Pa¯keha¯ flocking to learn te reo Ma¯ori
Sam Taylor dreams of a day when he can walk the streets of Aotearoa and hear te reo Ma¯ ori being spoken all around him.
The 33 year old is Pa¯ keha¯ and fluent in te reo, and he wants all people in Aotearoa to take up the challenge.
Sam, from Te Awamutu, said his desire to learn came from wanting to rid himself of a “sense of ignorance” and understand more about our history.
“It is our duty to the cultural landscape of Aotearoa — plus it is fun and good for your brain.”
Sam, a graduate of an advanced course at Te Wa¯ nanga O Aotearoa, said it was important those who had done beginner courses pushed on and incorporated te reo into their everyday lives.
“I always start and finish a conversation with Ma¯ ori, even if is just one word,” said Sam.
“If a person speaks some te reo, I drop more into the conversation, and if they are fluent, I only speak te reo.”
Sam practises karakia, waiata, and exposes himself to te reo every day to maintain his fluency.
He seeks out conversations in te reo — even if its chatting with his Ma¯ori-speaking friends on social media.
Sam, a session musician and audio head of department at SAE Institute in Parnell, has been incorporating this into his workplace.
“Even a simple kia ora. It normalises te reo, and empowers us all.”
He says being a musician has helped him pick up a second language, and is now also learning Spanish.
“Me a¯ta whakarongo e te tuatahi. Listening carefully should be the first thing”
“It’s also about analysing what people are saying and having persistence.”
Sam’s te reo journey started after he returned home from working abroad and felt he needed to deal with a sense of ignorance.
He re-enrolled at the University of Canterbury, and started te reo classes.
“As soon as I started I loved it.”
He later took up a te reo immersion programme over summer, before working for five years at Te Wa¯nanga o Aotearoa’s Mangere campus where he was able to ko¯ rero (speak) Ma¯ ori on a daily basis with co-workers.
“There I learned from some of Aotearoa’s finest academics and te reo Ma¯ ori experts.”
“Te reo offered a matapihi ki te ao Ma¯ori — window into the Ma¯ori world. There is a whole other world going on — with so many songs, sayings, jokes, ways of life — that so many people in New Zealand don’t have any idea about.”
The only times he had ever felt uncomfortable speaking te reo had been around other Pa¯ keha¯ .
Once after playing a show he heard an older Pa¯keha¯ man make a racist comment about Ma¯ ori.
“I just started speaking to him in Ma¯ori. He looked completely bemused. He tried to say, ‘Oh, I am just joking’, but I kept speaking Ma¯ ori to him. Eventually he apologised and took it all back. I hope now he rethinks what he is talking about.”
When Ma¯ori discovered he was Pa¯keha¯ and could speak te reo, their reactions ranged from impressed to emotionally overwhelmed.
“For some kuia and kauma¯ tua it has gone full circle. They had their language oppressed, and now here is a white, blue-eyed guy speaking Ma¯ ori.”
And Sam’s monolingual family in Te Awamutu is supportive.
“My family is open and willing to learn to say things right.”
While he encouraged all Pa¯ keha¯ to learn te reo, Sam said it was important not to “recolonise” the language.
“I need to acknowledge all my kaiako (teachers) over the years and their tı¯puna, from whom this precious gift was passed, te¯na¯ ra¯ koutou katoa.
“Pa¯keha¯ need to be humble and play a supporting role.”
He looked forward to when Pa¯ keha¯ speaking Ma¯ ori was normal and hopes to teach his own children when he has a family.
“There is a wave of enthusiasm at the moment, and I would love to see it continue.”
Te reo Ma¯ ori is experiencing a surge in popularity.
Te Wa¯nanga o Aotearoa kaiako Netana Matene said more than 3000 people had already expressed interest in te reo classes next year.
“It is cool to see that popularity, and the biggest growth for us here has been non-Ma¯ori learners,” said Netana.
About 70 per cent of their beginner learners were nonMa¯ori, he said. “They have become ambassadors of te reo. The revitalisation of te reo needs to be a country-wide effort. People are realising that Ma¯ ori is what makes us unique to every other English-speaking country in the world.”
A challenge for Pa¯keha¯ was often pronunciation.
“Some Pa¯keha¯ can struggle with that, but then absorb the grammar really quickly. The classroom is set up as a safe environment though, aturuhanga, where people feel safe making mistakes.”
“A challenge for all learners was keeping it up,” said Netana.
While Kiwis were flocking to these beginner courses, the percentage of people who could hold a conversation in te reo dropped from 4.5 per cent in 2001 to 3.7 in 2013. Ma¯ ori make up 85 per cent of those speakers, with only a very small percentage being Pa¯ keha¯ .
Sam Taylor, from Te Awamutu, is Pa¯ keha¯ and fluent in te reo Ma¯ ori.