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

Language and religious publishing

Language and religious publishing

Following the period of exploration and discovery of the Pacific, the significant new arrivals were missionaries, who established a strong connection between needing to formalise the language in order to translate and create a literature of religion. While there are still some links between documenting the language and religion, today much of the major work on language is associated with research institutions and governments, with the private sector (including community groups) publishing course books and grammars for learners. However, the Methodist Church continues to have a strong specialist role in the islands as the only current bookshop owners, and offering both general and religious stock as well as stationery.

The London Missionary Society (LMS) provided the first missionaries, establishing stations in the territories as follows: Cook Islands (1820s), Western Samoa (1830), Niue (1846), Tokelau (1860s). Since then there have been many missionaries and churches of other religions, and differences between the religions practised by nationals in the islands and those in New Zealand. Partly because of the strong oral traditions, especially in religion, there appears to have been little published in the indigenous languages apart from the Bible and prayer and hymn books, but this is a topic that could be followed up in more detail.

The sections which follow tend to have an emphasis on the work of the early missionaries (because of their groundwork in formalising the languages) and the predominant religion. Further research into the publications of other churches, such as the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (Mormon Church), and Seventh Day Adventists, remains to be done. For example, the Mormon Church printed hundreds of items in Pacific Island languages (especially Tongan and Samoan) in Auckland between 1968 and the mid 1980s. Any such publications are useful resources for tracking language use in addition to their primary religious purpose or bibliographic interest.

Cook Islands Māori

Cook Islands Māori is the language of the majority of Cook Islanders, most of whom are from the island of Rarotonga, the dialect of which has become predominant. The two other distinct languages in this island group are Pukapukan and English (Palmerston Island). Efforts to preserve Pukapukan are supported in New Zealand by children's books published from the Mataaliki Press, which also has a Pukapukan dictionary forthcoming.

Work on recording Cook Islands Māori began with arrival of the LMS missionary John Williams on Aitutaki in 1821. In 1823 his entourage, which included the Tahitian Papehia, arrived on Rarotonga, and in 1827 Williams returned with Charles Pitman. Both could already speak Tahitian, the language used by the missionaries for their religious work, and were able to learn Rarotongan, devising the 13-letter alphabet and written vocabulary during this time, and composing the first hymns in the vernacular. Aaron Buzacott arrived in 1828, allowing Williams to focus on translating the Bible (Te Bibilia Tapu)—initial translations commenced in 1828, with a complete text published first in 1851. Buzacott's Te Akataka Reo Rarotonga (published 1854-69) long remained the authoritative grammatical resource.

The missionaries were initially responsible not only for religious affairs, but were also instrumental in formal education as well as civil law—in 1827 Williams and Pitman formulated a Western-style code of laws which was accepted and signed by the assembly of local chiefs.

By the early 1830s, coastal settlements were established and the printing press was in full operation under Buzacott's guidance, consequently 90% of the Rarotongan population was able to gain access to religious literature in their own language. By the mid 1850s most Rarotongans were able to read, though the pace on the outer islands was slower. Literature during this early period was the Bible, books and notes of sermons, mission periodicals and catechisms in both Cook Islands Māori and English. Literature of an educational nature was initially accessible to the Western missionary families and to children of the local aristocracy. While the language of education during the missionary period was Cook Islands Māori, after that time English was and still is used.

The Bible remains as the most comprehensive published body of literature in Cook Islands Māori. The various current denominations in the Cook Islands (including Cook Islands Christian Church, Catholic, Mormon) translate and often develop their own educational resources for their adherents which includes material for children. Material developed by specific denominations is not widely known outside the denomination, and often is not clearly identified as to date and source. Examples include the Catholic hymnbook Kia Puroro te Reo . . ., which also shows dialectal signs of having been translated from Tahitian, apparently a fairly common practice. Within New Zealand, the Pacific Islanders Presbyterian Church (PIC) is the predominant denomination of Cook Islanders, but it does not produce material in Cook Islands Māori. As in the secular field, no major research has been conducted to collate and assess religious material in Cook Islands Māori.

Key language reference works include dictionaries by Savage (1962), now superseded by the long-awaited work by Buse and Taringa (1995). Buse also published several articles in the 1960s on grammatical aspects of the language which are still regarded as authoritative. C.R.H. Taylor's Pacific Bibliography (1965, p.119) lists a number of earlier articles and publications on languages of the Cook group.

Taira Rere's work, mainly in the 1970s and early 1980s, is still used in the teaching of the language, for example Maori Lessons for the Cook Islands. The paucity of textbook literature available in New Zealand prompted Carpentier and Beaumont to prepare their 1995Kai Kōrero course book. Language nests and courses offered through community institutions either develop their own resources, utilise those published by bodies such as Anau Ako Pasifika, or rely on texts already in existence. Cook Islands Māori Studies at Victoria University of Wellington, disestablished at the end of 1996, offered language courses using the texts already mentioned above, as well those developed by the course coordinator.

