Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Book & Print in New Zealand : A Guide to Print Culture in Aotearoa


Any atlas clearly shows New Zealand is a Pacific Island nation, and it is well known that Māori, the tangata whenua, are a Polynesian people. Generally speaking, however, New Zealanders are not very aware of the wider Polynesian, and still wider Pacific Island economic and cultural context into which New Zealand fits. But, for most of this century, New Zealand has had a very special relationship with and responsibility for four Pacific Island (and also Polynesian) countries—Niue, Tokelau, Western Samoa and the Cook Islands—and therefore their people and cultures.

It is the print culture connection between these four countries and New Zealand which is the main focus of this section. This field has been little explored before, and the content of the section is original research which provides a framework for further investigation. It covers language, religious and educational publishing, together with overviews of other publishing activity in this century; a summary of sources and resources for identifying and locating copies of material is appended.

The initial special relationship from the New Zealand perspective was one of administrative and therefore wider cultural and social responsibility. For the small and scattered populations of these tiny atolls and islands, the relationship was—and still is for Tokelau (since 1948)—one of dependency. Of the three other former Pacific Island dependencies, the Cook Islands (1901-64) and Niue (1901-73) still retain some constitutional features of dependency in their external and defence relations, plus automatic New Zealand citizenship and use of New Zealand currency. Only Western Samoa (1919-61) is now fully independent.

While New Zealand did not colonise the island territories, the administrative interrelationship certainly had a major impact in areas significant to the context of print culture such as education, and language use, although the foundations for these had been laid by the missionary 'invasions' of the early 19th century. The first half of the 20th century was not known for its active support of indigenous languages and cultures and this is reflected in the print culture evidence of that time from the territories.

Possibly even more significant than administrative responsibility, another special relationship developed—immigration to New Zealand from the 1960s onwards in search of education, employment—and even survival, where island resources could not support growing populations (such as Niue). Today (apart from Western Samoa) by far the majority of nationals from these territories are actually resident in New Zealand; comparative 1991-92 figures are:

Nationality NZ population Island population
Cook Islands 37,857 18,552
Niue 14,424 2,239
Tokelau 4,146 1,577
Western Samoa 85,743 161,298

On the basis of these statistics, New Zealanders arguably now have an even greater print culture responsibility (language and literacy support, education, publication) towards the people of these countries than during their time of dependency, apart perhaps from Western Samoa. It is encouraging to note the work of the Ministry of Education and Learning Media Ltd and other community and private sector organisations in meeting some of these needs. In certain instances a few key individuals appear to hold the burden of responsibility for the future of languages under threat of extinction due to the overpowering influence (especially economic) of English. And, ironically, English is the shared language when groups of mixed Pacific Islanders need to communicate—in whatever medium.

The demographics of the population figures also hold print culture messages for New Zealand in the future: while Pacific Islanders are 3.8% of the total population (mostly in Auckland (67%) and Wellington (16%)), they comprise 7.05% of the primary/secondary school population. While the Ministry of Education and Learning Media are therefore making a positive contribution to meet the print culture needs of the largest number of Pacific Islanders (i.e. school age), this situation will change as fully literate children move through to adulthood with quite different reading needs—and virtually non-existent resources to meet them at present.

There are many challenges.