Transcriptions and Translations

Major Collaborative Project

'E Mā'': Ngā Tuhituhinga ki a Makarini ("E Mā")

The translation project 'E Mā: Ngā Tuhituhinga ki a Makarini' opens up the manuscript letters in the Alexander Turnbull Library's McLean Papers collection to greater use by providing transcriptions of the letters written in Māori and translations of these letters into English.

It is the aim of the project to transcribe and translate all the letters, except those that have already been translated, those that other translators have offered for inclusion, and those that are obscure or illegible.

The translators followed a set of guidelines to provide uniformity in format and style. These are explained here.

The transcription of the Māori text

In most cases only the letter body and any additional notes with it are transcribed. Notes in English are not transcribed (unless they help clarify translation of the manuscript), nor are addresses on separate leaves or envelopes transcribed (unless they are an unusual form or have notes of interest with them).

The letters are transcribed into a standardised layout; they do not represent the particular form or character of a letter. The transcriptions were made from digital images, with the original manuscripts used when an image was unreadable. It is possible that occasionally words may have been transcribed incorrectly: for example, an 'a' as an 'o' or 'n' as an 'u'. This could particularly be the case in transcription of names. For this reason, and for reason of time, where there are very long lists of names in a letter (for example, lists of owners, names of boundaries, signatories), these are signalled by a note but not all transcribed.

For ease of reading, the letters were transcribed to modern orthography. For example, the 'h' has been added to words such 'wenua' (whenua) or 'wakakite' (whakakite), and word breaks have been altered, such as 'kite' to 'ki te', 'e ngari' to 'engari'. The transcriptions have also been punctuated, for many of the manuscripts have little or irregular punctuation.

The current forms of names are used. For example, te rangihaeata has been changed to Te Rangihaeata, Ngatiporou to Ngati Porou, Waingaroa to Whaingaroa. Unhyphenated forms of names have been preferred, except in cases where there is a phrase (such as Te Ao-o-te-rangi), a double vowel (Kai-iwi), or a very long name.

Long vowels are not marked in words or names in the transcription of the Māori. This made transcribing the letters faster, and reflects the spelling in the manuscripts. Where meaning is distinguished by vowel length, the translation shows the choice of meaning.

The editing in transcription has implications for the meaning but as the manuscript, transcription and translation are all available, readers will be able to make their own judgement as to its accuracy.

The translation to English

To ensure all the letters would be available in English as quickly as possible, it was decided to produce working translations. The aims were for the translations to be clear and readable, and to stay close to the Māori. It was not the intention of the project to produce translations to a standard of academic publishing. And, although all translation is to some extent an act of interpretation, it has not been the intention in this project to do more than make clear the simple sense of the letters, as far as that was understood at the time.

The letter body and any notes in Māori relating to it have been translated but not addresses on separate pages or envelopes, unless they are of an interesting nature or include material information.

Some of the translations are incomplete. Words, sentences or passages have been left untranslated if the sense is not clear or research is required to understand it, or the language is poetic or cryptic (such as in waiata or karakia), or the manuscript is illegible. Words, phrases or passages about which the translator was unsure are marked by a comment or question mark in square brackets [ ]

Where there is a Māori form of an English place name, the English form is used in the translation, e.g., Auckland for Akarana, Port Nicholson for Poneke, Napier for Nepia. If a Māori place name also has a common English equivalent, it is shown in [ ], e.g. Turanga [Gisborne]. Names of Pākehā transliterated to Māori are translated when these are known, for example, Sir George Grey for Hori Kerei; where considered likely this is suggested in [ ], as in Te Kanara [Scannell?].

Some translations in the collection were made in the 19th century and others deposited in the Library over time. Others were offered for inclusion in the digital collection. The translations carried out under the 'E Mā': Ngā Tuhituhinga ki a Makarini' project are labelled with 'E Mā'. This was the familiar form, shortened from Makarini, which many letter writers used to address McLean.

Each letter has been translated and reviewed by two people and every effort was made to achieve accurate translations. However, as readers of an unpunctuated historical manuscript know, another reading or the benefit of consultation with someone with a close knowledge of the context may bring a different and more accurate rendition. Likewise, as translators often say, 'translation is never finished', there is always the desire to check again for accuracy, investigate more about the context, or find the better word. The benefit of the website is that errors can be corrected and new information added to these translations. It would be appreciated if readers who note errors or can clarify meaning by contextual information would post a detailed comment beneath the translation or transcription.

The transcriptions and translations for the first digital edition of the letters (Reels 103 to 105) published in November 2008 were carried out by Professor Ngapare Hopa and Dr Jane McRae. They worked under the aegis of the 'The Donald McLean Papers - Letters in Māori' project, led by Professor Hopa and Te Kohu Douglas, and funded by Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga, The National Institute of Research Excellence for Māori Development and Advancement, at the University of Auckland.

Other translations

19th C translations ("19th C")

Some translations by McLean's contemporaries are included in the collection and have been transcribed by Alexander Turnbull Library staff

M. R. Jones ("MRJ")

During the 1960s and 1970s the Library commissioned translations of selected letters. In particular many were done by Michael Jones, a translator in the Department of Internal Affairs. Other translations have been done by Hone Tuwhare.

Early transcriptions

Alexander Turnbull Library ("ATL")

Many of the English-language letters, official papers and diaries and notebooks were transcribed in the 1940s and 1950s. These transcriptions have been rekeyed and are now linked to the images of the documents. Some of this transcription was done by the McLean family before the papers came to the Alexander Turnbull Library. Others were transcribed by assistants at the Library. It was done at a time before mass copying technology was available and this was seen as a way to make such collections more accessible. Ultimately it was hoped that some of the transcriptions might be published. Over fifty years later they now are, and provide great assistance to researchers, who would otherwise be struggling to read often difficult-to-decipher handwriting. However, it should be noted that the transcriptions were done in draft form only, and there are many transcription errors. The sheer amount of such material, over 15000 pages, has meant correction has not been possible. It was decided that it was better to use the transcriptions as is, rather than not at all. Researchers should check the transcriptions carefully against the digitised originals.

Later transcriptions

Marsha Donaldson ("MD")

Many of the letters of Donald McLean and his family have been carefully transcribed by Marsha Donaldson in 2007-08. Marsha is well-known as a researcher and transcriber of nineteenth-century manuscripts. She is a staff member at the Alexander Turnbull Library who has been part of the team working on improving the descriptions of the papers for this project. Her transcription work, though, has been done in her own time, as part of her ongoing interest in the McLean family history.