Maori language forbidden at school

The tales you hear about Maori getting the strap for speaking Maori in school are true.

What you are not told, is ALL kids got the strap back then when they disobeyed the rules, sometimes for things as little as looking out the window, writing left handed or a spelling mistake.

Discipline was very strict in those days and all kids were either strapped or caned when a rule was broken.

Interesting how you only get told one side of the story by Maori supremacists...


"A civilising mission?: perceptions and representations of the native schools" by Judith A. Simon, Linda Tuhiwai Smith, 2001

"‘In the 1870s, shortly after the Native Schools system had been established, a number of prominent Maori sought through Parliament to place greater emphasis on the teaching of English in the schools. a newly elected maori member of parliament, Takamoana, sought legislation to ensure that maori children were taught only in english. a number of petitions in a similar vein were also taken to parliament by maori. one such petition in 1877 by wi te hakiro and 336 others called for an amendment to the 1867 native schools act which would require the teachers of a native school to be ignorant of the maori language and not permit the maori language to be spoken at the school.

Some school committees developed similar restrictions themselves. The minutes of Waima School committee show that as early as 1883 this school developed a policy forbidding both parents and children to speak in Maori. The minutes recorded that,

“[to] supplement the law forbidding the speaking of Maori in class, or in the school grounds in school hours, no person or parent can engage a child in speaking Maori, and in such cases, any child can inform on that person or parent to the Committee, who shall be empowered to fine that person or parent the sum of five shillings. If it is a matter of emergency or extreme importance, the child can be removed out of sight or hearing of other children before any communication takes place.”

These rules would have been generated and approved by the committee, which in all likelihood was all maori except for the teachers. It is ironic that the minutes that the above quote summarises were written in te reo Maori. It was commonplace for such meetings to be held and recorded in Maori during this period."


WE DESIRE THAT "THE NATIVE SCHOOLS ACT, 1867," SHOULD BE AMENDED TO THIS EFFECT:—Let there be two classes of schools. First, for all children knowing only their own Maori tongue, also having a knowledge of all Maori customs. These should be taught to read in Maori, to write in Maori, and arithmetic. SECOND, ALL CHILDREN OF TWO YEARS OLD, WHEN THEY ARE JUST ABLE TO SPEAK, SHOULD BE TAUGHT THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE, and all the knowledge which you the Europeans possess. If this plain and easy course be followed, our children will soon attain to the acquirements of the Europeans.

With reference to the first proposal, that only three things should be taught to those who can only speak Maori, we explain our reasons. First, the extreme difficulty of teaching them the English language; second and most important, even if the youths were to attain to the acquirements which are taught to them, after they have long been speaking nothing but Maori and observing only Maori customs if they were to return to their Maori kaingas, it would not be long before they fell away and became as those who had not been to school at all, or a good deal worse.

This is a great waste of public money and of the land of the parents of the children; also it is a waste of time. We have an example set us in this respect by the results from many former schools: those who did not attend them are better than those who did. Here is the case of a boy at that time educated at the Roman Catholic School. He was afterwards taken to Rome, and educated further in the colleges; he attained to high acquirements and knowledge of many languages—Latin, Hebrew, Greek, English, French and many other foreign languages. He was ordained a priest, and came back to act as Roman Catholic clergyman amongst the Maoris of his place, Hokianga. After living with the Maoris of his tribe for two or three years, he abandoned his office and relapsed into his former state. Those children who did not go to Rome became superior to him. The time and money of the Roman Catholics expended upon him might as well have been thrown into the sea; and all the schools in which our children have hitherto been educated have only had the same result, and thinking will anticipate only the same thing in the future.

Had our children received a good sound education, it would have been for the benefit of both races, and there would have been a return for the public moneys spent, and also for the lands of the Maoris given and the time spent, in the education of the children.

It is very distressing, lest it be like unto the man and the schools above referred to; if so, the expense incurred, the endowments and the time spent, might as well be thrown into the sea.

With reference to the second proposal, it was thought that the little children should be taught English, &c., so that the first language which they might be able to speak should be English. They could at that age pick it up very easily; and when the child was ready to take to school, he (or she) would go speaking English, and thus there would be no confusion with the teachers.

It is important to consider that should these children acquire knowledge, it would be of a permanent character. It would be very difficult for them to pick up again the Maori customs from which they had been separated when quite little; they would have to be taught those customs in a school for that purpose, if they wanted to learn them for their amusement. This system would repay fully all the outlay. You should bear in mind this proverb, "If you want to pull up a kauri tree, you must do it when it is little;" so with the education of our children, they should be taught when plaint.

This system has been tried by one of us—namely, Hirini Rawiri Taiwhanga—during the last five years; and his younger children display great aptitude and quickness in learning English. He had fourteen children, eleven of them Maoris, and in addition there were three European children, who taught the others to speak English. There are now seven left, two having died, two have returned to their parents, two have been sent to European schools, and one white child has been sent home.

The children taken to the European schools belong to Hene Mohi Tawhai and Honi Tuhirangi. The latter's child gives great pleasure to his teacher, for he had a good knowledge of English when he went to his school, and it is very clear that if children were taught in that way at school and could afford the expense they would soon acquire European knowledge.

The teachers for these schools should be persons with three or four children, so that the children would do to teach the Maoris; or if they had none of their own, let them take some in as Hirini did. There should be two school-houses, about two miles apart, one for the education of the youths; the other should be occupied by the schoolmaster and his wife partly, and partly by the children and their mothers, until such time as they should become domesticated and sociable with the teacher's children, when they could go away. There should be one or two women to assist the schoolmaster's wife in domestic matters.

There should also be a general play-ground for the European and Maori children together. There should not be a word of Maori allowed to be spoken in the school, and the master, his wife and children should be persons altogether ignorant of the Maori language.

The schoolmaster should teach the big boys the three subjects which I first stated; and if they are sharp, they could be then taught more. The schoolmistress could teach the little children their letters, &c., and the girls sewing, music, &c.

If the Parliament would consent to embody these suggestions in an amendment to "The Native Schools Act, 1867," it would be certain that in twenty-one years' time the Maori children would be on an equal footing as regards their education with the Europeans; but if the present system is to be continued, if our children were to be taught under it for a thousand years, they would attain to what is called "Knowledge;" and in laying before these seven subjects for your consideration, we, your hnmble petitioners, will ever pray.

Wi Te Hakiro, and 336 others.

Petition of Wi Te Hakiro and 336 others
Maori version >

English version >