May 8, 2021

Maori News & Indigenous Views

The Mana story by Derek Fox

9 min read

“I still remember when we published Mana number one. We were pretty chuffed with ourselves.”

It was just before Christmas 1992 and we had just produced this 100-page colour glossy magazine telling Maori stories; stories wed chosen and written and told in our way nobody got to question us or tell us what to write or how to write it there were no gatekeepers, just us.

It was heady stuff.

Mana is and always has been privately owned, there are no grants or subsidies or Sponsors, drat it! Back then we paid for it out of our own pockets.

We knew we had to attract advertisers as well as readers in order to survive. I recall shortly after number one came out, running into a woman who was in the advertising industry and proudly handing her a copy and asking if shed like to take space in the next one for her clients.

I remember her gingerly – and it seemed reluctantly taking the mag, quickly flicking through it and handing it back. I see its your first one, give me a call if you get to six. Well here we are at 100, I havent seen that woman since, and I suspect she has long since quit the industry.

But how did we get here and what happened along the way?

Mana the Maori magazine for all New Zealanders was conceived in Rotorua one day in the latter half of 1992. Im not sure if anyone made a note of the date at the time we didnt seem to do things like that back then.

The owners and the senior staff of Mana Maori Media were sitting round chewing the fat. We had already spent a couple of years broadcasting a half hour nightly programme on National Radio from just after 6 through till 6.30pm, Monday to Friday.

Even if I say it myself it was a great show and broke many new stories about Maori and kaupapa Maori. It also broke down barriers of what Maori news might sound like, introduced humour and Maori language into the news, and gave stories a chance to breathe and be told in their fullness, not reduced to a sound bite. Other news organisations were forced to listen to it because of the content. I knew people who listened as they drove home from work and despite having reached home before the show was over found they had to stay in their cars until it finished.

So with that under our belts and the odd TV programme, we started talking about print.

I suggested a newspaper. But co-founder Gary Wilson, far wiser than me in these matters, plumped for a magazine.

Looking back over the last 99 issues is a great journalistic revelation. There is an amazing body of work and thousands of stories; many of them in time will be seen as the first cut of the modern Maori history of this country, told and photographed as it happened.

Its been suggested to me that there is a book in the covers alone.

Issue one wouldnt make the cut in the modern scheme of magazine covers thinking but it is a slice of history now. There is the late Whina Cooper glaring through the lens and into our eyes and All Black idol of the time Johnny Timu. And then illustrating the Kohanga Reo story is a picture of one of my daughters and her mates leaning on the fence of their kohanga in Rotorua. In June she will be 22 years old.

The list of people who have written for the magazine over the last couple of decades reads like a whos who of Maori journalism and commentators. At some time or other almost every senior Maori reporter or writer on Maori kaupapa has contributed to Mana. For much of the magazines life Gary Wilsons hand was on the tiller.

Cover stories have featured Maori in almost every field of endeavour. People like Mira Szaszy and Merimeri Penfold, Pakariki Harrison. Our second issue featured Piri Sciascias elegantly mokoed bum and buttocks. Tame Iti made the cover twice, once in a feature on his life and upbringing and the second as a spectre in the mists of Tuhoe on the story about the infamous police terrorist raids. Te Arikinui Te Atairangikaahu the diminutive and dignified leader of the Kingitanga made it twice too. She adorned the cover of Mana 50 and again when she joined her ancestors and had the biggest tangi this country has ever seen and which was telecast round the world.

Norm Hewitt was set to be our cover boy for his efforts in winning Dancing with the Stars but just before we went to print Michael Campbell won the US Open golf tournament. By good luck we Managed to get both of them together and they shared the cover of Mana 65.

The man who has been named the next Governor-General of New Zealand Lieutenant-General Jerry Mateparae was to have been our cover guy when he was the first Maori appointed head of the defence forces, but he was bumped when my whanaunga and venerable actor – Wi Kuki Kaa died. We secured a magnificent image of him in character for his role in the movie River Queen too tempting to ignore.

We hope to have Governor-General Jeremiah Mateparae on a future cover.

Sports stars have made the cover many times, so have actors, poets, artists, many maybe too many politicians, and then there have been the unusual.

Like Phyllis Tarawhiti a woman who spent 11 years in a Thai prison the notorious Bangkok Hilton for trying to smuggle heroin out of Thailand. My older brother Peter lived in Thailand for many years and when he heard about Phyllis began visiting her in jail. On her release she did her first interview with Mana.

