Circulation wars, James Hollings

He Pitopito Korero no te Perehi Maori: Readings from the Maori-language Press 
Jenifer Curnow, Ngapare Hopa and Jane McRae (eds)
Auckland University Press, $39.99,
ISBN 1869403592

Colonial Discourses: Niupepa Maori 1855-1863
Lachy Paterson
Otago University Press, $39.95,
ISBN 1877372269

Friends, all tribes in this land of Aotearoa, greetings to you. Advance beneath the mantle of the Lord, he will protect and care for us. This is my advice to you, to all of black skin. Whether of the Queen or King’s side, be peaceful in creating the conditions for yourselves and the land. Make a choice; remain on the path of light and the path of truth. I finish here.

Surely one of the most poignant, succinct editorials to have appeared in a New Zealand newspaper, this was printed in the first Maori-owned and controlled newspaper, Te Hokioi o Niu Tireni e Rere Atu Na, on 15 January 1863. The writer is Matutaera Potatau, the head of the Maori King movement. For months, government forces had been gathering on the borders of his lands, and a government-sponsored Maori-language newspaper had been urging Maori to ignore the Kingitanga’s call for an independent Maori state. Potatau’s plea for peace, in his own Maori-language newspaper, was his response.

It was, we know, in vain. Within a few months, the invasion of his lands was to begin, and with it the series of vicious battles that were to culminate in the surrender of the Waikato and the last great bastion of Maori independence. Potatau’s paper is one of many literary treasures re-examined in these two complementary, fascinating books.

Articles, letters, editorials, obituaries, advertisements – Curnow et al’s collection is a wonderful glimpse into the lives of 19th and early 20th century Maori. As well as the bread and butter of a newspaper’s community function – the reports of marae meetings, electioneering and political debates on the proper conduct of Maori-Pakeha relations – there is also a trove of delights on the more ordinary preoccupations of people of the time. One newspaper carries an article on the death of a favourite cat. Another advises that: “Rev Laishley, Onehunga, wishes to buy kiwi birds, either alive or dead. His price for a live one is one pound and for a dead one, ten shillings – however, they must be fresh; decomposing birds are not suitable.”

As well as the whimsical, there is the anguish, usually over land and expropriation of resources:

Friend, will you send out our message for Maori and Pakeha living in this land to see, that is a notice from us for Pakeha to understand that they must cease loading sand on to their steamers, boats or other vessels which come in here to Te Kao, because we do not know for what purpose the sand is taken away – perhaps in future there will be riches for us in that sand, therefore we say to Pakeha to stop taking the sand on their steamers …. If they, the Pakeha, want the sand, they should not carry it off but come to us; the decision is with us … if you have a request, we are here, come and ask us.


Along with accounts reflecting Maori coming to terms with the loss of power and land and an invasion of alien cultural influences, I was struck by the enthusiasm of many Maori for some aspects of Pakeha culture. This, from one who sailed to South America on a whaling ship which nearly sank in a storm:

It seemed to me then that we must die. My thoughts went out to my distant home, and with great sorrow I bade farewell to Father and Mother. But what is it to those people, the Pakeha, the masters of knowledge? To them, those many dreadful things, that is, defying death, are exhilarating. When they come near to them, the Pakeha greatly exert themselves to prevail against disaster. We with our Maori ways cannot match all the things that the Pakeha do.


Or this, from Porikapa Tamaihotua, Waipawa, 21 September 1875:

Friend, please put my message in Te Wananga. What a beautiful vehicle this canoe, the railway, is. It is as fine as a war canoe. I would like that vehicle here, I and my father Raharuhi, and Maraea, and Makimare too. That’s it.


Each item is laid out with its Maori version on the facing page. The editors say their aims were twofold: to be of use to teachers and students of Maori language, and to enable readers of English to enjoy writing by Maori and of the period. They say they have aimed for diversity, and seem to have made a good fist of that. Some may wish the translations were annotated; the authors say they avoided this in order to keep the texts as close as possible to the way they appeared in the newspapers.

