A multi‑media resource, Patrick King

Te Māhuri
John C Moorfield,
Longman Paul, $49.95

The first textbook of the Māori language published in New Zealand was Thomas Kendall’s A Korao no New Zealand; or the New Zealander’s First Book; being an attempt to compose some lessons for the Instruction of the Natives (1815). It included early attempts to represent the language in written form such as ‘makkadede’ (makariri) and ‘rungateeda’ (rangatira).

There followed a trickle of offerings, mostly in the ‘Teach Yourself’ style, aiming to impart a knowledge of the language within a single volume. One of the most fascinating was Henry M Stowell’s 1911 Maori-English Tutor and Vade Mecum, with its wealth of esoteric information on such things as Māori rhyming slang and astronomy. It was not until the 1960s and 70s that modern multi-volume texts such as P M Ryan’s Modern Māori and Hoani Waititi’s Te Rangatahi appeared, finally gave the teacher and learner of Māori a resource of the quality that foreign-language learners had long enjoyed here.

In the Te Whanake series, John Moorfield, a tutor in Māori at Waikato University since 1976, has taken this process several steps further by offering a full immersion teaching text. The first two books, Te Kākano and Te Pihinga, were written for advanced students of the language and adult learners. By comparison, Te Māhuri (The Sapling), is more dense in text and to tackle it requires an extensive vocabulary and a solid foundation in the language. English appears only as a translation of the Māori phrases used as examples, in descriptions of grammatical terms, and in the Māori-English glossaries.

Te Māhuri is no ‘How to Learn Māori in Ten Easy Lessons’. Moorfield advises the reader: Me kōrero, whakarongo hoki koe i ngā whakaaro o ngā tohunga whakairo kupu. This is a resource to be treasured as just one component in the multi-dimensional activity of learning a living language and experiencing the culture and spirit which are unique to and inseparable from every language.

The book is also very much a multi-media resource. The texts are supported by video and audio tapes – which have to be purchased separately – and by reference to Hemi Potatau’s He Hokinga Mahara. It is also closely linked to its companion volumes by cross-referencing of grammatical points previously discussed in them.

A feature is the wealth of material from many sources, ranging from official publications to advertisements from the newspaper Te Korimako and extracts from historical and contemporary writings.

The book’s ten chapters each deal with a different theme. The topics are varied, relevant and fresh: cooking, sports and games, health and exercises, agriculture, natural disasters, music politics and the place of Te Reo. However, Chapter One, devoting some 27 pages to whaling and whales, is a rather daunting introduction in terms of sheer volume of text and might have been placed later in the book. Each chapter is rounded off with oral exercises and language games requiring teamwork, group discussion and guidance by the instructor.

All chapters are illustrated with black and white photographs, realistic line drawings and the detailed maps which have been a welcome feature of this series. The covers of the Te Whanake series, with their use of colour and interesting design features, have made these books a conspicuous addition to this traditionally rather serious field. The use of similar features on the inside would have enlivened the rather bland presentation and enhanced their user-friendliness.

A combined worldlist for the whole series would have been helpful. It is disheartening when reading through any long text if a high percentage of the words you need to look up are not in the glossary. Having to search other glossaries can take the pleasure out of an otherwise interesting text. Te Māhuri has many contemporary and specialised terms and there is no single dictionary to cover it adequately. This is a general problem for learners of Māori, who still don’t have a comprehensive and up-to-date dictionary available to them.

Not that it’s an easy task being a lexicologist. No sooner has Moorfield managed to get the Manatu Māori into his wordlist as the new term for Ministry of Māori Affairs than Te Puni Kōkiri comes into use for its successor.

Moorfield’s attention to detail is an impressive feature of all his books. Māori alphabetical order is used to number the paragraphs in the exercise sections and Māori is used as the primary language throughout – even in the publication details. The macron is used in preference to the double vowel and applied rigorously.

There are some minor inconsistencies such as timatatia in the text but tīmataria in the glossary. Te Taura Whiri I Te Reo Māori fully capitalised in the glossary but Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori in the text. These are relatively small points and reflect variations found in general usage. But in the absence of easily accessible authoritative sources for verifying such points it is important, for the benefit of budding editors and writers especially, to have consistency in usage at least within a single work.

John Moorfield has made an exceptional contribution to the teaching of Māori with this series. It is a treasury of written and spoken language to pass on to the new generation of users of Te Reo.


Patrick King is a director of the New Zealand Translation Centre in Wellington.





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Posted in Language, Māori, Non-fiction, Review
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