Social Issues

Hinerangi: what’s in a name

Hinerangi Rhind-Wiri is of Ngāti Paoa, Te Arawa, Tūhoe and Ngāti Hinekura descent. Over the years, as her te reo Māori improved, so did her understanding of some of the challenges facing her beloved language. She spoke to Newsroom during Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori.

Hinerangi Rhind-Wiri is able to see the funny side in the mispronounced versions of her name.

With her broad, bubbly smile, the Rotorua-raised 26 year old, describes how moving to Auckland brought on a new appreciation for her Bay of Plenty hometown.

“Hine” became a one-syllable ‘Hyyyyne’, she says of her nickname.

“I was gobsmacked. The first time I’ve ever been called ‘Hyne’ was in Auckland.”

The staunch te reo Māori advocate moved north as an 18 year old for university. Eight years later, she’s made a home in the big smoke - but has had to work hard to maintain and improve her reo.

“When I moved here, [I found] everyone so different and diverse - which isn’t necessarily a bad thing - but when it’s a predominantly Pākeha culture, that really stands out when you come from a place where it’s normal to be Māori.”

It's like people don’t fathom that there’s another language apart from English. They don’t even consider that my name might not be English.

“I say normal to be Māori because you see people that look like you, and when you go to the shop - people can say Hinerangi properly,” Rhind-Wiri says with a giggle.

While some people’s cluelessness can be funny, it also cuts in a different, and far deeper way, she says wearily.

“I’ve been told my name is strange. And I say: ‘Oh that’s funny you say that because it’s probably one of the most common names on this land for the last thousand years’. They kind of look at me like I’m a bit out the gate.

“If we’re speaking about things in te reo, it’s like people don’t fathom that there’s another language apart from English. They don’t even consider that my name might not be English. They often don’t consider what the language of the land is."

For Rhind-Wiri, expanding the way she uses te reo Māori - and tactfully correcting those who mispronounce her name - is essential in pushing against those who take this attitude.

As an adult, this has included the completion of her masters thesis at the University of Auckland in te reo Māori. In July this year, she also graduated from Te Panekiretanga o Te Reo Māori (The Institute of Excellence in the Māori Language) after completing its extensive 12-month course.

“I had to be really deliberate about having access to my reo in Auckland. I always took reo as a course at uni - and it was very linguistic focused ... which was very different from what I had done.

“There was a kura pō [night class] with whaea Kaa Williams, but it was mainly for lawyers, so I used to gate-crash that - it was a space to speak Māori to Māori,” she says.

Free Wānanga courses and the kura reo full immersion week-long courses also provided another way to meet Māori speakers and practise. Role models and mentors like whaea Kaa, Hone Sadler and Dr Jennifer Martin - all bastions of the reo in the "very Western, institutionalised space" of the University of Auckland were also important, Rhind-Wiri says. 

“When you’re transient, you need a community to practise, otherwise you just sit there and speak English all day - which is normal in an urban space.”

Now, as the research and communication coordinator at Māori public health organisation, Hāpai Te Hauora, Rhind-Wiri is adamant to see the use of her reo, and te reo Māori generally, grow.

“In an ideal world, Māori Language Week would be every week.

“There’s a receptiveness in the circles I occupy [for te reo], and it’s great - I see a push to have things recognised. But, in everyday spaces, where people aren’t as deliberate or as conscious perhaps, I haven’t noticed things change that much.

“For example, I’m in Henderson [West Auckland] now and this building is full of Māori because it’s the Waipareira Trust building. It’s great because I’m in this little microcosm of society where people say ‘Kia ora’ and life is good.

“But if I go to Ponsonby, it’s a bit different. The other day, I went there [to a cafe] and said ‘Can I have some kumara?’

“They didn’t know what I said, and then asked: ‘Do you mean cumin the spice?’

“I had to tell them I wanted the vegetable and say ku-ma-ra,” Rhind-Wiri quips.

Small things like that, where people are exposed to the correct pronunciation of words, and can even learn a new Māori word or phrase, hopefully help in raising awareness of te reo Māori, as well as appreciation for it.

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