A recurring subject in Māori letters to the newspapers is their aspiration to participate in government – or separate from it. This is most apparent in the papers Māori produced themselves. Regional in origin, they shared at least one aim – to have their views heard by government, Pākehā and, to use a favourite phrase of the time, ‘the four corners of the world’.
The first was Te Hokioi o Niu Tireni e Rere atu na (January–May 1863). It was to be a voice for the Kīngitanga (Māori King movement) and Māori – and a far-reaching voice. As the first editorial noted, the advantage of the press was that it could carry their opinions to the peoples of the world. Produced at Ngāruawāhia and edited by Wiremu Pātara Te Tuhi, the paper was printed on a press that had been donated by the Emperor of Austria to two Waikato chiefs visiting Vienna in 1859. Its criticism of the government spurred the establishment of Te Pihoihoi Mokemoke i runga i te Tuanui (February–March 1863), published in Te Awamutu by Resident Magistrate John Gorst.
The rancorous exchanges between the papers ended when, in March 1863, Ngāti Maniapoto chief Rewi Maniapoto led a party to seize the government press, revealing each side’s recognition of the potential power of the Māori-language newspapers.
The next paper arose in Hawke’s Bay. Te Wananga (1874–78) was published under the leadership of Hēnare Tomoana and Karaitiana Takamoana, with finance from Henry Russell. The first editorial stated that it was to be a press for the whole land and all the tribes, to bring them together in one mind. Impetus for the paper was stirred by the locally based repudiation movement, led by Hēnare Matua, which rejected the selling and leasing of land to the Crown and individuals and advocated Māori self-government. But a raft of grievances were debated in the paper, including recognition of the Treaty of Waitangi, abolishing the Native Land Court, increasing Māori representation in Parliament and extending the vote for Māori. It is not surprising that there were bitter exchanges with the government’s Te Waka Maori o Niu Tirani.
As their many letters attest, Māori welcomed the paper with exuberance, perhaps because one expression of its purpose was to bring to light the pains that oppressed them. Their apposite and outspoken correspondence about politics, by no means always of one accord, recalls the speechmaking at tribal meetings. Much of it fits with the suggestion that ‘Maori political writing in newspapers is largely ... a chiefly discourse’.1
While at core its reporting was political, readers also found in Te Wananga national and overseas news, items from other papers, letters and obituaries, reports on tribal meetings, and accounts of traditions. There was also detailed description of Māori activities – marriages, new meeting-houses, celebratory feasts, sports and horse-racing.
While the editors of the newspapers were usually men, Te Puke ki Hikurangi had the distinction of Niniwa-i-te-rangi, a woman of mana of Ngāti Kahungunu and Rangitāne, as an editor and contributor. A supporter of other newspapers as well, she translated articles from English newspapers and assisted with the production.
Two Kotahitanga papers sought unity as a political strategy. Huia Tangata Kotahi (1893–95), produced at Hastings and edited by Ihāia Hūtana, announced itself as a press for all the tribes of both islands and spoke of unity as necessary to their survival. Its successor, Te Puke ki Hikurangi (1897–1900, 1901–6 and 1911–13), had the same intent. Proposed by Tamahau Mahupuku, it was published at Pāpāwai and Greytown with Pūrākau Maika as editor.
Both papers were directly associated with the Kotahitanga movement and Māori Parliament, and record their origins, meetings and proceedings. However, they also include news ranging from the international to the local and matters of historical and contemporary tribal interest.
Similar in intention, but more individual, was the Kīngitanga’s second paper, Te Paki o Matariki, first published in 1892. The ornate coat of arms as masthead and the English subtitle on some issues spoke to its viewpoint: ‘The Independent Royal Maori Power of Aotearoa’. It was a paper for the affairs of the movement but it also engaged with national matters of political importance to Māori. Issues were in Māori, or both Māori and English. Over time it became less of a newspaper and more of a circular for the King movement.
When Te Puke ki Hikurangi ceased publication in 1913, it marked the end of a Māori-led press of major newspapers, which has never been replicated, making these papers, along with all the others in Māori, an extraordinary witness to New Zealand’s history.