I te timitanga te Kupu i te Atua te Kupu, ko te Atua ano te Kupu I te Atua ano tenei Kupu I te timitanga…
In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God and the Word became flesh and dwelled among us full of grace and glory.” - Te Rongopai ki te Ritenga a Hoani 1 & 14
Then … Te Rongopai, the good news: “glad tidings of great joy”, the words that heralded the birth of Christ; the living Word –– the logos, the unifying, living, loving, reason and unchanging revelatory truth, broadcasting the principals of creation –– was spoken, then published, in Aotearoa, the “ends of the earth”, from Christmas Day 1814
By Keith Newman (2014 mild revision 2020)
The translation and printing of the Bible in te reo Maori, the indigenous language of New Zealand is an epic journey.
It is filled with disappointments, hardship and false starts, infighting, gun-running, wars, tribal and denominational conflicts, conspiracy and immorality, but like every good drama, there are heroes who run the race with patience and ultimately there are history changing breakthroughs.
The availability of Bible books encouraged Maori literacy and was instrumental in New Zealand’s own ‘great awakening’ as the Gospel spread across the country from 1834 onwards, mainly through the agency of Maori teachers.
The teachings of the missionaries and the availability of the Bible books in te reo helped bring an end to cannibalism, instilling the principal of forgiveness – as opposed to the constant cycle of utu – and the revelation that all men and women were equal under one God, resulting in many chiefs releasing their slaves.
There is clear evidence Maori understanding of the Bible went deeper than literal words on the page and fixed meanings in the mind. The scriptures were considered sacred because they related to the spiritual realm and were greatly revered by those who could grasp the insights, decode the parables and recognise the living truths through personal revelation.
Bringing the Gospel message to Maori came at a great cost and like other nations there were martyrs for the cause. While Maori and Pakeha missionaries, armed with the scriptures, helped bring peace between warring tribes it was notably Maori who gave their lives.
A Taupo war party determined to wipe out Whanganui Maori Christians succeeded in killing eight people on 24 August 1840. Then Manihera and Kereopa lost their lives on a peacemaking mission from Whanganui to the same tribe in March 1847.
Their sacrifice resulted in members of that tribes accepting the gospel message of forgiveness and bringing lasting peace between warring tribes.
Some dispute claims that Maori learned to read and write so quickly or truly understood the Bible. They suggest it was the ‘civilising’ influence of the settlers that bought an end to cannibalism, utu, slavery and ancient superstitions.
However a different story emerges if we take the time to look at the strong relationships build up between missionaries and Maori and the powerful impact the Bible had across all aspects of Maori life, particularly in those pre-colonial days.
During the first wave of mission efforts the Church Missionary Society (CMS) under Samuel Marsden had a ‘civilise first’ approach teaching Maori about horticulture and agriculture with the missionaries showing the gospel by example, and teaching from their own copies of the Bible and related books.
Artisan missionary Thomas Kendall, who arrived with Marsden in 1814, was the only one who made any serious attempt at translation of the oral language. He learned what he could and made tried to retell Bible stories in Maori.
Kendal was convinced northern warrior chief Hongi Hika had become a Christian and without permission took him to London to work on Maori translation of biblical works.
His attempt at the Lord’s Prayer, a hymn book and a prayer book were left with CMS language expert Professor Samuel Lee at Cambridge in 1820.
However, not long after his return, Kendall was dismissed from the CMS for his gun-running efforts and his affair with a Maori maiden, before he could make any real contribution.
When the Wesleyan’s arrived in 1819 at the invitation of Samuel Marsden, their approach was that every believer should have a Bible. From 1823 John Hobbs the WMS linguist sent his own translation of the Lord’s Prayer and some hymns back to England that were published in 1826.
CMS translation efforts
The CMS was forced to lift its game when Henry Williams arrived in 1823 believing the Maori culture could be transformed through literacy based on Bible translation and a ‘gospel first’ approach.
A number of young people were already making a great contribution of recording spoken Maori into rudimentary written form. When young William Gilbert Puckey arrived with his family in 1819 at the age of 15-years he made friends with local Maori and soon proved himself a skilled translator.
