From cruise-boat crooner to doctor

24 November 2017

Ash Puriri web2
Ash Puriri used a kaupapa Māori methodology for his PhD.

You may know Ash Puriri as Barry White or as a cruise-boat crooner, but these days you need to put ‘Doctor’ in front of his name.

Ash is graduating from the University of Waikato next month having completed his PhD, a doctorate that has broken new ground in business research.

“My PhD is an absolute first in terms of exercising an emancipated indigenous methodology for a business doctorate,” he says.  “Management has long been considered and dominated by a Western methodology, and now I’ve introduced a dedicated cultural empirical research methodolgy, kaupapa Māori methodology.”

Ash’s research looked at Māori indigenous tourism and examined the cultural values and processes that a whānau would encounter and engage in when developing a Māori tourism business. He says he worked with a ‘high-spec’ Māori family that included siblings, kaumatua and was intergenerational.

He says with kaupapa Māori research you’re not a fly on the wall, but rather you’ve got to eat with your research participants, sometimes drive the situation, but no way lead the research. “That’s what the whānau do. They’ll bubble away in the right direction with rich cultural values guiding the way.

“The challenges with my research were mostly about educating the minds of my senior supervisors and advisors who were used to doing what they considered  ‘normal’ in the world of business. I moved right outside that box, challenged it and showed a different way. I told them ‘this is the way kaumatua will control the meetings’. Māori like to grow relationships and prefer to do it face to face, they must trust and know who they’re talking to, know their whakapapa, their connectedness to the researcher, and slowly the doors of information are unlocked.”

Part of Ash’s research included mapping all the Māori tourism operators in New Zealand. “There are concentrated pockets, in the Far North, Rotorua and another sprinkle around Kaikoura. But I think there is so much opportunity for growth. We’ve come a long way from the three ‘h’s – hongi, haka and hangi, with Māori performing as low-paid labour. Tribes have had substantial settlements and they’ve all articulated that they want to grow a Māori tourism strategy, so the question is always about capacity,” he says.

“What’s needed is training and education, management and investment, right through the supply chain. Education plays a pivotal role.”

Ash, Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Rongomai-wahine, Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Ngāti Porou and Ngai Tuhoe, is a veteran of cruise ship entertainment and still oversees folkloric shows on the cruise ships covering the South Pacific, but it may be he becomes more closely involved with academia in the future. Meeting the demand for Māori tourism development has required developing a tourism course for Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi, integrated with the cruise ship industry, and he's also exploring opportunities with the University of Waikato.

Ash Puriri will graduate with his PhD at Te Kohinga Mārama Marae on Monday 11 December at 2pm. He says he’ll be well supported, with a lot of whānau travelling from the East Coast for his special day.

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