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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol 35 no. 22. 14th September 1972

A Contrary View Of Tereo Maori

page 10

A Contrary View Of Tereo Maori

This article is an abridged reply to an Otago University Committee of students anti Lecturers set up to investigate the possibilities of introducing Maori language teaching at that University.

1. A (a) 1. According to the Committee, Maori is one of the two languages regularly used in New Zealand. In fact several other languages are also regularly spoken in this country among them Niuean, Tokclauan, Rarotongan, Samoan and Chinese, all of them living languages. There are admittedly more speakers of Maori but Maori is none the less the language of a minority, in all about 232,000 including quartereastes and half-castes, less than 10% of the total population.

2. The actual number of Maori speakers is difficult to compute. In 1966 it was estimated that about 60% of the Maori population could speak or at least understand Maori. More recent figures suggest that this proportion is likely to fall dramatically within the next decade.

3. In 1971, too, according to the Report of the Committee of Inquiry into Pre-School Education, only 178 Maori children of a total of 2360 in the Auckland Education Board district indicated even a preference for the Maori language.

In Auckland city which now houses the largest concentration of Maori people in New Zealand, it is generally considered that no Maori children speak or show any interest in the Maori language. It is perhaps relevant here that repeated attempts to establish courses in Maori language at the secondary school in Ngaruawahia have utterly failed and the project has now reluctantly been abandoned. It is therefore difficult to accept the view of the Committee that Maori is a living language, in any way to comparable with English.

4. It may also be seriously questioned whether Maori "has strong living oral tradition and a significant body of recorded literature." It is unfortunately the case that modern Maori has been subjected to the incessant pressure of a more dominant language and is now littered with transliterations, e.g. motuka (motorcar), tepu (table), pene (pen), moni (money), and so on. Even genuine Maori words have gone down in the struggle, thus whara instead of tangata for fellow, mama rather than whaea for mother, etc. Many Maori forenames are merely English names in disguise, e.g. Hori (George) Hoani (John), Hamiora (Samuel), Mohi (Moses), Eruera (Edward). Modern Maori has in short been largely pidginized. The utterances of a few elders who are still capable of speaking extempore and at length on the marae are Virtually unintelligible to most of their listeners, the more so since Maori oratory is traditionally allusive in style and redolent with archaisms which now have no meaning.

5. The literature spoken of is very limited, as any one acquainted with the history of literacy amongst the Maori must be aware. It was not in fact until the 1830's that the Maori began to take any real interest in the written word when the missionaries of various societies combined to produce a limited alphabet - hence the notable change in Maori pronunciation at this stage - and finally a quite foreign literature aimed at revolutionising Maori society. Initial interest soon wore off, partly because of the impact of disease, partly because of the determination of the Maori to come to terms with pakeha ways, and it was many years before there was enough "Maori" Literature to make a genuine educational programme in Maori possible. In the nature of things the great bulk of til at literature was bible-based - i.e. non-maori.

The total amount of material in genuine Maori in the Hocken is in fact extremely small: the amount of genuine literature is negligible.

6. A (a) 2. It is also difficult to accept many of the Committee's pronouncements under this head. The study of Maori may be "of value" to students of other disciplines such as Anthropology, History, Linguistics, Religious Studies and Sociology. The argument is a little strained in the case of Linguistics and Sociology. The first has only just been introduced as a terminal course, and the second is still not taught at Otago. It is also doubtful whether a knowledge of Maori will enlighten the student of Religious Studies who might indeed be better advised to study Arabic or Japanese. In addition, neither the Anthropology Department nor the History Department has so far felt it necessary to press for a course in Maori as an aid to under-graduate studies in Maori ethnography or history and neither is likely to insist on Maori as a prerequisite. The particular instances in which a knowledge of Maori is indispensable at undergraduate level in this University do not readily suggest themselves. It is normally only at post-graduate level that the need begins to make itself apparent and even then various notable students of Maori ethnology and history have found it possible to dispense with even a working knowledge of Maori.

7. A.3 It is difficult to believe that any undergraduate student will ever edit and publish manuscripts and recorded material in Maori or in any other language. The editing of such texts, as Dr Pei Te Hurinui Jones has testified is a most difficult and laborious business even for a native speaker which is therefore likely to be beyond the capacity of all but the occasional honours student in Maori language with a particular aptitude for so esoteric a task.

8 A.4. It may be true that a student of other languages "can derive considerable benefit" from the study of a language based on oral tradition - no proof is adduced for this proposition - but it is difficult to imagine such students being specifically directed by advisers of studies to study Maori or any other similar non-indo-European language. Some definite commitment on this point on the part of the various modern language departments might seem to be in order if the Committee's proposal is to be proceeded with.

9 A.5. The proposition that a knowledge of the Maori language can be of considerable value to teachers, etc. is clearly based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the situation likely to be encountered in the field. Few Maori have no English and few readily speak in Maori when they might just as easily speak in English. The great bulk of teachers, workers, lawyers and doctors in Maori communities normally secure all the information they require without recourse to the Maori language - for the simple reason that much of what they want to know is only adequately, expressed in English. The case of Mr J.McEwan is quire peculiar. His predecessor had no Maori and his successor may very well have none either. The present Minister of Maori Affairs is not expected to do more than pronounce two or three [unclear: vi]ritual sentences in Maori before getting down to the substance of his speech in English.

