Maori documents of pre-European life listed in UNESCO heritage project

17:00, July 08, 2011      

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A collection of 19th Century manuscripts written by New Zealand's indigenous Maori to record life before the arrival of Europeans has been officially listed on UNESCO's Memory of the World New Zealand register.

The collection of 147 documents were among 14,000 manuscripts, letters and books given to the then Auckland Free Public Library in 1887 by Sir George Grey (1812-1898), who twice served as Governor of New Zealand, as well as a Member of Parliament and Premier when the country was still a British colony.

Now in the care of the Auckland City libraries, the collection was a cultural and historical record of pre-European Maori knowledge and documented matauranga Maori (knowledge) in relation to songs, incantations, customs, rituals, genealogy and traditions, said a statement from Auckland City.

"This collection is the largest existing 19th Century collection of indigenous manuscripts brought together by a single collector and we are excited that it is one of the first to be inscribed on the New Zealand Memory of the World Programme," said Auckland Libraries regional heritage and research manager Sue Cooper.

"This is a tribute to the uniqueness of the manuscripts and to their significant heritage and cultural value."

Grey, one of the most influential figures in New Zealand's colonial times, developed an interest in Maori and began encouraging Maori representatives to write down their traditions to record and document the Maori world view for future generations before it disappeared under colonial change.

The Maori material included in Grey's legacy consisted of artefacts, manuscripts, early published books and newspapers, letters and telegrams.

The UNESCO Memory of the World Program, which aims to preserve the world's documentary heritage, also includes from New Zealand the Treaty of Waitangi signed in 1840 between the British Crown and Maori chiefs and the New Zealand Suffragette Petition, as well as the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal documents.

Documents included in the program must be shown to be of historic, aesthetic or cultural significance to a community or the nation, be unique and irreplaceable.

"The Grey Maori manuscripts have stamped an impressive deep imprint in the fields of education, arts and politics, and assisted in the fashioning of distinctively Maori approaches, from their early inception into New Zealand's psyche through publication," said the statement.

The New Zealand Memory of the World Programme was launched by UNESCO on June 30.

Source: Xinhua
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