Witi Ihimaera speaks at the launch of Kotahi Rau Pukapuka. Photo: The Spinoff.

Harry Potter among 100 books set to be translated into te reo Māori

An initiative launched on Wednesday will translate 100 popular fiction books into te reo Māori, and it’s kicking off with the first of the most popular book series of all time.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone currently exists in 80 languages. The only book more widely translated is the Bible, but JK Rowling’s bestselling novel will be one step closer in 2020 when it’s officially translated and released in te reo Māori. 

Kotahi Rau Pukapuka Trust, alongside Auckland University Press, iwi groups, corporate and private philanthropy, Creative New Zealand and Te Mātāwai, have launched an initiative translating 100 popular fiction novels into te reo Māori in the next 10 years, turning Harry Potter into Hari Pota. 

Over 185,000 people in New Zealand speak te reo Māori, and this number is steadily climbing according to census data. Despite the increasing number of native language speakers, there are few options for reo speakers who want to brush up on their Māori with a fictional fantasy, or read their favourite English language story translated into te reo.

Kotahi Rau Pukapuka trustee Pānia Papa says it’s important translated books exist, not just as learning tools, but as entertainment for the thousands of New Zealanders who speak te reo. 

“It will provide those who are learning and those who are already fluent with content, things that they can read for enjoyment rather than necessarily for learning, and that will broaden the scope of people’s imaginations in te reo Māori, which is a really huge thing creatively.”

Leon Blake has the important task of translating one of the bestselling books of all time – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – into Hari Pota me te Whatu Manapou.

He says the type of translation he’s done for this book is different from the academic translations he usually handles, but it’s been a fun exercise in conversational reo Māori and he hopes it inspires creativity in our reo speakers. 

“What this book provides is an avenue for kids to use the language in a fantasy type world. A lot of the reo they use is through an instructional-type teaching in school or in real-life conversations, so having another avenue to use the language expands their ability to communicate and their ability to express themselves.”

It’s a long process that’s been made slightly harder because Blake’s never read the Harry Potter books before.

“I’ve seen the movies but I haven’t read the books so there are a few things in there that I’m unaware of, so I’m going to sit with some friends who are Harry Potter fans and hopefully get some understanding around the contexts of some of these words.

“You will never be able to get a word verbatim translation, but it’s about trying to get the ideas and the context and in doing your translation you want to encapsulate as much as you can without doing damage to either language.”

Pānia Papa announcing the first round of books to be translated, including comic Avengers vs. X-Men. Photo: Alice Webb-Liddall

New Zealand author Witi Ihimaera is the patron of the Kotahi Rau Pukapuka Trust. He’s written over 30 novels and short story collections, including the novel that inspired 2002 film Whale Rider. Some of these are among the 100 being translated.

Speaking at the initiative launch, Ihimaera introduced the trust as a “literary taonga.”

“We know from our myths that such taonga are not easily won. Māui, for instance, wanted to make the sun go slower in the sky but he needed a kuia‘s jawbone to do it… Her jawbone was not just a jawbone. It was the wisdom of what Māori call the kauae maro and it was with this wisdom that Māui was able to achieve his task.

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“We follow in the footsteps of Māui and many others… to offer a new kind of basket of knowledge for a new kind of New Zealander.”

The collection of books won’t all be fantasy novels, either. Plans are in place to translate comics, theses, New Zealand novels and non-fiction works. It’s a diverse library that Papa says won’t stop expanding once the first 100 have been translated.

She hopes Kotahi Rau Pukapuka will encourage more funding to expand the number of books the trust can translate and fund more Māori language initiatives.

“I think we always need more putea for creative arts expression, especially when things get tough economically. When the economy is down, people want to be entertained and lifted more. They want to be in a different space and having books gives you that, instantly. More putea will mean more books are available… We need to get more putea and marry the people with the putea with the people with the skills and then we can make more pukapuka.”


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