Writ­ing slates added to UN reg­is­ter

The Northland Age - - Local News - By Peter de Graaf

Two writ­ing slates used in 1830s Kerik­eri by young women at the fore­front of Ma¯ori lit­er­acy have been added to a United Na­tions reg­is­ter of the world’s most im­por­tant his­toric doc­u­ments.

The slates — which were dis­cov­ered in 2000 un­der a lean-to at Kemp House, New Zealand’s old­est sur­viv­ing build­ing — were among eight col­lec­tions from around the coun­try added to the UN­ESCO Mem­ory of the World reg­is­ter this week.

One slate was used by Rongo Hongi, daugh­ter of the renowned Nga¯puhi chief Hongi Hika and his wife Turikatuku. It is in­scribed with lines and signed at the bot­tom with ‘Na Rongo Hongi, (aged 16).

Rongo lived with the Kemp fam­ily at Kerik­eri Mis­sion Sta­tion as a young girl in the 1820s and again af­ter the death of her fa­ther in 1828, when she at­tended a girls’ school run by Martha Clarke, wife of mis­sion­ary Ge­orge Clarke.

The sec­ond slate is per­ma­nently in­scribed with a wa­iata whakautu (a song of re­ply to an ac­cu­sa­tion) of a type com­posed by women of the Hokianga.

The au­thor is not known but it is be­lieved she was an­other young Ma¯ori woman at­tend­ing the mis­sion school.

Both slates were found, along with other relics, un­der the floor­boards of a lean-to built in 1830-31.

Ac­cord­ing to the nom­i­na­tion form sub­mit­ted to UN­ESCO by Her­itage NZ and Nga¯ Uri o Hongi (the de­scen­dants of Hongi Hika), the Kerik­eri Mis­sion Te Reo Slates had “out­stand­ing rar­ity value” as the only known slates with Ma¯ori writ­ing of that era and be­cause they il­lus­trated the devel­op­ment of early Ma¯ori lit­er­acy.

Rongo Hongi’s sig­na­ture was a di­rect, phys­i­cal con­nec­tion to her pres­ence at the Kerik­eri Mis­sion School and was the ear­li­est known text writ­ten by a Ma¯ori woman.

The slates are kept at Kerik­eri Mis­sion Sta­tion, where they can be viewed by ap­point­ment, and are looked af­ter by Her­itage NZ on be­half of the Crown and Nga¯puhi.

Mem­ory of the World New Zealand Trust chair­man Bruce Ralston said doc­u­men­tary her­itage took many dif­fer­ent forms, as shown by the eight new ad­di­tions to the reg­is­ter.

“It’s valu­able for our sense of iden­tity. It records our his­tory and helps us un­der­stand how we have be­come the so­ci­ety we are. But it is frag­ile and can be taken for granted,” he said.

Other col­lec­tions added this week in­clude the photo ar­chive of pho­tog­ra­pher Marti Fried­lan­der and the pa­pers of ath­lete Jack Love­lock.


A slate dat­ing to around 1830 etched with Rongo Hongi’s sig­na­ture and age.

A slate dat­ing to around 1830 with a per­ma­nently in­scribed Ma¯ ori wa­iata.

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