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Reviewed by:
  • Colonial Discourses Niupepa Māori 1855–1863
  • Lydia Wevers
Colonial Discourses Niupepa Māori 1855–1863. By Lachy Paterson. (Otago: University of Otago Press 2006).

Since the Niupepa Māori (newspapers in Māori) were digitised in the mid 1990s, they have sustained major new scholarship. Even digitised, Niupepa Māori are still not easy. Of the nine papers which form the basis of Lachy Paterson’s eight year historical study, only one of them was bilingual, the Government run Te Karere Maori (The Maori Messenger). And as Lyndsay Head has pointed out, reading them is not simply a question of being able to read te reo Māori, but understanding “how seamlessly an oral culture translates into a print medium. Most Maori do not distance themselves from their words, but write as if they are standing to speak.”1

Paterson points out that nearly all Pakeha and Māori whose texts appeared in the newspapers thought and wrote in their own language first, which makes translation, quoting Sanford Budick, a ‘border crossing’ (11).2 But it also means the newspapers are an invaluable repository of speech rhythms, vocabulary, proverbial and other expressions and conceptual patterns. Quite apart from their content, which Paterson discusses in depth, the language of the niupepa reveals a world whose oral and linguistic richness are only patchily preserved today. Paterson notes that most of the text in the niupepa was in fact written by Pakeha, explaining government policy, advancing colonial agendas of civilisation, commerce and law; ‘propaganda organs’ intended to persuade a literate and culturally discursive people that the alienation of their lands and customs was done in their best interests. The papers were not uncontested. The Māori press, established by the Kingitanga movement, produced only eight issues of Te Hokioi, but, as Paterson notes, was unique in presenting a ‘direct challenge to the government predicated on the notion of a separate Māori nation’.(28)

One of the great strengths of this book is that while it adumbrates how coercive discourses flowed through the niupepa and that their principal aim was to persuade Māori that their fate was sealed; Paterson resists a univocal reconstruction of the niupepa, their agendas, readers and uses. In this he follows historians like Michael King, who have also called for history to represent the range of attitudes and behaviours that have characterised Māori since the colonial encounter.3 Paterson argues that the newspapers powerfully realised the effectiveness of literacy in Māori society by providing a platform for Māori voices, some of which do not sit comfortably with narratives of resistance. Many Māori recognised the social and material opportunities which came with colonisation, especially in the years before the New Zealand Wars, and saw co-operation or non-opposition as the best way forward for their hapu. Māori liked to see themselves in print, and were early enthusiasts and practitioners of the art of letters to the editor, which often followed the protocols and rhythms of whaikōrero or speeches on the marae (meeting place). Māori were market-savvy and quickly recognised the commercial opportunities offered by Pakeha settlers. The niupepa published commodity prices, and in a long and interesting section on commerce Paterson points out that the newspapers, while urging Maori to participate in the market economy (as the government believed that the more wealth and possessions Maori owned the less likely they were to go to war), also gave a complex picture of economic ups and downs, which may explain why Maori participation in agriculture declined over the period.

As a whole, Colonial Discourses presents a complex and rich account of the niupepa. Paterson argues that the newspapers have been underworked by scholars, who have tended to find in them evidence of a dialectic that positions one side as propagandists and the other as willing recipients. Like any form of print culture, the niupepa offer a far more messy and interesting picture of how Māori viewed themselves, their prospects, and their language. They preserve aspects of Māori social and political life which have not been widely explored by historians, some of whom have been said to...

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