Frederic Maning

Simon During

From Simon During, "What Was the West?: Some Relations Between Modernity, Colonisation and Writing," in Sport (4:1990): 83-5.

Frederic Maning's Old New Zealand was first published anonymously as 'by a Pakeha Maori' in 1863. No doubt this popular book, in print locally for over a century, should have been hailed as the national epic of which New Zealanders have sometimes felt the lack. No other work has been so often cited and appropriated by later historians and anthropologists. More than any other work, it materially articulates the nation-state's existence as text, it remains the central witness of the border period. . . .

If ever this talk about the good old times be printed and published, and everyone buy it, and read it, and quote it, and believe every word in it, as they ought, seeing that every word is true, then it will be a puka puka whai mana, a book of mana; and I shall have opinion of the good sense and good taste of the New Zealand public.

When the law of England is the law of New Zealand, and the Queen's writ will run, then both the Queen and the law will have great mana; but I don't think either will ever happen, and so neither will have any mana of consequence.

If the reader has not some faint notion of mana by this time I can't help it; I can't do any better for him. I must confess I have not pleased myself. Any European language can be translated easily enough into any other; but to translate Maori into English is much harder to do than is supposed by those who do it every day with ease, but who do not know their own language or any other but Maori perfectly. (208-09)

Tapu cannot be fixed because it is in the hands of powers that may or may not simulate and do not simply disappear, but mana, though it is bound to whatever has force, is merely an impossible word to translate into European languages across the colonial divide. The word cannot be translated but it can be repeated. Then it performs a trick: the Maori signifier acquires an aura, if not quite a signified. We might even say: in modernity mana lives on -- if nowhere else -- whenever the untranslatable flirts with meaning as it does as long as it is circulated. If this book that constantly 'uses' the word without controlling it, is published, read, incorporated in other books, then mana will survive despite its being a sign of what is absent, an unravelled and displaced signifier."

Postcolonial Overview New Zealand Australia

Last Modified: 15 March, 2002