At some point or another, most of us have had a crack at Where’s Wally?, systematically searching through each page and attempting to unearth the stripey-topped hitchhiker in the pom-pom hat. Within Where’s Waari? A History of the Māori through the Short Story, there is a similar game to play, however instead the reader is searching for, as editor Witi Ihimaera puts it, “the Māori as he or she has been seen in the eyes of the beholder.”
Ihimaera’s selections make for an intriguing journey, for not only has he opted to include stories from both Māori and Pakeha authors, but he has also ordered them chronologically, which allows the collection to chart the evolution of “Waari.” Waari’s ever-changing image is constantly problematic, with brazen cunning and a willingness to deceive others being held up as inherent Māori qualities in Alfred A. Grace’s “Te Wiria’s Potatoes” and Blanche Baughan’s “Pipi on the Prowl,” although a cheeky humour does shine through in Baughan’s portrayal.
The chosen stories of Katherine Mansfield and Frank Sargeson (“How Pearl Button Was Kidnapped” and “White Man’s Burden” respectively) naturally are far more sympathetic and, dare it be said, realistic, with Mansfield’s usual withering satire of commonplace attitudes lending her story extra resonance.
These stories compliment the later entries by Maori writers such as Briar-Grace Smith (“Rongomai Does Dallas”), Patricia Grace (“Ngati Kangaru”) and Ihimaera himself (“The Affectionate Kidnappers”) which allow Māori to speak for themselves, and while the image of Waari is at times dubious and elusive, taken as a whole this collection serves as a fantastic introduction to portrayals of Māori within our literary history.