10. A. (b) 1. It may be that the 40 Maori students at Otago "Ought to be able to study able to study their own language at their own university." Most of these, however, do not speak Maori and will find no particular incentive to remedy that defect as part of their normal courses. The number of Maori Arts students is very small and no doubt many of these find existing courses in such subjects as Ambropology more immediately useful and rewarding. There is in fact only one place where a Maori student should learn Maori if he is not to make himself appear ridiculous in the eyes of his elders and that is on the marae. It is dubious Whether the suggested increase in the number of Maori people living in the South Island Dunedin is not specifically mentioned - affects the issue much. Most local Maori speak only English and prefer to do so. The only really living Polynesian languages in the South Island are Samoan ana Rarotongan, Which were unfortunately excluded from the terms of reference.

12 A (b) 3. The Hocken Library has a valuable collection of Maori material in the sense that is irreplacable and in common with a great deaf of the rest of the Hocken collection ought to be kept locked away except for Very occasional consultation, as Hockan himself stipulated Faculty might be interested to know that the greater part of the collection is made up of hyms - drawn from Ancient and Modern -catechisms, scriptual extracts, sermons by pakeha missionaries, and of Bibles, Paipera Tapu, printed either in New Zealand on primitive presses or in England by the "Peretehi mo te Poreni Paipera Hohaite", the British and Foreign Bible Society.

13 A (b) 4. It may be questioned whether the introduction of Maori would strengthen the work of the History Department at least in "New Zealand studies" (sic for Maori studies?). In the nature of things the amount of Maori history which can be taught at the moment is very small in relation to the offering in pakeha history and this balance will not change much in the foreseeable future, at least until the methodological problems involved in writing Maori history have been solved. In fact, the current proposal, if passed, is more likely to set back work in the field by absorbing scarce funds and diverting attention from what can and should be done at once.

14 A (c) 1. It is far from clear from this report that there is much genuine interest among students in the Faculty of Arts, either here or elsewhere, in courses in Maori language, and it may well be that much of the present rather sentimental interest among students and staff in other faculties at Otago would quickly evaporate if the very leisurely courses in the Department of University Extension were replaced by a full unit concentration in a single year which candidates would actually have to pass.

15. B. As has been said, Maori is now spoken by fewer and fewer New Zealanders, in spite of current salvage operations. Though it is admittedly a beautiful, expressive language - hence perhaps the inability of the average pakeha even to pronounce it - Maori has no developed literature of its own such as might cast even the dimmest light on the essence of Maoritanga or, more important, stretch a student's mind or stir his imagination. What is more, it will now never have such a literature nor is there any particular reason why it should do so. (The only Maori Burns fellow so far appointed had no Maori and if he had written in Maori he might well have had no audience.) In brief it cannot properly take its place within the framework of a broad human education which it is one of the University's essential functions to impart, at least at undergraduate level.

The corollary that Maori should not merely be introduced but be developed "fairly rapidly" to Stage III and postgraduate level" is even more difficult to accept, the more so since the new subject is not regarded even by the Committee as fully autonomous in the way that French and German are. As the Committee makes clear, only the first year is to be taken up exclusively with Maori "language and literature", and one may suspect that even this requirement may have to be abandoned, as has been done in Auckland, in order to attract students. In subsequent years the new subject is apparently to be permitted to deal with Maori "culture" and society - viz. subjects which are currently taught in the Anthropology and History departments.

16 C & D. First, it is hard to see why Maori should be allowed to develop beyond a certain point. In the present instance, indeed, there is a good case for stretching the work over three years and counting it as a single unit. However this may be, many subjects which have a far greater intellectual content than Maori are taken by students as terminal units or even as papers at various stages in their courses. Many others might be taught as terminal units at an appropriate point in the curriculum. Thus Anthropology was a terminal unit for many years, as Modern Pacific History now is, and the History and Philosophy of Science. If Maori is to be allowed to grow in the way suggested then there is no intrinsic reason why other subjects should not do so as well. And this is a tendency which should be resisted.

18. the Committee would seem to have over-looked certain important matters which it might well have taken into account before coming to so decided a conclusion. One of these is the extent to which the Faculty should go on building up undergraduate courses. In the last few years the academic staff of the Faculty has almost doubled and several new subjects and departments have been created to meet student demand. In consequence Faculty has been obliged to resort to quite revolutionary changes in examining methods without any prior discussion of the academic advantages involved. The Addition of Maori must exacerbate this problem. Perhaps more serious is the tendency to academic impoverishment implicit in the multiplication at under-graduate level of subjects which might be better reserved for postgraduate study, after students have been well grounded in the essential elements of the Graeco-Roman tradition. It may also be objected that if Faculty agrees to this proposal it may well do so at the expense of other developments for which a much better case could be made, e.g. Italian or Spanish or Japanese, or the proper whole report, however, is that the Committee should have decided on the basis of a quite casual student suggestion to recommend the erection of a whole new department in a minor field already catered for elsewhere at the expense of a major traditional field of interest, that is to say Polynesian history which has recently been deprived by death or retirement of its major figures and is now virtually on the point of extinction in most New Zealand universities in spite of the plethora of resources available in such libraries as the Turnbull and the Hocken.

G.S. Parsonson

Professor of History. Otago University.