Please enable JS

Pei Te Hurinui Jones: Shakespeare and Politics

image copy
Maori Home Front Blog Avatar
Lachy Paterson
13 March, 2021

In 1945 Pei Te Hurinui Jones stood as a candidate in the Western Māori seat; the following year he published his Māori translation of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice.   Although he did not have an extensive formal education, Pei Te Hurinui was an important Māori intellectual, writing in both English and te reo Māori, who flourished during the mid-twentieth century until his death in 1976.  He is perhaps best known for his work Nga Iwi o Tainui, “a bilingual collection, in 67 chapters, of the histories, genealogies, songs and chants of the Tainui people,” published posthumously in 1995, with his Māori text translated by fellow Ngāti Maniapoto scholar, Bruce Biggs.[1]  His other significant works include his translation and editing work in Nga Moteatea after Sir Apirana Ngata died in 1950, and his biography of the first Māori King, King Potatau, published by the Polynesian Society.  Such was his contribution to scholarship that he was awarded with an honorary doctorate from the University of Waikato in 1968.  Pei Te Hurinui was also closely aligned with the Kīngitanga, representing iwi in the compensation negotiations following the 1928 Sim Native Land Confiscation commission, later serving on the Tainui Māori Trust Board, and as an advisor to a succession of Māori monarchs.[2]  In 1940 he gave the farewell address to Lord Galway, the Governor-General, at a function at Ngāruawāhia organised by Te Puea Hērangi.[3]

       Some of Pei Te Hurinui’s translation work, however, appears a little whimsical.  Not only did he translate Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, but also Julius Caesar, and Othello,[4] as well as Edward FitzGerald's translation of Islamic Sufist poetry, The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám.[5]  Although it is sometimes stated that he completed his translation of Te Tangata Whai Rawa o Weneti (Merchant of Venice) in 1945, it is likely that it was done much earlier.  He did not release Ngā Rupaiaha o Omā Kaiama until 1975, as a typescript, although portions of it were published in Te Ao Hou in 1955.[6]  He completed his abridged translation of Huria Hiha (Julius Caesar) in 1942,[7] but this was not released, again as a typescript in 1959.  Certainly, it was reported in 1943 that he had already translated Huria Hiha and Te Tangata Whai Rawa o Weneti.[8] 

         Translating Shakespeare is no easy task, but it appears that his object was “giving the Maoris a wider choice of literature and of providing classical works for students of the Maori language”.[9]  When discussing his translation with Don Selwyn, “Jones said that Shakespeare was ‘such a brilliant linguist in his own language that I thought it’ll be wonderful if Māori actually learnt to understand what he said in Māori – and that was his motivation…’”[10]  Although he does not mention it, it is interesting that two of the three plays he dealt with relate to race and difference, with Shylock the Jew and Othello the Moor both playing outsiders within Christian communities.

          In 1944 Pei Te Hurinui stated that his translation of the Merchant of Venice would soon be published, and that he had approached the Education Department and the University of New Zealand to see if there was interest in these translations.[11] However, although “the sonority and splendour of Shakespearean verse proved very adaptable to Maori rhythms and idioms”,[12] and scholars have since appreciated the mastery of his translations,[13] it appears that he had to self-publish this work in 1946.  Was it that people were not interested, or that there was little support for Māori translations at this time?   Te Tangata Whai Rawa o Weneti has since met with acclaim more recently after Don Selwyn’s masterful directions, first as a theatre play in 1985, then as a film in 2002.

           It was in standing for parliament that newspaper readers in 1943 read about Pei Te Hurinui’s “interesting sideline” in translating Shakespeare, Fitzgerald’s Rubaiyat, and Thomas Bracken’s poem “Not Understood”.[14]  In all, he put himself forward as a candidate for the Western Māori seat seven times between 1930 and 1963, although unsuccessful on every occasion.  He stood as an Independent in 1938 coming second to Haami Tokouru (Toko) Rātana, the official Rātana/Labour candidate.  This was repeated in 1943, when Pei Te Hurinui stood as “Unofficial Labour candidate, having pledged himself, if returned to support the New Zealand Labour Party”.[15]  Given that Rātana/Labour were so dominant in Western Māori, winning over half the total votes, one wonders what his motivation was.  Was it like his Shakespeare translations, just something he felt driven to do?

            In late 1944 Toko Rātana died, inducing a by-election in February the following year, and ructions within the Kīngitanga.  Eight candidates put their names, including Matiu Rātana (Toko’s brother), Pei Te Hurinui Jones and Maharaia Winiata (then known by the surname Piahana), a well-educated up-and-coming Māori leader.  Matiu Rātana was of course expected to win. 

