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No. 22 (April 1958)
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This Lintel from the carved house of Tawhitinui (now in Wanganui Museum) is an example of the art of the Wanganui River. The squares, oblongs and triangles on this carving, dating from the 1870's, would at first sight seem European, but Mr W. Phillipps (Carved Maori Houses, 1955) says that ‘the same general features exist on the oldest authentic river carving, the cenotaph Nga Rangiorehua, said to be over 120 years old’ and thinks the panel is a copy of an ancient type. (T.W. Downes photo)


We have obtained permission from Mr Henare Ngata, Sir Apirana's literary executor, to print this important unpublished essay on the origin of Maori carving. It was written around 1936, when Sir Apirana was deeply interested in Western and Northern carving styles because of his work on the Waitara carved meeting house. Although the text was not left ready for publication the thought of the essay is fully worked out and clear. Our text follows the original with a few very minor changes which he would undoubtedly have wished to make before publication.

From 1933–36, Dr Gilbert Archey published several papers on Maori carving, one of which proved of very particular interest to Sir Apirana. This was ‘Wood Carving in the North Auckland Area’, printed in the Records of the Auckland Institute and Museum, Vol. 1, No. 4, p. 209 foll. This paper contained a passage dividing the Maori carving tradition into two main schools, one of them belonging to Rotorua and the East Coast, and the other to Northland, Taranaki and Hauraki. Both were regarded as of New Zealand origin. The main difference noted by Dr Archey was that in the latter areas human figures were more prominent and more naturalistic, and the intervening decorations generally less developed than in the Rotorua and East Coast styles. He put forward the theory that the carvings of the north-western areas are “related local schools of an art that is essentially Maori, an art that might even be considered as not very far removed from the generalised Polynesian habit of figure portrayal.

“In the Bay of Plenty-Poverty Bay areas we find a different convention, both in the more stable attitudes of the human figures and in the general composition, these differences on the whole having to do with the greater perfection and increased use of the spiral. Even when human figures are used prominently in a design, the deeply carved spirals on their hips, shoulders and facial features not only reduce the prominence of the human form, but also frequently assert themselves above it. But it is in the intervening pierced detail of the Central-East Coast areas that the spiral has exerte its full sway, subduing and often almost eliminating the human figures, and certainly displacing them as the medium for conveying the sense of vigour and rhythm which the Maori carver of olden days seldom failed to express.”

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Sir Apirana accepted most of these findings, but was anxious to find out the ultimate origin of the carving schools. In this essay, he puts forward the theory that originally there were not two Maori carving styles, but only one and he thought that the common centre lay somewhere between Whakatane and the East Coast. Here a tribe of Toi blood appears to have made carvings in the 14–16th, century in a style from which nearly all known Maori carving in New Zealand has been derived and this parent style would have been close to the styles described by Dr Archey for Northland, Taranaki and Hauraki, Northern carving died in the stone age, retaining most of its original characteristics while the Bay of Plenty-East Coast style was still alive at the time steel tools were introduced. It is likely that until then Eastern carving was in many respects fairly close to Northern. Steel tools brought to Eastern carving the burst of ornamentation by which it is distinguished to-day.

Sir Apirana Ngata's essay puts forward this theory with a wealth of proof from old chants and traditions. Much of this will be new to the student, even though since 1936 many new facts have been uncovered showing a far greater variety of Maori carving styles than was then assumed to exist. The general reader will be fascinated to follow the workings of the great leader's mind and absorb some of his deep understanding of the essence of Maori culture.

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Sir Apirana Turupa Ngata (S. P. Andrew Photo)

Ancient Northern and Western Carving
has a Ngati Awa origin

When I visited Panguru, Hokianga, last November I met Ngakuru Pene Haare, who is an authority on the traditions and Maori lore of the North. I asked him whether he knew who made the Burial Chests found at Waimamaku. He told me that in Hapakuku Moetara's view these were not the work of the Ngapuhi proper, but of an older people, the Ngati Awa. This confirmed my own impression after various visits to the North and after reading about the various finds there, at Waitara and at Thames, and relating these to the pas in the Mangonui, North and South Hokianga and Bay of Islands—that there was a connection between the pa builders and the carvers.

