Detail from the Linguistic Society of New Zealand's Studies in Pacific Languages & Cultures, in honour of Bruce Biggs

Bruce Biggs and the revitalisation of te reo Māori

The Māori language petition for active recognition of te reo Māori was delivered to Parliament in 1972. It had over 30,000 signatures and became the starting point for a significant revitalisation of te reo Māori. 

At the time, te reo Māori revitalisation was still in its infancy at the University of Auckland, after receiving a boost during the 1950s, with Bruce Biggs — ethnographer, linguist, and champion of te reo Māori — at the helm 

Te reo Māori at the University of Auckland

Of Ngāti Maniapoto heritage, Biggs was an influential figure in the academic field of Māori Studies in Aotearoa New Zealand. It was here at the University of Auckland that he developed the first university curriculum in the study of Māori language, culture and literature, and trained the people who went on to develop similar programmes at other New Zealand universities.1  

In 1951, Biggs was the first academic to teach te reo Māori at a New Zealand university, where he taught Māori language as a section of an anthropology course, followed by a separate stage I Māori language course in 1952, at the University of Auckland.  


In 1969 his widely popular Let’s Learn Māori was published, followed by the Complete Māori Dictionary in 1966.  

Māori For Beginners was published by the New Zealand Broadcasting Service in 1972 – the same year as the Māori Language petition was delivered to Parliament. Some of the political tensions of the day can be heard in the kōrero/dialogue between speakers in its lessons.

Archive of Māori and Pacific Sound (AMPS)

Among his long list of scholarly achievements, Biggs is also credited as co-founder of the University’s Archive of Māori and Pacific Sound, a national repository of Māori music, oral histories, stories and language resources. The Archive was formally established in 1970 during his time as Chair of the Anthropology Department. His extensive field recordings and linguistics materials are deposited with the Archive to this day.  

Discover more by Bruce Biggs

TV and Radio playlist

Ngā manaakitanga

Huni Mancini, Cultural Collections Assistant, Archive of Māori and Pacific Sound


1 Andrew Pawley. Biggs, Bruce Grandison, Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 2019. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand.