A reflection for Te Wiki o te reo Māori

To truly survive, the Māori language needs to be heard and used far and wide. Peter J. Keegan lays out some key areas in which it would need to happen. 

The year 2019 will be remembered for Ihumātao, for raising awareness of events on that land, current and historical. It will be remembered for the wider currency it brought to land protest and protection of wāhi tapu/whenua Māori in South Auckland instigated largely by a young activist group, SOUL (Save our Urban Landscape), many whom are mana whenua, members of local iwi.

The action at Ihumātao, rightfully, has received a lot of media attention.

A key member of SOUL and somewhat reluctant leader, Pania Newton, has quickly become a media ‘darling’. Pania is young, educated, humble, unassuming, social media savvy, and, importantly, articulate in both Māori and English. This is in contrast (at least from what I have seen in the media) with some local kaumātua who are certainly not comfortable or competent enough to express themselves in Māori.

Other young SOUL members along with some supporters are clearly fluent speakers of Māori. Visitors to Ihumātao have reported being pleasantly surprised by the amount of Māori being used and that the Ihumātao site appears to be ‘te reo Māori friendly’ (I have no doubt others may have had different experiences). This atmosphere, whether deliberately cultivated or not, has appealed to rangatahi Māori who have flocked there in droves and followed closely events via social and ‘mainstream media’.

The ‘occupation’ of Ihumātao continues into Te Wiki o te reo Māori (Māori Language Week) which aims to raise awareness of the value of Māori language for all New Zealanders. Those with no knowledge are encouraged to learn basic greetings and useful phrases. Others, with some knowledge, are encouraged to increase what they know and attempt to use Māori in new and challenging situations. Equally importantly, fluent, highly proficient speakers are encouraged to use Māori more often and in situations where they may have used English in the past.

It is often is stated that if Māori language is to survive then it needs to be used in the home. Intergenerational transmission means parents, whānau and adults actively using the language with children, among themselves and with visitors. Children need language exemplars and cultural heroes; the language needs to be seen as the conveyor of cultural truth and a Māori world view. It should be fun, yet integral to identity and used across whānau, hapū and iwi and in cultural spaces like marae and hāhi. Unfortunately, urbanisation and the cost of travel means many young Māori have limited opportunities to get back to their whānau and marae so their exposure to their language can be somewhat limited.

A key complement to language in the home and cultural spaces is Māori language in education. Kōhanga reo, Māori-medium ECE, bilingual and immersion units, kura kaupapa Māori, kura-ā-iwi, whare kura that are well resourced with competent kaiako or whānau can reinforce and enhance students’ Māori language and culture. But regrettably, for many young Māori speakers, these educational locations are the only places where they can access significant amounts of Māori language and good cultural role models.

To truly survive, the Māori language needs to be heard and used far and wide, and that is why the media is so critical. Māori television has been available since 2004, Māori radio and Māori language reporting have much longer histories and are no less important. To see young Māori-speaking children totally enthralled by the Māori language version of the Disney’s Moana is a clear testament to the value of Māori. To talk with excited Māori-speaking teenagers who have just read the recently Māori-released translation of Anne Frank’s Diary (Te Hōtaka a tētahi Kōhine) shows the benefits of bilingualism and the value of having access to more than one view of the world.

Kapa haka, extremely popular among young Māori speakers, is another forum that provides language learning opportunities for performers and whānau supporters. It also provides the chance to interact with other speakers of Māori in a cultural space that is clearly Māori. Waka ama and occasionally other sports provide opportunities for Māori speakers to talk with each other.

The survival of any minority or endangered language always rests with the younger generation. If Māori speaking parents value the language, then it is more likely to be passed on to their children and then onto future generations so ultimately we have whole communities of Māori speakers.

The title used for this Māori Language Week reflection uses a Māori word play that will be readily understood by fluent Māori speakers, but doesn’t readily translate well into English. A literal translation is this: ihu means nose and mātao cold, therefore ‘cold nose’, transposed against waha which means mouth but also to carry, bear or shoulder and mahana which means warm. In other words, a situation that could be regarded as less than pleasant (ihu mātao) has carried much warmth and goodwill (waha mahana).

The ongoing use of Māori language at Ihumātao has done much to warm the hearts of those of us throughout Aotearoa who value and seriously care about Māori language.

Kia kaha tonu Ihumātao, kia kaha tonu tātou katoa ki tō tātou reo Māori.

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