By George

It is common knowledge that historically Maori did not have a written language. What is a fact is that their written language was developed in or around 1815. Thomas Kendall, an early missionary, travelled from New Zealand with Ngapuhi chief Hongi Hika to England where they met linguist Samuel Lee. The purpose of the visit was to develop a written Maori language.

Following this, in 1820, Kendall published a grammar and vocabulary of the language of New Zealand, which contained the orthographic foundations of written Maori. This book was titled A Korao no New Zealand. This was New Zealand’s first book, though it was printed in Sydney. So it was at this point that Maori could document Maori history in their own language. Prior to this, all Maori history was communicated orally down through the generations.

It is not certain when Maori first stepped ashore here in New Zealand but general consensus suggests it was between 1330 and 1350. As a recognised rule of thumb we accept that an average generation is twenty-five years. Accepting that, Maori went through twenty generations without a written language.

Now we are all aware of “Chinese Whispers” in which a piece of information is passed from one person to the next and is changed slightly each time it is told, so when the final person repeats the information, due to distortion and embellishment, it bears no resemblance to the original statement. So it must be considered that Maori were not exempt from this phenomenon.

This poses the question that when preparing the syllabus of “The History of New Zealand”, will this idiosyncrasy be considered when determining the authenticity of pre-European Maori history? There is every likelihood it won’t. So what could be announced as an accurate account of pre-European history could be a load of balderdash. No one knows the accuracy of twenty generations of recall, least of all our radicalised twenty-first century Maori politicians who, thanks to colonisation, have a written language.

It appears these colonisers showed more respect for the Maori language than they are ever given credit for. This also enabled Maori to read and write in their own language for the first time in their history. But let’s not forget, these invaders were all raping, murderous, racist bastards of course. So it will depend on whose version of history will make the syllabus.

The title page from ‘A korao (korero) no New Zealand’. A korao no New Zealand (1815) Auckland War Memorial Museum – Tamaki Paenga Hira. EMI0001

A korao no New Zealand was the first book printed in te reo Maori. It was written by Thomas Kendall, who learned te reo from Tuai of Ngare Raumati when both were in Sydney. Kendall was sent to Samuel Marsden, Anglican Chaplain at Parramatta, to be the school teacher at the first Church Missionary Society mission in New Zealand.