WORD Christchurch: Embracing Te Reo
This was one of the warmest, most welcoming, and most inspirational sessions of WORD Christchurch 2018. To Hana O’Regan (Kāti Rakiāmoa, Kāti Ruahikihiki, Kāi Tūāhuriri, Kāti Waewae), Hemi Kelly (Ngāti Maniapoto, Ngāti Tahu, Ngāti Whāoa), Miriama Kamo (Ngāti Mutunga, Ngāi Tahu) and Jeanette King – ngā mihi nui ki a koutou.
King, a Pākehā scholar of bilingualism, chaired the session. O’Regan, one of the leadership team at Te Rūnunga o Ngāi Tahu and an internationally recognised reo expert, said she’s excited that te reo Māori seems to be having a cultural moment: ‘We need that passion.’ Kelly, a translator and AUT lecturer, said there’s a massive growth in people wanting to learn te reo, which he attributes to the fruition of initiatives put in place 30 or 40 years ago. Well-known journalist and broadcaster Kamo said she’s pleased to see all the goodwill, but cautioned that te reo ‘has gone from severely endangered to endangered’. She would love to see Aotearoa’s history taught in schools, not so we can feel guilt but so we can all understand together.
O’Regan spoke about the benefits of learning te reo Māori. ‘You enhance the cognitive ability of your child if you raise them in two languages.’ We need to get over the propaganda that te reo won’t help you get a job, travel overseas, etc. ‘The world has been opened up to me because of my language and my work within it.’ Kamo agreed, saying that jobs are changing, and that if you have te reo you’ll have job security, since NZ employers are increasingly requiring it, particularly in the public sector. ‘The world will change around you but you’ll be okay.’
King articulated a nervousness that a lot of Pākehā feel, that by trying a bit of te reo you’re being tokenistic and racist – particularly if you trip up and get it wrong. The panel all said this was not so. Kamo said ‘I love to hear people trying.’ Kelly said that te reo is our language for all New Zealanders, and O’Regan added: ‘Learning the language is a sign of respect. It’s not tokenistic or belittling – quite the opposite!’ The next generation will benefit from us now trying and pitching in, and having their language upheld and reflected back to them. ‘Go grab all your relations, and get them all doing it!’
O’Regan admitted that, even with all the excellent reo resources we have these days, it can still be hard to find places and spaces to practise your reo. I myself am learning te reo Māori and am in that very awkward phase of sort of being able to string a phrase or two together but not being confident enough to attempt actual conversation with other humans. So I would like to issue a general invitation now to everyone reading – please come and join me in my Awkward Reo Club, either online or if you see me in Pōneke. I recommend the following:
- This post on The Spinoff listing free and cheap reo classes around the country
- Ask your employer to provide reo Māori classes as professional development – if you’re in Pōneke I highly recommend Kūwaha Ltd
- The bilingual podcast Taringa (which has probably the best intro music of any podcast ever)
- Te Aka Māori dictionary (free online http://maoridictionary.co.nz/ or a few dollars for the app)
- The Facebook group Starting in Te Reo Māori
- Make your shopping list bilingual – I did this using Te Aka and my copy of Māori at Home by Scotty and Stacey Morrison. My fave so far is wīti-pīki (weetbix)
I was particularly heartened to hear Kamo say ‘I’ve been on a lifelong stop-start journey with my reo’, and that it’s fine to not be that great at it, especially right away. I went straight out and bought Kelly’s book A Māori Word A Day and got him to sign it for me. I am delighted to discover that the first word is āe (yes) and the second is aihikirīmi (ice cream). Nau mai, haere mai!
Reviewed by Elizabeth Heritage