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No. 50 (March 1965)
– 2 –


The Editor
‘Te Ao Hou’.

I was delighted to read, in your December issue, the article by Bruce Biggs on the oral literature of the Polynesians. I was especially interested in his quotation from the Grey manuscript of the Maui story, for this very important manuscript has never been published yet, either in Maori or in English, and the versions printed by Grey in ‘Nga Mahi a nga Tupuna’ are in many ways very different from the original text. Grey not only rearranged the order of the tales, but he even undertook to improve on Te Rangikaheke's grammar and vocabulary; furthermore, he left out whatever he thought indelicate. So it was pleasant to see Bruce Biggs lift at least the tip of the veil. Alas, this is all he did do, for the ending of the tale, as printed on page 43 of your issue, still does not give anything like the correct text. The last accurate sentence is ‘Behold his skin, mottled like that of a mackarel with the black pigment of the many toothed tattooing chisel.’ From that point, without warning, Dr Biggs leaves the original text behind and instead of translating, he gives a very vague paraphrase.

I am far from suggesting that Dr Biggs did not understand the rest of the text, but I think he wished to avoid offending your delicate ears. Nonetheless, I think that the correct text should be known, even to those who cannot look it up in the Auckland Public Library, for it is not only the end of a delightful tale, but also rather important for anyone who wishes to understand fully the Maui myth and its profound meaning. For that reason, I shall quote the sentences that follow:

‘Katahi ka tomo atu, ko tona upoko ki mua. Ka ngaro te pane, e memene noa ana nga paparinga o te tini manu ra. Ka ngaro nga peke, tango atu ki te uma. Katahi ano ka tino kata nga tiwakawaka ra.

‘Ano te ohoreretanga o taua Ruahine. Anā! Oho, tuwhera ana nga kanohi, kopi ana nga kuhaa. Ehara ! Rokohanga iho ano, ka wharo ka ngaro te hope. Tana kutinga iho o aua Mataora! Ehara! Moturere atu ana ki roto, moturere ana mai ki waho. Heoi ka mate tenei Maui …’

For the rest, the text is given in Grey's ‘Nga Mahi a nga Tupuna’, page 23, more or less as it stands in the manuscript, except for the usual frequent ‘improvements’.

The main purpose of this letter is to impress on your readers that we must really set about to produce a proper text of Te Rangikaheke's writings; though some people may think the extract I have quoted a little too crude, there is no doubt of the narrative power of his style, is no doubt that this 2,000 page manuscript is the most important existing text in genuine classical Maori, no doubt that we shall never understand Maori grammar unless genuine texts of this sort are accessible; finally, those of us who are seriously interested in Maori mythology will want to have access to a correct version of the most important myths; thus one may say the key to the significance of the Maui story is given in a sentence which is only explained by the full version I have given above, namely: ‘He mahi atu ta te tangata, ma Hinenuitepo e kukuti mai’. This is one of the most important statements in Maori philosophy and the myth behind the proverb is worth preserving. So are a great many other myths found in Maori manuscripts which have never been edited.


University of British Columbia,