“Arohatia te reo” 2012July 24th, 2012
Love, cherish, read, write and above all speak our beautiful reo! This week is Māori Language Week, aka Te Wiki o te reo Māori.
I am the Research Librarian, Māori in the Alexander Turnbull Library (Arrangement & Description team). At the end of last year I moved to Wellington from Ōtautahi (Christchurch) to take up this new job, and want to tell you about some recent work that has been done to help you find some of our amazing taonga which are in te reo Māori - wananei!
My reo journey – Illustrious beginnings
First, a little about my journey learning te reo Māori. This began at primary and high school, with one-off courses, both lasting around 6 weeks. These just covered the basics - pronunciation, colours, and how to mihi.
Last week I came across a scrapbook where I had put certificates and some of my old high school assignments. I had pasted in my test results from my short te reo course, written on a small pink sheet of paper.
There, in its blushing glory in the middle of the scrapbook page, I'd added a smug comment about being first in the class (you can hear the “whoop whoops” bounding off the page). To further highlight my victory, I'd added an elaborate design in black and red!
Coincidentally, my daughter is now in the third form (year 9) and she is learning Māori at her high school. I am sure she will behave in a way cooler manner than I did though, if she ends up ranking top in her class.
Te Wiki – A time to reflect
After such illustrious beginnings in my reo journey, I ended up doing a degree in Māori Studies a few years later, and periodically have done other courses to keep improving my skills. There are lots of good websites and courses now available that can help you learn too!
Te Wiki is a good time to reflect on where our Māori language skills are at, and ask ourselves how we can improve our skills. Also, what can we do personally to help the language survive? I compose, perform and record waiata in te reo Māori partly because I love to do this, but also it is a conscious decision to help promote the language. Much of my inspiration comes from old kōrero in books and archival collections.
Ariana Tikao, "Tuia". Video by Louise Potiki Bryant.
Māori letters from Taranaki
The Alexander Turnbull Library has been busy digitising many of our Māori language collections lately. One collection I have had the privilege to work on is the Atkinson Māori letters, 252 letters written in Māori between various Māori ancestors, mostly from the Taranaki region.
So what is so interesting about these letters? Most of our other letters in Māori were written either by, or to, Pākehā agents of the Crown, scholars or missionaries. (As can be seen in the papers of Sir Donald McLean, also a great resource).
Letter by Wīremu Kīngi Te Rangitaake, 1 February 1863. MSI-Papers-2327-15-04.
But because these letters in the Atkinson collection were written by and to Māori tūpuna, their content and how the writers express themselves is likely to be different. It is a significant collection of written Māori language, and will be a rich resource for future research.
Many of the letters were written in the context of the Taranaki land wars. They were mostly taken from two raided villages (Mataitawa and Paiakamahoe) during the wars in the 1860s, when they were destroyed and burnt. The letters survived because they were seen to have value in terms of military and political intelligence.
They were checked for any relevant information, and given to Arthur Samuel Atkinson, the editor of the Taranaki Herald at the time, as he had an interest in the Māori language. He may also have been one of the people involved in analysing them for their political content.
Arthur happened to be the brother of Harry Atkinson, a key player in the wars and later Premier of New Zealand. Arthur Atkinson published some of the letters in the Taranaki Herald and provided his views on them. These articles are now available on Papers Past.
Excerpt from article "Expedition to the South", about the destruction of Paiakamahoe, and the letters being found. Taranaki Herald, 23 April 1864, p2. Major Atkinson, who is mentioned here, is Arthur Samuel Atkinson’s brother
New records and digitisation
Recently I created new records for each letter, based upon a paper finding aid originally created by the Māori Manuscripts Librarian, Sharon Dell and her colleague Bruce Ralston, in the 1980s. The only way to access this paper inventory for all these years was to come in to our reading room in Wellington.
Now all of the information, including names of writers and recipients of the letters and places mentioned, is available on our database. The letters are being digitised, so upon completion each of the digitised images will be able to be linked back to their record on the Tapuhi database.
Apart from this work, we have also begun making links back to the iwi who relate to these letters. It has been a rewarding experience (and humbling) to be working with these taonga as well as working alongside the iwi representatives, including Honiana Love (Te Reo o Taranaki) and Hemi Sundgren (Taranaki Iwi Trust).
In time, we look forward to getting the word out to other iwi, hapū and whānau who relate to these letters, enabling them to reconnect with the kōrero of their tūpuna.
One of the letters is included in the FRESH exhibition in the new Alexander Turnbull gallery, opening on August 6 at our refurbished Molesworth Street building in Wellington. Nau mai, hoki mai!