Ma¯ori short story finalist for award
It’s hard to believe Iraia Bailey hasn’t been speaking te reo Ma¯ori all his life.
He composes haka and waiata, teaches, has his own te reo radio programme and has just been named a finalist in a national writing competition for a story he wrote in te reo Ma¯ori.
So it’s somewhat surprising to hear that Iraia, 36, only began learning te reo Ma¯ori in his early 20s after being berated by a Native American for not knowing his mother tongue.
“I served on a Mormon mission away with the Navajo Indians [in Arizona] for two years and their culture was really strong,” Iraia says. “One of the ladies did the old ‘you’re not a Ma¯ori, you don’t even speak your language’ and it cut me. I was 20 at the time and I was like ‘I’m going to learn Ma¯ori and I’m going to teach my kids so they will grow up knowing it’.”
Iraia, who affiliates to Nga¯ti
Tu¯ wharetoa and has worked and studied in Hawaii and Hong Kong, moved to Turangi six years ago with wife Miriama and his five children to bring them up in a rural environment and reconnect with his family.
Iraia has a te reo Ma¯ori show on Tu¯ wharetoa FM, teaches te reo Ma¯ori for Tu¯wharetoa Ma¯ori Trust Board and at Ma¯ori-owned milk processor Miraka, and tutors kapa haka. He has worked in kapa haka and Polynesian dance performance and spent a year performing in Disney’s The Lion King in Hong Kong.
Now his short story Ra¯ kei Me Te Taraute Nui (Ra¯ kei and the Big Trout) is a finalist in the 2017 Pikihuia Awards for Ma¯ori Writers, an annual writing awards run by New Zealand book publisher Huia.
Iraia’s entry is one of only 24 finalists selected from 130 entries covering short stories, film scripts and novel extracts in English or te reo Ma¯ori.
It was when Iraia returned to Hawaii from the Arizona mission that he started trying to immerse himself in te reo Ma¯ori, listening to the radio, watching television, reading books and looking up any words he didn’t know and speaking it to the kaumatua in Hawaii’s Ma¯ori community as often as he could.
“The biggest thing for me was just not being afraid to test myself out on people that were knowledgeable. I didn’t care if they laughed at me, I didn’t care if I was wrong, over and over until it becomes normal and also finding multiple ways of learning, not just relying on a class.”
When Iraia and his family shifted back to New Zealand Iraia completed a Ma¯ori immersion course which led to bachelor’s and master’s degrees and now a PhD in te reo, with both his 40,000-word Masters thesis and his 100,000-word PhD dissertation written in te reo Ma¯ori.
Although he’s always written stories, the Pikihuia Awards is the first time Iraia’s entered a creative writing award and he composed the story with just a day to spare before entries closed. Despite not having done any creative writing in months, Ra¯ kei Me Te Taraute Nui came easily. Iraia describes it as “fly fishing from a Ma¯ori perspective”.
“I thought why not talk about fishing and fly fishing, and Tongariro is the fly fishing mecca so I thought why not? Everyone here fishes, especially Nga¯ti Tu¯wharetoa, we all eat trout, we live on it and that type of thing will go right through the Bay of Plenty and all the Ma¯ori who live in those lakes district, we eat a lot of trout . . . we want to take it home and feed the family and have a kai.”
Judges Poia Rewi praised the te reo Ma¯ori short story entries saying the level of Ma¯ori language proficiency was striking and the application of dialect, synonym and metaphor was also worth noting. Iraia says he made an effort to incorporate some of the Tu¯ wharetoa dialect into his story and make it relatable to the iwi.
“Hence why I made it about fishing for trout because Nga¯ti
Tu¯ wharetoa and Turangi is renowned for it and I thought I’m going to do that and put in the little bit of the dialectal things into it so that they [readers] can see it.”
He was both surprised and happy to find he was a finalist and hopes the awards will open up a pathway to having more short stories published.
“I’ve always thought about it but never really known about how to get into it, so when I saw that competition I thought why not give it a go and see what happens. For me, it’s a lot easier to write in Ma¯ori than in English.”
The awards night is on September 9 in Wellington and Iraia jokes he’ll wear his waders and take his fishing rod. Ra¯ kei Me Te Taraute Nui will be included in the collection Huia Short Stories 12: Contemporary Ma¯ ori Fiction, which will be launched at the awards night.
TE REO WRITER: Iraia Bailey of Turangi is a finalist in the 2017 Pikihuia Awards for Ma¯ ori Writers for his short story Ra¯ kei Me Te Taraute Nui, written in te reo Ma¯ ori.