He putiputi, he taonga, he rangatira - The factors motivating young Maori women to achieve success.


Gail Bosmann-Watene (BSW, PG CertHealSc, MANZASW)


Assistant Lecturer, School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work, Massey University.



An increasing number of young Maori women are achieving notable success in fields such as performing arts, music, sport, design, creative arts and academia. They are role models and potential leaders. This presentation explores the links between motivation, achievement and success. It draws on the literature reviewed for my Master in Social Work thesis. Themes of whanau, identity and leadership are examined in this presentation.


 This paper examines the concept of motivation and its link to positive youth development for Maori women.  It aims to explore the unique characteristics that contribute to the achievements of Maori women and forms the basis of my current Masters research (in progress) which considers the motivating factors of young Maori women who are leaders amongst their peers, and who have achieved recognition in a chosen field/s.  The paper also discusses the purpose of completing a research journey alongside young Maori women based on this topic. In particular, I provide a reflection of the journey that has paved the way for me to engage in this topic, and the impact it has on my professional practice and the whanau I work alongside.  I explore what this research entails and why it justifies exploration. Finally, as the study is still in progress the paper investigates current research and ideas that relate to factors motivating young Maori women to succeed.  

The journey – Te Haerenga 

I am the youngest daughter of Marata Tatu and Jan Frederik Bosmann.  A Tuhoe mokopuna, Wairoa born and raised, river loving kid who has fond memories of Mum’s hot rewana and regular fishing trips with Dad in the 1968 Ford Falcon Station wagon to Lake Waikaremoana.  We had a humble upbringing that was full of hardship, laughter, aroha, selflessness, manaakitanga, music, tears, mischief and whanau.  I grew up the youngest of six girls which meant I learnt early in life what the true meaning of ‘hand me down’ was.  When I was four years old my parents decided to foil my plans in claiming potiki status and the accolades that come with being the youngest, with the birth of another Bosmann baby, worse still it was a boy.  So there we were, the ‘Bosmann bunch’ a fun loving whanau who grew up in the same home my parents reside in today.  

Although my parents have survived forty three years of marriage they are quite dissimilar.  Their Maori and Dutch heritage brought richness into our household in many different ways and I believe I grew up with the best of both worlds.  Some of their similarities exist in the mutual displacement they endured as youth.  As a young boy, Dad experienced the loss of his father during wartimes and in some ways found refuge in a country that seemed more secure and where opportunities in work were easily accessible.  At home he was Dad but in the community he took on several roles including coach, musician, bird lover, mechanic, specialist fly fisherman, and church clerk.  Because of Dad’s interests we often found ourselves being dragged to different competitions, meetings and gatherings where we learnt to work as a team, perform in front of an audience, and have patience (making flies for fishing takes a lot of patience!)  Most importantly we learnt how to cope with boredom by being creative and managing time effectively in order to get the task done. 

As a toddler Mum and her siblings were raised by their nanny Waereti following the death of her mother Rangipaea Kenana. When Waereti died all the kids became whangai and were split up between whanau from Ruatahuna, Waimana, and Wairoa.  Over the years the contact with her siblings reduced and the children became strangers to one another.  This was a struggle for my Mum, and in her own way she coped with this mamae.  She would involve herself in many different community activities, and often we were unsure of her whereabouts but knew she was giving her time to others.  Her talents in horticulture were a blessing for a large whanau, and we lived quite self sufficiently for many years.  She was always bringing strangers home who would then become our new auntie, uncle, whaea, or cousin.  I recall Mum introducing a hitchhiking couple from Europe as auntie and uncle and as a seven year old I could not figure out how we were related.  Yet Mum was a firm believer that once you made a connection you became whanau and that was all that mattered.  For this reason we had a lot of whanau.  Whakapapa whanau, church whanau, school whanau, community whanau – it seemed everyone was whanau as long as there was a connection, and for Mum that could have been a korero over milo and bread. 

Through my parents stories I find meaning to the factors motivating them in keeping whanau traditions, values, standards, and principles alive within our home.  The importance they placed on collectiveness as a key link to whanau wellbeing was something that each family[1] member had to commit to.  This was reflected in several everyday activities including family karakia when we arose in the morning and before we went to sleep; family reading time; Sunday kai; Monday night’s were dedicated to family home evenings where each person had a task to complete, which ranged from a musical item to preparing supper; daily chores; maintaining the family vegetable garden and home environment.  While we were a family who still endured arguments, contention and hardship, the role modeling and lessons taught about understanding whanau welfare by two parents in a small Wairoa home is not forgotten. 

