The first newspaper in the Māori language – Ko te Karere o Nui Tireni – was published by the government from 1842. From then till the early 1930s some 40 newspapers in Māori were published by the government, philanthropists, churches and Māori. Some circulated nationally, while others had a regional readership. They were issued weekly, fortnightly or monthly over various periods of time; many stopped for lack of funds. Most had ceased by the early 20th century; one reason was the decline in the use of Māori as a first language.
Record of New Zealand history
All the Māori-language newspapers advocated for their own viewpoints, but they also carried editorials, letters, articles, national, provincial and international news, notices, advertisements and obituaries. They offer a wide-ranging and distinct account of this period of New Zealand history, recording the interaction between Māori and Pākehā in government, war, religion, education, everyday life – and newspaper publication. The papers are an especially valuable record of Māori history, covering cultural traditions, social life, political aspirations, debate over government, and tribal life. They are also an exceptional source of Māori opinion on all kinds of subjects.
Rere atu, taku manu!
The imagery and metaphors used by Māori writing for the newspapers reflect the highly poetic oral tradition. Māori newspapers were often named after birds, including the hokioi (a giant bird), pīhoihoi (pipit), korimako or kōpara (bellbird), huia, pīpīwharauroa (shining cuckoo) and mātuhi (fernbird). Māori often began letters to the newspapers with ‘O bird, greetings to you’. Editors, always in need of funds, urged potential subscribers to send in ‘seeds for our bird’.
Record of Māori language
The newspapers also preserve the language of the time, the creation of new words and expressions for introduced goods and practices, and translation to and from English. Some papers had bilingual columns, and several had translations of articles from English newspapers. Pākehā wrote to the papers in Māori and translated material for publication. In their contributions Māori translated and quoted from English literature, including newspapers, Shakespeare and the Bible.
Māori brought their oral arts into the press in the rhetoric of articles, in letters prefaced by customary greetings and concluding with songs, in farewells in obituaries, and in a predominance of metaphor. Māori made these newspapers their own, even though they began as a tool of the government with the aim of assimilation.