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Monday, June 13, 2016
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We feature each week Nicholas Reid's reviews and comments on new and recent books.
We feature each week Nicholas Reid's reviews and comments on new and recent books.
“KA NGARO TE REO – Maori Language Under Siege in the Nineteenth Century” by Paul Moon (Otago University Press, $NZ39:95)
In his latest foray into the interface of Maori and Pakeha in the nineteenth century, Paul Moon takes on the matter of the relatively rapid decline of the Maori language under the impact of British colonisation. Ka Ngaro Te Reo - Maori Language Under Siege in the Nineteenth Century is a densely referenced book, with its 220 pages of text followed by over a hundred pages of endnotes, bibliography, glossary and index.
It sets out some of its main theses in the Introduction.
With Pakeha as a small minority until the 1840s, Moon writes:
“…Surely no one in the 1830s could have anticipated either the rapidity or the extent of the decline of te reo as the country’s main language over the rest of the century. Yes, there remained stubborn pockets of resistance – linguistic outcrops of te reo where isolation gave the impression of being impregnable. These increasingly became the exception that proved the rule of the power of English to assert its dominance and to advance into what were sometimes former strongholds of te reo with impunity. And as the tide of colonisation rose, Maori found themselves fleeing ever deeper into the cultural hinterland in often desperate efforts to maintain a cultural, linguistic and social space that they could claim as their own.” (Introduction p.8)
Further, argues Moon, not only did the English language make huge inroads into Maori society, but the language of the Maori itself came in some sense to be shaped by European innovations, such as writing and the printing press:
“….it was the introduction of text to Maori society that was to lead to the biggest revolution in te reo. Writing was the medium of the coloniser, and it initially filtered and then reconfigured elements of the Maori language and culture in ways that had momentous effects on the retention and transmission of te reo, especially once it started to appear widely in written form. There was also the trend towards the greater standardisation of te reo in text, and although the process never reached the point of absolute uniformity, some of the more pronounced dialectical variants across the country were eventually narrowed down – in written form at least – in the process.” (Introduction, p.12)
Chapter by chapter, Ka Ngaro Te Reo takes a chronological approach to this topic.
Moon begins (Chapter 1) by attempting to reconstruct what the language of the Maori would have been like in 1800, when there had as yet been virtually no external impact upon it. His emphasis is upon the nuance and degrees of meaning that were embedded in a purely oral form of communication. With a degree of unverifiable speculation (and perhaps idealisation), he argues that the spoken language of a wholly oral culture would have been more formalised than the spoken language of a literate culture, and he expands at length upon the roles of tohunga, kaumatua and rangatira; and the importance of formal oratory and the recital of whakapapa:
“… all these forms of whakapapa…. were the framework on which Maori society was built. Without them, the society would not have existed or survived in the form that it did. With them, Maori culture was imbued with a sophisticated system of politics, history, diplomacy, religion, economics and ecology that was a stabilising influence on the society yet allowed social and cultural evolution and innovation to occur.” (Chapter 1, p.30)
He is aware, however, that a language which had developed in isolation for hundreds of years was particularly vulnerable to change once outside influences reached it:
“….te reo’s evolution in complete isolation from the rest of the world had left it ill equipped to handle the approaching encounter with the English language and its colonising protagonists.” (Chapter 1, p.34)
Moon then moves on (Chapter 2) to the period up to 1815, when Maori were making their very first contacts with very small groups of whalers, traders, runaway convicts and the like. Despite a tiny handful of Pakeha engaging with the Maori world, Moon depicts Pakeha as being largely contemptuous of Maori “barbarism” and prone to describing Maori in demeaning terms. When the two languages met, it was mainly Maori who took the trouble to learn some English, rather than the other way about. Maori understood the advantages of trade with some of the newcomers, whereas the newcomers were inclined to learn only the most rudimentary of Maori terms as they grabbed local resources and ran. At this stage, the great majority of Maori had not yet encountered the English language and te reo seemed secure in its dominance of the land.
A real shift in the relationship of the languages began with the arrival of Protestant missionaries in 1815. With only very small groups of Pakeha in the land, Maori remained the dominant language. Even so, from 1815 to the 1830s (Chapter 3) te reo underwent a metamorphosis mainly under the impact of the missionaries. Most notably, thanks to the labours of Thomas Kendall, Professor Samuel Lee and others, it ceased to be an oral language only, and became also a written and printed language as missionaries sought to evangelise Maori. The first widely-distributed printed texts in Maori were all passages of Scripture, catechisms and religious tracts. In the process of their production, however, the Pakeha who first committed Maori to print smoothed out the very many dialectical variants of Maori and in effect created the standardised language that is regarded as the Maori language today. There were some anomalies in this Pakeha creation, as it seems clear that in transcribing te reo, British linguists and lexicographers suppressed or ignored certain sounds. (Moon dwells at some length on the apparent disappearance of the “sh” sound from the Maori language, which had been noted by early British listeners.) However, it was the fact of standardisation that was most important:
“Printed texts…. could mass-produce information without changing the form of that information in the slightest. This was also the commencement of a new notion about the vocabulary, idiom, pronunciation and grammar of te reo: that all the shades of variety in these areas of language could be boiled down to a single, standardised and supposedly ‘correct’ version. It was an approach to te reo that was fortified by the fact that representatives of the colonising power, with all its implicit authority, were behind this drive to uniformity.” (Chapter 3, p.74)
As very many historians before Moon have noted, literacy had a huge impact upon Maori who, in this early missionary period, took eagerly to reading and writing. Mission-printed books were spread through the land by Maori themselves, so that religious publications were having an impact upon Maori belief systems often without any Pakeha having visited a given area.
