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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 3 (June 1, 1937)

The Wisdom of the Maori

page 24

The Wisdom of the Maori

the native tongue.

For many a year I have written on the subject of the Maori language and urged that not only should it be taught in the native schools, but that it should be included in the general education scheme and given a place at least equal to that of any foreign language. It is, in my view, more important to preserve and popularise the original tongue of the country than to insist on college students spending years on the study of French. It may seem incredible that Maori is not only not taught in native schools, but it has actually been discouraged in some of them. The effect has been, of course, to make the Maori children ashamed of their mother tongue, a complaint that has often been voiced by their disgusted elders.

* * *

Now I am glad to see that some of the younger generation of our Maori people are championing the effort to give the language its rightful place in the national education plan. Mr. C. Bennett, son of the Right Reverend F. Bennett, the first Bishop of Aotearoa, in an address at Hastings lately urged that Maori should be taught in the schools and placed on at least the same plane as foreign languages. He pointed out that French and other languages were of very little practical value to those who were taught them in college. It was at any rate necessary that the pronunciation of Maori should be taught in schools.

* * *

With Mr. Bennett's plea “Tohunga” is, of course, in complete agreement. The Maori language is of more actual use to the New Zealander than French is, because it is to some extent before him daily, in the form of place-names. Many of these names are habitually mispronounced, and it is desirable therefore that the correct pronunciation should be taught. The place to begin is in the public schools; or rather in the training colleges in which young men and women qualify for the work of teaching in the primary schools. Few teachers can pronounce Maori accurately; fewer still have any idea of the meanings of names that are constantly before their eyes in the papers. This condition of popular ignorance about the language that belongs to a population which is increasing at a faster rate than the pakeha, is not creditable to the country.

The Value of Maori Study.

It cannot, of course, be held that French need not be taught because very few need to use it. Latin and French enter so much into our English language that it is essential they should be part of any system of education. There is the literary and cultural value that needs no stressing. But it is not a question of substitution or replacing any other language with Maori. It is simply claimed that it is of at least equal value.

There is a great literary value in the classic Maori legends and history and folk-lore that make up the very soul of the race and give interest to so much of the country itself. How dull and dead is a land which has no poetic background, which lacks the salt and fire of an ancient warrior tradition! The Maori and the pakeha contact with the Maori supply that element in New Zealand. There is a vast amount preserved in books; but there is more than that. The tongue is a living tongue, though often sadly misused, because in these quickly changing times it is not taught to the young generation.

Some Suggestions.

Now, in the first place, the children in native schools should be taught Maori, by means of the best examples of the language in print and by teachers who are either educated Maoris or pakehas who have studied Maori and have qualified themselves to give instruction. Some people will ask, why teach Maori to Maoris? The only reply to this that is necessary is, why teach English in our pakeha schools and colleges? Native school teachers who cannot speak and teach Maori should gradually be replaced by qualified men and women. Next, pronunciation and elementary lessons in the language could easily be mastered sufficiently by all teachers in the primary schools. Going on to post-primary schools, Maori could be given equal value with foreign languages for examination purposes.

A young teacher who qualified in Maori should find his or her field of usefulness and profit extended. So, too, with those going in for newspaper or other literary work. There are such pathetic examples of ignorance among young writers who look over the fence at the Maori. They will never get across that fence until they learn to speak to the people they so confidently essay to discuss.

“Tarutaru Pakeha.”

It would be amusing were it not so unfair and unjust to the Maori to read the frequent criticism of the Maoris because ragwort and other noxious weeds grow on Maori land. Talkers at Rotary Clubs, editorial writers who have probably never travelled a mile in the Maori country, rate the native landowners for their neglect to kill ragwort. A South Canterbury paper says the Maori “is in a position largely to defy the law.” Alas, that much-defied law!

I have recently travelled several thousands of miles through pakeha farming districts, and I can recall very few places, even in the most productive districts, that were without a spot or so of ragwort. I have seen paddocks that could be described as “Fields of the Cloth of Gold,” in historic memory. A sheet of ragwort; the farmer had apparently given up the struggle, law or no law. The Maori has an adequate reply to his critics. The pakeha has muddled his land titles; the pakeha brought the ragwort and every other tarutaru (weed). “Why pick on the Maori? You pakehas have most of his land. Get rid of your pests first and show me the way.”