Project Canterbury

Untitled article on Maori Bible translation

From The Church Journal, New-York, Wednesday Evening, November 10, 1858.

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Bishop of Malaita, Church of the Province of Melanesia, 2008

NEW ZEALAND.--An Occasional Paper of the Church Missionary Society gives an interesting account of the completion of the Maori translation of the whole Bible, by the Rev. Mr. Maunsell, and the fervour of the native Christians of New Zealand in forming a branch Bible Society for its distribution. The account is very cheering:--

Many were the difficulties that had to be met and conquered before a New Zealander could hold in his hand a printed copy of the whole Bible in his own tongue. When Missionaries first went to the Maori people (as the New Zealanders call themselves), the Maori language had never been written down; the nation that spoke it had never seen a book, never spelt a word, never handled a pen. Nothing astonished them more than the sight of printed paper. They called it "linen that could talk". But patient and persevering men, for the sake of Christ and for the love of souls, listened carefully to the language of this wild people, wrote down the words from their lips, read them over to their native teachers again and again, in order to be sure that they were quite right, composed a Maori Grammar and a Maori Dictionary; translated first a few of the great and precious promises of God's Word, then a single book of the Bible--the first was the Gospel of S. Luke--then the whole New Testament; and so at last, after many years of steady toil and study, and one great disappointment when the work seemed almost finished, all the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, was given to the New Zealanders in their own native language.

It pleased God to give our Missionaries many encouragements to persevere in their difficult task. The natives soon became eagerly curious about the wonderful art of reading; even when only a small portion of the Scriptures had been translated into Maori, it was already made the power of God to the salvation of souls. We have only room for one very remarkable instance. You know how fierce and bloody the wars of the natives once were. In the early days of our Missionary work, our brethren were cooped up in a little corner in the North of the island, beyond which they could hardly venture to go. There were two mighty warriors who almost divided the country between them, one in the North, the other in the South. The chief of the North managed to procure firearms from England, and with their help, over ran the whole island, took many of his enemies captive, brought them away to the neighborhood of the little Missionary station in the North, and drove the chief of the South to take refuge amongst some lofty rocks on the seacoast, where he was safe from pursuit. One of the prisoners, named Matahau, learnt to read; and having managed to escape to his own tribe, told them the wonderful story of the "linen that could talk". The young chief's heart was all on fire with a wish to learn. But where was he to get a book? They could only procure the remains of a torn Gospel of S. Luke. Matahau was still a heathen, and he only wanted to use the leaves for cartridges to send the musket-ball straight into the hearts of his enemies. But the young chief was determined to learn; and night after night he sat with his companions round the fire in the middle of the tent till he had conquered the art of reading. Yes, and far more than that--the Gospel sank into his heart. He must go, though it be into the enemy's country; he must bring back with him a white man to be his teacher; and so it came to pass in the wonderful course of God's providence that the Missionaries were no longer cooped up in a little corner in the North, but found the door opened to them many hundred miles away, and the half-destroyed Gospel of S. Luke, in the hands of a runaway slave, thus became to many a wild cannibal the messenger of the blessed story of peace.

This is a specimen of the encouragements which our Missionaries met with in their labor of love. We have said that they had one great disappointment. One night, about thirteen years ago, our Missionary, Mr. Maunsell, was awaked by the howling of a dog. In about an hour afterwards his whole house was a mass of fire. He escaped, indeed, with his life; but all his books and papers--his cherished translations from the Old Testament among the rest--all perished in the flames. "The visitation," he wrote, "was indeed to me a heavy one but I would humbly receive it as the chastisement of the Father who loves, and will promote His cause by His own means. On the evening of the fire, Saturday, I had, according to my custom, consigned my labours of the week to His care, and begged that my studies might be made a blessing. He has answered in a mysterious manner; and I should be altogether discouraged if I were not aware that the darkest time is often made to usher in the brightest."

This is the true way to meet trials. Mr. Maunsell set to work patiently once more, and he was lately able to write--

"The termination of my labors at translation having given a respite from study, I avail myself of this first opportunity to write to you. THE WHOLE WORD OF GOD IS NOW IN MAORI; and you, I dare say, can imagine the feelings with which I regard the completion, so far, of my labors. I have, through His great goodness, been now spared to assist in the revision of the New Testament and Prayer Book, and to finish an original translation of the Old Testament.

"Dark indeed were my prospects, when, this time thirteen years back, I saw my house, with all my books and papers, swept away in an hour and a half by fire; when my wife, who was confined next day, lay in a wretched native hut; when our assistant, Miss Rymill, was also in considerable danger from an attack on the lungs; and I myself prostrated, my hands having been severely burned while I was endeavouring to extinguish the second fire--which took place in the shed in which, with the remnant of our goods, we had taken refuge.