Recently I became interested in the carvings and meeting house architecture of Taranaki in order to determine how the Rotorua School should set about carving the slabs for the Waitara House.

It is certain that the carved houses of the Northern and Western districts were destroyed in the Maori Wars of the early part of the last century, though some carvings were hidden in the swamps.

The art was then lost, but some of the chiefs sought to reconstruct it. Two old men—between 75 and 80 years of age—told me yesterday of a carved house at Puniho, which they remembered seeing as children. They remembered one feature of the tekoteko at the base of the poutokomanawa—named Rua Taranaki—its very large phallus. But they reluctantly admitted that the whakairo was brought from Tairawhiti. I had been prepared for this, as in other respects (the Io cult, Whare Wananga teachings, etc.). I have seen strong evidence Wanganui district.

The old men of Taranaki have no tradition of carvings having come in the Aotea Canoe, and think that only the Ati-Awa (Ngati-Awa) of the Waitara District had a knowledge of the art.

A close Ancestral connection exists
between Ngati Awa and the
tribes of the East Coast and Bay of Plenty

I have followed the faint trail of tradition from the Poverty Bay and East Coast districts to Te Kaha, Whakatane and Rotorua. The genealogical evidence with the assistance of fragments of songs and karakia and patchy traditions would appear to associate the art with the pre-Takitimu folk of

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that area, but to deny knowledge of carving, canoe building, and house construction with New Zealand timber to Kahungunu, who is said to have come in Takitimu.

The Ngati-Awa of Whakatane, the Whakatohea of Opotiki are closely related to the Te Kaha, East Coast and Poverty Bay tribes. The intercourse between the Bay of Plenty and Poverty Bay tribes is a recognised feature of tribal history. They were all Toi people—Toi-kairakau was the ancestral root of all land tribes.

The Wairoa and Hawkes Bay Ngati Kahungunu were founded from Gisborne. We find Te Uaterangi, who some say was a Hawkes Bay ancestor, engaged in carving a house at Taupo and it was there that one Riripo, an Arawa, “stole his chisel” (stole the art of carving) and met his death by falling or leaping from a cliff—Te Pari-o-Riripo.

The Arawa carving style can be traced to
Ngati Awa

In 1929 I inspected the carved house at the Spa, Taupo, and I thought that I recognised characteristics of East Coast carvings in the form of the head and other features. On enquiring I found that the carvings had been done for Hoani Meihana, a chief of Oruanui, in the eighties by one Wero of Ngati-Hinemihi of the Rotorua District. I followed this up and ascertained that Wero was

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Left: Typical of the old Tatanaki style, this carving from a lintel found at Awakino is now in the Auckland Museum. (Peter Blanc Photograph)

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of the Ngati-Tarawhai tribe of Okaitaina, Rotorua, famous for its carvers. In latter days that tribe produced Anahe Te Rahui, Tene of Whakarewarewa, Neke Kapua of Te Teko and his sons, one of whom, Eramiha Kapua was trained in the Auckland Museum workshop, also Te Ngaru Rapana of Mourea.

Pokiha's pataka and most of the Maketu carvings were their work as well as the carved houses at Otaramarae and the one at Puna Whakareia to the east of which the road branches off to the Lake Okaitaina. My amateur investigations had led me to connect the Ngati-Tarawhai section of the Arawa carvings with those of the East Coast—the head form, details of pitau, pakati, pataha design and other features were so much alike as to

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Right: This bone-chest found in Hokianga is typical of ancient Northland carving styles. Now in Auckland Museum. (Photo: Peter Blanc)

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Poupou from the interior of a carved house at Te Whaiti, Urewera. This carving, now in the Dominion Museum, exemplifies the art of the Urewera and shows the influence of a Te Arawa carver in the interrupted spirals and in the manaia used on the palms of the hands. Finger nails and shaped fingers are also an Arawa feature. (Dominion Museum Photograph)

point to a common origin. But where would this origin be?

