A particular dedication, Hilary Stace

Books in Maori: An Annotated Bibliography, 1815-1900/ Nga Tanga Reo Maori: Nga Kohikohinga Me Ona Whakamarama
compiled in the Alexander Turnbull Library by Phil Parkinson and Penny Griffith
Reed, $120,
ISBN 079000951X

New Zealand has traditionally lacked “bibliodensity”. This term was used in the 1980s by Turnbull Librarian Jim Traue to describe the immaturity of New Zealand’s book culture. At that time there were few New Zealand reference sources or scholarly monographs. He believed that a major role of a research library such as the Turnbull was to parent “the next generation of books”. I hope he approves of this impressive production, gestated in the Turnbull for many years, and now affectionately known as BiM.

Books in Maori (or more accurately “books, pamphlets and single-sheet printed items”) represents the latest generation of Maori bibliography. It is largely based on H W Williams’ Bibliography of Printed Maori (Wellington, 1924; Supplement, 1928) and its unpublished supplement compiled in 1947 by A D Sommerville at the New Zealand Library School. Williams had attempted to include “any work, however small, printed wholly in Maori, or in Maori with a translation … also any work dealing wholly with the Maori language.” BiM includes 376 new items, papers from the Appendices to the Journals of the New Zealand Parliament, fuller descriptions, extensive indexing and cross-referencing, and location details.

But what distinguishes this book as a masterpiece of professional bibliography are the “full, standardised descriptions of each item to the international standards for rare books cataloguing” and “annotations that describe the contents and locate the publications in their historical context, including within the history of printing and publishing in New Zealand, with references to secondary and archival sources.” Behind these claims lie years of detective work locating each item and exploring its significance. Then the chaos is tamed and sorted into intelligible order. The cataloguing rules employed are the universal Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules, 2nd ed 1998, although sometimes problematic for such esoteric material. A particular dedication is required to complete such a project and the compilers and publisher are to be congratulated. They follow in the footsteps of master bibliographers like Graham Bagnall of New Zealand National Bibliography fame.

Although around 1000 pages and containing almost 2000 entries, BiM is still easily browsable. Its handsome black cover and elegant font are aesthetically pleasing. Entries are arranged chronologically, while within each year items are alphabetised. Some images are included for visual context. But why would anyone, apart from obsessive bibliographers, librarians or te reo scholars, want to browse, let alone own, such a volume?

There are many reasons. Perhaps the most obvious is its coverage of an 85-year period in the development of our national identity. This book could only have been produced in New Zealand, the only country in the world where Maori is an official language. The annotations provide a narrative of a developing relationship between two cultures. The Treaty of Waitangi first appears on p81, item number 83, as one sheet “Printed on bluish laid paper with watermark of Britannia image”. This was preceded in 1835 by number 28, A declaration of the independence of New Zealand signed by most of the local chiefs. Maori representation in Parliament began in 1868 and so did many Bills and Acts in te reo. As the influence of the church declined and land issues and the kingitanga strengthened, serial and advocacy communications increased. The meeting of languages has a legacy in the latest New Zealand Oxford Dictionary in which six out of every 1000 words are of Maori origin.

Here is also a history of our print culture. When the first group from the Church Missionary Society[CMS] settled in 1815, they brought a belief in the primacy of the written word but found an oral culture. They quickly realised that the quickest way to spread the “word of God” would be literacy in the native language through “books that speak”. It was hoped that lay schoolteacher Thomas Kendall would soon produce publications, and he is responsible for the first listed items in BiM. Number 1 is an elementary Maori language primer printed in Sydney in 1815, only one copy of which is known to exist. But Kendall apparently struggled with orthography. On a trip to London with chiefs Hongi Hika and Waikato, he consulted linguist Samuel Lee and in 1820 published numbers 2-5 – various versions of A grammar and vocabulary of the language of New Zealand. Unfortunately Kendall was dismissed in 1823 for arms dealing, adultery and insubordination, and he and his work disowned by the CMS.