My home life has also influenced my development of a cultural identity which is firmly located in my understanding of whanau.  Due to Mum’s personal experiences within a colonised education system, te reo Maori was not the first language spoken at home. Also, as a whangai, Mum became isolated from hapu and iwi involvement which meant she found other avenues for us kids to learn our Maori culture.  This was through kapahaka which served to strengthen my cultural identity.  So, while we learnt Maoritanga the loss was not gaining a sense of Tuhoetanga. 

While attending University as an undergraduate student I challenged myself to seek out this ‘Tuhoetanga’ that was unfamiliar to me.  I searched through our whanau whakapapa, I read books by Tuhoe authors, and I tried to surround myself with Tuhoe peers, and made contact with relatives who were involved in hapu activities.  Along the way I also found my profession in social work and specifically in Hauora Hinengaro Maori, where the kaupapa fused well with my personal lens or worldview.  Over time I became involved in several youth groups and often volunteered my time to support various youth kaupapa.  In these environments I have been given the opportunity to work alongside young Maori women who are talented, confident, motivated, and show self belief.  However, I have also worked alongside young Maori women who have no supports, limited confidence and are unsure of their abilities and potential.  These circumstances have often been directly linked to the negative effects of whanau breakdown and the alternative faces of identity (to a Maori cultural identity) that several young Maori women learn and develop via popular culture.  Many of these young women seek out a nurturing, supportive environment to assist with the process of self belief and healing.  As a beginning practitioner to the field of social work these experiences have left an imprint in my mind concerning the wellbeing of our young Maori women, and the potentially negative impact this has on whanau and future generations.  

Throughout this journey my family, peers, mentors, colleagues, and the whanau I work alongside have become one whanau who constantly challenge me in different ways to achieve my full potential.  They have become tools in channeling my personal and professional development.  Often they have tapped into my abilities and talents that were undetected and quiescent. Many of these whanau are my personal role models who inform my thinking and behaviour. Along the way they have encouraged me to take on opportunities to lead and be led, in sports, employment, academia, and other extra curricular activities. My accomplishments are a credit to their support and challenges.  

The stories I have shared are a small part of a journey that have solely influenced my reality. This reality has led me to cultivate some of the following activities and experiences - my passion for youth development, and in particular, supporting young women endeavours; my enthusiasm to work in a helping profession; and my commitment to promoting positive development within whanau as a vital key to individual wellbeing.  All of these continued experiences have opened the pathway for me to explore this research topic. 

Research Background – He Rangahau Maori


There are two main reasons for justifying the timing of such a research topic.  The first answer is provided within Maori history where we are gifted with descriptions that assist in revealing the significant and enduring role Maori women have as nurturers of future generations.  Some of these descriptions can be found in the following whakatauki: 

He aha te mea nui o te ao.  He tangata, he tangata, he tangata

What is the most important thing in the world.  Tis people, tis people, tis people.


He puta taua ki te tane, he whanau tamariki ki te wahine

The battlefield for man, childbirth for woman. 

For me these words reinforce the critical part young Maori women have within whanau and for tangata whenua.  Therefore, from a te ao Maori perspective the rationale for such a research topic makes the timing of this endeavour irrelevant. 

Also, in April 2003 the Adolescent Health Research Group presented findings of a national secondary school youth health survey.  This research found that currently, information on the health and wellbeing of Maori and Pacific youth is sparse and that there is a comparative lack of research on the protective and resiliency factors in the lives of youth that promote health and wellbeing.  Dr Peter Watson summarised the state of youth health through the following: 

“The health of our youth determines the health of our society.  Much of New Zealand’s current preventable morbidity and mortality in adulthood can be attributed to behaviours that are initiated during adolescence…New Zealand youth have been overlooked in terms of national policy, age-specific health services, and nationally representative databases.  This is despite New Zealand’s current generation of youth having rates of unintended pregnancy, suicide and self-harm that are among the highest in the Western World.”  (Adolescent Health Research Group, 2003:1). 

