Mere Whaanga was born in Wairoa and grew up on a sheep station near Gisborne. She was educated at Hukarere Māori Girls’ College and Gisborne Girls’ High. After leaving school she worked as a laboratory assistant and sales rep. From 1982-1992 Whaanga was a farming partner and financial manager of Taiporutu Partnership. Ffrom 1987-1988 he was an Access Training Provider in Mahia where she tutored 18 Māori women to write, illustrate and produce Kohanga Reo resources. From 1988-1991 Whaanga was owner/operator of Moko Prints and in 1993 she tutored Te Reo Māori-Paetahi part-time at Tairawhiti Polytechnic in Gisborne.
Whaanga studied Te Reo Māori Paetoru at Tairawhiti Polytechnic in Gisborne from 1992-1993 and completed a graduate diploma in Māori Development in 1994 and an MPhil in Māori Studies in 1999 at Massey University. Since the early 1990s, she has been involved in various research projects. In 1990 she was commissioned to research, write, edit and publish the family history Bartlett-Mahia to Tawatapu. In 1991 she studied multimedia Australasian publishing and its potential for New Zealand bi-lingual authors at Dromkeen Children’s Book Museum in Melbourne. In 1991 she investigated advanced computer animation technology and multi-media publishing at SIGGRAPH ‘91 in Las Vegas. In 1992 she conducted a feasibility study for Māori cable TV channel following negotiation of a contract with Kapiti Cable TV.
Whaanga has written a variety of fiction and non-fiction work including children’s picture books, a family history, conference papers, online publications, poetry and reviews. She has also been actively involved in the publishing industry. In 1988 she founded and was governing Director of Mahia Publishers Ltd which published Māori language resources, family histories, bi-lingual books for children and young adults. She has been called on to judge children’s book awards. From 1993-1994 she was AIM Children’s Book Award Judge responsible for evaluating and selecting the five best New Zealand children’s books of 1994. In 1997 she was appointed NZ Post Children’s Book Award Judge for 1997-98. Whaanga has been a committee member of Te Ha, the Māori Writers’ component of Toi Māori Aotearoa and has toured with two “On the Bus” Māori writers’ tours.
Whaanga has received various literary awards including a Choysa Bursary for Children’s Writers (1988), QEII Literary Fund Incentive Grant (1991), Te Ha Award for Māori Writers (1991), a Te Waka Toi New Work Grant (2002), and a New Zealand History Research Trust Fund Award (2003). A Carved Cloak for Tahu was a finalist in 2005 Montana awards.
Whaanga writes “The bi-lingual format I use for my books is in part an expression of my belief that not only can Māori and Pakeha work together, we also complement one another.”
Along with her writing, Whaanga is also a visual artist and illustrator of books. She has contributed to various exhibitions including Book Illustrations at the NZ High Commission in Canberra in 1995; Whales at the Auckland Museum in 1996; Te Aho Tapu at Wairoa Museum in 2004, and Gifted Sands at Ruawharo Marae, Opoutama in 2005. Whaanga is a member of the Professional Historians’ Association of New Zealand/Aotearoa (PHANZA), and Te Ara Wānanga Committee of Māori scholars for Te Ara, The Encyclopaedia of New Zealand.
- Correspondence from Mere Whaanga on 16 June 2005.
- Te Ha questionnaire.
- Christchurch Star 15 April, 1991:15.
- New Zealand Who’s Who Aotearoa. Ed. Alister Taylor. Vol. 1. Auckland, N.Z.: NZ Who’s Who Aotearoa, 1992: 309.
- Whaanga-Schollum, Mere. "The Transition - Māori and Pacific Island Story Telling: From the Oral Form to the Written Word." Reading Forum N.Z.: Official Journal of the New Zealand Reading Association 3 (1990): 13-14.