WITI TAME IHIMAERA-SMILER, generally known as WITI IHIMAERA, is a New Zealand author, and is often regarded as one of the most prominent Maori writers alive.
Ihimaera was born in a town in the east of New Zealand’s North Island. He was the first Māori writer to publish both a novel and a book of short stories. He began to work as a diplomat at the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1973, and served at various diplomatic posts in Canberra, New York and Washington D.C. Ihimaera remained at the Ministry until 1989, although his time there was broken by several fellowships at the University of Otago in 1975 and Victoria University of Wellington in 1982 where he graduated with a BA. In 1990, he took up a position at the University of Auckland, where he became Professor, and Distinguished Creative Fellow in Māori Literature. He retired from this position in 2010.
In 2004, his nephew Gary Christie Lewis married Lady Davina Windsor, becoming the first Māori to marry into the British Royal Family.
In 2009 book reviewer Jolisa Gracewood detected short passages from other writers, especially from historical sources, used without acknowledgment in Ihimaera’s historical novel The Trowenna Sea, a work on the early history of Tasmania. Confronted by The Listener magazine with this evidence, Ihimaera apologized for not acknowledging the passages, claiming this was inadvertent and negligent and pointing to many pages of other sources that he had acknowledged.
The University of Auckland investigated the incident and ruled that Ihimaera’s actions did not constitute misconduct in research, as the actions did not appear to be deliberate and Ihimaera had apologized. Emeritus Professor of History Keith Sorrenson, however, said Ihimaera had admitted plagiarizing material from his works in his earlier book, The Matriarch (1986), and said the Trowenna Sea incident showed he had “learnt nothing”. Ihimaera removed the book from public sale, purchasing the remaining stock himself. A revised edition, with fuller acknowledgements, originally planned for 2010, has since been canceled.
Ihimaera’s novel, Whale Rider was made into a 2002 New Zealand-German family drama film directed by Niki Caro, starring Keisha Castle-Hughes as Kahu Paikea Apirana, a twelve-year-old Maori girl whose ambition is to become the chief of the tribe. Her grandfather Koro believes that this is a role reserved for males only. It was shot on location in Whangara, the setting of the novel.
He was made a Distinguished Companion in the New Zealand Order of Merit (equivalent to a knighthood) in 2004 for services to literature.