Go to National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa Go to Te Ao Hou homepage
No. 63 (June 1968)
– 61 –





Musings, reminiscences and preambles have really no place in a book review; however, when one of the books is an old friend not only of mine, but of at least four generations of teachers and students, and the other is a new book written by an old friend, perhaps I may be forgiven a brief backward look. I may perhaps also be forgiven for looking at these two books from the teacher's point of view rather than from that of the general reader.

To open the first of the books was to realise with a sense of shock and something of dismay that the first students to endure my early ‘grammar-translation’ methods are now grandfathers and grandmothers, whose mokopuna, if they are being taught Maori, will be taught by very different methods. Their teachers will be using the most modern techniques of language teaching and the students will have interesting and enjoyable modern textbooks to use.

At the time I speak of, however, the Department of Education's reversal of its policy of active suppression of Maori was just beginning to take effect and teachers of Maori were the Cinderellas among language teachers. They had the Department's blessing, keen classes of mainly native-speaking students and an examination prescription—very little else, except their own enthusiasm and energy. If they did have a few books as teaching aids, one of them would almost certainly have been Williams' ‘First Lessons in Maori’, known familiarly as ‘Williams’ Grammar'. Many of them would have come to know it, as I did, almost by heart.

Although the last ten years or so have seen a very rapidly growing interest in Maori, a great improvement in teaching techniques and an increasing number of modern textbooks, this Grammar, in spite of certain weaknesses and omissions, is still the most valuable book of its kind for those interested in the structure of the language. All teachers should own and study it for, apart from the modern works of such trained linguists as Dr Bruce Biggs, Dr Pat Hohepa and J. Prytz Johansen, no subsequent grammar book of this type has added anything of significance to this pioneering work; these modern linguists would undoubtedly each acknowledge his debt to ‘First Lessons’ as a major reference.

This is the 13th edition since its first printing in 1862. The 11th edition, revised by the late W. W. Bird, brought in a few changes in terminology and some in the Scheme of the Verb, but ‘First Lessons’ has remained essentially unchanged since its first printing. In none of the revisions have the original omissions and weaknesses been entirely remedied, and the latest edition introduces some misprints not present in previous editions. The opportunity to amend the section dealing with the possessives of three singular personal pronouns has not been taken. The third or ‘neutral’. form is given only for the 2nd person, but it is erroneously stated that ‘sometimes tō and ō are used for tāu and āu. These should be and ō, and ‘sometimes’ is quite inadequate as an indication of the importance of the third form, or of the frequency with which it is used.

The Foreword tells us that ‘the major change (in the 13th edition) is in the addition of macrons to indicate the length of vowel sounds’. It is a great pity that what should have been a valuable addition has turned out to be largely a disaster. The need for some system of marking vowel length is now generally acknowledged, and in textbooks and bulletins in Maori issued by the Department of Education, as well as in other publications, vowel length is now being consistently marked. Whatever the system of marking, it must be consistent; if it is unreliable it can be more of a hazard than a help to students.

Unfortunately, the use of the macron is so inconsistent throughout this book that it completely fails in its purpose. The word apopo, for instance is given three different spellings. Perhaps the most serious

– 62 –

errors occur among the possessives of personal pronouns, already complicated enough for the student; for example, we have nāu (yours) spelt variously nau, nāu, nāū and naū—all possible permutations. It might have been better to delay this change in the book until someone competent in this work could undertake it.

The second book is ‘Maori Life and Custom’ by the late W. J. Phillipps. This is indeed a welcome addition to the teacher's library.

The study of Maori culture and tradition is part of every New Zealand school child's Social Studies programme and is also a special part of the syllabus for those studying the Maori language. It has always been a difficult and laborious task for the teacher to collect and supply suitable material for pupils to study. Much of the material was in books now out of print, or to be found only in libraries or museums; when collected, it had to be presented in a form suitable for the pupils. It is little wonder that, in spite of the pupils' interest, this part of the Social Studies programme tended to be rather sketchily treated.

Now, for the first time, we have a book that gives a comprehensive picture of all aspects of the life of the Maori of old; it covers traditions, social usage, food, shelter and clothing, artefacts, decorative arts and songs and pastimes. There is also a chapter on language contributed by Mr Jock McEwen.

Mr Phillipps spent a lifetime in painstaking research and study; much of the research work was done out in the field and involved patient personal observation, making contact and establishing good relations with informants, and the scrupulous recording of material collected. The result of this lifetime study is an impressive output of scholarly works on various aspects of Maori culture, particularly carving and carved houses. The present work is his latest and, unfortunately, his last.

I know that Mr Phillipps, always meticulous in detail and much concerned with accurate recording, had already planned to revise his text, so some of the remarks I

– 63 –

make will concern things already noted by him for alteration and amendment.

The book is well produced and the format pleasing, if rather uninspired. The abundant illustrations are line drawings, mainly in diagrammatic form, clear and concise and well-placed to supplement the text.

There are more misprints than one would have expected to find, especially in names of people; I have no doubt the author had already noted these for his proposed second edition.

Mr Phillipps did not follow the convention of using italic type for Maori words and phrases, probably for well-considered reasons, but this I consider was an unfortunate decision. The use of italic, particularly in the captions for illustrations, would have been an improvement. It can often require a second look to sort out the Maori from the English, as in: ‘One such knot is still used by the elderly people of Te Kuiti where it is termed here taniwha’, Confusion would have been avoided with the phrase ‘here taniwha’ in italic.

There is inconsistency also in the writing of Maori words, especially in the use of hyphens. We have, for example, both tara tara o kai and taratara o kai; I would have preferred taratara-o-kai.

Some of Mr Phillipps' informants have not served him well, for, in some of the quoted phrases and chants the Maori is obviously incorrect.

However, these are minor flaws in an otherwise excellent book, at least one copy of which should be in every school in New Zealand.

I should like to close this brief review with my personal tribute to the author to whose influence I owe much. To have watched him at work in the field was an inspiration and a privilege. Those of us who trained at Wellington Teachers' College and were fortunate enough to enjoy ‘sections’ with Mr Phillipps at the Dominion Museum must have left there more than ordinarily well-equipped to bring knowledge, life and enthusiasm to the teaching of what is so often treated as ‘dead’ material. He was an inspiration to all of us. He was a gentle man and a happy man.

Haere, e koro, haere ki tō okiokinga.