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1835–1860 Māori is the ‘New Zealand’ language
Key events in this chapter
- 1835: On 28 October 1835, at Waitangi, northern chiefs signed He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tireni (the Declaration of Independence of the United Tribes of New Zealand)
- 1840: Signing of the Treaty of Waitangi
- 1842: The first Māori-language newspaper, Ko te Karere o Nui Tireni, is published by the government. The Maori Messenger: Te Karere Maori is published by the government between 1849 and 1854
- 1844: A dictionary of the New Zealand language by William Williams is published
- 1858: The Māori population has declined to 56,000, while the Pākehā population has increased to 59,000. Pākehā outnumber Māori for the first time.
By 1835 around a thousand Europeans had settled in Aotearoa, but Māori maintained their autonomy. Te reo Māori was still the main language of business, politics, religion and everyday communication. From the 1840s, however, the position of Māori and the status of their language began to decline, at first slowly and then with gathering speed.
As it had been for centuries, at the beginning of this period te reo Māori was still the language of politics, used eloquently on the marae ātea and in the many discussions about how to deal with the European arrivals. When northern rangatira came together to form Te Whakaminenga (the Confederation of United Tribes) Māori was still the language of politics, used eloquently on the marae ātea and in the many discussions about how to deal with the European arrivals. They debated He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tirene (the Declaration of Independence of the United Tribes of New Zealand) in te reo Māori.
Five years later, New Zealand’s second founding document was also written in English and translated into Māori (some argue poorly). Te Tiriti o Waitangi (the Treaty of Waitangi) was drafted by several Englishmen, Lieutenant-Governor William Hobson and his associates. The document was then translated by missionary Henry Williams and his son Edward. While both men were reasonably fluent in te reo Māori, neither was an experienced translator. Most chiefs signed the Māori version of Te Tiriti, which therefore has higher status than the English version today.
Māori was also the language of business. From the early 1800s, Māori engaged in coastal and trans-Tasman trade, using European vessels to sell increasing volumes of pork, potatoes and wheat. From 1840, Māori enterprise entered a golden age that lasted nearly 20 years. Māori dominated the supply of agricultural produce to the new towns. The bulk of these transactions, from debating when to plant crops to unloading ships, were undertaken in te reo Māori.
In 1842, the first Māori-language newspaper was published by the Crown. In its opening statement, the first edition of Ko te Karere o Nui Tireni explained:
“He pukapuka ra tenei, kia mohio ai te tangata maori ki nga tikanga me nga ritenga o te Pakeha, kia mohio ai ano hoki te Pakeha ki nga ritenga o te tangata maori.”
"(The purpose of this newspaper is to inform Māori about the laws and customs of Pākehā and to inform Pākehā about the customs of Māori.)" 1
So, while Pākehā had laws that needed to be obeyed by all, Māori, according to the Crown, only had ‘customs’. A later government newspaper, The Maori Messenger – Ko te Karere Maori (1849–54), was more direct: its aim was ‘civilising Māori’.
The slow decline of Māori political power and the use of te reo Māori occurred against a background of other forms of loss. Many Māori had died from European diseases, especially influenza and measles. Land was being lost in dubious deals and there were conflicts over land transactions and threats to chiefly authority, including the Wairau incident in 1843 and the Northern War of 1845–46.
By 1858, the Māori population had declined to about 56,000, while the Pākehā population had increased to 59,000. For the first time, Pākehā outnumbered Māori, and in the 1860s the balance of power between the two peoples was to shift permanently.
For the teacher
Te Mana o te Reo Māori is great for students' self-directed learning. They can explore the chapters in their own time and at their own pace.
Support them with specially created educational resources that focus on exploring their own personal connections to te reo Māori.
These resources develop the students' understanding of Whakapapa, Tūrangawaewae, Whanaungatanga, Mana Motuhake, and Kaitiakitanga though key questions, activities, and language support.
1Te Karere o Nui Tireni quoted in Jane McRae, 'Māori newspapers and magazines – ngā niupepa me ngā moheni - Role of Māori newspapers', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand