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

Printed works in Māori to the 1850s

Printed works in Māori to the 1850s

In the period up to 1850 the Church Missionary Society principally, but also the Wesleyan and Roman Catholic Missions, carried out the printing in New Zealand (and overseas) of a considerable amount of religious material and some government documents in Māori. Two printers are often recalled in histories of this time. William Yate was the first to print the language in New Zealand, in 1830 at Kerikeri, producing hymns and a catechism. William Colenso, commissioned by the Church Missionary Society as printer at Paihia in 1834, put out translated parts of the Bible in 1835, and took on a considerable role in the printing of Māori, as his own published writings and biography relate.

Stories of the mission presses (Māori were employed in some), the difficulties associated with production (the small number of letters must have been some relief), and details of the output of literature in Māori, are quite well covered in diverse sources, but could be covered in one specialist history. Colenso gives a personal account of his work in Fifty Years Ago in New Zealand (1888), A.W. Reed a spirited response (1936), Andersen a picturesque history in 'Early printing in New Zealand' (1940a), and D.F. McKenzie (1985) a selective guide to the period. The recent restoration by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust of the Pompallier building in Russell, which recreates the French Catholic mission press environment effectively, is described in detail in New Zealand Historic Places (no.44, Nov. 1993, pp.4-36). At the turn of the century there was reflection back to this time in Hill's 'The early days of printing in New Zealand' (1900), Hocken's 'Some account of the beginnings of literature in New Zealand' (1900), and the separate Māori section in his Bibliography of the Literature Relating to New Zealand (1909). The fullest information is to be read from H.W. Williams's Bibliography of Printed Maori to 1900 (1924). The Introduction informs about the presses; the bibliographic entries are detailed, with imprint, dates, production numbers, physical character, and content. The chronological arrangement enables an easy view
black and white reprint

This unsigned watercolour [Woman and child] by Joseph Jenner Merrett is the first known record of a Māori woman reading. It was painted between 1841 and 1843 and is one of the works in the album presented to Eliza Hobson (Governor Hobson's widow) when she left New Zealand in 1843. The original album, in the collections of the Alexander Turnbull Library, was reproduced in 1990 as Mrs Hobson's Album (Auckland University Press in association with the Library) with commentary and catalogue by Elsie Locke and (now Dame) Janet Paul. This painting is printed as Plate 12 in the reproduction, with catalogue notes on p.122.(Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, NZ, reference number F-21814-1/2)

of the scope of material of any one time. (There are two supplements, neither complete, by Williams (1928) and A.D. Sommerville (1947); an augmented edition is in progress at the National Library.)

Up to 1850, virtually all the printed material available to Māori was of Christian doctrine—chapters and books of the Bible, hymns, orders of service, catechisms, almanacs, and religious tracts. It was also used as examples in printed workbooks and grammars. Although a literature of translation and esoteric subject matter, it is of worth to linguists, theologians and historians. Distribution of and response to this literature are documented in Michael Jackson's 'Literacy, communications and social change' (1975), Lineham's accounts of biblical translations from the mission presses and the British and Foreign Bible Society (1992, 1996), and McKenzie's review of Māori literacy (1985).

In this era of British aspirations to govern Aotearoa, two documents in Māori, the Declaration of Independence and the Treaty of Waitangi, came to have extraordinary significance for the future, and invite further print-centred review. The Declaration of Independence was printed, in Māori and English, in 1835 at the request of James Busby the British Resident, and some 34 chiefs consented to it—four signed their names, others made a mark. The signatories were designated, by that act of writing, the United Tribes of New Zealand. The Declaration was printed twice and circulated for others to sign. It arose partly out of an earlier document, an 1831 Māori petition for protection sent to King William IV which 13 northern chiefs signed. This public document of government between Māori and Pākehā has a late 20th-century sequel in David Simmons's booklet Ko Huiarau (1991)—which affirms the contemporary role of the United Tribes and the Declaration.

The Treaty of Waitangi has been the more powerful example of print, symbolising relations between Māori and Pākehā. Most Māori literature to the 1850s remains a rarity of religious or academic import. The Treaty has been constantly and radically an active inheritance of print, as Claudia Orange's Treaty of Waitangi (1987) chronicles. The complexity of the Treaty meeting between oral and literate peoples has been convincingly portrayed by McKenzie (1985). The signatories to the document have been presented graphically in Mīria Simpson's Ngā Tohu o te Tiriti: Making a Mark, which was published in 1990 (the 150th anniversary of the Treaty) in conjunction with a National Library exhibition entitled 'Ngā kupu kōrero, the people of the Treaty speak'. The book with its various signatures and the exhibition title encapsulate the continuing dynamic of the oral-literate interaction over the Treaty. It is sometimes said that the Treaty is always speaking; it has certainly been source of long argument between Māori and Pākehā. Perhaps print exacerbated this. If it had been an oral contract its very text and meaning would have been changed according to the time. As a static printed document it raises expectations of a complete understanding of what it meant in the past which, as Bruce Biggs proposes in an aptly entitled 'Humpty-Dumpty and the Treaty of Waitangi' (1989), is unrealistic.

The continuing print legacy from the Treaty makes history. There is a rare published statement about it in Māori by Apirana Ngata (1922). There is a literature from the Waitangi Tribunal (set up in 1975 to hear claims against the Crown for breaches of the Treaty): documentation from hearings published in microform, findings in print. The 1990 commemoration prompted special funding from Government for Māori literature, and the National Library's informal publication of selected manuscripts and commitment to recataloguing and describing printed Māori. The Treaty's imprint, the text or comment about it in Māori, embellishes a range of objects from art works to clothing.

After 1840 and the assumption of British government there were other translated documents of government—proclamations, public letters, Acts, the Māori Gazette, and instructions about European life—portions of Robinson Crusoe and Pilgrim's Progress, information about medicine, the keeping of bees and cultivation of tobacco, histories of Britain, of Peter the Great. All this is recorded in Williams's Bibliography, as are the government newspapers in Māori begun in 1842 and a substantial body of print of considerable historical merit. (A microform edition of extant Māori newspapers has made them accessible and a bilingual bibliography is in progress at the National Library.)

The primary purpose of printing up to 1850 was to distribute the literature of church and state; it was one means by which these institutions advised and legitimated their presence. Such use of print invites examination of whether it was a tool of colonisation, a point touched on by Kuni Jenkins in 'Te ihi te mana te wehi o te tuhi 1814-55' (1991). As religious, bureaucratic, linguistic literature, it is, in retrospect at least, not very attractive. Nothing at the time was printed of Māori knowledge, history, or religion, nothing familiar which Māori could turn to when fascination with the new, foreign literature waned. But from the early 1850s the oral traditions came into print and Māori took up publishing.