Between the 1830s and 1850 (Chapter 4) formal British colonisation occurred and for the first time there was now a clear and present threat to te reo as the country’s dominant language. At first, te reo was almost the only printed language that Maori saw as literacy among Maori continued to advance. Maori themselves often controlled the spread of the printed form of their language, and literacy was so highly prized that Maori were occasionally surprised to find that there were some illiterate Pakeha (sailors etc.). Even those Pakeha who sought to exploit and/or despoil Maori understood that they had to make at lest some concessions to te reo when they were bargaining. Moon depicts the Wakefield Company (pp.117-119) as land sharks who merely mimicked the humanitarian impulse of the missionaries when they framed deeds of title in both Maori and English. (Moon adds further that the Maori text of deeds drawn up by the Wakefield people was an execrable form of Maori, clearly put together by English-speakers who hardly knew the language.)
Moon gives only a perfunctory account (pp. 123-124) of the exact moment of formal colonisation – the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 – about which he has written extensively elsewhere. His contention is that, even as literacy among Maori was advancing, Maori culture was still primarily an oral culture, and for the chiefs who signed the treaty, the spoken bargaining that surrounded the document was as binding as the document itself.
Be this as it may, the very fact of formal colonisation now put more pressure upon te reo. In 1847 – at which time Pakeha were still a minority in an overwhelmingly Maori country – Governor George Grey’s Education Ordinance said that English had henceforth to be part of all formal instruction for Maori. (Hitherto, mission schools had conducted instruction in Maori). Paul Moon thus fingers the late 1840s as the time that Maori began to lose its linguistic dominance in Niu Tirani. Assimilationist education was beginning even though te reo was still the everyday form of communication amongst Maori. Immigration was beginning to swamp the indigenous race. At the beginning of the 1840s there had been only 2,000 or so Pakeha in New Zealand. By the end of the decade there were over 20,000. There were now appearing, in the Maori language, some newspapers owned and controlled by Pakeha and very much reflecting the colonial interest – in other words, there were sites in which the language was preserved but was made to speak in alien strains; and it was naturally te reo as it had been standardised by Pakeha. Such newspapers were very much opposed by the Wakefieldians, who now preached that Maori could be “civilised” only if they abandoned te reo and learnt English. Moon quotes an opinion piece from an 1845 Wellington publication:
“One of the first measures indispensible to any successful attempt to bring the natives within the pale of civilisation, is to teach them our language, and so far as we can, to cause them to forget their own.” (quoted p.142)
Now for the first time, prematurely assuming that Maori would lose out in a grand cultural struggle, Pakeha began to sentimentalise the Maori past. Theories were devised, many of them laughably fallacious (see pp.134 ff.), about the “Aryan” origins of Maori. This permitted the assumption that English was a more “advanced” form of an “Aryan” language and that therefore it should inevitably supersede the inferior specimen. There was a nascent Social Darwinism in this assumption.
By the late 1850s (Chapter 5), there was for the first time a Pakeha majority in New Zealand. Dealing with these years, Moon very much casts George Grey as a villain in at once collecting (and often distorting) Maori mythology AND discouraging the use of te reo as a medium of formal instruction. Government-controlled “native” schools were to conduct instruction in English. However, as the conditions grew that would produce the wars of the 1860s, the Kingitanga movement showed the resilience of te reo as the Kingites resisted the secular (non-missionary) schools and produced their own Maori-language publications which were able to argue their own case cogently in opposition to government newspapers. After the wars, however, and as part of the new secularisation of education, there was a renewed initiative to fully secularise schools for Maori and totally eliminate the remaining missionary influence. Moon sums up the period thus:
“The cumulative effects of declining missionary involvement in offering schooling to Maori in te reo; legislation that discriminated heavily in favour of English in most areas of the government’s operation; and a steadily congealing attitude towards te reo among settlers all connived to expel the language from the country’s social landscape. And if te reo held on in a number of remote rural outposts then, like its ageing and declining numbers of speakers, it would remain as little more than a cultural relic….” (p.175)
There were now a handful of Maori members of parliament, but they quickly understood that if they were to be listened to, they had to speak in English.