I put this question to elders of Ngati-Tarawhai at Ohinemutu, who acknowledged that many generations ago there had been a kai-taonga between the Ngati-Awa of Whakatane and Ngati-Tarawhai, a pakuha, an exchange of marriage gifts—and the latter received a knowledge of the art of carving from the Ngati-Awa carvers, members of the Apanui (Hurinui Apanui's forbears) family who lived at Wairaka pa. below Toi-kai-rakau's pa at Whakatane.

Ngati-Tarawhai will account for all Arawa carving except a type which appears native to Ohinemutu. Here the head is very long and so are the eyes with a more pronounced slant than anywhere else.

I cannot say whether the latter is a distinct school. It may be a native Arawa school of carving at Ohinemutu which has for long been a carving centre.

Great Differences exist between the latter
and earlier Carving Styles of Ngati-Awa

There is a blank I have not yet been able to fill between the Ngati Awa of Whakatane in the 18th century or earlier to whom the Eastern carvings can be traced and the Ngati-Awa who several centuries previously peopled parts of the north and left their impress on the culture of that and other districts.

Between the carvings of the north, Hauraki and Waitara, and the types associated with the Bay of Plenty and East Coast there appears to be a wide gap. But of this a few words later on.

East Coast Carving comes from the Bay of Plenty

I shall endeavour to connect the later Ngati-Awa school with the East Coast and Poverty Bay.

Genealogies connect the Apanui and other families of Whakatane with leading families of the district from Maraenui to Cape Runaway, which we may call Te Kaha.

The intermarriages have been frequent, the intercourse very close. Travel by sea was the medium of communication down to a few years ago, when the motor car displaced the oil-launch, which had ousted the whale-boat, which had in turn put the canoe out of use. The later Ngati-Awa work is so clearly related to that of Te Kaha as to raise the presumption of diffusion. In what direction did the tradition travel, from east to west or the other way?

Let us look at the East Coast-Poverty Bay area. In the days of Kahungunu—a recent arrival from Hawaiki in Takitimu or according to some authorities from the Mangonui district—there lived a man called Hingangaroa at Tolaga Bay. He married Iranui a sister of Kahungunu. He came

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of a stock that had occupied the Poverty Bay-East Coast for some generations before Kahungunu and his sister arrived in the district. He was an expert at canoe-building. His wife asked him to patch or put in a ‘haumi’ for his brother-in-law's canoe on the beach near Nuhaka, and it was there that his wife gave birth to Mahaki (called Mahaki-ewe-karoro, whose navel had been pecked by the seagull) a Ngati-Porou ancestor.

He returned to Tolaga Bay and there set up the famous Te Rawheoro Whare Wananga referred to by Elsdon Best in his monograph on “The Maori School of Learning” (p. 24).

I quote now from Rangiuia's lament for his son Tuterangi-Wahitiri, makutued by the famous Matorohanga:—

Ko Te Rangi-hopukia, ko Hinehuhuritai,
Me ko Manutangirua, ko Hingangaroa.
Ka tu tona Whare, Te Rawheoro, e;
Ka tipu te Whaihanga, e hika, ki Uawa.
Ka riro to whakautu, te Ngaio-tu-ki-Rarotonga,
Ka riro to manaia, ka riro te taowaru;
Ka taka ki raro na, i a Apanui, e;
Ka puta ki Turanga, ka hangai atu koe;
Kia whakarongo mai e to tipuna papa,
E Te Matorohanga, na i!

The first part of the verse from which this is quoted traces the line of descent from Tangaroa to the Rua family, connected in Maori lore with the art of carving. Rua-te-pupuke, Rua-te-kuka-kore, Rua-te-pare-kore, Rua-te-atamai—meaning Rua—the well of thought, Rua—without waste chips, Rua—without dust, Rua—the beautiful.

