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

Māori use of writing and print to 1900

Māori use of writing and print to 1900

Māori use of writing and print in the 19th century occurred in a time of profound, often aggressive change. If writing had been introduced without colonisation and Māori had chosen at their own pace and in their own way how, even if, to use these arts, there would have been a different story. But very soon after the introduction of writing, Christianity and British government were exerting considerable force on their way of life. Undoubtedly Māori were influenced, maybe indoctrinated by print but they were not passive in reply to it, they argued the reasoning in Scriptures with missionaries and challenged government by their own use of it.

Māori began reading and writing in the early 1800s. There is ample account of and some disagreement about their literacy. Parr's articles (1961, 1963) contain a wealth of primary sources; Jackson investigated literacy's impact on social life (1975), and McKenzie's Treaty-based thesis (1985) was acute and, as it turned out, contentious. His argument that the historical record had exaggerated the extent and sophistication of Māori literacy drew replies from historians that he underestimated it. Lyndsay Head and Buddy Mikaere's 'Was 19th-century Maori society literate?' (1988) brought specific examples of use by way of rebuttal. This clash of scholarly opinion invites further investigation of the particulars of Māori literacy. There is material enough for it and an extensive literature of comparison—from Polynesia no more thorough a model than Niko Besnier's study on literacy in Nukulaelae, Tuvalu (1995).

There are ample records, however, to leave no doubt as to Māori people's discriminating and efficient use of literacy and literature in their own language in the 19th century. Excitement over, enchantment with, demand for, and intelligent reply from reading and books are reported in the studies referred to above. But more might be discovered about the habits of readers, for instance, what was read most, at all, of the government papers and Christian tracts listed in Williams's excellent guide as to what was available to read. When and where did people read? What response was there to an inanimate object rather than a person, informing the solitary reader? Did the predominance of Christian, of foreign literature estrange the reader from their own society? Most reported interaction over literacy has been about missionaries and Māori, Pākehā writers and Māori colleagues, chiefs and government, with less about that between Māori and Māori, individual and tribe, elder and young.

The Bible, the sole literature for many for a long time (well into the 20th century it was the only literature in Māori some read), provides one measure of response. Māori may have found it attractive because of similarities to the oral traditions—the genealogies, psalms, moral, mythological stories, the rhetorical, oblique, poetical mode. Lineham has relevant information on acquisition, use and reaction to the Bible (1992, 1996). For instance, Māori disliked the new format of the 1884 edition and asked for a return to the old version. Was this a conservatism from the predictably patterned oral compositions or because it changed sounds, rhythms, words of memorised passages, or a reaction to layout and font? It was characteristic of 19th-century sensibility that translations of the Bible were carried out by Pākehā without Māori engaged or (if so) acknowledged. This exclusion of Māori from publishing intended for them continued for a long time.

That the Bible was well read and understood is evident from reports of memorising of long passages, and from quotations and allusions to characters, stories and Christian morality in songs, stories, articles and speeches. As histories of these individuals and movements recount, the Bible's deepest impression is to be found in the writings of 19th-century prophets and printed records of syncretic religious movements—Te Ua Haumēne and the Pai Mārire, Te Kooti and the Ringatū Church, Tāwhiao and the King Movement. The Bible is said to have been the only literature which the prophet Te Whiti kept, but he and Tohu banned the Pākehā's tool of writing at their Parihaka community in the late 19th century. (Mervyn McLean, collecting songs in the 1960s for his work on Māori music (1996), found some Taranaki informants illiterate as a result of this proscription.) The Bible may have also been read without religious reference, as a good story; it was not always read with the result that missionaries wished. Some Māori revered it as the repository of sacred knowledge, others' use was entirely secular. A story often recalled, perhaps for its irreverence or sense of justice, is of the Bible's paper used for cartridges. As a book it retains a special status because of its language which is often regarded as exemplary Māori, despite some curious ways of expressing the cryptic content.

The missionaries refrained from producing reading which might distract their pupils from the faith. But from the late 1840s other literature became available—grammars and dictionaries, books of the oral traditions, the government's assortment. How much of this Māori read might be gauged from references to it in their writing. Māori read government, church and their own newspapers, as is apparent from correspondence in them. Letters also attest to a Māori readership of late 19th-century journals, although it is noticeable that these are from tribal leaders, colleagues of Pākehā publishers of traditions, those in the church or prominent in government. The general Māori population's reading habits may have been different. A survey of reading would also refer to government literature, the Gazette, Acts, Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives (AJHR), printed reports of meetings, Parliamentary debates, and, from the 1860s, the literature associated with the Native Land Court. Since this was all vital to political contest, it was possibly as well as if not more widely read than the Bible.

Exceptional evidence of how and what Māori wrote after first acquiring this skill lies in the large extant stock of 19th-century Māori letters and manuscripts. Large collections are held in the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington, the Hocken Library in Dunedin, the Auckland Public and Auckland Museum Libraries, smaller collections in university and provincial libraries, and also in family and tribal possession. There has been some publication from them; much remains unpublished.

