Friday, 16 October 2015

Niuean language Bibles

This week is E Faahi Tapu he Vagahau Niue 2015, Niuean Language Week for 2015.

As a result of Sir George Grey’s collecting of Pacific Islands language materials, Auckland Libraries has a collection of Niuean language Bibles. Today we’re going to look at three of our earliest publications in the Niuean language.

The following descriptions are taken from the Historical catalogue of the printed editions of holy scripture in the library of theBritish and Foreign Bible Society compiled by T.H. Darlow and H.F. Moule. In the introduction to the catalogue T.H. Darlow writes that The British and Foreign Bible Society specifically exists to promote missionary versions of the scriptures.


St Mark’s Gospel, published in 1861.



As early as 1849 a Samoan teacher, named Paulo, settled in Niue. He prepared a version of St. Mark’s Gospel, which was revised by other teachers; and in 1859 the manuscript was sent to Samoa, where it was prepared for publication by G. Pratt, of the London Missionary Society, with the aid of a Niuean student. In 1861 the book was printed at the mission-press in Samoa, the paper being supplied by the British and Foreign Bible Society; and in the same year the copies were conveyed to Niue by G. Pratt, accompanied by W.G. Lawes and his wife, the first European missionaries to reside in Niue. 

The Gospels and the Acts, Philippians, and 1-3 John published in 1863.

It is interesting to note that this copy is annotated on the flyleaf by the missionary W.G. Lawes himself. 


The Gospels and the Acts were translated by Samoan teachers and revised by G. Pratt, who appended a version, made by himself, of Philippians and 1-3 John. This was printed at Sydney by the New South Wales Auxiliary of the British and Foreign Bible Society, under the care of S. Ella, superintendent of the mission-press at Upolu.

The New Testament, published in 1866.

Interestingly, from the description here it appears that the Niueans had to pay for the privilege of being indoctrinated into Christianity.



The translation of the remaining books of the New Testament (see the Gospels from 1863) was completed by W.G. Lawes, with assistance from G. Pratt. The books already published were then revised, and in 1866 this edition of the whole New Testament was printed at Sydney under the care of J.P. Sunderland, formerly a missionary in Samoa. It received a warm welcome from the islanders of Niue, who had been preparing the coconut fibre, arrowroot, and other produce, in order to pay the full price for their copies of the volume. 

Author: Andrew Henry

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