The descent is traced to Te Aomarama who married Te Awhenga a daughter of Koraahi, and one of the ladies in Taiatea with whom the amorous Turi of the Aotea canoe had dallied. Te Aomarama's great grand-daughter Hinehuhuritai married Rakaipo, eldest grandson of Porourangi who lived at Whangara near Gisborne. Hingangaroa the priest and artist of Tolaga Bay was a grandson of Hinehuhuritai by Rakaipo. The following is a rough English version of the lament quoted:—

Te Rangihopikia had Hinehuhuritai,
Who had Manutangirua, whose son was Hingangaroa.
He it was who established the house, Te Rawheoro,
And arts and crafts flourished, my son, at Uawa,
There came in payment the Ngaio-tu-ki-Rarotonga,
And there went in exchange the Manaia and the Taowaru.
Passing round thence to the north, Te Apanui,

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Carved poupou or wall supports in the Te Kuiti carved house Tokanganui a Noho, built by the followers of Te Kooti in the 1870's. One famous carver working on this house was Wiremu Kaimoana of Ngati Kahungunu. (Dominion Museum Photo)

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Te Kaha carving in the Auckland Museum. (Peter Bane Photograph)

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Right: One of the famous Te Kaha carvings, said to be the most beautiful Maori art in existence, and dating from about 1750. Now in the Auckland Museum. (Peter Blanc Photograph)

Emerging at Turanga, where you will face

The clouds from the south, whence came your doom.

So shall your elder and parent hear, Even Te Matorohanga!

Rangiuia composed this lament in the early part of last century; the Rawheoro School of which he was then chief priest held its last session in 1836.

The Ngaio-tu-ki-Rarotanga (the Ngaio that grew at Rarotonga) was a famous garment supposed to have been brought from across the seas.

Tukaki of Te Kaha and Iwirakau of Waiapu hearing of the arts established and flourishing at Uawa (Tolaga Bay) and desiring to acquire the knowledge, brought the cloak as a present to the tohunga. They took with them the Manaia and the Taowaru—i.e. the knowledge of carving, alluded to in the song by the mention of the two most difficult features.

The Manaia is featured in the Te Kaha carvings. I have identified the Taowaru as the notched details so prominent in those carvings. Iwirakau established carving throughout the Waiapu-Te Araroa territory. The last artist descended from him was Hone Ngatoto, who died in 1928. He was the last master of the straight blade chisel, with which he executed the finest pakati (chevrons) scrolls and other decorations achieved by the Arawa carvers with much labour and the use of all kinds and shapes of chisels. The Te Kaha carvings are the finest in the Auckland Museum. The Turanga school we all know about and admire exceedingly. We have no later examples of the Te Kaha work than the pataka in the Auckland Museum. We have several examples of the Waiapu carvings there and in Wellington and two very fine carved meeting houses, Forourangi at Waiomatatini and Hinetapora near Ruatoria.

The Hinetapora carvers of the Iwirakau School carved Takitimu at Martinborough, a house burnt a few years ago.

Gisborne carvings are world famous, and the best extant examples of house carvings are those of the Turanga House in the Dominion Museum.

Degeneration of Gisborne types is shown in houses carved by men from Te Arai who followed Te Kooti into the Bay of Plenty and King Country: Te Whai-o-te-Motu at Ruatahuna, Tuhi Pihopa's house at Te Whaiti and Tokonganui-a-noho at Te Kuiti. Degeneration of Ngati-Awa types is seen in Hotunui (Taipari's house in the Auckland Museum) and Ruataupare at Te Teko. Carvings from Mahia and Wairoa show connection with Gisborne, just as Opotiki carvings are related to Whakatane on the one side and Te Kaha on the other.

Concluded in our Next Issue

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Can the Maori language survive? Readers who have asked themselves this question will be interested to see how an old language still spoken in the mountains of part of Switzerland has been kept alive by the joint efforts of people and government. This article was first suggested by one of our subscribers. Mr K. J. Hesz, who gave us much useful information. This was later supplemented by the Department of Education in Chur, Switzerland, and a private government-assisted organization, the Romantsch League. It will be seen that these people, although geographically far removed from us, are facing problems very similar to our own.

MANY peoples in the world are very similarly placed to the Maori. Forming a small part of a larger nation they have to fit in and yet long to hold on to their own culture and language.

