The lan­guage of the land is be­ing spo­ken

Weekend Herald - - News -

Afunny thing hap­pens when some­one speaks to me in te reo Ma¯ori. I’m a nat­u­ral com­mu­ni­ca­tor (read: a chat­ter­box) and I al­most al­ways have some­thing to say, but when the lan­guage of my an­ces­tors is spo­ken to me, my brain freezes. Then it pan­ics. Then it rapidly searches for some­thing to cling on to, some tiny shred of un­der­stand­ing. Then it fi­nally fig­ures out what has been said, usu­ally at the same time as the speaker takes pity on me and trans­lates their words into English.

I feel whakama¯ when it hap­pens. That’s the word we have for the shame and trauma that is as­so­ci­ated with the loss of our lan­guage. It wasn’t that long ago that it was spo­ken flu­ently in my fam­ily. My mother re­mem­bers her grand­mother speak­ing it when she was a child, and has re­tained the odd (sur­pris­ingly rude) word from her child­hood, but my great-kuia was the last guardian of the reo in our im­me­di­ate wha¯nau. It is now up to me to seek out the lan­guage that should have been my birthright.

I have been learn­ing the reo for two years. I started right from the be­gin­ning, although I was lucky to have learnt ba­sics like count­ing and colours at pri­mary school. I’m mak­ing slow and steady progress, though the road ahead is long and steep. I will con­tinue to fight for the reo though. I want my chil­dren to have the birthright that colo­nial pol­icy de­nied my grand­mother, my mother, and I.

We are in the mid­dle of an­other Ma¯ori re­nais­sance. Te reo classes are jam-packed, with long wait­ing lists for those hop­ing to jump aboard the lan­guage waka. The lan­guage of the land is be­ing spo­ken more and more on the air­waves. Macron use is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly com­mon in ma­jor pub­li­ca­tions. It’s an ex­cit­ing time for peo­ple who love Te Ao Ma¯ori. Ko¯ren­garenga ana te wha­tu­manawa i te man­a­hau. My heart is over­flow­ing with joy.

Yet I won­der how many peo­ple read the words “te reo Ma¯ori” and switch off. I sus­pect that my bi­cul­tural bub­ble, where cul­tural taonga are cel­e­brated and learn­ing te reo is ad­mired, may not be the norm. Ev­ery now and then some­one or some­thing bursts into my echo cham­ber to re­mind me that not every­thing is ka pai.

This week — this spe­cial, sa­cred week; a cel­e­bra­tion of a lan­guage that has arisen from the ashes — has been full of re­minders of the im­por­tance of our reo fight. I have loved see­ing the many in­no­va­tions un­veiled to en­cour­age use of the reo (par­tic­u­larly Spark’s Kupu — if you haven’t down­loaded the app, kia tere, and get thee to the app store) but at times I have also de­spaired.

On Sun­day, for ex­am­ple, it was re­ported that Don Brash had been asked to take part in a “de­bate” about te reo Ma¯ori on The AM Show. Surely by this time there is no one left in New Zealand who hasn’t been forced to hear Brash’s opin­ions on Ma¯ori at some stage. Surely there’s no need to in­vite him to re­gur­gi­tate his tired old opin­ions on na­tional tele­vi­sion. Surely there are bet­ter-in­formed peo­ple to ask to speak on te reo Ma¯ori than a man who, by his own ad­mis­sion, knows very lit­tle about the lan­guage.

News­room colum­nist Emma Espiner de­clined an in­vi­ta­tion to join the panel with Brash and blew the whis­tle on the Me­di­a­works show’s re­ported plan to in­ject Brash, one of the most ve­he­ment de­trac­tors of te reo Ma¯ori, into a con­ver­sa­tion that I be­lieve he doesn’t be­long in, likely for the pur­pose of court­ing con­tro­versy and at­tract­ing out­rage.

On Tues­day a car­toon made its way into my pa¯ho­pori (so­cial me­dia) feed. It de­picted a Pa¯keha¯ child who was study­ing te reo Ma¯ori at school talk­ing to his par­ents in bro­ken English. It played on fear and called to mind the ugly ridicule of some Ma¯ori speak­ing styles.

On Wed­nes­day it was re­ported that an em­ployee at Mc­Don­ald’s in Kirikiriroa had been asked to stop speak­ing te reo Ma¯ori to cus­tomers. And al­most ev­ery day this week, peo­ple sent me mes­sages on so­cial me­dia com­plain­ing that te reo was “rub­bish”, “not mean­ing­ful”, “not use­ful”, and all kinds of other things. You’d think we could have just one week of the year in which we could all cel­e­brate a trea­sure that is unique to New Zealand, but no.

Ma¯ori Lan­guage Week — Te Wiki o Te Reo Ma¯ori — hasn’t been around for all that long, and it didn’t come about with­out strug­gle. Ac­tivists in the 1970s worked tire­lessly to

There is no down­side. Bilin­gual­ism is great for your brain, te reo is fun to learn.

save te reo Ma¯ori. Ma¯ori Lan­guage Day — later Ma¯ori Lan­guage Week — was the re­sult of a 30,000-sig­na­ture strong pe­ti­tion pre­sented to Par­lia­ment. It wasn’t an easy fight. My lan­guage class heard last week about how some of the ac­tivists go­ing door to door col­lect­ing sig­na­tures for the pe­ti­tion were phys­i­cally as­saulted, such was the an­tipa­thy to­wards Ma¯ori.

While the vi­o­lence that we speak of when we talk of lan­guage loss th­ese days is of­ten more spir­i­tual in na­ture, there was a time when te reo Ma¯ori was beaten out of chil­dren at school. I men­tion this be­cause I’ve seen com­plaints of te reo be­ing “rammed” down peo­ple’s throats this week. The irony of such a state­ment has been largely missed. No one was com­plain­ing when te reo Pa¯keha¯ (English) was be­ing rammed down the throats of Ma¯ori school­child­ren.

There’s no doubt that the re­cent his­tory of te reo Ma¯ori has been a dif­fi­cult one, but what has struck me most this week is the ex­cite­ment of thou­sands of New Zealan­ders try­ing out new te reo words for the first time. In years to come, I like to imag­ine a fu­ture in which te reo Ma¯ori is spo­ken by most New Zealan­ders, hav­ing been taught at school. There is no down­side. Bilin­gual­ism is great for your brain, te reo is fun to learn, and un­der­stand­ing Te Ao Ma¯ori strength­ens our cul­tural part­ner­ship.

The fu­ture is Ma¯ori.

Haumi e¯! Hui e¯! Ta¯iki e¯!

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