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Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.




In song the poetical genius of the Maori in language becomes evident. In modern times the language is regular and phrases are frequently broken up like an infant walking. In former times, especially in pre-European society, a wealth of meaning was clothed within a word or two as delectable as a proverb in its poetical form and in its musical sound. In ancient songs, particularly in karakia, there are a number of words which it is now quite impossible to elucidate. It must be supposed that these words were formerly current in the language.

To the modern mind there is a need for explanations of phrases, names, and archaic words. It has been found that there are some sacerdotal words in the songs, and some references to ancient Maori mythology. Many classical songs have been recorded in a number of books, with variations in the words from one book to another. This was inevitable, because they would go from lip to lip among the people throughout the land; on reaching some tribes a word or a name would be varied; and, because of the long period during which the circulation went on, some words were dropped or some were added. With a European as recorder, or a Maori not sufficiently literate, some of the words were wrongly spelt.

Today the number who sing the ancient Maori songs is gradually declining. Thus a new generation is growing up which, as a general rule, does not appreciate or value these ancestral treasures.