From Pepeha to print: How Designworks is turning a Māori oral tradition into art

Technology has been used in a myriad of ways to increase the use of Te Reo Māori, but Designworks is taking it back to basics with a simple-but-beautiful way of encouraging use of our native language. It has created a not-for-profit, Pepeha, which takes a Māori traditional way of introduction that has been used for centuries and adds a design twist, producing personalised prints of each person’s pepeha – or a summary of who they are, who their family is and what part of New Zealand they come from.

Designworks design director Anzac Tasker says the not-for-profit initiative is the firm’s way of giving back after being fortunate enough to tell New Zealand stories for over 40 years.

“Throughout those decades we’ve learned how powerful design can be when paired with rich storytelling,” Tasker says. “Each Pepeha has a unique story to it, and is expressed through the names of this land and the people within it. We felt a real need to do these names justice, so designing a bespoke typeface to house and present these stories was a big part of the project. We consider typography to be the waka of our language, so it made sense for it to be the core design component to express our collective identity.”

The way the process works acts as both an educational experience, and a way to create a decorative piece that can be hung on the wall of work or home. Via the Pepeha site, users can develop their own personalised introduction by entering their name and selecting where they are from geographically, as well as which mountain and body of water is closest to them.

A print is then produced with both the Te Reo Māori and English versions of a Pepeha, which can be downloaded for free as an image or printed and framed as a more permanent artwork.

“The concept and meaning behind a Pepeha is so beautiful and unique to both the individual delivering it and to New Zealand’s cultural identity,” Tasker says. “We wanted to pay tribute to its strength and significance by giving people the opportunity to share it in a well-crafted and considered way with the power of design.”

All funds made from the prints sold will go straight back into the not-for-profit initiative and towards funding further projects to help Te Reo Māori thrive, such as taking the prints into schools.

Since the website launched, Tasker says there has been a massive, positive response, with more than 500,000 website impressions to the Pepeha site in the first 10 days.

“The majority of the feedback has been around how people are feeling a real sense of connection to their roots as a result of creating their Pepeha,” he says. “For us, understanding our past and rich history will only provide more depth and clarity for us as a nation, moving forward.”

For those who get involved, Tasker says he hopes the pieces will sit in pride of place in people’s homes and spark conversations that speak to the heritage of the individual and their story.

“We also hope it will encourage the owner to deepen their own understanding of where they come from and learn about the significance of the beautiful names of Aotearoa.”

Or, as he put in Te Reo:

Koinei tā Aotearoa whakamihi.

This is how New Zealand introduces itself.

Mā te mahitahi ka ea.

Together we can achieve great things.

Follow Pepeha on Instagram to keep up with its journey – @pepeha, or check out the website here

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