Letters dated from the 1830s offer outstanding material for enquiry into Māori use of writing and print. The popularity of letter-writing is noted in all the studies of literacy cited above. Pleasure in conversation with those at a distance led to letters being delivered on paper, slate, leaves. As personal, individual examples of writing they provide evidence of use of the orthography, representation of dialect, development of a writing style—letters often follow the formalities of oratory (as heard in speeches on the marae), beginning with traditional greetings, closing with a song. The topics of letters are also instructive. They were a means of expressing personal feelings, of making requests (often for pens, paper, ink, books), and especially of discussing political matters. Formal and informal letters in Māori can be found in great number in the papers of officials of church and government—Bishop
black and white reprint

An unsourced illustration reproduced in A.W. Reed's pamphlet The Maori and His First Printed Books published in 1935 by A.H. & A.W. Reed, Dunedin, in the Reed's Raupo series of New Zealand gift books. The stories and illustrations relate to the period up to 1840, and describe the challenges faced by the early printers as well as the enthusiastic response of Māori. (Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, NZ, reference number B-K 92-6-)

Selwyn, Sir George Grey, Sir Donald McLean, for instance. Opinion was also put in written and printed petitions (recorded in AJHR), and in letters to newspapers and journals. The sense of an audience in this public readership brought rhetorical strategies to pen; argument, challenge and provocation typical to oral performance were transferred to a written forum. Letters have been reproduced in published histories and in Porter and Macdonald's anthology of women's letters (1996).

Another way in which Māori used writing was to record domestic matters. There are diaries and personal records of monies, family celebrations, meetings, problems. There are biographical details about family members—for example, an account of his life dictated in 1845 by Te Rauparaha to his son Tāmihana Te Rauparaha in the papers of Sir George Grey. There are travel accounts: a diary by Rēnata Kawepō of Ngāti Kahungunu, of a journey across the country with Bishop Selwyn between 1843-44, is reproduced in Helen Hogan's Renata's Journey (1994a) and accounts of other journeys are examined in her PhD thesis (1994b). Such annotated translations of 19th-century writing—as Curnow's of Te Rangikāheke's writing (1985) and Smith's of Te Kāhui Kararehe's (1993)—make comment on how Māori used the orthography and adjusted the oral style, and are essential sources for a history of response.

Especially important is the writing which records the oral traditions, the copies that were made of songs, genealogies, sayings, histories, and the explanations of customs and rituals. From the late 1840s Māori recorded their traditions either because they saw the oral practice changing or because they enjoyed writing out the memorised texts. Some did this entirely for their own use and many such records have stayed at home, some have been delivered over to public archives. Others were encouraged by friendship, money, pens and paper, to supply interested Pākehā, and their writing remains in the papers of, for example, Sir George Grey, John White, Elsdon Best, who published from them.

Māori created many written records in response to government, possibly so time-consuming an occupation that it obviated other uses of literacy. Their own political organisations generated letters, circulars, minutes of meetings, submissions to government. Private minuting of Māori Land Court sittings and committees became precious books of family history, copies often made or new information added with each generation (and this writing continues). The Court (like the contemporary Waitangi Tribunal), in defining title to land required oral witness which it minuted, confirming in writing what had been known in the oral record. 'Māori, literacy and the Land Court' is one among many possible titles for study.

Nineteenth-century Māori wrote for numerous reasons, each an object of interest, together an informative history. They wrote as memory, to record daily activities, to instruct the next generations; they wrote as a social pleasure —to friends, to work out problems of arithmetic (and later to record commercial activities); they wrote to satisfy others' desire for knowledge—sometimes in this they wrote for money; they wrote as a matter of political acumen.

Active, autonomous use of print began for Māori with the publication of newspapers as a direct answer to the government papers. A history of these newspapers would be timely, for they are an unusual source of Māori opinion and activities. Williams gives details about many in his Bibliography. Articles about Māori printers (there was an interesting conceit amongst some 19th-century Pākehā printers to transliterate their names to Māori) and presses record something of the newspaper history: W.J. Cameron's 'A printing press for the Maori people' (1958), Andersen's 'Maori printers and translators' (1940), Jackson (1975) also refer to them. None can resist the famous story of the King of Austria's gift of a press to the King Movement, the publication of the paper Te Hokioi o Niu Tireni (1862-63), the government's counter to it Te Pihoihoi Mokemoke (1863) and Rewi Maniapoto's removal of the press on which it was produced. It reveals each side's view of the power of the press.

A Pākehā, C.O.B. Davis, was instrumental in encouraging Māori to collect money for a press and production of papers. Several independent papers were printed between 1857 and the turn of the century, some short-lived because of insufficient funds. (Of religious newspapers produced last century, some had Māori ministers as editors.) Apart from the occasional Pākehā editor these papers were the work of Māori and were a highly pragmatic means of putting opinion to government and reporting on politics. They were also generally informative, with correspondence, local and international news, accounts from the oral traditions, advertisements. Political movements, too, engaged in newspaper production. The Māori Parliament put out a newspaper and recorded its proceedings in print. The King movement printed a newsletter Te Paki o Matariki (1891- ) to report on its activities and interchanges with government. Andersen described its decorative masthead as an example of 'Maori typographical ingenuity'—perhaps the starting point for further investigation into Māori printers and typesetting.

Māori use of writing and print in the 19th century was apposite and gradual, a response to both internal cultural change and external government. In some situations Māori were fast and focused in using literacy to contend with settlers and government; in others, as with the oral traditions, they were slower and considered. By the end of the century, with the growing ascendancy of English, Māori were becoming dependent on literacy at least in that language. But practices of the oral traditions remained—the oral arts on the marae, the oral communication of traditional knowledge (despite recording it on paper) in tribal meetings or from elders to the young, all continued into the 20th century.