Add to collection
  • + Create new collection
  • Position: Associate Professor, Department of Software Engineering, University of Waikato.
    Field: Language technologies

    Associate Professor Te Taka Keegan (Waikato-Maniapoto, Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Whakaaue) is a senior lecturer in computer science at the University of Waikato, Co-Director of AI Institute Maori and also Associate Dean of Māori. His research interests are in traditional navigation, Māori language technologies, indigenous language interfaces and multilingual usability.

    Rights: Dr Te Taka Keegan

    Dr Te Taka Keegan

    Dr Te Taka Keegan is a senior lecturer in computer science at the University of Waikato.

    Te Taka had an unusual career path that has involved working as a hardware engineer, returning to university to do a degree all in Māori and to continue his study with a master’s thesis on traditional navigation. He completed a PhD in 2007 titled Indigenous Language Usage in a Digital Library: He Hautoa Kia Ora Tonu Ai.

    For his master’s thesis, Te Taka studied traditional Māori navigation and had the opportunity to help rig and sail a traditional double-hull canoe (waka) from Hawaii to Rarotonga.

    One of the purposes of doing that research was to tell our stories formally, explain to our children that these things … are reality – it’s not like it couldn’t happen.

    The waka voyage: how Te Taka got involved

    While at Waikato University pursuing a degree through Te Tohu Paetahi (Māori immersion stream), Te Taka did a paper on the traditional Māori waka, which was taught by Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr. This, together with his interest in paddling, led him to do his master’s on traditional Māori navigation. He’s says, “I basically wrote this thesis because I just wanted to find a topic that would be fun and I thought sailing on the oceans for 30 days would be fun.”

    But there was a deeper motivation for his study as well. “I wanted … to make our people aware that some of these [early journeys across the Pacific] aren’t just legends … these things actually happened. One of the purposes of doing that research was to tell our stories formally, explain to our children that these things … are reality – it’s not like it couldn’t happen … I feel that I have achieved what I wanted to do – prove that it was quite a possible thing to do.”

    Earning his place on the voyage

    Te Taka soon found out that actually getting to go on a trip as one of the sailors wasn’t easy. A Māori saying goes: Mā muri ka eke mai ki mua (When you are on the marae, if you want to get to the front, you should spend your time working in the kitchen first). That was Te Taka’s philosophy.

    Rights: Te Taka Keegan

    Te Aurere waka

    The waka Te Aurere was built using traditional designs and sailed from Hawaii to Rarotonga in 1995 using early Polynesian navigation techniques.

    With the help of Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr, who was his teacher and the source of his knowledge about sailing, he travelled to Taipā (in Northland, New Zealand) on weekends for 18 months to assist with rigging the traditional waka (Te Aurere) designed and built by Hector Busby. In the process, he learnt about traditional Māori navigational skills. He eventually secured a place on the sea voyage from Hawaii to Rarotonga. Read more about the Waka Tapu voyage.

    Preparing for the journey: researching navigation

    Te Taka used several approaches to get more background knowledge on traditional Māori navigation:

    • Asking people who had any kind of traditional navigational or star knowledge. Te Taka said this was difficult “because it was so long ago that our ancestors were doing this kind of travel. People have settled on the land and the knowledge of the oceans is lost.”
    • Turning to what had been written. He spent a lot of time reading books by Elsdon Best, John White and Te Matorohanga and any other related material that he could find. He also searched traditional stories for information.
    • Studying SkyGlobe (a computer program with information on stars). He spent a lot of time looking at how the stars were moving and relating the stars that would be relevant for his trip. He would then go outdoors and identify the stars in the sky. He admits that he started from scratch with regards to his star knowledge.

    Find out more about traditional Māori navigation here.

    Other work

    He’s worked with Google on various projects, including the translation of the Google Search interface into Māori. In 2009 he spent six months with Google as a visiting scientist assisting with Google Translator for Māori. He has also worked with Microsoft keyboard, Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office in Māori. Watch this video on YouTube in which Te Taka speaks of the importance of Māori language and the Microsoft Māori language packs.

    When he is not teaching, Te Take works on other research activities for te reo Māori in technology.

    In 2022 he was appointed Co-Chair to the board of the Science for Technical Innovation – Te Ao Pūtaiao me Te Ao Hangarau, National Science Challenge (SfTI), see the press release here.

    Useful links

    Look at Associate Professor Te Taka Keegan's profile on the University of Waikato Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato website.

    Watch this video clip in which Mau Piailug, who navigated Te Aurere on its trip from Rarotonga to New Zealand, explains how he used traditional methods to extricate the waka from a storm.

    Dr Te Taka Keegan (FCMS) won the Prime Minister’s 2017 Supreme Award for Excellence in Tertiary Teaching for his unique teaching style. Find out more in this article.

    This article is based on information current in 2011 and 2018.

      Published 2 May 2011, Updated 1 April 2022 Referencing Hub articles
          Go to full glossary
          Download all