Young James Shepherd began his translation work in 1824 with parts of the Gospel of John and Genesis and the parable of the Prodigal Son.
The arrival of William Williams in 1826 was the catalyst to streamline the process. William who had a BA from Oxford, showed a quick grasp of the language and made translation his priority.
It was the efforts of new mission leader Henry Williams and brother William that shifted the mission focus from civilise first to the Gospel first.
From September 1826 missionaries from both denominations gathered regularly to compare notes. This new phase of translation saw William Williams chair monthly meetings with Puckey, Shepherd and Rev Wiliam Yate, with the goal of producing the first Maori Bible translation.
Williams began gathering together all the words and phrases and giving them meaning which resulted in his Dictionary of the New ZealandLanguage first published in 1844. It was later known as the A Dictionary of the Maori Language and republished many times.
In 1830 William Yate spent 6 months in Sydney arranging for 550 copies of a 117-page book of scripture portions to be printed with the assistance of the New South Wales Bible Society.
Printing on site
Rather than having everything typeset in Sydney, the missionaries were convinced their work could be streamlined if they had their own printing press. Yate bought a little printing press and a youth to help him with the printing process.
The CMS magazine applauded the arrival of the machine as a breakthrough, but nothing came of it other than few hymn sheets and a catechism. It had been abandoned by April 1831.
Henry Williams wrote to the CMS head office in London two years later that the ‘poor thing’ (the printer) was now ‘enshrined in cobwebs’. He reflected that, if only a more respectable machine had been sent, the work would have been far more advanced.
From 1831 the translation team began a more concerted and methodical attempt at producing a New Testament. In October 1832, Yate headed back to Sydney for a further six months to supervise the printing of 3300 copies of a prayer book, more chapters of Genesis and the full text of Matthew, John, Acts, Romans, and 1 Corinthians.
The British & Foreign Bible Society donated paper, the Wesleyans contributed toward the cost and the job was completed in May 1833.
While Yate considered it 'the most valuable cargo that ever reached the shores of New Zealand', William Williams who was well advanced in his own translation work was less than impressed with this pre-emptive effort, saying it abounded in typographical errors. William Colenso later discover over 1000 mistakes. 
In late 1833 Yate suggested to his colleagues that it would be prudent for the best translations to be sent to England for publishing. Despite Henry Williams denying him permission to leave he left in June 1834.
He took with him Māori translations of all the New Testament books from Matthew to 1 Corinthians, along with his own account of life among the Maori and exaggerated accounts of the Maori conversion to Christianity. 
His own accounts were published but not the New Testament books. Some have suggested the process of checking Yate’s translation may have been too laborious, that it was less than scholarly, or that his efforts conflicted with a plan which had already seen a new printer and press despatched to New Zealand.
Perhaps news had reached the Bible Society's editorial subcommittee that he had gone absent without leave, or there was a whiff of scandal in the air that within two years would see him sacked for inappropriate relationships with young Maori men.
The CMS, Wesleyans and the Bible Society remained committed to publishing the entire Bible in Maori in New Zealand. This resulted in the fortuitous alignment of events that saw William Colenso employed as a missionary printer.
Colenso was born in 1811 in a ‘lower middle class’ Christian family in Penzance, Cornwall. The emotional teenager, who struggled to overcome a nervous stammer, became a printer’s apprentice at the age of 15-years and had early aspirations to enter the ministry.
He attended up to five church services on Sundays — Church of England and Methodist —and was a regular during the week becoming a member of the Wesleyan Mission Society.
Later in his teens he appears to have experienced a spiritual awakening. “At that time in particular the candle of the Lord shone upon my head and I rejoiced in its beauty.”
When he left for London early in 1833 his openness to both denominations meant neither embraced him. He attended a Wesleyan church but was treated “with more kindness” by the Baptists, even writing for their newsletter.
He took a job with the British and Foreign Bible Society printers but was concerned his fellow printers may contaminate him through the “wickedness and temptations of the day”.
