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Typo: A Monthly Newspaper and Literary Review, Volume 4

The Article in Maori

page 90

The Article in Maori

My attention has been drawn to an article in Typo, concerning the proper English rendering of Maori nomenclature, particularly in regard to the Article. The instance there cited, as « The Te Awamutu School, » &c, may be regarded in two different ways: one from the point of view of the exact scholar, the other from that of the sufficiently-accurate speaker of vernacular English. First, then, the scientific position. This is, that the Article both in English and Maori should be used; « Te Awamutu » is the name of a place, and « The Te Awamutu School » is perfectly correct. In regard to Arawa, care should particularly be taken to distinguish between this word as a tribal name, and the word when used as the name of a celebrated ancient canoe. The canoe was always named « Te Arawa »; while the Article, in its sense of « the, » was never prefixed to the other famous canoes of the same time. Thus, in Grey's Polynesian Mythology* we find this passage: « Nga ingoa o nga waka nei, na, ko te Arawa to mua; muri iho, ko Tainui, ko Matatua, ko Takitumu, » &c., &c.; « These are the names of the canoes; first the Arawa, then Tainui, Matatua, Takitumu, » &c., &c. This use of te is so constant that I have no doubt that the proper way to write the name is Te Arawa, and not Arawa. White, in his Ancient History of the Maori, goes further than this and writes Te-arawa as the name of the canoe. But if we speak of the tribe of the Arawa we should not use the Article; a Maori speaking of tribes would say, « ko Waikato, ko Ngapuhi, ko Arawa. » Therefore, scientifically, we blunder in saying « the Arawa canoe and the Arawa tribe »; it should be « the Te Arawa canoe and the Arawa tribe. » However, I always speak of the Arawa canoe, because I dislike being pedantic, and affecting to be a purist in language when such masters both of English and Maori as Grey and Shortland, say « the Arawa canoe; the Tainui, the Matatua, » &c., instead of Te Arawa, Tainui, Matatua, &c. Colenso, who is the most accurate of our authors, always writes « Tainui, » not « the Tainui. » Of course, this vernacular usage refers also to the plural nga, even when it is a separate preceding word to the main word. Thus, it would be perfectly correct to write, « the Nga Whakarara, » for the celebrated Druidical-seeming stones between Kaitaia and Kerikeri, because Whakarara is not all the name; still I should not do this in speaking, because everyone who knows that nga means « the » would avoid the double Article. When nga is prefixed, and is actually a part of the word, the case is still stronger. Even in words where it is very probable that the first syllable, nga, is the Article « the » agglutinated, it would be probably wrong to omit the English Article, but I feel sure that before words such as ngati, it would be incorrect in the extreme not to use it. Grey writes: « From Tama-te-po sprang the Ngati-Rongou tribe; from Tama-te-ra sprang the tribe of Ngati-Tama-te-ra, and from Whana-unga sprang the Ngati-Whanaunga tribe » —Colenso § writes of « the Ngapuhi tribes » —so that there are good precedents. Moreover, I feel very doubtful as to the fact of ngati being a contraction of nga-ati. I know that Maori scholars, including Williams, give this rendering, but I feel sure that, if they are true scholars, they only do so as a suggestion, and not as a final etymology. My studies in Polynesian dialects outside of New Zealand do not lead me to accept the etymology, and in Maori itself there are several difficulties. If ngati is nga-ati, what is the exact meaning of ati? We know its ordinary general meaning; that is, it is a word used as a tribal prefix, and probably meaning « descendants of, » as the Ati-Hapai, the Ati-Awa, &c. Sometimes Ati is written as absolutely part of the word, as Atiawa, &c. Now, although I have so written it, it is a peculiarity of this word that it is (or should be) always preceded by the singular Article. Thus, Dr. Shortland writes: « When the Te Ati-awa tribes determined to abandon Cook's Straits and return to the lands of their ancestors about Taranaki, they were still in dread of their old enemies the Ngatimaniopoto. » So also in Grey's Polynesian Mythology, Atihapai is always preceded by the Article te, and not by nga. If this is the case, I cannot conceive how ngati has been derived from te-ati; there must have been some original meaning in ati demanding the singular Article.

The suggestions arising from the comparison of dialects are as follows:—In Samoan, ati is a plural particle denoting a number of chiefs of the same name or title, not necessarily of the same descent. In Tahitian, ati is (1) a patronymic prefix, pointing out the name of the ancestor or parent; (2) a faithful friend who will cleave to a man in distress. In Mangarevan (Gambier Islands, East of the Paumotu), ati means a descendant. In Mangaian (Hervey Islands), we have ngati, descendant of; in Paumotan, gati (ngati), a tribe, a race, a breed; and in Tabitian, nati, a class or distinction of men, as nati arii, the class of superior chiefs; nati raatira, the class of inferior chiefs. But this word nati, in Tahitian, also means « fitting close, » « to bind or tie with a cord »; natinati, a bundle; to tie close; and, in composition, natimoe, family or kindred; nativaea, the division of a company. This is the equivalent to the Hawaiian word naki, to tie up, and Maori nati, to constrict with a ligature. Thus there is a probability that the ngati used as a tribal prefix may have been at first nati, used as « a bundle of men, » a family « tied up together » (as in Tahitian), and the ng sound afterwards used to differentiate the secondary meaning « tribe » from the primary « a thing tied up. » There are other considerations (which would exhaust your patience too much to introduce) which make me inclined to believe that ati, or adi, was once a title, a prefix of honour, and that ngati is not the same word, nor a derivative.

I hope that neither your readers nor yourself will consider that I am speaking dogmatically or laying down an etymology: I suggest only. I have got past the first lesson in wisdom, viz., to know how very little I know; I have arrived at the second lesson, viz., to know how very little even the wisest and best-informed know.

22 August, 1890.

Edw. Tregear.


New Edition, Maori Part, p. 71.

Vol. iv., p. 19, Maori Part.

Polynesian Mythology, English Part, p. 158.


Transactions N. Z. Institute, vol. i., p. 413.

Maori Religion, p. 103.

Maori Part, p. 41.