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No. 28 (September 1959)
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TE AO HOU
THE NEW WORLD

No. 28 Vol. 7 (No. 4)

MAORI WRITERS OF TODAY

A century ago the Maori version of Nga Mahi a Nga Tupuna was published under the name of Sir George Grey, but this closely followed manuscripts written Maori chiefs and still preserved in the Auckland Public Library. Both Grey and later Ngata published collections of Maori songs (Nga Moteatea), the majority of which date from the nineteenth century. When the history of Maori literature comes to be written, the early years of European contact will be shown to have been very rich in fine and powerful songs.

Since then Maori literature has not died. Around 1900 especially, much excellent work was published, some in Maori and some in excellent English; it was also at this time that the action song originated, a form in which many of the Maori leaders of that time expressed themselves with great effect.

This tradition in writing songs and essays (mostly historical) endured to the present day: over the last ten years or so, we have had important work from Reweti Kohere, Pei Jones, Tuini Ngawai and a number of others. In addition to these older forms we notice, as a quite recent development, the emergence of Maori writers attempting the novel, the short story and modern verse forms. Some of these writers, but not all, have had their work published in this magazine. Altogether, there must have been some dozens of Maoris who have recently started to write short stories, some with definite success.

The best of this work portrays the relationships between Maori people and their outlook on life more accurately than most European writers would do it; such artists should be encouraged as much as possible. Accordingly we are devoting a special issue of this magazine to the work of Maori authors. We realise that the work published here only marks a beginning. Some of the authors themselves are very young indeed. We think however, that this literature has the potentiality to develop vigorously.

Maori writers have to face up to some special problems: should they use the Maori or the English language? If they use English, what public do they write for, a Maori or a general one? Will they see themselves primarily as Maori or as New Zealand authors? It is impossible to be dogmatic about such questions. Literature in the Maori language may still have an important part to play in releasing a world of feeling inexpressible in English. On the other hand, anyone using the English language has a potential public of hundreds of millions of people—and the better the work is, the more widespread is the public to which it tends to appeal. Many of the masterpieces most read today have been given to the world many centuries ago by peoples not more numerous than the Maori.