From the prestigious halls of Yale University to the steamy valley paths of Te Puia | New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute (NZMACI), ‘Māori Boy Genius’, Ngaa Rauuira Pumanawawhiti has taken on a role at the institute to share Māori culture with the world.
A small-town boy born in Otaki and raised in Napier by his grandparents after a Whāngai (Māori adoption), Ngaa Rauuira took on his first university degree at the age of 13 at tikanga Māori tertiary education institute, Te Wānanga o Raukawa, and at 14, he discovered his passion for international politics.
“When I was 14, I googled the words ‘international politics’ and ‘education’ and the result was Yale University, and that was when I knew I had to go” Ngaa Rauuira says.
Sixteen and ready to take on the world, Ngaa Rauuira travelled to the United States, chaperoned by his father, for an intensive five-week summer school studying law and politics at the Ivy League Yale University.
“The basis of my acceptance into Yale was due to the fact that I had attained a degree at an indigenous institution – it was a really big win for Wānanga o Raukawa to be recognised in that way.
“The five-week summer school I did in 2009 was 15 weeks of classes crammed into five, so every class had the content of an entire weeks’ worth of classes,” he says.
Inspired when she heard his story, New Zealand film producer and director, Pietra Brettkelly approached Ngaa Rauuira before he returned to Yale in 2010 and to her surprise, she discovered an “interesting and charismatic young man” who would be able to carry a film.
“When I returned again in 2010, I stayed for 10 weeks during which I studied 60 weeks’ worth of content. With the added pressure of being on camera it was really full-on and in hindsight, I probably did it the difficult way,” Ngaa Rauuira says.
Filming for a total of 16 months, Ms Brettkelly released the feature-length film ‘Māori Boy Genius’ in November 2011 and it has since received international praise.
Constrained by limited finances, Ngaa Rauuira has been unable to return to complete his Bachelor of Liberal Arts, but has every intention to do so in the future.
“I’ll return so that I bring the story to completion for those who were inspired by the film, the people who helped make my studies a possibility and everyone that came on the journey with me,” he says.
Upon his return to New Zealand Ngaa Rauuira has been advocating for his people, through his work at Te Wānanga o Raukawa as a first year Mātauranga Māori lecturer.
He has now taken his knowledge and passion for indigenous New Zealand to Rotorua’s NZMACI and into the role of research and communications coordinator.
Ngaa Rauuira says taking on a role at NZMACI was an obvious ‘next step’ as the institute’s values and mission are closely aligned with his own.
“At Te Wānanga o Raukawa, I was dedicated to encouraging our people to return, to contribute to the home of Māori culture,” he says.
“In my new role here at NZMACI, I can take Māori people and culture to the world.
“I’m essentially carrying out the same mission because my dedication to the survival of Māori knowledge hasn’t changed. By coming to NZMACI, I can morph my contribution on a wider scale both nationally and internationally.”
A descendant of Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Kahungunu, Tūhoe and Te Hiku, Ngaa Rauuira is also on a mission to discover his connections with Rotorua.
“My mother has connections to Rotorua and to be really honest, that’s what I’m most excited about – to embark on journey of rediscovery of those connections because they aren’t as strong as I would like them to be,” Ngaa Rauuira says.More on NZMACI