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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 65

Paper II. (in continuation.)

Paper II. (in continuation.)

3. Of the unmeaning gibberish, or broken-English morels and phrases, now used by the Government and by the Colonists in their higher transactions with he Maoris.

Although this is a very important branch of my subject, and very much might be said, I shall not dwell long upon it. You will notice, that I have purposely omitted referring to the common colloquial patois too often in use between page 22 Colonists and the Maoris, which I not unfrequently hear in passing by them in our streets; the marvel is, how they manage to understand each other.

It is well-known that the Maori people are great talkers among themselves; indeed, formerly they had in every pa (town) their large nhare-korero=house of assembly, where they would often spend their nights (and days too, in wet or cold weather, or on the arrival of visitors,) talking and debating. They also excelled in minute description of every thing new they had seen. Now the thought has often occured to me,—would an intelligent Maori who had gone on board of Cook's ship,—or one who had in later times visited England,—be able on his return to his people to describe clearly what he had seen? and that, of course, in pure Maori words, as his people at home knew no other language; and I have felt sure that he both could and would do so. Indeed we have a pretty good proof of this at hand, in those celebrated letters written from Australia a few years ago by Major Ropata, (a leading chief of the Ngatiporou tribe at the East Cape,) who accompanied Sir Donald McLean thither. Those letters, in which he gave a running account of the many novelties he had seen there, were very long and interesting, and were published at the time in the Government Maori Serial (Waka Maori)—I read them with delight. The copious, fluent, flexible, and euphonious Maori language, would make any description of that kind very easy to them. Such being the case why is it that so many new words and phrases in broken-English are constantly being thrust forward in official Maori documents and papers as if they were proper Maori words? Very sure I am of three things respecting such words and phrases:—1. they are not understood by the bulk of the Maori people, if clearly by any among them:—2. they are not required:—and—3. the use of them is causing the sad deterioration of the noble Maori language. When a Gazette or a Proclamation, a new Act or an Advertisement, or perhaps a long Official letter, printed or written in "Official" Maori, reaches a chief, or a Maori Village, the same is read over and over by the Maoris; and, at last, some one among them explains as well as he can each of those barbarous patois words and phrases to the people,—and, of course, with many ekings out of his own! But why not have printed or written the same in simple and plain Maori?

It is positively refreshing to turn from such barbarism to notice what they have done in the Sandwich Islands—the little Kingdom of Hawaii. There, all such proper names of new things, including legal matters, Officers of Government, etc., are in the pure Hawaiian tongue; which, though very copious is not so to such an extent as the Maori, partly owing to its possessing only 12 letters. This, as I view it, arose from that Government being purely aboriginal, having had good skilled Officers (and Interpreters when required) from the beginning, who both well-knew and sought to keep up their Native tongue; while here, the page 23 contrary has been too often the case. But it is not only the broken-English Words and phrases that I see good reason to complain of, the very sentences themselves, while consisting of (say) Maori words, are so long, so involved, so utterly opposed to Maori idiom, (I might almost say Maori syntax 1) that I myself can rarely understand or find out their meaning; indeed I cannot clearly do it, if the same is a translation of some legal or official document, without I also have that document in English to refer to. I am told, that this is mainly the fault of the Lawyers and others, who will have their legal and official papers (abounding in long involved obsolete and tautological phraseology) literally translated, line by line, or sentence by sentence,—utterly regardless of the so-called translation being understood I or having any connected or plain meaning!! Neither is that all! for, as if it must be so, to have "Confusion more confounded," often in the Maori Gazettes and other Official and legal Papers, the old Roman numerals (c.d.l.v.x.) are used, (though not to be found in the Maori alphabet, and therefore not by them understood!)—and, in addition thereto, other strange letters of the English alphabet,—merely for the purpose of marking Government Surveyors' blocks and that, too, when purposely surveying and marking off the land of the Maoris!