The story clearly annoyed one of our loyal readers who wrote me a letter saying she intended cancelling her subscription to Mana because she felt that by telling Phyllis story we were condoning the wrong she had done. I assured her that we werent and in fact Phyllis told us her story because she didnt want other people doing what she did. But I dont know whether or not I convinced our reader.

The only New Zealander to win a Victoria Cross since World War II also made the cover. Willie Apiata has the stuff that heroes are made of. Hes almost too copybook. Not because I dont believe that he didnt deserve the honour quite the contrary. But here is a small town country boy from humble beginnings, with Maori whakapapa, brought up hunting and fishing and playing rugby. Hes recruited into one of the top three Special Forces in the world, and that unit is probing well inside hostile territory in Afghanistan when it is attacked in the early hours of the morning. In the furious action that follows Willie Apiata performs well over and above the call of duty and is awarded one of the worlds rarest medals. Copybook hero.

What do you say when you go and interview someone like that? We met in the SAS headquarters building outside Papakura. PR consultants had worked on Willie for days beforehand on what to expect and how to behave, his commanding officer sat in on the interview. Im picking that he faced all sorts of questions about the action in which he proved his bravery; but I didnt ask any of that. Instead I asked him what sort of kai he liked, he relaxed. I learnt he pretty much liked anything in fact that was part of the attraction for him of his job the travel to exotic places and the equally exotic kai but oh there was one thing he didnt like beetroot!

Something everyone who read that story seems to remember!

I suppose some of our detractors will say that we havent featured many villains in Mana, and I guess the answer to that goes right back to the editorial in Mana one, and our reason for starting this publication nearly 20 years ago. You see it struck us then that the one area the Pakeha media was doing a great job was in telling the world about Maori villains so well that there was seldom if any room for Maori heroes and good news stories about Maori, or telling people about the dirty deals handed out to Maori in our early shared history and why Treaty settlements are not handouts but small very small attempts at trying to put past wrongs right.

I may never forget the news reports on the day that the Waitangi Tribunal report on the Muriwhenua peoples claims came out. We actually never heard what the claims involved and what the Tribunal had said about it; but we did learn that a senior government ministers view was that, The country cant afford it.

Mana magazine has never been afraid to point out when the government whether National or Labour led have wronged Maori. We seem to be the only ones who report in full what the UNs Special Rapporteurs have said about the ongoing treatment of Maori. We continue to call the Maori All Blacks the Maori All Blacks despite the rugby unions attempt to downgrade them to New Zealand Maori.

There have been times in the last 99 issues that up to 140 000 people have read Mana.

Naturally our luck hasnt been so good that that many people actually bought the magazine, but it is likely that we could register with the Guinness Book of Records for the highest pass on rate of any magazine in the world.

A normal pass on rate is three or four; we have been known to exceed a dozen. That means one of you buys the magazine and another 12 or more read it.

We have had and still have many loyal advertisers who have been with us for years and we really appreciate your support. But we have never reached the dizzy heights of having the sort of advertising support we have dreamed of. And it has always amazed me that a bank or an airline or a car company or an oil company hasnt wanted to attract your attention and custom, or that companies that sell makeup or appliances or travel havent wanted your custom either; especially given that the latest figures out show that Maori now make up and contribute $36 billion to the countrys annual economy. Maybe your moneys no good?

The magazine is well read round this country and in many places abroad too. In a survey, which established that there are probably,

125 000 Maori living in Australia. And in response to the question, How do you keep in touch with news from home? the answer most given was, By reading Mana magazine.

Quality is a word we often hear when people talk about Mana, and we like to hear that. But shortly after we started publishing, a great friend and supporter of ours, the late Bishop Manuhuia Bennett, talked to me about the mag one day commenting on the quality of the paper and production of Mana, and pointed out that we could save on costs by cutting back on the quality maybe even go back to black and white.

I told him I would rather stop publishing altogether than do that.

I like to think that my very dear senior friend would agree with me now. He came from a time when Maori had to make compromises to get ahead.

Manuhuia is only one of the many Maori heroes we have lost in the time of this magazine. We have told some of their stories and many of our everyday salt of the earth people when we have been able to in our Maimai Aroha section.

Many have been personal friends a legacy of having worked for more than 40 years as a journalist. Ive lost my mother and sister in the life of this magazine too and far too many friends and whanaunga. Although now in his 88th year my father soldiers on.

When we began back in 1992 we never made plans to reach 100 issues, we just started telling Maori stories. We have seen many Pakeha corporate-funded magazines rise and fall in our time. I have no idea whether we will still be around to reach 200 issues, but I wouldnt dismiss the idea.

Mana 100
May 2011

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