"Still, the feeling has always been strong on my mind, that God had called me to be useful in this particular service. Even when in England, I longed from reading Martyn's life, to render some service in the translation of God's Word, and commenced studying Hebrew, and laying in a stock of suitable books. Immediately, as soon as my hands recovered, I set to work again at my delightful employment; and, though often discouraged by the apparent impossibility of getting the work printed in this country, yet God--as I have already informed you--opened a way for my object, in a manner particularly gratifying to my feelings; and has enabled me to complete my work just on the anniversary of my time of sorrows. Whatever portion of my time may now remain to me, it is my earnest desire and prayer that I may have grace to give it entirely to Him."

And now we repeat to you our invitation, Christian friends, to come and be present in thought at Mr. Maunsell's Bible Meeting, held at Waikato, New Zealand, a few months ago, when the completion of this great work was commemorated. The people have already had tea together in the large hall; the men nicely dressed, most of them in black suits; the women looking very neat and tidy. The forms have been arranged for the meeting. At one end sit Mr. Maunsell and his family, Mr. Ashwell and his daughters, Mr. James Stack, and the Maori native speakers who are to advocate the object. The report states that 20l. 12s. 1/4d. have been raised in the course of the year. We must give you some examples of the speeches of our New Zealand friends. They are very short, but much to the purpose.

Ruini rises to move the first resolution--"That the Word of God is the only true source of knowledge in Divine things." "Let no one," says he, "despise a small beginning; a match yields but a small flame, but who can extinguish the forest it has lit. So this work will go on increasing, till the whole world is filled with the glory of the Lord."

Henare Ngatiu, monitor of Rangikahu, seconds it. "If we love the Bible," he says, "let us collect to send it to distant lands; it is the source of knowledge, comfort, and joy."

Waata, the native magistrate, a very nice intelligent native, moves the third resolution--"That this meeting rejoices to hear that the translation of the Holy Scriptures into Maori is now complete." "On the other side of the waters they have long enjoyed the entire Word of God, whilst we remain here longing for it, but not able to procure it. Let us rejoice in the possession of God's Word, which points out the course to be pursued and the evil to be avoided."

Selwyn, monitor of Kohaya school, seconds it. "Let me ask, why do we rejoice? 1st. Because God's Word is translated. The way of life is made manifest. 2d. Because God put into the hearts of our Christian friends to translate the Word of life."

Hori Tauroa moves the fourth resolution-- "That this meeting recognizes the duty of aiding by contributions the Bible Society." "We must honour God"s works. Let us show our love by giving our mite to the Lord's work."

Paore Katuhi, monitor of Maire, seconds it. "When there is no cheerer in the canoe it goes slowly, but when the cheerers stand up and urge on the crew, the canoe flies. Now you have plenty of cheerers; show your spirit, pull heartily and bring this Society to the haven, 'when the glory of the Lord shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.'"

Kairapu, monitor of Tuahau, moves the fifth resolution--"That an Association be formed, and collectors appointed," &c. "Formerly we only heard of God's Word; now we see it. So we first heard of the Europeans; we first heard of their clothes, their ploughs, their animals, their wealth, now we see them and possess them. We heard of the Bible, year after year; now we shall soon have the whole, through the kindness of this Society. Were it not for the love of God we should not possess His Word. The Bible is for each man, woman, and child, that the light may shine in every place. This is not work for us to lay aside, but to persevere in year by year."

More, monitor of Kohanga, concludes. "I will say to you, as the chiefs formerly said to their dependants when they desired them to carry food for the war expedition, 'Friend, make your heart strong like the green stone. Remember, the food is for you as well as for me.' So I would say, 'I ask you for money; do not withhold it. Remember the Word of God is for yourselves as well as others, and in blessing others you will yourselves be blessed'. At first we were foolish; we called things by wrong names; biscuit we called pumice-stone; sugar, sand; and tobacco, rope. God we knew not, nor His truth. Now we have the Bible, and know the true doctrines of Christianity."

The Revd. R. Maunsell made a few remarks confirming the sentiments expressed by the last speaker, that they ought not to withhold their substance from a work of this kind, because the money was not to be expended in this one district; for they would share in the blessings showered on the labours of this Society. He told them how worthless God's Word would be without the enlightening Spirit, illustrating it by extinguishing one of the candles on the table, showing that the unlighted candle was of no benefit in a dark room.

A hymn, and a prayer by a native Christian, closed the meeting, the collection on the occasion amounting to 9l. 1s. 4d.

It was a happy day for England when she had the whole Bible presented to her in her own tongue. Nor can we doubt for a moment that the same Book, blessed by the same Spirit, will have the same power in New Zealand--the England, as it has been called, of the southern hemisphere. If we could hear the voices of our Missionaries as they call to us across the ocean, their message would be--


Project Canterbury