Considering this statement and the lack of current research relevant to Maori youth health and wellbeing, it appears timely to investigate factors motivating young Maori women to succeed as this research topic will explore and uncover themes that may be useful in assisting young Maori women and other youth groups in their positive development towards adulthood. 

For this purpose, the research investigates the motivating factors that assist young Maori women to succeed; the diverse roles that young Maori women maintain within whanau, hapu and iwi; how these roles influence the positive development of young Maori women; the opinion young Maori women have of leadership and role modeling; and generally asks young Maori women to discuss the challenges they face and what it takes to overcome these challenges, and still be able to achieve goals.  

Defining terms 

The title of this paper and ongoing research is ‘He putitputi, he taonga, he rangatira - The factors motivating young Maori women to achieve success.’ Putiputi refers to flower and symbolises for me the role[2] that women have when we enter into this world at birth as daughters, sisters, mokopuna, nieces, cousins - young flowers needing protection, nurturing, and sustenance from whanau, yet, also contributing to whanau in many ways through energy, passion, love, vitality, and life, a reciprocal relationship that begins from the time of conception. 

Taonga, a word that contributes to several meanings such as the notions of treasure, gifts or preciousness. For me it can reflect the space and time of our journey through adolescence into womanhood when our whare tangata is preparing for our most sacred role and therefore is our most precious gift.  Tariana Turia encapsulates this understanding of taonga through the following: 

“I pay tribute to all of you on your journey, as we realise and discover our true potential which is valuing the essence of our being.  What is unique to us as indigenous women is grounded in the sacredness of te whare tangata, the concept of the nurturing place of future generations.” [3] 

This leads to the notion of rangatira. Royal (2001) describes rangatira as the weaving together of a group where leadership is reflected in the ability to provide a sense of unity and group cohesion.  Irwin (1995:10) provides a more precise insight through her descriptions of interactions between Maori women, in particular a group of Maori women whose celebrations of mana wahine were collaborated and then published.  She may not have purposefully described rangatira yet the following words indirectly detail for me the diverse roles a rangatira may engage in: 

“We strategise, organise, network, dream: across tribal boundaries, among professional groups and community members.  Our destiny is there to be reclaimed once more.  Weaving, weaving, weaving.  People with people, people with ideas, places with people.  We move on.  At hui, on the street, in town, at the petrol station, at the pub, in the library, at the fish and chip shop.  Unity, diversity, kotahitanga: sometimes only fleeting glimpses are possible, at others long intense debates are enjoyed…wherever our paths happen to cross.  Synergy, energising, powerful, intoxicating, full of possibilities.” 

These descriptions are undoubtedly portrayed within the whanau as young Maori women realise their potential in becoming mothers, aunties, nannies, nurturers, mentors, life teachers  – leaders of whanau and decision makers within hapu and iwi, powerful roles that influence future generations. 

In the interest of providing clarity of terms used within the research process I have defined specific key words.  Within this context, if motive is defined as “tending to initiate movement or what induces a person to act.” (Sykes, 1976: 711).  Then, motivation refers to the stimulus or trigger of an action or the incentive to achieve or complete something.  Other expressions such as inspire, stimulate, prompt, encourage and provoke also need to be considered here as each can be linked to defining motivation.  The term Maori women refer specifically to women who are of Maori descent.  The term young has purposefully been used in this context to maintain some flexibility with the description and also to reduce becoming too prescriptive. Depending on the worldview, the term young or noun ‘youth’ can take on different meanings.  It may be informed by a perception and is sometimes dependent upon the context of a situation as well as a reference to age.  The Ministry of Youth Development (2003) defines youth or a young person in New Zealand as someone who is aged between twelve to twenty four years.  For research purposes and ethical reasoning[4] this study involves Maori women who are aged between sixteen to twenty four years. 

Finally, complexities can sometimes arise when defining the notion of success as individuals will have different expectations and perceptions of what this means.  Therefore, the verb succeed will be utilised in the research process and discussion, to describe and interpret the accomplishment of a purpose or goal which has led to a successful outcome.  This will be measured by the perceived positive effect the outcome of the individuals achievements has towards Maori development, specifically whanau development.  Therefore, other expressions such as leadership and achievement have also been considered here.  Accordingly, the research will be informed by Maori centred[5] and qualitative research methodologies (Patton, 1990; Davidson and Tolich, 2003).

