Do Iwi, Taonga and Motu Mean Anything to You?

Tere tohorā tere tangata—Where whales journey, people follow.

This Māori saying welcomes visitors to the spectacular Whales Tohorā exhibition, which comes to us from New Zealand after touring extensively with our neighbours to the south.

Visitors read panels in the exhibition.

Some of the 153 exhibition panels. Image: © Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, 2008

You will have the opportunity to discover the exhibition yourself at the museum starting on March 2, but until then, I would like to explain briefly what went on behind the scenes to make things possible.

An ornamental comb, sculpted from whalebone.

A magnificent ornamental comb (heru) made of whalebone, one of the many treasures (taonga) featured in the exhibition. 1800–1900, artist unknown. Collection of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa. Image: © Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, 2007

Step one: Translation. In New Zealand, they speak English and Māori. Here, it’s primarily English and French. So we translated the entire exhibition—texts, computer interactives, videos, the works. Wonder how many words that is? A little more than 35 000, and I’m pretty sure I missed a few.

Step two: Adaptation. As I mentioned, the exhibition comes to us from New Zealand. A number of Māori words are common usage in New Zealand, or at least understood by most non-Māori New Zealanders. Do iwi, taonga and motu mean anything to you? Do you know where to find Stewart Island and Doubtless Bay on a map? That is why we added a little extra information to help you make the most of the exhibition. What? Oh yes, I almost forgot. Iwi means peoples, tribe; taonga means something precious, a treasure; and motu, well, that means island.

Step three: Production. Because the exhibition was originally produced in English and Māori, we had to redo all of the interpretive panels. This involved changing the layout to include the French text, sometimes resizing the panels, and then reprinting the lot. And for how many panels, you ask? Wait; let me ask our graphic designer. How many panels in all, Annie? A hundred and fifty three, OK, thanks!

For the seven interactives, we replaced the Māori with French and tinkered around with the programming—a piece of cake! We also dubbed and subtitled all eleven videos, which was sometimes quite the laugh. Why? Just try pronouncing whakapapa. It’s not easy! The voice actors struggled a bit with the Māori language, but they did a very good job.

Two exhibition panels.

Above: One of the original, English-only exhibition panels. Below: The same panel after modification to include the French text. Image: Annie Thérien © Canadian Museum of Nature

And, believe it or not, this all has to be done before the exhibition’s arrival and installation in the museum—but that’s another kettle of fish. I’ll let my colleagues tell you about the next steps! Watch this space in the coming weeks.

Kia ora to you, dear readers. That is how to say hello, and thank you, in Māori. Its literal translation is “be well” or “be healthy”!

This entry was posted in Exhibitions, Tools of the trade, Whales Tohorā and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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