Such is the dominance of the English language through the impact of trade, tourism and the formal education system, the future of Cook Islands Māori language is considered to be threatened in both New Zealand and the Islands. However, a community-based Cook Islands language group is currently looking at developing a language curriculum for adoption within New Zealand schools which may well necessitate the compilation of new language texts to support its survival.


The major impact on the Niuean language has been English, originally as a result of the work of missionaries and (initially) use of English as the language of education. This influence is so strong that indigenous Niueans are close to being naturally bilingual. More recently, large scale immigration to New Zealand has lead to an increasing proportion of New Zealand-born Niueans for whom Niuean is not a first language, nor a language which will provide employment.

LMS missionaries were active in Niue between 1846 and 1890, and were responsible for formalising the alphabet and producing a complete Bible (Ko e Tohi Tapu) and hymnbook (Ko e Tau Lologo Tapu) in Niuean, both of which are still in print. Following the missionary period, Niuean religion became Congregationalist (to 1969) and then either mostly Presbyterian (in New Zealand) or Ekalesia Niue (in Niue). Although church services (in English first, under the LMS) are now conducted in Niuean, there is no printed prayerbook or other religious publications (e.g. readers for children) apart from occasional items produced about ten years ago by the Presbyterian Church in New Zealand.

Several notes on vocabulary and grammar were published in the Journal of the Polynesian Society between 1893 and 1907, but the first substantial dictionary (with a few pages of supporting grammar) was J.M. McEwen's Niue Dictionary (1970) which was selective and based on non-standard spelling (using 'ng' rather than 'g').

Since 1989, Lagi Sipeli has been working on a comprehensive dictionary of current usage in consultation with Niueans both in New Zealand and on the island itself. Some differences appear to be developing between the language as it is used in Niue and that used in New Zealand. William Seiter's thesis Studies in Niuean Syntax (1980) is the only identified major piece of linguistic research into Niuean, but there is no standard reference grammar, nor any such work underway.

The most recent course book for studying the language is Aiao Kaulima and Clive Beaumont's First Book for Learning Niuean (1994), based on materials produced for adult classes at the Pacific Islanders' Educational Resource Centre in Auckland.

Niuean is not taught as part of the formal New Zealand education system, although Learning Media Ltd produces children's stories for use in schools in the language. However, work actively continues to ensure that the language is not lost—through compiling the comprehensive dictionary and a new version of the hymnbook, and in community-based language nests in Auckland and Wellington. Niueans in New Zealand have become more conscious of their shared culture and collective interests and responsibility than the village-based society of the island encouraged, though the latter is changing.

In Niue itself, decolonisation has strengthened awareness of the distinctiveness of Niuean culture and language, and the indigenous language is now used in preschool and secondary education. It is essential that such efforts are maintained if the Niuean language is to survive and develop.


Ever since Christianity was established in the Tokelaus between the late 1860s and early 1870s, virtually all religious functions were conducted in the Samoan language. Samoan missionaries—Catholic, London Missionary Society, and later Presbyterian—working in the Tokelauan communities established mission schools on the islands, with the Samoan language as the medium of instruction. Gradually this introduced language permeated the local cultural arenas to such an extent that all important Tokelau cultural functions were eventually conducted in Samoan. Consequently the local language was confined to unimportant and 'mundane' spheres of the culture. Even at home, family prayers were conducted in Samoan.

The importance attached to the acquisition of the Samoan language was further given impetus with the introduction in 1951 of the state schools with Samoan as the medium of instruction. When Western Samoa was declared independent in 1962, Tokelau opted to remain under New Zealand, and the language gradually became one of the topical points for discussions in various village circles in Tokelau. In the early 1960s English became the language of education until Tokelauan was used from the 1970s.

Undoubtedly individuals used their own versions of an alphabet when the urge to write a 'fatele' or dancing song motivated them. However, after a drawn-out debate, an alphabet was produced and ratified in 1967 by the Fono Fakamua (governing body of Tokelau) to be adopted for use in schools. The Fono also decided that a dictionary should be prepared, and a translation of the English Bible into Tokelauan. Both these major projects were undertaken simultaneously, and Ropati Simona's Tokelau Dictionary (which also includes a grammar) was published in 1986. A specialist dictionary, Angelo and Kirifi's Law Lexicon (1986), was compiled for legislative purposes. Other significant research into Tokelauan syntax are theses by Peter Sharples (1989) and Robin Hooper (1993). The only published course book, Even Hovdhaugen's Hand-book (1989) is too expensive for general use.

The Bible project was more complex. Each island formed its own Bible Review Committee, to receive translated material from Ropati Simona at Auckland University, via the Office for Tokelau Affairs in Apia, Western Samoa. The Bible Society supported the project and offered free expert consultancy service, under the auspices of its Fiji branch. From time to time, booklets containing biblical stories in Tokelauan (some in comic format) were sent to the islands. However, communication problems between the translator
Black and white print

The first issue of Tusitala mo A'oga Samoa (July 1947), the Samoan language version of the School Journal. This was the first publication in any Pacific Island language published by the then Department of Education School Publications Branch, which went on to produce versions in Niuean, Cook Islands Māori and Tokelauan in the 1950s and 60s. Today, publications in Pacific Island languages are a major part of the activities of Learning Media Ltd (successor to School Publications); every 12 days an item is published in one of the five major languages. This is a very positive contribution towards the print culture needs of Pacific Island children, who now comprise over 7% of the New Zealand school-age population. (Reproduced by permission of the Ministry of Education, Wellington)

and the Tokelau-based reviewing committees finally led to the dwindling of inputs from the committees and eventually to a full stop.