One such people are the Rhaetians or Romantsch of Switzerland, mostly farming people living in the secluded valleys of the mountainous Grisons County. It is here that some of the world's finest tourist resorts and skiing grounds are found. The people are of an ancient race, the original inhabitants of Switzerland whose language, Romantsch is of all living tongues the closest to Latin.

The Rhaetian race was conquered by the Romans fifteen years before the birth of Jesus Christ. By the time the Roman Empire collapsed these Rhaetians had for centuries supplied one of the most famous legions and were thoroughly Romanized. According to tradition, soldiers of the Rhaetian Legion crucified Jesus Christ in Jerusalem; as a conciliatory reparation for that crime, the Rhaetians supply the Papal Swiss Guard with new members. Later the Germans began to encroach on their territory, occupying the more accessible parts of Switzerland. The Rhaetians lost their identity, with the exception of those in the mountain fastnesses of Grisons in the South. These alone continued to speak the old Roman tongue, which they called Romantsch. Today, of 137,000 inhabitants in the Grisons County, 50,000 are classified as Romantsch.

For centuries, the Swiss central government did not take any notice of the ‘peasant language’ of these isolated mountain dwellers, while German, French and Italian were recognised as the national languages.

Useless Peasant Tongue?

Nonetheless, Romantsch survived quite easily until the nineteenth century, when the greatly increased tourist trade, coupled with the entry of

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Grisons into the Swiss Confederation and the improved communications, all helped to drive the ancient tongue out of the more accessible regions. The number of Rhaetians still speaking their own language dwindled rapidly. Those who did speak it mostly understood German and Italian as well.

Nineteenth century public opinion generally was quite satisfied to see Romantsch die out. The Department of Education of the Grisons County, in a recent publication, gives an excellent sketch of the attitudes of those days:1

‘Romantsch in the schools was reduced to a minimum. The school was principally regarded as an instrument of progress and integration with the outside world. Romantsch as a language of the small world of the hearth, the village or at most the valley community was regarded as useless—even hampering—to further development. An attempt was made to suppress and eliminate the ‘useless peasant tongue’. The principal purpose of education was to Germanise the Romantsch pupils. This attitude was widespread among both Romantsch and non-Romantsch, and shared by the leaders of the day. Teachers, education boards and committees, and school inspectors bore down upon Romantsch in the schools with all the weight of their authority. Overzealous teachers and school committees fined children who spoke Romantsch on the school grounds…”

Attitudes changed towards the turn of the century. A kind of Romantsch renaissance set in. Poets and writers started to publish literary works in the language. A movement developed to preserve and develop Romantsch language and culture, and found a great deal of public support. It was finally consolidated into the Romantsch League which has a powerful influence on the Grisons education system. Without the protection of this league, it is thought by many that Romantsch could not have survived. The league believes survival of the language depends to a large extent on its literary development and publishes numerous books and magazines in the various Romantsch dialects. The result of its work depends in the last instance on the younger generation.

The Schools Take Over

The decision to teach Romantsch in the Grisons schools was taken in 1894. Gradually, textbooks and school readers were produced and the problems of teacher training solved. At the moment there are two types of Romantsch schools.

In schools of the first type, in areas where Romantsch is the mother tongue, all instruction is at first in that language. German is taught as a foreign language from standard four onwards, and gradually becomes the language of instruction. As the teaching in German starts. Romantsch gradually loses importance and at high school is reduced to two periods per week.

In the second type of school the teacher speaks German to the children from the beginning. Romantsch is taught two periods a week from the first standard onwards (but sometimes later). Sometimes children are free to drop Romantsch if they want to. The schools are of this second type where the people have lost a good deal of their Romantsch.

In practically the whole of the Romantsch area, the schools are now of one of these two types. The communities themselves decide on the school they want. They may either choose one of the two types described or a fully German or Italian school. Romantsch is at present actually gaining ground. There are examples of people introducing fully Romantsch schools where previously little Romantsch was spoken.

