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NZ gaming character Manu aims to inspire Asian storytelling

The ARA Journeys team, from left, Dr Isaac Warbrick, Amber Taylor and Ben Kenobi.

The creators of a gaming platform character called Manu hope to one day make indigenous characters who will tell Japanese and South Korean stories in their own languages.

Manu’s creator, ARA Journeys, has been chosen as one of five businesses in the inaugural Polynesian Creative Cluster Business Programme (PCCBP).

They will be mentored to break into Japan and South Korea, New Zealand’s fourth and fifth ranked export markets.

The first of its kind, the PCCBP programme will focus on providing opportunities for diverse New Zealand businesses to build stronger, more sustainable, and authentic relationships with north Asian countries.

The five businesses were selected from more than 30 applicants who sought to extend their knowledge of Japanese and Korean markets.

ARA Journeys is Amber Taylor, Ben Kenobi and Dr Isaac Warbrick, assisted by specialist developers.

Amber, co-founder and the CEO, says they applied because of the importance of both culture and gaming in Japan and South Korea.

Manu makes history

ARA Journeys built the first bilingual Māori augmented reality game, The Journeys of Manu, who explores the rich cultural and environmental history of Aotearoa.

This prototype blended augmented reality (AR), gaming, indigenous storytelling, and orienteering for a fun and informative mixed-reality (MR) experience.

As part of Panuku Development’s Te Mata o Rehua project, local Māori and Pacific carvers produced 12 stone statues showcasing the seasonal signs of the Maramataka (Māori lunar calendar).

Learning about Maramataka

Participants use a GPS-enabled APP to join bilingual Manu on his quest to know more about Maramataka and explore the different areas of Aotearoa. He learns about how the stars and moon cycle were used to determine the ideal days for planting, fishing, giving-back and staying indoors.

Manu’s first “journey” was centred around one of Auckland’s polluted and neglected waterways, the Puhinui Stream. The stream was once a rich source of freshwater and kai for many iwi living around Manukau.

As part of the Puhinui Stream Challenge, Manu appeared when users scanned different markers placed around the course, told a short story about the stream, and gave users a new digital taonga (token) at each marker.

Augmented reality, gaming, indigenous storytelling and orienteering come together for a fun and informative mixed-reality experience in Journeys of Manu.

The team is also working with scientists and researchers to build a Te Ao Māori (Māori world view) ecological game designed to monitor climate, environment and sustainability by building a community of citizen scientists.

The game has the ability to collect environmental data such as plant and animal species living on the seashore.

Captured for future generations

Amber says it is vital that indigenous stories and knowledge are captured for future generations.

After they launched Manu “we realised a lot of people liked our stories” and attracted attention from the Cook Islands and Hawaii, Amber says.

She says they hope to use their platforms to create indigenous characters who will tell Japanese and South Korean stories in their own languages.

The Polynesian Creative Cluster Business Programme is funded by the North Asia Centre for Asia Pacific Excellence (North Asia CAPE) which is hosted by the University of Auckland.

Partnering with North Asia CAPE to deliver the programme is Oyster Workshop, a collective of Polynesian leaders and entrepreneurs.

Kim Tuaine is one of its directors. She says the New Zealand brand is known for quality throughout North Asia, “but exposure to the depth of talent our Maori and Pacific communities have particularly in creative industries for export has largely been limited to the branding or marketing vision for Aotearoa.

What is appealing to North Asian markets is the uniqueness of our diverse Polynesian cultures and the synergies that exist with many Asian cultures.


“Polynesian origins lie in Asia (Taiwan) and our languages stem from the Austronesian group of languages and this is almost like a fourth wave that is bringing our diverse cultures back together.

“Japan and Korea were chosen because they fall within North Asia CAPE’s mandate and both markets are very different and therefore the experience would be more expansive in terms of learnings gained.”

She says a good outcome would be that at least one of the five businesses in the programme secures a sales pipeline into Korea or Japan or both.

“However, what we want to see is that both as a group and individually they develop export strategies and contacts in market to assist them develop long-term sustainable opportunities.”

Also chosen for the programme are award-winning industrial designer Dylan Mulder, Tuhi Stationery (Geneva Harrison and Michelle Tibble), Malae Collective (Hannah Teipo, KJ Siakisini and Hōhua Kurene) and crochet artists Rudi and Lissy Robinson-Cole.

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For more information:

Ara Journeys website      


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