• The Listener
  • North & South
  • Noted
  • RNZ

Why it's significant Anne Frank's diary has been translated into Te Reo Māori

Te Haumihiata Mason has translated Anne Frank's diary, one of the most famous books in the world, into Te Reo Māori. Photo/Supplied.

On June 12, Te Rātaka a Tētahi Kōhine, the Māori translation of Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl, will be launched at Te Papa on what would have been her 90th birthday. Here’s why this translation is significant.  

It was a brisk but sunny September day in 2017 when Boyd Klap’s flight touched down at New Plymouth airport. He hopped off the turboprop from Wellington to meet Dr Ruakere Hond, kaumatua of Parihaka and well known Māori language advocate, to see if his community was interested in contributing to the exhibition, Anne Frank, Let Me Be Myself.

At a meeting on the marae, an iwi member asked a question Klap didn’t immediately know the answer to; “Is Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl available in Te Reo Māori?”

The book, a collection of diary entries written by Anne while she was in hiding in Amsterdam with her Jewish family during the Nazi occupation, has been translated into 72 languages since it was first published in Dutch in 1947.

Now, for the first time, it is available in Te Reo Māori.

“It made sense to me that in New Zealand, where Te Reo Māori is one of three official languages, Anne’s diary would be available in Te Reo as well,” says Klap.

“Anne’s message of tolerance, her desire to live in a better world, well it’s very important, and still so relevant today.”

Klap set about acquiring the rights to translate the book, with permission granted from the Anne Frank Fonds foundation in Switzerland. His enquiries for a translator lead him to noted kaiwhakamāori, Te Haumihiata Mason (Ngā Tūhoe, Ngāti Pango, Te Arawa).

Raised in the 1950s in a traditional Māori community in Ruatoki where only Te Reo was spoken, Mason didn’t start learning English until she was nearly 10, when her family moved to Whakatāne for work.

“English wasn’t easy for me to learn, and although I can handle myself in that language now, I’ve never really got over the fear of saying the wrong thing,” says Mason, who was not allowed to speak Te Reo at her new school.

“Me and my three siblings ended up in the same class because there was only one teacher who could communicate with us,” she explains. “People called us ‘the dumb Māori kids’. It was a very frightening time and for some of us it felt better not to speak at all. We didn’t want to say anything, because we didn’t want our ignorance to be heard.”

It’s fitting that Mason has moved on from being afraid to speak at all, to being a mouthpiece for others in her native tongue.

“It’s important to me, this work. I’ve been invested in the revitalisation of Te Reo for decades, and I’m committed to that,” she says. “I hope to transport the reader somewhere, and transform their thinking, in Te Reo.”

She says she took on the job translating Anne’s voice because she is a girl, and she was writing in the past, the 1940s.

“It’s important these works are available in Te Reo Māori, we should be able to have access to work like Anne Frank’s through our own language and world view. A Māori world view.”

But translating Anne's diary wasn’t without its challenges. After all, this is a book written over 70 years ago, in Dutch. Mason was already working from a translation, and had to interpret Anne’s voice according to the time – and then find the right meaning in Māori.

Macro alias: ModuleRenderer

“Translation is very different to reading,” says Mason. “When you translate a story you have to try and capture her thinking and her voice. What was really going on. The worst thing you can be as a translator is loud – you don’t want your voice to be louder than the author. You have to be mindful.”

Mason worked on the translation for just over six months, and consulted many other  Māori speakers to make sure she was choosing the language correctly. One particular word that created a challenge was the word ‘flirting’.

“That’s the English word used. So, I had to think to myself, what is the intention of that word? What would a 14-year old girl in the 1940s mean if she used the word flirting? And I imagined fluttering eyelashes or a wry smile.”

After consulting a few other people, Mason ended up using an old Māori word, ‘whakakini’.

“It means, literally, to pinch or scratch lightly to attract attention. That felt quite flirtatious to me.”

Mason is looking forward to the launch of the book, which will become the 73rd translation of the diary, and will commemorate what would have been Anne’s 90th birthday.

“The situation with Anne and her family, you hope that should never happen again. We should never allow that to happen again,” she says, noting that she feels a special connection to Anne after translating her work.

“I love that girl’s honesty. She’s very bright and wrote her thoughts at a very challenging time. In translating her, I got to know her intimately,” says Mason. “I think everybody in the world should read Anne Frank’s diary, in whatever language they choose. It’s a very important work.”

June 12 is a worldwide celebration of Anne’s life, which was cut short at age 15 when she died at a Nazi concentration camp. Her diary is one of the world’s best-known books.

“There will be events all over the globe to commemorate Anne’s life and I’m so proud that we are able to offer this very special contribution from Aotearoa,” says Klap.

“Since the attacks in Christchurch on the Muslim community there has been a lot of discussion about discrimination in New Zealand, about what kind of country we want this to be. This is exactly what Anne was talking about, 75 years ago. Now her words, so important, can be read in both English and Te Reo Māori.”

Klap, who is 92, and grew up in Holland, has always been drawn to her story.

“During the occupation, when I first met the woman who would become my wife, she was very furtive about letting me in the house. Later I discovered they were hiding a Jew, and didn’t know if I could be trusted yet,” he explains. “I was just a teenager, but I joined the Dutch resistance. I was a messenger, delivering information about German troop movements and air raids by bike.”

In 2011, he organised for an exhibition created by the Anne Frank House in the Netherlands to come to New Zealand. He has also organised several exhibitions in Australia, and is the chairman of the current travelling exhibition Anne Frank, Let Me Be Myself, which he brought to Aotearoa in partnership with the Holocaust Centre of New Zealand.

The translation of Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl, was supported financially by Te Taura Whiri i Te Reo Māori, the Māori Language Commission; Rabobank; the David Levene Foundation; and Wellington City Council (with the Wellington City Community Trust), and is published by the Holocaust Centre of New Zealand.

Follow NOTED on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and sign up to our email newsletter for more news.