Witi Ihimaera is a prominent New Zealand writer. He is perhaps this country's most well known Maori literary figure.
He writes about New Zealand Maori -- their histories, their lives, their politics, and living in a modern New Zealand.
Ihimaera grew up seeing his culture slowly change as it became more closely connected to the dominant Pakeha society in New Zealand.
He writes of Maori living in changing times -- trying to adapt to the changing New Zealand, trying to survive in the growing cities of their country, trying to retain their identity, trying to have their voice heard.
Ihimaera also writes for those who are not Maori, introducing the Maori point of view on the history of New Zealand, which has traditionally been taught from a very Pakeha perspective. His works highlight Maori, and provide an excellent way to learn about the first peoples of New Zealand.
Born in Gisborne in 1944, Ihimaera was the first Maori novelist to be published in New Zealand. He is of Te Aitanga-a-Mahaki descent, with close family connections to the Maori tribes Tuhoe, Te Whanau-a-Apanui, Ngati Kahungunu and Ngai Tamanuhiri, and links to Rongo-whakaata, Ngati Porou and Te Whakatohea. His book of short stories Pounamu Pounamu (Greenstone Greenstone) was published in 1972, the first published fiction work by a Maori writer. This was followed in 1973 by Tangi (funeral/grief), the first novel by a Maori writer. These early works let us enter the Maori world, mostly in a rural community.
Ihimaera's works follow the small, rural Maori communities closely, perhaps the most famous being The Whale Rider (1987) which was recently made into a film. It is a touching story of a small, seaside Maori community trying to hold on to its traditions and people in modern times. It explores Maori history and mythology, and also the different roles of men and women and how they are changing with the times. The film has won many awards and is a good way for people to learn about an important part of New Zealand today.
Ihimaera is now a lecturer at the University of Auckland, and continues to write. He has written short stories, poems and novels, as well as children's stories and libretti. He has also edited many books that are full of works by other New Zealand and Maori writers. Go to any library in New Zealand and there will be books by Witi Ihimaera available for you to borrow. Most bookshops will also have his books. They are written in English that is for everyone, are not too hard to read, and are important New Zealand books.
This is why Ihimaera's books are taught in New Zealand schools and universities. If you are new to New Zealand it is also important that you read these books, because you will be able to understand more about New Zealand and the people living here, especially the first people, the Maori.