One of the theoretical principles of Tikanga, the Māori way of doing things, is Rangatiratanga. In this musing, I look at how this perspective can be identified in an early childhood setting.

I am attempting to unpack all the theoretical principles of Tikanga to further develop my bicultural practice. So far I have written short reflections on wairuatanga and manaakitanga. Once again I found that there doesn't seem to be any singular meaning to rangatiratanga from a Pākehā point of view, but from what I can gather, it incorporates a number of different meanings in different contexts in the English language.


In an ECE setting, one can establish the meaning of rangatiratanga as a reflection of the attributes of a chieftain. These are described in Ngä Taonga Whakaako, the underlying theoretical principles of Tikanga published by Ngaroma Williams with Mary-Elizabeth Broad from the 'Building Kaupapa Mäori into early childhood education project' as, “humility, leadership by example, generosity, altruism, diplomacy and knowledge of benefit to the centre, service, association and/or organisation” (

The Māori Dictionary offers a number of other words to relate to, and include self-determination, self-management, right to exercise authority, ownership, and leadership of a social group. Tino Rangatiratanga is described as 'The Principle of Self-determination' and relates to sovereignty, autonomy, control, self-determination and independence. In a talk by Grant Brookes on 'Tino Rangatiratanga: What’s it got to do with Pākehā?' he says that, “Rangatiratanga is said to be the quality of being a chief. The term “rangatiratanga” appears in writing in the 1835 Declaration by the United Tribes of New Zealand, where it is normally translated to mean sovereign independence” ( Wiri Central School defines this principle from an ako viewpoint as it states, “By demonstrating rangatiratanga we will develop into confident individuals able to lead our own leaning and determine our own destiny”.This concept is similar to what Te Whāriki describes as, “This curriculum is founded on the following aspirations for children: to grow up as confident and competent learners and communicators, healthy in mind, body, and spirit, secure in the sense of belonging and in the knowledge that they make a valid contribution to society” (Ministry of Education, 1996, p. 9).

Independence is a key word in Te Whāriki in relation to empowerment, or Whakamana, as, “Early childhood care and education services assist children and their families to develop independence and to access the resources necessary to enable them to direct their own lives' (Ministry of Education, 1996, p. 40). In theory, this principle of empowerment to encourage children to become independent in their learning is similar to acknowledging the rangatiratanga of tamariki as their right in an early childhood setting. “The principle of empowerment relates to The New Zealand Curriculum Framework principles of encouraging children to become independent and lifelong learners, of providing equal educational opportunities for all, and of recognising the significance of Te Tiriti o Waitangi” (Ministry of Education, 1996, p. 40).

Rangatiratanga also relates to services offering quality early childhood services to enable a sense of individuality and leadership within the environment. Personally, I am an advocate for mixed aged centres where pepi and tamariki are not separated and offer a platform for tuakana - teina relationships. Younger children learn from the older children in the environment, just as the older children learn to be more tolerant of their younger counterparts. Leadership qualities are promoted as the older children interact with the younger ones, and a sense of belonging and individuality is allowed to flourish and grow.

A chieftain is responsible for the protection and well-being of his people and if he has the leadership skills, he will administer them effectively to ensure that his people benefit and thrive. The kaiako in an early childhood setting has a similar responsibility, as he is an advocate for the children to establish a positive environment for their learning, development, and well-being. I thank Mary-Liz Broadley for suggesting some focus areas for rangatiratanga during a bicultural hui at my centre. I have attempted to relate these areas to learning in an early childhood setting with guidance from The Southern Cross Campus Charter (2013). These focus areas are:

  1. Mana Mokopuna – Mana is a Māori word that expresses the worth of a person, and mokopuna is translated as a grandchild in English. The learner, or child, thrives on quality education focused on his potential in an early childhood setting. The child is a reflection of his ancestors and has their traits.

  2. Mana Wairua – The self-esteem of tamariki is displayed in their demeanour. Personally, I pay particular attention to a child's demeanour when he is sharing a story during mat time, and feel that this expresses his own self-esteem. The strand of well-being is an acknowledgement and recognition of spirituality in a sense, as the goal is for a child to "experience an environment where their emotional well-being is nurtured" (Ministry of Education, 1996). Empowerment. self-worth and self-esteem can all be viewed from a spiritual point of view to recognise the principle of holistic development.

  3. Mana TangataTangata can be translated into English to mean 'person', and mana tangata reflects a holistic approach and development of the physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being of tamariki. In an early childhood setting tamariki embrace aspects of manaakitanga.

  4. Mana Reo – The development and competence of oral language. This means the development of Te Reo Māori and English in our bicultural setting in Aotearoa. At our centre we sing in both languages often before morning and afternoon tea.

  5. Mana Tikanga – Refers to tamariki having a sense of security in ancestral links through an awareness of whakapapa. A simple mihimihi for tamariki sets the stepping stone towards their awareness and realisation of who they are, and where they come from. By simple I mean, Ko 'people/tribe' taku iwi. Ko 'home' taku kainga. Ko 'name' taku ingoa. This offers tamariki a sense of identity in the bicultural environment of Aotearoa.

  6. Mana MātaurangaMātauranga can be translated in English to mean 'knowledge'. In an early childhood setting it is important that tamariki develop an understanding of Māori views. This can be done through storytelling of myths and legends that uplift a child's 'mana'.

  7. Mana a kura – Kura can be translated in English to mean 'school'. This focus area suggests that the learner is stimulated during the day in an early childhood centre. This is a setting for we teachers to provide, to ensure that holistic learning takes place in an ever-changing environment during different seasons throughout the year.

In conclusion, if the aspiration of whānau were that their child develops the attributes of a chieftain, I would do a child study and observe the individual's strengths and dispositions, and relate them to key competencies. For example, if a child were to show curiosity and be interested, a teacher could identify that behaviour as a sign of interest in the learning opportunities in the environment. This disposition of curiosity and being interested also leads to interacting socially with other children, and a competency of relationships with others can be identified and documented. Essential skills and attitudes along with self-regulation are important foundations to develop in an early childhood setting on a pathway to develop the attributes of a chieftain - rangatiratanga.


Māori Dictionary –
Ngä Taonga Whakaako – Underlying Theoretical Principles of Tikanga.
Principles of Kaupapa Māori.
Southern Cross Campus Charter (2013). Te Kura Māori o Ngā Tapuwae.
Te Whāriki. He Whāriki Mātauranga mō ngā Mokopuna o Aotearoa (1996). Early Childhood Curriculum. Learning Media, Wellington.
Tino Rangatiratanga: What’s it got to do with Pākehā?
Wiri Central School – Rangatiratanga.