Colenso immersed himself in the scriptures and daily prayer. “My private rule was to read some portion of the Bible twice daily on my knees, and to engage in prayer three times a day — and from that good old rule I have never wilfully departed.”
He began hanging out with missionaries and listening to their stories of far away places; “…my whole heart was set on going immediately abroad and to my work for the heathen.”
Colenso's timely encounter
The missionaries in New Zealand urgently wanted a printer and press to produce the Maori language Bible translations they had been refining. Colenso met Church Missionary Society (CMS) lay secretary Dandeson Coates at just the right time.
As a printer, bookbinder and missionary Colenso promised to “wholly dedicate myself to carry forward the cause of the cross.”
Arriving at Paihia on 30 December 1834 with his Stanhope press he found a large number of requested items were missing including an imposing-stone, brass rules, inking table and of all things, paper.
He improvised. Within seven weeks he had printed 25 Maori language copies of Philippians and Ephesians using paper from the missionary’s private supplies. Over the next few months 2000 more copies rolled off his hand cranked press.
By December 1835, Colenso had printed 1000 Maori versions of the Gospel of Luke and, ahead of paper supplies arriving, began assembling the type for William Williams’ full translation of the Kawenata Hau or New Testament.
Over 21 months he prepared and printed 5000 copies of the 356 page New Testament — the first indigenous language publication of its kind in the southern hemisphere.
Colenso’s efforts at the press were partly responsible for the emergence of Maori literacy and instrumental in New Zealand’s own ‘great awakening’, which spread across the country, mainly through the agency of Maori teachers, from 1834 onward.
Culture change inspired
Those first books and the message contained within them helped bring peace between warring tribes, an end to cannibalism and instilled the principal of forgiveness – as opposed to the constant cycle of utu (reciprocity) – and the revelation that all men and women were equal under one God, resulting in many chiefs releasing their slaves.
According to Colenso, many Māori chiefs or their sons sent barefoot messengers great distances to Paihia. Rotongia from the Waikato walked 250 miles, commenting:
'One thing only do I desire; it is not a blanket, it is not anything that will pass away, but this is my great desire — the word of God’.
Colenso worked relentlessly for eight solid years churning out books of the Bible, hymn books, prayer books and a range of political publications.
These included the Declaration of Independence signed by 35 northern chiefs in 1835, the invitations to Maori to cede kawenatanga (governership translated ‘sovereignty’ in the English version of the Treaty) to Governor Hobson on 29 January 1840 and subsequent copies of the Treaty of Waitangi.
Even though it may not have been his place Colenso stepped up that day and challenged Hobson, stating that Maori could not fully understand the importance of what they were committing to.
Colenso was an integral part of what happened over those historic days; his eyewitness account of who said what to whom is still considered the most accurate. During his time as sole printer and bookbinder to the CMS in New Zealand Colenso had produced, a memorable body of work; in excess of 80,000 books ranging from four pages upwards.
After 1837, it is estimated that attendance at CMS public worship services across the country was 30,000 or more; the Wesleyans also had a huge influx of enthusiastic candidates for baptism. The demand for books and baptism grew exponentially after 1837.
More bibles please
A further print run of 10,000 Maori New Testaments from England was eagerly awaited; and the demand for prayer books from the Paihia press soon became a total of 33,000.
In September 1841 William Williams noted that although European clothing had become popular along the East Coast, Bibles were far more sought after. He reckoned he could use 3000 copies, but the CMS had only allocated him 497 copies. The story was similar in many parts of the country.
Hebrew scholar and missionary Robert Maunsell oversaw revisions and final translations of the Old Testament (Ko te Kawenata Tawhito). In 1847, after his initially work was destroyed by fire, the first six Old Testament books were published.
However it was to be 18 more years before the first full translation of the Old Testament was completed and there were further delays in having it published. The unbound pages were stored for two years from 1865-1867 due to the Land Wars.
After a further revision of the New Testament, the first full edition of Te Paipera Tapu appeared in 1868. Further revisions were made in 1889, 1925 and 1952.