Fortunately religious groups continued producing material in Tokelauan. In 1983 the Tokelau Catholic community in Wellington started work on translating the Catholic Missal (Tuhi Miha hā Muamua-Faitauga . . .) into Tokelauan, taking only two years to complete it. On the other hand, the Tokelau Pacific Island Presbyterian Church in Auckland started translating and composing hymns in Tokelauan under Reverend Tepou, Ropati Simona as facilitator, and Lutu Epati as musical director. The group achieved its goal in 1990 with the publication of Ko nā Pehe ma nā Vīkiga o te Atua—translations of Protestant Samoan hymns with some original Tokelauan ones.

Due to renewed interest raised by the National Tokelau Association in New Zealand in translating the Bible, Tokelauans in New Zealand and in the home islands decided to again enter into a joint venture for this project. This time the New Zealand Bible Society would provide free consultancy and technological expertise, while the Tokelau people themselves via the cooperating churches (Protestant and Catholic) would translate and review the materials. The project, launched in June 1996, is being carried out by Ioane Teao, Father Penehe Patelesio and Loimata Iupati.

The Bible project is seen as an important step in preserving the Tokelauan language, which is currently taught in New Zealand at language nests and some primary schools.

Western Samoan

The first significant linguistic material in Samoan was collected after the arrival of the LMS in August 1830. By the time these missionaries arrived in Samoa, their linguistic training, difficulties and experience in translating the Bible in other Pacific Islands (such as Tonga and Tahiti) benefited the Samoan translators greatly in translating both the Bible and other religious material. One of the major tasks of the LMS was to devise an orthography, and the first Samoan imprints were distributed in Samoa by 1834. By 1839 Samoa had its own press in operation producing parts of the New Testament although a complete Bible (O le Tusi Paia) was not published until 1862, since when there have been several different editions. Other religions arrived slightly later: Wesleyan (1835), Catholic (1845), with Mormons and Seventh Day Adventists at the end of the century. Today the main religions practised by Samoans in New Zealand are Congregational, Pacific Islanders Presbyterian Church (PIC), Catholic, Mormon and Seventh Day Adventist.

Religious material in Samoan such as the Bible, prayer books, theology (as well as the history of some denominations) is produced by several organisations such as the Bible Society of the South Pacific in Fiji; Bible Society in New Zealand, Wellington; Methodist Church in Western Samoa; the Arch-diocese of the Catholic Church in Western Samoa and the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand in Wellington. There are hardly any readers for children based on religious stories, although a limited number of these were published in American Samoa a number of years ago. No research into religious publications in Samoan has been identified.

During the earliest period, no published grammar or Samoan dictionary was available, and the first such work, by George Pratt of the LMS, did not appear until 1862. However, Horatio Hale's major analysis of Samoan had appeared in 1846 as a result of the United States Exploring Expedition of 1838-42. Taylor (1965, pp.280-83) records a significant number of publications on aspects of the language, many in German and dating from the German colonial period. A.K. Pawley's work, published 1961-67, offered the earliest grammatical framework for Samoan, based on the work done on Māori by Bruce Biggs. John Mayer, author of a useful 1976 American Peace Corps course book Samoan Language (no longer in print) is currently carrying out major research into Samoan at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Samoan is one of the stronger languages among Pacific Island populations, reflecting its larger population base, and Samoan has always been used as the language of religion and education in the islands, including during the missionary period. Consequently there are a number of current key reference works: Pratt's Grammar and Dictionary, Downs's Everyday Samoan, Mosel and Hovdhaugen's Samoan Reference Grammar, Milner's Samoan Dictionary, and Allardice's Simplified Dictionary. For learners, Alfred Hunkin's course book (with cassette) Gagana Samoa (1988) is the main resource.

In 1996 the New Zealand Ministry of Education published a bilingual curriculum document for teaching Samoan language in the New Zealand education system from the pre-school to tertiary levels. This document, Taiala mo le Gagana Samoa has become an important document for the teaching of spoken and written Samoan in New Zealand where Samoan is now taught from pre-school up to university levels with quite a number of Samoan pre-schools in the main centres of Auckland and Wellington, and a few others in smaller centres such as Christchurch, Dunedin, Tokoroa and Wanganui. A growing number of primary and secondary schools are teaching Samoan.

Current initiatives include a teachers' development programme (in Auckland and Wellington) for preschool, primary and secondary schools so that teachers can understand and use the curriculum for classroom programmes. Research by Hunkin on a Samoan word frequency count from a sample of 300,000 mainly secular spoken and written examples is underway at Victoria University of Wellington. In due course this will help teachers in the classroom to teach the most frequently used words in the Samoan language.