The Bone People is significant as a first novel by a part-Maori writer, who utilizes Maori phrases, as well as Maori tribal memories and attitudes, to point out the spiritual deficiencies in the culture that has supplanted the ancient Polynesian traditions. The emphasis on commitment to community is a reflection of the Maori viewpoint. The sicknesses of Simon, deprived of his family, of Joe, rejecting the wisdom of his family, and of Kerewin, altogether repudiating her family, can be cured only by a restoration of community and an establishment of a new family unit.
The publication history of The Bone People reflects the vigor of the Maori tradition. Rejected by numerous publishers, it was finally brought out by a feminist cooperative and later republished in Great Britain by Hodder and Stoughton, winning the Booker Prize in 1985. The novel also received Mobil’s Pegasus Prize and was published in the United States by the Louisiana State University Press. Keri Hulme’s determination to speak for New Zealand’s Polynesians, to voice the wisdom of an ancient culture, to warn arrogant civilization of its loss of the sense of community has thus been justified.