From board books to PhD and beyond , Nā te pukapuka ki te tohu kairangi atu

Ahorangi Tūhono/Associate Professor Darryn Joseph's impact on reo Māori learning, literacy, creativity, intellectual development and output is immense.

Without its use a language cannot live and thrive – languages are living things

2022 marked the 50th anniversary of the Māori Language Petition (Te Petihana) presented to Parliament with the acknowledgement that te reo Māori was an endangered language. With over 30,000 signatures, this was the first major step in the revival of te reo Māori as a living language in Aotearoa New Zealand. Without its use from the earliest stages of language learning and literacy to its intellectual and creative proliferation, a language cannot live and thrive, and languages are living things.

Ahorangi Tūhono/Associate Professor Darryn Joseph’s impact on reo Māori learning, literacy, creativity, intellectual development and output is immense. A thorough language revival needs not only speakers but also teachers, especially writers and storytellers. Joseph embodies all these roles.

Joseph’s quiet, unassuming, yet prolific contribution to reo Māori creativity in Aotearoa is impressive. Huia Publishing commissioned him initially to write a Sci-Fi young adult series in 2001. Since then, he has written and translated board books, created reo learning workbooks, a comic book, and Fantasy young adult chapter books. His award-winning children’s books are in all Māori immersion schools and other school libraries and bookstores across Aotearoa.

Alongside his contribution to the reo Māori development of youth in Aotearoa, he was the third Massey University PhD candidate to complete a reo Māori thesis and the fifth nationwide to do so, thus paving the way for others to complete the highest degree of tertiary qualifications in reo Māori. He contributed to the Western academic acknowledgement of the reo intellectual capacity with non-speakers and their institutions. Furthermore, his PhD thesis was also a rigorous dive into te reo Māori, where he codified figures of speech and created the terminology for tropes and their functions – thereby furthering the deep grammar of the language.

Joseph also teaches te reo and reo Māori creative writing at Massey University from first-year undergraduate all the way to PhD. In addition to his institutional contributions, he publishes award-winning reo Māori adult fiction, acts as editor for children’s and adult literary publications and successfully runs and judges reo Māori literary competitions.

Intellectual and academic contribution

Reo Māori users have long understood that te reo embodies a metaphoric figurative beauty with creative and intellectual depth. Yet, as the typical colonisation story goes, the language was devalued and almost lost due to systematic and systemic oppression. Dr Joseph’s PhD thesis, He Kete Momo Kīpeha: Māori Text-types and Figures of Speech, is a seminal work that codified reo Māori into a clearly articulated grammar of intellectual, creative and literary use and possibility.

Ahorangi Tūhono Joseph has also been instrumental in the development and teaching of the reo Māori curriculum at Massey University’s Te Pūtahi-a-Toi. This curriculum – enhanced by its deep roots in te ao Māori, mātauranga and personalised pedagogy – continues to change the lives of his students. One student wrote to Joseph to “[acknowledge he embodies] Māori emotional intelligence from the ancestors” and that Joseph’s teaching brought the student to a spiritual place where “he is now more resolute to stand up as a Māori.” In another piece of unsolicited feedback, a colleague who enrolled as a reo Māori student wrote to say, “I have a huge respect for the way you teach. Not only did I get benefit from the course materials, but I also feel I’ve benefitted professionally from observing you.”

Read the Stuff article, Empowering Māori teachers and leaders of tomorrow

Creative writing

Creative writing students embarking on a formal writing, learning journey are often not brave or confident enough to submit their work for publication or competition. As a creative writing instructor, Ahorangi Tūhono Joseph incorporates real-world, immediate impact into the curriculum by supporting student authors to submit their work for publication and competitions. For example, he supported two postgraduate creative writing students to submit their short stories to the 2022 Te Tauihu Short Story Awards competition. They both won third equal in the Te Reo Māori Awarded Entries.

Adolescent reo Māori readers, thanks to Joseph, can access exciting fantasy (Hewa) and science fiction (RT3) chapter books and series. Hewa is about a boy who wants to help protect his family and friends from a baddie, involves American military software, a futuristic battleship called the USS Barack Obama and artificial intelligence gaining sentience and self-determination and won the 2010 LIANZA Kura Pounamu Award. RT3 is the first sci-fi trilogy written in reo Māori. The availability of exciting genre fiction for avid Māori readers is crucial for continued literary and creative engagement with te reo.

As an editor and guest judge at Toitoi – A Journal for Young Writers and Artists, Joseph has helped develop the proliferation of reo Māori submissions to the publication. Each issue publishes and celebrates literature and art by children in reo and ao Māori.

He also organised and ran the 2022 reo Māori flash fiction Matariki writing competition, which saw 120 submissions of karakia, poetry, and stories from children ages 5 to 13 across Aotearoa. Joseph’s dedication to responding “to every submission personally, encouraging the young writer to continue on their te reo learning journey,” Publisher Charlotte Gibbs says, “was very inspiring.” The personalised, interactive feedback that Joseph offers to these young, aspiring reo Māori writers no doubt has a significant impact on the excitement for and willingness to persevere with their reo literary journey. Many of these student submitters’ literacy and literary journeys likely began with Joseph’s board books too.

The award-winning picture books, some individually and some co-written and translated by Joseph, offer young children visual, literary kōrero pūrākau, solidifying in print for homes and libraries mātauranga, te ao and reo Māori. These texts provide a history and worldview for Aotearoa’s children while building reo Māori literacy from the earliest stages of learning.

