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Whaanga, Mere
Writer's File

Mere Whaanga

Hawke's Bay - Te Matau-a-Māui
Whaanga, Mere
In brief
Mere Whaanga is a writer, an illustrator, a historian and an academic. Of Ngati Rongomaiwahine and Ngati Kahungunu descent, Whaanga has written several bilingual books for children, including The Legend of the Seven Whales of Ngai Tahu Matawhaiti: Nga Tahora Tokowhitu a Ngai Tahu Matawhaiti (1990). Her literary awards include the Choysa Bursary for Children’s Writers (1998), the Te Ha Award for Maori Writers (1991), and the Te Waka Toi New Work Grant (2002). Whaanga participates in the Writers in Schools Programme.
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Whaanga, Mere (1952-) is a writer, illustrator, historian and academic. She is of Whaanga of Ngati Rongomaiwahine and Ngati Kahungunu descent.

Mere Whaanga was born and raised in Wairoa. She completed Te Reo Maori Paetoru at Tairawhiti Polytechnic and a Graduate Diploma in Maori Development from Massey University in 1994. She completed her M Phil Maori Studies at Massey University in 2000.

Whaanga’s books for children include: The Legend of the Seven Whales, He Pakiwaitara a Ngai Tahu Matawhaiti (which was a finalist in 1990 for the NZLA Russell Clark award for illustration), and The Legend of the Seven Whales of Ngai Tahu Matawhaiti: Nga Tahora Tokowhitu a Ngai Tahu Matawhaiti (1990).

Tangaroa’s Gift: Te Koha a Tangaroa (1990) was a finalist in the 1991 AIM Children’s Book Awards, the 1991 NZLA Russell Clark Award for illustration and the NZLA Esther Glen Award for literature. Te Kooti’s Diamond: Te Taimana a Te Kooti (1991) and the text was also published in “Te Ao Marama Vol 4” (1994). Te Tiriti, The Treaty (2003) tells in picture book format how the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 became the founding agreement between the peoples of Aotearoa.

Whaanga’s writing for adults includes a novel in progress All My People, sections of which have appeared in “Te Ao Marama Vol 5” (1996) and “Homeland. Manoa 9:1”(1997). She has also written the commissioned history Bartlett – Mahia to Tawataupu (1990).

Mere Whaanga has long been associated with Iwi/hapu business and community initiatives and describes herself as interested in Maori and indigenous peoples’ development, land and resource management, the creation of training and employment opportunities for Maori as well as literature, especially Maori and children’s and contemporary Maori art.

The Treaty/Te Tiriti was listed as a 2004 Storylines Notable Non-Fiction Book.

A Carved Cloak for Tahu (Auckland University Press, 2004) tells the story of the northern Hawke's Bay hapu of Ngai Tahu Matawhaiti. It is a history that blends old and new, land and people, traditional stories and modern issues. The carvings of the wharenui Te Poho O Tahu at Iwitea, near Wairoa, are the starting point for a tribal history that goes back to Hawaiki.  A Carved Cloak for Tahu was a finalist in the history category at the 2005 Montana New Zealand Book Awards.

The Legend of the Seven Whales of Ngai Tahu Matawhaiti was re-released by Scholastic in 2005 with a new cover designed by Whaanga's daughter, Miriama. It includes the original illustrations and English text by Mere Whaanga, and the Maori text by her father Te Hore Epanaia Whaanga.

Her literary awards include Choysa Bursary for Children’s Writers 1998, Te Ha Award for Maori Writers 1991, QEII Literary fund incentive Grant 1991, Te Waka Toi New Work Grant 2002, and the Ministry of Culture and Heritage Fellowship in Maori History 2001-2003. In 2003, she received the Creative New Zealand Te Waka Toi Writer’s Grant to work on an adult novel, Only the Shadow of Desire.

In addition, Whaanga has also participated as a judge for both the New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults (1997-1998), and AIM Children’s Book Awards (1993-1994).

Mere Whaanga lives in Mahia.

Last updated: July 2009


Mere Whaanga participates in the Writers in Schools Programme.

KAPAI: Kids' Authors' Pictures and Informaton

Where do you live?
Hawkes Bay

What sorts of books do you like to read?
A wide variety of mainly fiction, my favourite authors include Keri Hulme, Witi Ihimaera, and Barbara Kingsolver.

How do you think up your ideas?
I have been inspired by stories my father told me, and by events in my mother’s life, as well as the beauty and history of our land.

What is the best thing about being an author?

I enjoy writing about the Maori world-view and sharing that through my books.

Questions from Primary School Students

Do you have any pets?

What is your favourite colour?

What is your favourite food?

What is your favourite movie?
The Whale Rider

What is the best thing about being an author?
Being able to create a different world.

How do you make books?
I do my writing on a computer, the illustrations with watercolours, then I pass these to the publisher who organises the actual making of the book.

Where do you like to go for your holidays?
Generally to visit my children (now adults), sometimes to Waikaremoana.

What was the naughtiest thing you ever did at school?
Arguing with the teacher when I thought he was being unfair.

Questions from Secondary School Students

How did you get started?
One day it occurred to me that I needed to write down the legends my father had told me, and to share them with my own children as well as children throughout New Zealand.

Who inspired you when you were getting started?
My father, who explained the carvings in Takitimu wharenui to groups of school children.

What advice would you give an aspiring young writer?
Read lots of books, listen to the stories of your parents and grandparents and write. A journal or diary is a good idea.

Is it difficult to make a living writing in New Zealand?
It is possible if you are a versatile writer. Doing jobs such as research and report writing to provide a base income that enables you to write fiction, if that is your real passion.

What were you like as a teenager?
Passionate – if I decided to do something, I generally did it whole-heartedly. I believed that I could do anything, so long as I put my mind to it.

Is there anything else you can tell us about yourself?

I am a Maori woman who returned to education when I was 40. I have a passion for learning, and doing tertiary study as a mature student was very enjoyable. The best thing during the years of study, and in work I have done since was being able to exchange ideas, and to learn about and interact with other indigenous peoples.

July 2023
July 2023