Those who are looking for a closer, historical reading of a selection of the Maori-language press will find Lachy Paterson’s Colonial Discourses useful. The author, an historian at Massey University in Palmerston North, has limited his reading to papers from the period 1855-63. For their understanding of Maori during this time, some of his observations will surprise those used to earlier historians. He challenges the view of Sinclair and Ward – “perhaps influenced by the liberal and secular prejudices of 20th century academia” – who assumed Maori would have dismissed much of the Maori-language press as dry, sanctimonious and condescending. While he acknowledges that the bulk of the Maori-language newspaper output, sponsored by government or Pakeha missionaries, was intended to propound the virtues of Pakeha settlement to Maori, he quotes Angela Ballara in arguing that the corpus represents:

an incredibly rich resource, not only for Maori political history, but for waiata, whakapapa, cultural forms and practices, social history, the development of language … providing one antidote to the kind of historical writing about Maori which relies on Pakeha sources of information.


If I have a criticism, it is that I would like to have seen the discussion of these papers in an international context. How did their preoccupations, agendas and content compare with the great transformations under way in British and American papers? The rise of the penny press, the trend to “objectivity” and factual reportage? Schudson’s marvellous Discovering the News (1978) would be a start. To be fair, this does not appear to be Paterson’s agenda. He is more interested in the role these papers played on the national stage than in their place in the media context. Arguing that discourse is about power, he suggests that the material in the papers is not just a glimpse into the past, but helped change history. The papers did this by influencing Maori opinion on the great question which he argues dominated race relations in this country – the negotiation of the relationship between Maori and the Crown: “The question was, would Maori be subsumed and disappear within the Pakeha society, or would they be able to maintain their own identity and mana?”

How did the Maori-language press influence this discourse?  Maori followed the papers keenly – debates and articles from the newspapers were read aloud at meetings, and Maori contributed their thoughts and opinions on the issues of the day. And what they read influenced their behaviour: “Maori farmers, relying on market prices published in Te Karere o Poneke, considered those Pakeha not prepared to pay a particular price were trying to cheat them.”

Paterson rejects the suggestion that these papers represent a colonised Maori mind, rather than a true view of what Maori were thinking and feeling at the time. He suggests that it was not Maori literacy that allowed Maori minds to be colonised. Schooling, rather than literacy, had the greater influence. As schooling in earnest did not begin until the 1867 Native Schools Act, he argues the papers here do represent a glimpse into the uncolonised Maori mind. From this platform, he suggests that the papers show the extent to which many Maori rejected the Kingitanga, and wanted to embrace Pakeha governorship, or kawanatanga: “Co-operation with the Crown was not only the path of least resistance but, for many Maori, the most appropriate path.”

But not for all. The discourse was at its most stark during the newspaper “cold war” of early 1863. After the establishment of the Kingitanga’s paper Te Hokioi, Grey ordered the publication of a rival government paper, edited by John Gorst, designed to counter Te Hokioi. The latter was attempting to persuade Maori to back the idea of an independent Maori state, by promoting the example of Haiti as a successful, black anti-colonialist state, albeit with some key details omitted. Gorst, publishing within Kingitanga territory, struck back with his own version of Haitian history, one crafted in a manner more likely to sustain loyalty to the Crown. This circulation war for the hearts and minds of the constituency only ended when Potatau’s ally, Rewi Maniapoto, raided Gorst’s offices, took away his printing press and expelled him from Kingitanga territory, back to the Queen’s domain.

A few months later, government forces invaded the Waikato. Te Hokioi had to evacuate its press, and ceased publication. Strangely, the government did not take advantage by using its own Te Karere to step up its propaganda campaign: “Indeed, once the government had opted for a military solution, it appears to have lost interest in pursuing its discourses through newspaper propaganda.” No more Te Hokioi, no more editorials from an independent Maori leadership.


James Hollings is a lecturer in journalism at Massey University, Wellington. 


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Posted in History, Māori, Media, Non-fiction, Review
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