A completely reformatted version of the existing 1952 Maori Bible text was used for the most recent release of Te Kawenata Hou (The New Testament) in December 2008. A revised full New Testament Bible revision was completed more recently.
Māori teachers went before the European missionaries — often without any official status — because the message of peace, forgiveness and love had ignited a passion that they were compelled to share.
If these teachers hadn’t prepared the way, particularly during the 1830s and 1840s the missionaries would have faced even greater obstacles breaking out of the North to establish a presence in Waikato, Tauranga, the East Coast, the central plateau, Whanganui, Taranaki, the Wellington region, the South Island — pretty much the whole country.
Catholic missionaries first arrived in the Hokianga in 1839 and Marist mission head Bishop Pompallier established his presence at Kororareka across the water from the CMS mission at Paihia. Among the buildings created or acquired was a rammed earth French-style printer.
The Catholic Mission Press was by 1842 at work translating texts from Latin into te reo Maori. While Maori continued to ask for full bibles these were never made available only a few bible-based publications were produced before the press was sold to the owners of the New Zealander newspaper.
The proceedings of the Royal Society in a chapter on the early days of printing claim “many thousands of books were issued in the native language, all of which, however, were made up of prayers, catechisms, and formularies of some kind or other”.
Please explain messages
During this critical period Maori teachers overwhelmed the missionaries with questions from their own people, they sent requests for teachers and resources to expand their work — though these often didn’t arrive until years later.
Richard Taylor wrote of waka travelling up and down the Whanganui River, literally running postal services between tribes and families. He received hundreds of letters with messages scratched on leaves with nails, mostly asking him to explain passages from the Bible.
Māori used the written word to communicate with each other, with the missionaries, and with the various governors and politicians — and even with the Crown over their claims for justice, particularly as the land grab heightened. A member of a tribe or community who could communicate in Māori and English was an invaluable asset.
Scribes attained mana through their skill in writing, and people would travel for miles to get them to write letters, petitions, histories or whakapapa. By 1859, it is claimed, half of all adult Māori could read and a third could write.
However in latter years, as the high church increasingly aligned itself with the settlers, even the most qualified among the Māori teachers were rarely given the credit, the authority or the support for their efforts to advance literacy and the Christian cause among their people.
The irony today is that Maori renditions of Christian hymns and prayers are respected when used in public but when delivered in English those same words are often despised or considered culturally insensitive by public officials and God-denying academics.
A great heritage is at risk 206 years from the arrival of Samuel Marsden to preach the first sermon on our shores; the bi-centennial year of missionary-printer William Colenso, and just over 400 years on from the first publication of the King James Bible.
I would like to suggest the taiaha – the weapon representing the tongue and used to test for the truth — is issuing a wero or challenge to restore Te Kawenata Tawhito e Te Kawenata Hou as te pukapuka turangawaewae — as the real founding document of our nation.
While the missionaries and the church bought the Gospel to Maori in their own language in the 19th century, is it possible that Maori may have to lead the way in the 21st century, as te kaitiaki or caretakers, ensuring Te Paipera Tapu and all it stands for remains a lasting taonga in this land?
Sources  Letters of Henry Williams, 6 July 1832, vol 2 (1835) cited in McKenzie, Oral Culture, p. 22  Carleton, Life of Henry Williams, p.185  Lineham, Bible and Society, pp. 12–13 The Controversial Colensos, Alfred Leslie Rowse, Dyllansow Truran, Cornwall, 1989, p92  Ibid  Ibid  Letter to Dandeson Coates, January 1834 cited in First Impressions, p4  BFBS, 37th Report, also cited by Browne, History, vol. 2, p. 451  Colenso,The authentic and genuine history of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi (1890).  Lineham, Bible & Society pp. 17–19, and Williams, Christianity Among the New Zealanders  Lineham, Bible & Society, pp. 17–23  R. Taylor, The Past and Present of New Zealand with Its Prospects for the Future, p. 20  Proceedings of the Royal Society of NZ 1868-196-; Early Days of Printing, pp.419  Parr, Missionary Library, p. 219