Literature review 

The purpose of this literature review is to identify research that closely resembles this proposed study.  This will highlight the scope and boundary of the research as it relates to a larger ongoing dialogue regarding the links between motivation, young Maori women and success.   A balanced view of literature relating to the topic area has been taken into account as there is limited research currently available that concerns young Maori women.  A general overview has been prepared to describe essential aspects of the overall literature before presenting specific findings using the following key themes of motivation, Maori women and Maori youth development.  All of these themes connect either directly or indirectly to the proposed topic and need to be presented separately to show the deficit in knowledge relating to this research. 


There are limited studies available that relate to this research.  Most of the literature relevant to this topic originates from within New Zealand and is mainly work completed as a result of academic research, for example Masters thesis, within the fields of education and social sciences, or through government departments.  A renaissance of Maori writers emerged during the early 1990s, in particular Maori women academics and researchers who were keen to have Maori women’s voices heard through research and writing.  The theoretical perspectives expressed the most within this body of literature originate from within He Rangahau Maori and vary across this continuum from Maori centred research (Durie, 1996) to Kaupapa Maori research (Tuhiwai-Smith, 1999).  Qualitative research methods have increasingly become regular practice within Maori research as these processes provide a greater ability for tikanga Maori to occur within the research practice.  The main themes of research questions appearing relate to discourse about the plight of Maori in contemporary society, the relationship between Maori and colonisation, redefining what it means to be Maori, and positive Maori development.  There are gaps evident in the current research specific to the positive development of young Maori women as historically negative factors of development have been the prime target of investigation and/or young men have received more focus due to higher incidence rates of social problems (Ministry of Youth Development, 2004). 


There is minimal research specifically investigating motivation factors of young Maori, let alone young Maori women. Katene (2002) provides some refreshing insights in his investigations of what motivates Maori students to learn and behave.  Katene’s focus was to explore Maori students’ perspectives regarding, what motivates them to learn and behave, to understand whether existing theories of motivation were relevant and how Maori culture influences motivation.  The research was conducted within a Maori research methodology using a focus group to gain qualitative data.  The findings presented the students perspectives developed into a framework encompassing te whare tapa wha, reflective of Durie’s (1994) description of wellbeing for Maori.  Specific principles coincided with each of the four dimensions depicted within this framework.  These factors/principles[6] enlighten an understanding about what motivates young Maori to learn and behave. 

Maori women 

Significant developments in theorising Maori women’s discourse have occurred. These are evident in the increasing numbers of theses, academic papers in journals, both national and international by Maori women (Selby and Walsh-Tapiata, 2003).  Largely the use of oral history methods has frequented these terrains along with other qualitative research processes.  There are several examples of oral ‘her stories’ reflecting on the survival, challenges, experiences, strengths, beliefs and leadership of Maori women (Awatere, 1996; Binney and Chaplin, 1996; Bowkett, 1996; Edwards, 2002; Fingleton, 1982; Flashoff, 1981; Fox and Tawhiwhirangi, 2003; Irwin and Ramsden, 1995; Jahnke, 1997; Jenkins and Pihama, 2001; King, 1982; King 1983; Madden, 1997; Mikaere, 1999; Paki-titi, 1998; Pewhairangi, 1985; Selby, 1996; Selby and Rosier, 2002; Tawhiwhirangi, 2003; Te Awekotuku, 1991; Tomlins-Jahnke, 1997, 2000; Wharemaru and Duffie, 1997).   All of these examples provide Maori women with the opportunity to share their knowledge, expertise, and experience.  In particular Brown (1994), Selby (1996) and Palmer’s (2000) research efforts provide links to this study, as they each consider factors influencing success and achievement of Maori women across different landscapes.  The reoccurring themes that appear within these studies include; cultural identity, Maoritanga, status and the role/s of Maori women, education, colonisation, and leadership.  These studies provide a backdrop from which this research topic is able to contribute to a developing body of knowledge reflecting specifically on young Maori women. 

Maori youth development 

The main sponsor of research within this area has been the Ministry of Youth Development, formerly known as the Ministry of Youth Affairs.  Recently a major review of research was undertaken by this group.  This consisted of information reviewed largely from outside New Zealand due to the limited research available on the development of young people in New Zealand than in other countries because of the relatively small size of the population and limited resources available for funding research.  As a result of this review it was clear that data available on young Maori is scarce (Ministry of Youth Affairs, 2002).  The review’s main result was that it informed the Youth Development Strategy 2002 which aimed to understand how government and society could support youth in New Zealand.  

