Tag Archives: maori

Māori Letterpress

Kia ora! After years of thinking about it, and 6 months of designing, planning, constructing and mostly waiting, the contemporary Māori typecase for hand-setting in te reo Māori is now an actual thing. The case has been ready for the type for a few months, but I was still waiting on the new type – the 5 vowels in upper and lower case with macrons, (tohutō). And those tohutō letters arrived today! This is the most exciting package I have ever opened. The things we get excited about! The type before it was dissed into the new case.

The type before it was dissed into the new case.

The type before it was dissed into the new case.

Close up of the A with tohutō in the case

Close up of the A with tohutō in the case

The case with just the new type

The case with just the new type

The full case.

The full case.

This afternoon I set a poem in Māori by Cilla McQueen that I translated earlier in the year. I found it surprisingly easy to switch to the new lay out. In particular I found the e moved to it’s no position to be ideal, so close to the t. And setting the frequent ‘ngā’ was so easy with the n and g next to each other and the a with tohutō just above. The move to have the w and k in their own large cells rather than squeezed into smaller ones around the outside was the real change. I’m so used to having to scrape around to get a w or k; they are so much more accessible now.

So, a huge success, now just to sort out a project that is fully in te reo Māori for some solid hand-setting with this new case!


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Case layout mō te tātai reta Māori

So this is my initial design, well, it’s about the fourth design so far – but it’s the initial design before trying to set type with it.

maori lay out design mcurtis 0716

I originally wanted to leave as many letters in the same place as in the NZ Printing Museum lay. But, in the end, having the ‘g’ so far away from the ‘n,’ just doesn’t make sense.

But I have kept the uppercase in alphabetical order.* And I have kept the vowels in place, and moved whatever was next to them to allow for the tōhuto (macron) version.

A wee quandary I am having about what to include, punctuation wise, is the ampersand. As someone who loves printing, is interested in typography, as well as someone who is interested in mark making and the forms of lines, I LOVE the ampersand. But is it needed in te reo Māori? There are so many ways of saying ‘and’ for different contexts, that a single ampersand doesn’t really cut it. And the ampersand is also a symbol for a whole word, rather than a sound. Perhaps it can be used in place of ‘me’ as ‘and’ or ‘with’ when listing? I’m not sure. Any thoughts from fluent speakers would be very welcome!!


* I wonder what order the alphabet would be in if it had been designed by Māori?

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Letterpress i te reo Māori

This week, in honour of te wiki o te reo Māori, I have begun a project that will enable me to letterpress print in te reo Māori.

Of course, I could print in Māori now, but there are no macrons and the typecase layout is not ideal for setting in Māori. So many of the letters and symbols are entirely superfluous, and there aren’t enough letters of the ones I do need, (especially w and k).

I am currently researching William Colenso, who was NZ’s first printer,* and his work. Primarily I am looking at the first few years after he arrived in the Bay of Plenty and the Printery he set up there as part of the Church Missionary Society (CMS). When Colenso arrived in late 1834, the orthography had only recently been decided by a panel of missionaries. Early spelling had Waikato look like Wykatoo. The new alphabet had only 13 letters (15 when you include the diagraphs ng and wh, which you should when you’re thinking of the Māori language, but 13 when thinking about letterpress). The CMS was pretty lacklustre in setting Colenso up with proper printing supplies and didn’t send him any typecases at all, just loose metal type. These two issues instigated a new Māori specific type layout.

colenso type layout imageColenso designed type cases specific to his task to print the bible i te reo Māori and had them constructed by a carpenter in Russel. He combined regular and italic into the same tray, but upper and lowercase were separate. This split layout was used for bookwork and longer texts in the 1800s. A ‘Job Case’ which combines the upper and lower case didn’t become common until late in the 19th century and then they were only used for smaller jobs and housed smaller founts.**

Job cases are what is in common use today. Most of the trays I use are in the New Zealand Printing Museum lay out, though I do also use the California Job case. Both are standards for New Zealand. These two images of these layouts are oddly proportioned but they are in fact the same shape, and the structure of the actual wooden case is the same.

nz printing museum typecasecalifornia job case***

I have decided to alter one of the standard job cases for use in setting Māori. This is for a number of reasons.

1. Talterations 1he shape of Colenso’s cases wouldn’t fit into the type cabinets I already use.
2. Job cases are what is used in contemporary printing, rather than separate upper and lower case cases.
3. I want a layout design that specifically makes room  for the new letters that I am getting cast at the Printing Museum foundry in Wellington – each of the five vowels with tohutō (macrons) in both upper and lower case.

So on Sunday, I set about removing some of the cross bars to make for larger sections for the type seeing as I don’t need so many letters and each of the letters I do need, I’ll use more of. There are more w’s in Māori than in Pākehā English for example.alterations 2

The wood was far harder and tougher than I expected and the nails at each juncture just wouldn’t come out. So in the end I employed some barbaric hacking at it to remove the parts I didn’t want. So some sanding is now in order.

I am yet to confirm my exact new design, but it is coming along nicely and I will post that up when it is closer to being finalised. But I do think the final say of the design will come down to how good it is to set type from!

E hiamo ana au mo tēnei kaupapa.


* William Yate was sort of technically the first printer, but he was so shit at it that people disregard him entirely.

** or fonts, if you like – a fo(u)nt is a complete collection of type, all the bits, not just the design (which is a typeface). There is some argument about the contemporary uses of these terms, but to my mind, when talking about letterpress, these terms are useful when understood in this way.

*** Layout images sourced from http://www.alembicpress.co.uk/Alembicprs/SELCASE.HTM

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Tēnei tāku zine tuatahi i te reo Māori.


I titohia ēnei kōrero paki e ngā ngeru

(These stories were composed by cats)

Excerpt: “I haere au ki te hī ika i te puna tūtata i te taha o tōku whare. I pekepeke ngā ika i te kare o te wai. Engari, i hiakai rawa au, ka kai i te mōunu”

Typeset in MC-Type – my handwriting typeface. So nerdy! + cat-obsessed + te reo Māori = all aces


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I recently translated a poem by Hone Tuwhare from kupu māori into kupu pākehā. The poem in question is ‘Waipuke’ published in Small Holes in the Silence, an anthology of Hone Tuwhare’s work spanning his lifetime. The process of translation was an interesting one. Firstly, I am only a beginner speaker of te reo māori; for the activity of translation in this instance I did use a Māori-English dictionary as well as an English thesaurus. It was also an interesting experience because it felt like a strange kind of sacrilege. Hone Tuwhare is a Great poet; translating his poem felt as though I was rewriting his work, as though I didn’t think enough of it and thought I could do better (which couldn’t be further from the truth). Additionally, the first version of this poem, the one written by Hone Tuwhare, was in English (I covered the English version so as not to let it influence my translation or the Māori) which made it feel all the more like I was rewriting it. The Māori version was already a translation; it was translated by Patu Hohepa. So my version seems like an usurpation of the original, hence my feelings of sacrilege.

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