Maori Boy Genius
This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 5 May 2013
Every now and then I see a documentary whose message seems so important I feel I want the world to see it. Or in this case, at least, everyone in New Zealand. Because Pietra Brettkelly’s latest subject – the story of a young Maori lad from a country town who makes his way to study at Yale university – is as eye-opening as it is delightful.
Ngaa Rauuira Pumanawawhiti is the oldest of six children blessed with devoted, supportive parents who always knew their son would be special. But what is really special about Ngaa Rauuira is that he just seems like an incredibly gracious, mature and good hearted teenager – if a little more intellectually able than most 16-year olds. The pile of books by his bed says it all – of The Politics of Aristotle he enthuses “That’s pretty mean!”.
Having gained a university diploma at 13 but then been forced back into high school because of restrictions in the education system, Ngaa Rauuira applies for summer school at one of the great American universities and heads off to fill his brain with philosophy and politics of the highest order.
Your heart swells with pride that any of our number should go to Yale, but most especially a driven 16-year old from a modest family, whose straightforward belief in their son and commitment to Maori culture and traditions form a beautiful backdrop to the tale. But Ngaa Rauuira’s humility underpins it all – he rejects the “genius” label, putting his aptitude down to good memory retention that comes from Maori being borne of an oral tradition with no written language. It’s a fascinating point, but there is no doubting this kid has something else going for him.