Sunday, June 28, 2009

Aotearoa: still nailing the meaning down

This is just my opinion: why those of us of British lineage have to always have translations for names which derive from someone else's culture, I don't know.

I saw today in Jayne's blog Our Great Southern Land the use of "Land of the Long White Cloud" in reference to New Zealand. Natural enough term to use, because next to everyone else in the world does -- but it isn't quite right, whichever way you look at it.

I was taught at school, on first learning how to spell Aotearoa, that it meant "Land of the Long White Cloud" because a long white cloud is what Kupe's wife saw on the Great Migration. From Te Ara:
"The arrival of Kupe is of great importance, and many tribes are at pains to cite a relationship to him. It is said that his wife, Kuramārōtini, devised the name of Ao-tea-roa (‘long white cloud’) on seeing the North Island for the first time."
Yes, the North Island. Otherwise known as Te Ika o Maui (in one case I've seen, also as Te Whai o Maui, because it ressembles a stingray), for a while my island of birth had the name Aotearoa as well.

According to the late Michael King, an edition in 1916 of the New Zealand School Journal published the Kupe legend and the naming of the North Island as Aotearoa. We Europeans probably thought Aotearoa was a champion native alternative name for the whole country, and Maori have readily adopted its wider meaning (as an alternative to the transliteration "Niu Tireni").

In turn, the School Journal entry probably harked back to William Pember Reeves and his 1898 classic The Long White Cloud. Even earlier still, a reference to Aotearoa in Papers Past where a letter published in newspapers in September 1862 from Tamati Hone Oraukawa of Ngatiruanui, addressed as coming from "Weriweri, a pa of Aotearoa" was given the added note (perhaps by an editor): "i.e. , of New Zealand". (Tamati Hone Oraukawa, however, may have only been referring to the North Island.) European newspaper editors publishing translations of letters from Maori during the Land Wars kept making this same error, unless the context made it absolutely clear to them that it was the North Island, not the whole country, which was referred to.

By the mid 1880s, however, Aotearoa as the Maori name for the whole country had taken hold.
Several Maori scholars with Paul of Orakei have visited tho Raratouga Embassy now in Auckland. The Star says:— "The language of the two people is nearly the same, and the Maoris and Rarotongans can understand each other easily ... Queen Makea and the others said they had never heard of tho name Aotearoa, as the name of a country, till they were told that it was the Maori name of New Zealand.
(Timaru Herald, 30 October 1885)

There was still shifting back and forth between just North Island or New Zealand as a whole claiming the title -- but then, William Pember Reeves got the cement out and laid the foundation firmly for today's usage, backed up by the shot in the education system's arm from the 1916 School Journal. "Niu Tireni" makes an appearance as a translation for New Zealand as late is 1909 -- and then joined the moa and the huia in extinction (apart from the odd guest appearance now and then. Sort of like looking at a huia or moa re-creation.)

But, do things end there? No.

For one thing, Aotearoa does not include "the land of" in the name. It is just "long white/bright cloud". Or, also, "long twilight". This from 1997:
Here is a drastically pruned down version of the entry for "Aotearoa" in the forthcoming Dictionary of New Zealand English, edited by Harry Orsman and to be published later this year by Oxford University Press:

Aotearoa ... [Ma. /|aotea|roa/ ao cloud; daytime; world + tea white + roa long, tall; or aotea bird; or aoatea (=awatea) with elision of medial /a/, daybreak, dawn.]

[Note] Usu. transl. as the LAND OF THE LONG WHITE CLOUD q.v., though 'Land of the Long Day' (or 'Dawn'), or 'Land of the Long Twilight' have more to recommend them.
Why "long twilight"?

"A third explanation is connected with New Zealand's location below the tropics. Polynesian seafarers would have been used to tropical sunsets, in which the sky goes from daylight to night very rapidly, with little twilight. New Zealand, with its more southerly latitudes, would have provided surprisingly long periods of evening twilight to travellers from the tropics. It has been suggested that this long twilight is the actual origin of the term Aotearoa.

The same explanation - or a related one dealing with the presence of the Aurora Australis - is often given for Stewart Island's Māori name Rakiura, which means "glowing sky".
From here.

Somewhere I read recently that Maori scholars advise not to go down the road of translating everything in local place names. We should just accept the word as it is: today, Aotearoa has come to be the Maori name encompassing the whole of New Zealand, rather like the "Land of the Angles", a small fraction of a certain West European country way up north in the 600s CE came to be known as England across the whole country. I do like the "long twilight" explanation, though. Probably because it's so different from that which was taught to me over 30 years ago.

1 comment:

  1. I like that translation, too, Land of the Long Twilight.