In 1993 Pere Komene gathered the stories of sixteen young Maori achievers, eight were women.  The interviews with these Maori role models showcased a variety of skills, knowledge, excellence and achievement across diverse areas (including employment, education, sport and arts).  Essentially the study aimed to encourage other young Maori to pursue education and/or opportunities that will assist them to achieve high standards and goals.  The participants of the study were linked to Ngai Tahu, Ngati Toa, Ngati Raukawa and Te Atiawa ki te Upoko o te Ika. 

Although not specifically research focused, there is also an increased availability and range of articles being published in media journals, magazines and newspapers that highlight the achievements of young Maori women across hapu and iwi.[7]


The aim of this research is to consider the concept of motivation and its link to positive youth development for Maori women.  The research aims to identify and explore the motivating factors that have contributed to the success of young Maori women who are leaders amongst their peers and who have achieved recognition in a chosen field/s.  The research investigates the relationship between role modeling, identity and leadership and how these factors influence positive development for young Maori women.  The research will provide young Maori women with an opportunity to reflect on their own success and contributes to a growing body of knowledge, which could be useful in the development of strengths based practices for this group. The research also observes how these factors influence positive development for young Maori women, their whanau and the flow on effect this has for hapu and iwi. 

My experiences are similar to those shared by many young Maori women who progress through the stages of putiputi, taonga and rangatira.  The nurturing place for this is within te ahi kaa – where our home fires burn and where whanau relationships are reciprocal as we support each other in our life trials, challenges, journeys and learning.  

Whaia te iti kahurangi, ki te tuohu koe, me he maunga teitei

Strive for what is precious – if you bow let it be to a lofty mountain.


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Binney, J. & Chaplin, J.  (1996).  Nga morehu: The survivors.  Bridget Williams Book: Auckland.

Bishop, R. & Glynn, E.  (1992).  He Kanohi Kitea: Conducting and Evaluating Educational Research.  New Zealand Annual Review of Education.  Department of Education, Victoria University: Wellington.

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Durie, M.  (1996).  ‘Characteristics of Maori Health Research.’  Unpublished paper presented at the Hui Whakapirpiri, Hongoeka Marae: Plimmerton.

Durie, M.  (1997).  ‘Identity, access and Maori advancement’.  Edited proceedings of the  NZEAS research conference.  Auckland Institute of Technology: Auckland.

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Fingleton, D.  (1982).  Kiri: A biography of Kiri Te Kanawa.  Collins: London.

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Irwin, K. & Ramsden, I.  (1995).  Toi wahine the worlds of Maori women.  Penguin:  Auckland.

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Palmer, F.R.  (2000).  ‘Maori girls, power, physical education, sport and play: Being hungus, hori and hoha.’  Unpublished doctoral thesis.  University of Otago: Dunedin.

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Selby, R.  (1996).  ‘A study of the factors which contribute to success for Maori women in tertiary education.  Unpublished master’s thesis. Massey University: Palmerston North.

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Appendix 1 

A Maori Centred Research Framework



Whakapiki tangata


Mana Maori

Purpose of research

Health gains for Maori, Maori as positive, Maori development

Health is viewed as holistic and encompasses all aspects of Maori life and wellbeing

Practice of research

Active Maori participation, multiple methodologies, measures that are relevant to Maori


The information here is adapted from Durie (1996). 


[1] In this context ‘family’ refers to my immediate whanau members (parents and siblings).

[2] Within this context ‘role’ is referring to the diverse functions, responsibilities, positions, place, or part.

[3] Address given to the Aotearoa World Indigenous Women and Wellness Gathering, Te Aranga Marae, Hastings.  15 November 2004.

[4] As guided by the Massey University Human Ethics Committee procedures involving human participants, 2001.

[5] See Appendix 1

[6] Manaakitanga, Awhina, Ngawari, Aroha, Whakangungu, Akonga ake, Tikanga, Utu.

[7] Kokiri Patae, Taiohe and Mana – The Maori news magazine for all New Zealanders, are some media sources that provide feature stories on Maori youth development.  For convenience these stories have not been referenced in detail as there are several articles that can be linked to the themes within this paper versus the overall research topic.

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