Joseph also joined Massey University Press recently as a reo Māori literature expert on the editorial board, continuing his ongoing support for the proliferation of reo Māori mātātuhi, growing new Māori authors in the Press and their own Māori language works.

Joseph is currently editing the reo works for Hiwa, a Māori contemporary short stories volume, edited by Paula Morris and Darryn Joseph, to be published in 2023 by Auckland University Press. The reo works are exciting, ranging from ghost stories to whānau getting prepared for a mau rākau grading to the hard-hitting life of a Māori sex worker on the Karangahape streets.

Image gallery of a collection of Darryn's work and collaborations

Literacy and cultural contribution

Adult tauira of reo Māori, whether Māori or non-Māori, often find the learning journey to be intimidating and emotional as well as exciting and even spiritual. Having a dedicated, supportive kaiako is crucial to ako success. Hōhepa, with no honorific, how Joseph’s students know him, has consistently embodied that very dedication and support. One student articulates his impact well, saying that he and his co-teacher “created such an inclusive environment where students of all abilities felt comfortable to participate…an environment in which taking risks and making mistakes was encouraged…. That Hōhepa ended up doing two hours more online time than planned each week and an extra lecture in week 13 is evidence of his huge commitment to his ākonga and [our] learning.”

For our children growing up in our Tiriti-led, bicultural nation, the embedment of te ao and reo Māori into the school curriculum is a crucial development, not only to revitalise the reo but to also return respect and prominence to the indigenous kaitiaki of Aotearoa New Zealand. Russell Street School in Papaioea was fortunate to have Joseph as a Board Trustee, where he supported the development of cultural events, such as their Matariki celebration. Perhaps most importantly, Joseph was instrumental in the school’s development of Poutokomanawa, the initially three bilingual classrooms and curriculum for the school, which still exist years later.

As a twice-elected Board member, Joseph wrote the two karakia used at Palmerston North Intermediate Normal School (PNINS) to start and end the day. The students unpack these karakia as part of their learning. Aspects of these karakia are written into the school’s Passport and discussed with the parents twice a year. In those two years on the board, Joseph translated the school’s values – māia, ngana, whakapai, aumangea, tūhono – and other significant communication into reo Māori, which are posted across the school grounds. He was instrumental in creating and developing the Ahurea Māori group, which holds language, culture and identity as its main focus for Māori tauira and their whānau. Principal Hamish Ruawai explains, “staff and the community knowing of his leadership contribution lifted the mana of Ahurea, and the group has been successful.” Ruawai recalls that in Joseph’s speeches, his “personality and sense of humour were phenomenal and had everyone – a 1000 people – in stitches.” Joseph has become an “ongoing kaumatua” for the PNINS Principal and staff, as Ruawai says he “helped and guided us along the way. We now have four or five staff speakers at the school.” With great respect and affection, Principal Ruawai says, he “left his mark, and it is in good shape. He has definitely left a legacy for things to come.”

Since 2001, Storylines Trust has provided space for New Zealand’s children’s books and authors. The trust hosts an annual Story Tour for authors to visit schools and engage with student readers. Joseph, often recognised by his pen name Tākuta Hohepa, who has toured twice, claims he is always the “wild card” among the invited authors. However, Matua Mike Wallace from Whanganui Intermediate, after Joseph’s 2017 tour, thanked Joseph for his engagement, saying, “Every student was glued to what he had to say… He had books for students to touch and some that you could see were his personal notes for his next set of books. My students came back to class very excited. We discussed his presentation for 38 minutes!! Wow, this is big for my class to stay focused on an author/person for an hour and a half!!”


Joseph cites his literary whakaaweawe to many inspirational figures in te ao Māori, and two key Māori children’s authors stand out for him, Kāterina Mataira and Peti Nohotima.

Kāterina Mataira was the first to write a novel in te reo Māori, co-founded Te Ataarangi as a programme to teach reo Māori and wrote many children’s books in te reo Māori. Her daughter, Katarina, who Joseph judges with on the Storylines Te Kāhurangi Kāterina Te Heikōkō Mataira Award, discusses the rongomaiwhiti of tamariki and rangatahi and the importance of giving them stories that tell them who they are through kōrero pūrākau. The in-depth understanding of the Māori language, Māori storytelling and written output of Peti Nohotima is phenomenal. Kaituhi like Mataira and Nohotima created space for the next wave of reo Māori writers, and Joseph clearly understood the assignment.

Joseph said, “Just the other day a kuia grabbed me and said, ‘Ki te Moe Aotearoa! My mokopuna loves your story, Darryn! He makes me read it every night and he's started putting all the animals to bed in Māori.’ Pō rarau e te Pī! Night night, Bee.” Joseph is over the moon that his written kupu impacts the community.

Ahorangi Tūhono Joseph has made an extraordinary impact across the academic, educational and literary spheres – he shows no signs of slowing down. Massey University is proud and fortunate to have such a dedicated mind and prolific talent. His work will continue to impact readers, writers and reo tauira of all ages for a long time to come.

Darryn Joseph

Dr Darryn Joseph

Ngāti Maniapoto

An award-winning author and expert lecturer, Darryn Joseph helps students and readers grow in confidence with te reo Māori. Darryn has been writing in te reo since the early 2000s. His creative works include young adult fiction and stories for tamariki. Darryn also writes on topics such as Māori immersion education, how to compose haka, and how to write poetry in te reo Māori.

UN Sustainable Development Goals