            On 17 January 1944, the Waikato Times stated the King’s Council met at Waahi Pā to discuss a report that King Koroki and his family were supporting Pei Te Hurinui.  Haunui Tāwhaio, as the chairman of the council, rejected this, stating that it was up to the iwi of the electorate to decide who would be elected.[16]  Soon afterwards, the National Party who had not stood a candidate in the seat, had decided “to support the candidature of Mr Pei Te Hurinui Jones, who has been nominated by King Koroki and Princess Te Puea Herangi.”[17]  Te Puea then issued a statement denying the right of Haunui Tāwhiao to speak for the Kīngitanga, and that she, as the chairwoman of the council and the 60 tribal committees “unanimously support Pei te Hurinui Jones”.[18]  This was rebutted in the press by Haunui Tāwhiao, who asserted that he had gained his authority when King Mahuta had accepted a seat in the Legislative Council in 1903; besides the 60 tribal committees were “for the stimulation of the Maori’s war effort and not for political intrusion”.[19]  Maharia Winiata Piahana also weighed in, backing Haunui Tāwhiao’s argument that no candidate should be supported by the Kīngitanga.[20]  In the end, Te Puea’s backing was to no avail; Matiu Rātana won the seat comfortably as expected.  Pei Te Hurinui stood again in 1957, 1960 and 1963, but as an official National Party candidate.[21]

            We often look back at wartime as years in which the conflict was all consuming, and when people all pulled together as one.  While the war was a dominant concern, and Māori on the home front rallied to the cause, people also carried on with their own concerns and interests.    Pei Te Hurinui, for example, put considerable time into his passion for translating English literature, even if there appeared to be little interest in his efforts.  He saw it as a means of uplifting te reo Māori, and therefore worthwhile.  He also competed in the political arena, which in turn caused ructions within the Kīngitanga. Although his chances were slim, even with the support of Te Puea, he nevertheless gave it a go. But Pei Te Hurinui Jones was perhaps most focused on tribal history and mātauranga Māori, and working for Ngāti Maniapoto and the Kīngitanga, and it is these aspects of his life for which is likely to be best remembered and celebrated.


Image: A copy photograph of Pei Te Hurinui Jones, a National Party candidate (1957). Evening Post (Newspaper. 1865-2002) :Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: EP/1957/4629-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22361124


  1. “Nga Iwi o Tainui”, Auckland University Press, (accessed 15/2/2021).
  2. Bruce Biggs. “Jones, Pei Te Hurinui”, Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1998. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 15/2/2021).
  3. Waikato Times, 19/12/1940: 5.
  4. Michela Anderson, “An Exploration of the Ethical Implications of the Digitisation and Dissemination of Mātauranga Māori (with Special Reference to the Pei te Hurinui Jones Collection). MA thesis (Waikato, 2012): 94.
  5. Although Pei Te Hurinui was perhaps the most prolific translator of Shakespeare, he was not the first. Charles Oliver Davis, a Pākehā interpreter from the nineteenth century, and later the Māori scholar, Rēweti Kōhere, also published some excerpts of Shakespeare’s work.  See Hēmi Kelly, “Ngā Tikanga Whakamāori Kōrero”, Te Kaharoa, 10 (2017):280; Hēmi Kelly, “A Tradition of Māori Translation”, Neke: The New Zealand Journal of Translation Studies, 2018. (accessed 14/2/2021).
  6. Hariru Te Aroha Roa, “Translating Translations: A study of Ngā Rūpaiaha o Oma Kaiama, a Māori translation of the English version of the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám”, MA thesis (Waikato, 2013): 15; Te Ao Hou, 10 (April 1955): 22-24.
  7. Te Ao Hou, 33 (December 1960): 40.
  8. Auckland Star, 10/8/1943: 2.
  9. New Zealand Herald, 16/12/1944: 6.
  10. Roa, “Translating Translations”, p.15.
  11. New Zealand Herald, 16/12/1944: 6.
  12. Te Ao Hou 33 Dec 1960, p.40.
  13. Anderson, “An Exploration”, p.94; “More Pei Jones Shakespeare translations found”, Waatea News, 7/9/2017,; (accessed 14/2/2021).
  14. Auckland Star, 10/8/1943: 2.
  15. Auckland Star, 16/9/1943: 3; New Zealand Herald, 25/9/1943: 6.
  16. Waikato Times, 17/1/1945: 2.
  17. Evening Star, 24/1/1945: 3.
  18. New Zealand Herald, 25/1/1945: 7.
  19. Waikato Times, 31/1/1945: 2.
  20. New Zealand Herald, 29/1/1945: 7.
  21. “Jones”.

Get In Touch