The first person to print in Maori in New Zealand was another whose missionary life was cut short by scandal. Reverend William Yate translated and printed a church catechism in 1830 on a small press brought to Kerikeri (number 12). By 1836 he too was dismissed as his relationships with Maori youths were causing embarrassment to the mission. (A fascinating fictional account of his downfall, which also documents the dangerous, several-months sea journeys between New Zealand and England, can be found in Annamarie Jagose’s Slow Water.) Colenso (later also disgraced) and others continued Protestant printing, while Pompallier’s Catholic press started producing in 1839 (number 55) There is enough evangelism in this book to satisfy even the Destiny Church.

An ongoing debate thrives about the impact of literacy on Maori. Dr Patu Hohepa, the Maori language commissioner, writes in his introduction to BiM that “the greatest gift England gave Maori was literacy. Teaching Maori to write began  in 1816 and within two generations over 80 per cent of Maori were literate in their own language.” Maori adapted and absorbed literacy for their own needs. Memorisation and oral recitation of texts became popular. Phil Parkinson claims that “orality and literacy are complementary, not in opposition: they dine at the same table, whether as manuscripts, printed text or in electronic forms.” In a world without telecommunications, writing was the only method of communication with the outside world. Paper was a scarce commodity, and letters from this era feature tiny cross-hatched writing. Flax and other local fibres were sometimes substituted.

The evolution of standardised spelling and orthography can also be followed in BiM. As early work was done in the north there was a bias towards the Nga Puhi dialect. Sounds new to the pakeha ear were problematic to transcribe. For example, Bishop Selwyn in 1844 ordered the use of “wh”. The development of the macron was slow.

The complex Governor Grey arrived in New Zealand in 1845. He complained to London about the influence of the missionaries and ended bilingual proclamations. A philologist, he collected publications as well as oral waiata and legends of a race he regarded as doomed. He first published Ko Nga Moteatea (largely the unattributed work of Te Rangikaheke of Te Arawa) in 1853 (number 453). Nga Moteatea and Williams’ Book of Common Prayer were the most common 19th century Maori texts. Maori soon wrote and printed their own texts. Possibly it ensured racial and cultural survival. An early travel writer and pamphleteer was Ngati Kahungunu chief Renata Kawepo. He also heads a list of influential people who had given up smoking (number 361, 1848).

Alternatively, there are the curiosities, such as Robinson Crusoe (number 427) and entertainment posters such as the 1899 advertisement for Greek George (number 1537). Mrs Grimke’s scriptural cards, illustrated with English scenes (number 995), were produced in Manchester in different languages to be sent out to the heathens.

However, my personal interest in BiM is as one of many New Zealanders descended from those early missionary settlers in the north. My ancestor Richard Davis features in three items, including as the overseer of the 1827 printing of number 9 in Sydney, and his 1843 ordination service (number 123). Having recently read Marianne Williams’ Letters from the Bay of Islands, I could imagine the scenes. Davis was one of the Waimate North group visited by Charles Darwin at Christmas 1835. Darwin praised their English gardens that included imported gorse hedges. Unfortunately, no written Maori record of Darwin’s visit exists.

I hope television sees the potential for a series based on the missionary era using the information in BiM. While the Pakeha men were off printing or travelling, the Pakeha women endeavoured to teach literacy, scripture, domestic skills and other aspects of white Christian culture, while constantly breeding, cooking, cleaning and enduring loneliness in makeshift houses in various small settlements. They occasionally got caught up in the territorial battles of local chiefs. The bright immoral lights of Kororareka enticed young Maori whose souls the missionaries were attempting to save. The missionary settlements themselves were not immune from scandal and corruption, intersectoral bickering and fights with officialdom. Meanwhile Maori and Pakeha children grew up happily bilingual.

Our bibliodensity has indeed been enhanced by this valuable reference book. The bibliographers’ obsession will probably see an eventual supplement, as such work is never finished. But in the meantime it’s gratifying to have a real book in its tactile entirety rather than a mere electronic source.


Hilary Stace is a Wellington reviewer who worked for many years at the Turnbull Library.


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Posted in History, Language, Literature, Māori, Review
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