All this was not merely the result of help from the government. Every step in the development was first of all due to the Romantsch people themselves, to their enthusiasm for their language, to their eagerness to learn and preserve it, and to their strong support of the Romantsch League. For instance, in areas where the language threatened to die out, play centres were established by the league where Romantsch was spoken by the women in charge. Children learnt the language

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Typical house in the Romantsch district (Photograph: Koelly. Zurich)

*Die Lehrmittel im vielsprachigen Kanton Graubuenden, Vom Erziehungsdepartment Graubuenden, Buendner Schulblatt. Chur, June 1954.

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Top: Village in the Grisons mountains—Sedrun (Photo: Meerkaemper, Davos-Platz).

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Right: Typical representative of the Romantsch race (Photo: Feuerstein, Schuls-Tarasp)

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Old-fashioned interior still common in the mountains of the Grisons canton, with the traditional bedstead (Steiner Photograph. St Moritz)

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during their play. As a result of such efforts it was possible to introduce Romantsch in some primary schools in districts where Romantsch was disappearing among the younger generation.

Two Cultures or None?

To the Maori reader, one main question must however present itself. How do the Romantsch children get on when they leave their secluded valleys, as many have to do, and go to the towns to earn their living? The town language is German, Romantsch is not known there. How does the education system prepare children for such an eventuality?

On this subject, the Education Department is not so very enthusiastic. It is worth while to quote exactly what they think about the Romantsch people's ability to help themselves in German:

“The Romantsch people are generally bilingual. They speak both German and Romantsch. It is often difficult to say which language is better mastered. As the Romantsch population becomes more scattered, the feeling of identity with Romantsch decreases. Bilingualism has advantages and disadvantages. In its favour are, in childhood, the rapid mastery of language, and in old age, access to the cultural life of two peoples. As against this there are, in every age, drawbacks, such as lack of confidence and ability in self-expression, and the use of mixed idioms. Bilingualism, with its advantages and drawbacks, s a fact that must be accepted, and is politically recognised. (Since 1938, Romantsch is an official language.) The schools must take account of this situation, reflect things as they are, and seek ways of accomplishing its mandate on the foundation of bilingualism. The problems of method of teaching two languages in the schools are as yet unsolved.”

This is a very helpful quotation. First, we see that the Swiss are not claiming that the products of these Romantsch schools are absolutely flawless in their German. It is freely admitted they are not.

Because the point seemed particularly important, Te Ao Hou wrote a letter to the Grisons education authorities to have this clarified and their answer was: ‘Our pupils have to learn German as a foreign language and the standard corresponds to this fact.’

We must therefore recognise that in the Grisons example the encouragement of Romantsch did not make people speak better German or Italian Its educational value lay in a different direction altogether. It lay in the conviction that everyone should feel he belongs to some definite culture If Romantsch was repressed for the sake of improving people's ability in German, the result would be, as the Grisons authorities describe it. ‘that the people will for several generations belong neither to the one culture nor the other. This will lead to a flattening out and impoverishment of the country.’ As the most fundamental purpose

Map of the Grisons canton of Switzerland, showing the languages spoken. White areas: Romantsch. Lined areas: Italian. Dotted areas: German. Naturally, this gives only a rough picture of the situation as there are many areas where more than one language is spoken and the map only indicates which language predominates. (K. J. Hesz del)

of education lies in the development of people so that they can lead fruitful and satisfying lives, it was preferred to maintain Romantsch.

One problem of Romantsch which will be familiar to Maori readers is that of dialect. There are five Romantsch dialects, all rather different from one another. Unlike in Maori, people speaking one dialect find it difficult to understand the others. Attempts in the nineteenth century to create an artificial standard Romantsch failed and even the fusing of two closely related dialects was not successful. The people all held to their own traditional speech for, as our authorities point out: if people must be asked to learn an artificial standard Romantsch, they may as well learn a major language like Italian or German which is of far greater practical value.

How can we apply the Swiss experience to New Zealand? This depends entirely on the feeling in the Maori world itself. The survival of Romantsch was brought about through a large-scale popular movement and the schools never did more than support this movement.

The next ten years will be crucial for the future of Maori. New Zealand schools are now willing to help the language to survive. But the real decision about the future of the language lies with the Maori people.