Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Korero Pukapuka, Talking Books: Reading in Reo Māori in the Long Nineteenth Century

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posted on 2023-09-26, 23:55 authored by Driver-Burgess, Frith

The introduction of reading to New Zealand by missionaries in 1815 was a catalyst for enormous change in how Māori communicated and recorded information. Reading was quickly adopted by Māori, who learned in mission schools initially, and increasingly taught each other, both in formal educational contexts and informally in village settings across the country. Missionaries were concerned to promote reading as a means of communicating the Christian gospel, and much of the early material available to Māori readers in reo Māori was ecclesiastical or scriptural works. However, in 1842 the colonial government established the first reo Māori newspaper, the first of around forty titles which were produced over the period 1842-1932 by government, church and philanthropist, and Māori groups. Alongside news, speeches and other items, the niupepa included a wide range of texts that broadened the genres available in reo significantly. Many reports exist of Māori reading and writing in to the niupepa. Māori reading was, however, often carried out in conjunction with traditions of Māori debate and oral communication, which proved to be pragmatic approaches to the reading context of Māori in nineteenth century New Zealand.  Government-controlled niupepa in particular used translated texts, both in niupepa and bound separately, as a means of disseminating information on a ‘civilised’ life and urging Māori to take up European behaviours. Other niupepa, however, in particular the Anglican-Māori Te Pipiwharauroa, He Kupu Whakamarama and Te Toa Takitini and the Kotahitanga niupepa Te Puke ki Hikurangi, promoted reading as a means by which Māori could inform themselves, entertain themselves, and connect with other cultures. Rather than being subsumed by Pākehā culture, these niupepa writers aimed to enrich their lives as Māori by incorporating elements of what they read in the paper. Translated texts, reo Māori versions of originals from other languages, were certainly part of this change, with readers reporting their reflections on the text and its application in their lives. Although responses were varied to reading, with many Māori both reading and lacking interest in reading at the end of the long nineteenth century, a well-developed reading culture in te reo existed in New Zealand, Although reading was not engaged in by the whole population, it was, in many cases, highly respected and a part of daily and official life.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Arts

Victoria University of Wellington Unit

Stout Research Centre

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Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations


Wevers, Lydia; Loader, Arini