Story: Māori non-fiction and scholarship – ngā tuhinga me te rangahau

Page 4. Reference works and translations

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Collecting waiata and stories

A significant body of waiata was collected, translated and annotated as part of the four-book series Ngā mōteatea. This was an extensive enterprise which took place over decades. It began with Apirana Ngata, who sought to collect traditional waiata with a view to keeping them alive and to their eventual revival. He also hoped they would become part of a curriculum of Māori language and culture at universities in the future. Parts one and two of Ngā mōteatea were published in the late 1920s. Part three appeared in 1970 following Pei Te Hurinui Jones’s input, and part four was published in Māori in 1990 following Tamati Reedy’s editing. Under Hirini Moko Mead of Ngāti Awa, part four was translated and published in English in 2007.

Sweet music

The intention of the committee revising the Bible was to produce a standard work in the Māori language and to ‘put back into the Maori Bible something of the sweet musical tone and cadence, rhythm and poetry of the Maori language’.1

Māori Bible

The Māori-language version of the Bible, Te paipera tapu, was largely the work of Pākehā translators. In the mid-20th century the decision was made to revise it. The committee consisted largely of Māori. It was headed by John Laughton, and other members were Frederick Bennett (Bishop of Aotearoa), Eru Te Tuhi, Apirana Ngata, William Bird, Te Hihi Kaa and Wiremu Panapa. The revision was completed by 1949 and published in 1952.

The Williams dictionary

The Williams dictionary was truly a family affair. The first five editions were the work of missionary William Williams, his son William Leonard Williams and one of William Leonard’s sons, Herbert William Williams. In 1948, inspired somewhat by the decision to revise the Māori-language version of the Bible, Apirana Ngata instigated the selection of a revision committee for the dictionary. However, before the committee could progress the project significantly, both Ngata and fellow member William Cooper died.

Other members were later added by Apirana Ngata’s son, W. T. Ngata, who was then committee secretary. Their revision was completed in 1957. In 1970 the seventh edition was published.

Later other important dictionaries were put together. The English–Māori dictionary, commonly known as the Ngata dictionary, involved years of research by Hōri Mahue Ngata and was published in 1993. In 2008 a monolingual Māori-language dictionary, He pātaka kupu – te kai a te rangatira, was published under the auspices of the Māori Language Commission.

Translation of English literary works

Pei Te Hurinui Jones was an accomplished translator, translating Shakespeare’s The merchant of Venice, Julius Caesar and Othello and Edward FitzGerald’s The rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám into Māori. In the 2000s Te Haumihiata Mason translated Shakespeare’s sonnet 18 (‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’) and Troilus and Cressida. Both were performed at the Globe Theatre in London.

  1. Quoted in Manuka Henare. 'Panapa, Wiremu Netana.' Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, (last accessed 15 April 2015). Back
How to cite this page:

Basil Keane, 'Māori non-fiction and scholarship – ngā tuhinga me te rangahau - Reference works and translations', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 12 August 2022)

Story by Basil Keane, published 22 Oct 2014