A strong desire to reconnect whānau to their roots and foster a sense of pride in Māori history and culture, is at the heart of Maania Tealei’s small Timaru-based photography business, and now with Te Pūtahitanga o Te Waipounamu WAVE 13 funding, Maania has been able to grow her business significantly.

Maania Tealei Photography was born out of Maania’s desire to record her own tamariki – Leilani, 7 and Iosefa, 5 – in a way that would make them proud of their dual Tuvalu/Māori heritage. It was a hobby-based beginning that, with WAVE funding, has grown into a professional enterprise that offers other whānau the opportunity to take part in a uniquely Māori photographic experience.

“I started out in our lounge and garage but once others saw my work, it took on a life of its own,” says Maania.

“I identified quite early on that no one else in the Timaru area was providing photography with a tikanga base and I saw that as my point of difference.”

Maania (Ngāi Tahu), says WAVE funding has enabled her to set up a much more visible studio in the heart of Timaru, and to rebrand with a new logo and business cards. Business mentoring and support from Te Pūtahitanga also helped with business planning, making pitches and organising a growth pathway.

“The whole funding process helped me define my own business goals and it kick-started Maania Tealei Photography in ways that would have taken me five years to achieve otherwise,” she says.

“It has also given me a renewed confidence and a much stronger sense of my own self-worth and wellbeing. I didn’t have a lot to do with my Māori culture when I was growing up but this whole journey – and wanting to step into the Te Ao Māori space for my children – has changed my life. I’ve found ‘a whole village’ and I’m now heavily involved with kapa haka, te reo Māori lessons, weaving and kohanga reo at Te Aitarakihi in Timaru. That has helped my wairua and learning enormously and along with my husband, Seete and our tamariki,we have a whole new sense of pride and empowerment.”

In the course of those cutural interactions, Maania has grown her photography business to not only include Māori portraits (with whānau wearing kākahu and tā moko), but also candid captures of key marae events like pōwhiri, whānau unveiling, personal celebrations and festivals. She describes them as “moments in time that tell a story of people and the Māori/Pasifika community in a positive and uplifting way.”

“I wanted to provide whānau with a unique experience and photographs that connect them to their culture, tikanga and history. I want our kids to know that it’s cool to be Māori. I want whānau to have photos on their wall that make them feel proud of their culture.

“Te Pūtahitanga funding is enabling me to achieve that and their belief in me has helped me overcome my own self-doubt. Putting myself out there and overcoming barriers has been a big thing but their support has given me the confience to step fully into it – to feel the fear and do it anyway,” Maania says.