So (Chapter 6) to the final phase with which this book deals. Between the 1870s and the 1890s, with the drastic decline in Maori population, there was the growing conviction among Pakeha that the Maori were a dying race, that “native” schools should now educate exclusively in English, and that Maori culture was basically just a picturesque decoration from a past age, which could add a little colour to New Zealand (“Maoriland”) for tourist and publicity purposes. Maori political movements (Kingitanga, Te Kotahitanga) were given short shrift in parliamentary legislation, and by 1900 Maori MPs spoke exclusively in English in the House. Te reo remained the sacred language in church liturgy for Maori. But when a new generation of Maori leadership was being nurtured at Te Aute College, they were taught that they would advance politically and socially only if they made the English language their own.
And it is at this juncture that Paul Moon concludes his melancholy history, with a brief summary (Chapter 7) of the situation at the end of the nineteenth century. Te reo had effectively been beaten down by colonialism, the Pakeha majority and legislation. But Moon indicates that this situation was not as permanent as it seemed and there would be some revival of the language in the twentieth century. Even so, Maori is now the first language of only a small minority in New Zealand.
I make no apologies for presenting this review largely in the form of a long summary. My aim has been to convey accurately what Ka Ngaro Te Reo says. It is an interesting story and it is well-documented. But I do have some criticisms to make.
In terms of style, Paul Moon does have the habit of saying the same thing more than once, and some of the rhetoric of this book comes close to padding. Twice the author uses “denouncement” (p.79 and p.175) when he clearly means “denunciation”, and he does have the habit of using “reverend” as a noun rather than as the honorific it is. These are not major criticisms, but I do find some of the rhetoric to be extreme. Take this quotation [with my emphases added] from a point where Moon is narrating the first inroads of English into te reo:
“It was as though English possessed a viral quality that allowed it to infect other languages, almost imperceptibly at first, as a precursor to inflicting much wider damage…” (Chapter 2, p.43) His metaphors are intended to present the English language as a nasty disease. Shortly thereafter, noting that missionaries could find no Maori word for “orphan”, and further noting that parentless children always found carers in a Maori tribe, Moon remarks:
“As English – the most nomadic of the world’s languages – migrated to New Zealand, it brought with it the means for the coloniser to encode and then reproduce the sorts of unequal relationships that were embedded in English and that had previously been used to coerce other populations.” (Chapter 2, p.44) Here, the intention is to suggest that the English language itself presents a distorted view of human relationships, which the Maori language does not. Both these statements are demeaning and generalised. It is ironical that Moon deploys them at the very point where he has just been deploring demeaning Pakeha attitudes to Maori.
I note too that Moon fails to make one very obvious comparison, especially when he is writing of the 1840s at one point in his narrative. Remarking on how Pakeha began to sentimentalise Maori culture and language as “quaint” once they perceived them to be “dying” and no longer a threat, he comments:
“…. The language was well on its way to being seen as a dusty artefact of a primeval and fading culture. The Druids of England had undergone a similar sort of treatment, and now it was the turn of the Maori to have their culture rendered archaic and nostalgic in a picturesque and poetic sense….. The portrayal of te reo was shifting from being the language of the savages and barbarians to something exotic, antique, Arcadian – and tamed.” (p.144) What I find strange here is that Moon does not make the more obvious comparison with the decline and near death of the indigenous Irish language which (at the time of the 1840s famine) was then occurring. It is well documented that at least some English opinion-makers rejoiced that the speakers of Irish were dying out and being replaced by those who spoke English. And then, in a few short years, the Irish would become the standard figures of comic relief or sentimental tales in the English repertoire, just as Maori would in the Pakeha repertoire.
Or perhaps Paul Moon has no particular sympathy for the Irish and prefers not to mention them?
For whatever reason I know not, but Paul Moon apparently has a bee in his bonnet about Catholicism. On those occasions when the subject of Catholics comes up in his books, he tends to make a demeaning or negative remark. Emphatically at the end of Chapter 3, [p.104], when he is discussing demeaning statements and assumptions which Pakeha made about Maori, he takes a relatively innocuous (for its day and age) comment made by the Catholic Bishop Pompallier about a discussion which the bishop had had with Maori. Moon trumpets this as if it were the epitome of “contemptuous” attitudes towards Maori. I am sure that Catholic missionaries at various times said things about Maori that were as insensitive as things said by other missionaries. Oddly, Moon’s own book proves how mild the bishop’s statement was when one compares it with the real vituperation against Maori that is later shown (p.122) by an Anglican missionary.
It seems odd that this sectarian card is played in a book which otherwise, apart from some of its excessive rhetoric, is an interesting and informative guide to the stresses that were placed upon te reo.