectively.

A similar typology described by Williams (2000) defines four groups. 

  • The group representing a ‘traditional Māori core’ are the most enculturated, are often rural dwelling, and speak both Māori and English.
  • The second group are ‘primarily urban’ and bicultural.
  • A third group are ‘unconnected’. People in this group may be biologically Māori but know little of their Māori heritage and culture.
  • There is also a large group of people who are socially and culturally indistinguishable from Pākehā.

In contrast to these categorical typologies, Houkamau and Sibley (2010; Sibley & Houkamau, 2013) take a multidimensional approach to Māori identity. They specify six distinct experiential domains that contribute to the subjective experience of identifying and engaging culturally as Mäori. The importance placed on each domain will differ among individuals and therefore it presents an inclusive model of Māori identification.

The six domains are:

  • group membership evaluation – subjective evaluation of one’s membership in the social group Māori (‘being’ Māori) 
  • socio-political consciousness – perceived relevance the historical and socio-political context of being Mäori has on one’s self-concept
  • cultural efficacy and active identity expression – self-efficacy about personal resources to engage appropriately with other Māori in Māori social and cultural contexts (eg, language, etiquette, reciting whakapapa)
  • spirituality – engagement with and belief in Māori concepts of spirituality
  • interdependent self-concept – extent to which self-as-Mäori is defined by relationships with other Mäori, as opposed to being defined as an individual
  • authenticity beliefs – extent one believes that to be a ‘real’ or ‘authentic’ member of the social group Māori, one must display specific (stereotypical) features, knowledge, and behaviour.

These efforts to classify and describe the Māori population from a cultural point of view are based on the level of involvement in traditional culture. They present ways to qualitatively and quantitatively assess a person’s identification with Māori culture. However, the usability of these measures for statistical purposes is doubtful. Māori identity questions in the census and other population surveys have limited space; respondents need to be able to accurately and immediately self-identify with a certain grouping. An easy self-identification process results in fewer misinterpretations and misunderstandings and more exact statistics. The typologies and dimensions described above require in-depth questioning about personal beliefs and experiences, and are not suitable for statistical purposes. Rather, they are suitable for researchers who want to collect rich, detailed information that describes (rather than enumerates) cultural engagement and identification in contemporary Māori society.

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