Ka pai

Well done, Aotearoa. You are doing your bit to highlight and revitalise one of the official languages of this beautiful whenua.

Old and young, white and brown, hesitant newbie and accomplished speaker are, each year, making Te Wiki o te Reo Maori (Maori Language Week) a cause for celebration.

It has been around since 1975, and this week it has again been about appreciating the importance of te reo to the national conversation, and about continuing the drive to get all of us more comfortable with using some of the language without having to think too hard about it.

The salient phrase is "ahakoa iti, akona, korerohia" — "learn a little, use a little".

It is a great starting point for Pakeha New Zealanders, especially, whose attitudes towards te reo in the past might largely have been shaped by a sort of fear factor. They might not have encountered much of the language other than a few place names. It might have seemed too strange.

Being unable to pronounce long Maori words perfectly is not a reason to feel shame; being unwilling to at least give it a go, and to learn more about the language, if only for one week a year, is becoming less acceptable.

You can tell progress has been made. Shouts of "kia ora" are now commonplace, and lots of non-Maori speak of "aroha" and "kai" and "whanau" and "mahi" without blinking.

Our politicians and other leaders use te reo welcomes as a matter of course. Our children come home from school familiar with Maori phrases. Our signs and websites and official forms mostly come in two languages.

It is perhaps taking te reo to the next step — the Maori Language Commission wants to see a million te reo speakers by 2040 — that is the major challenge. Though, judging by the demand for free community classes, and excitement over new learning tools and apps to promote the language, that might not be a far-fetched aim.

For those still reluctant to give it a try, or sceptical about the value of learning some te reo, it might be helpful to listen to people like actor, director and New Zealander of the Year Jennifer Te Atamira Ward-Lealand.

Writing in The New Zealand Herald this week, she said of her 12 years’ learning te reo that her "appreciation of its depth and beauty and my understanding of how much the language is fundamentally connected to the natural world has grown. There is no doubt about it, I feel infinitely more settled in my own skin for having climbed aboard this waka reo."

Ms Ward-Lealand also expressed her belief that te reo was a "pathway for Pakeha to connect to and express our ‘Aotearoatanga’, our lived experience of growing up in New Zealand, without us resorting to claiming the Maori culture as our own."

Kia kaha te Reo Maori. Let’s make the Maori language strong.



'Kia ora!' A telephonist was once fired for saying so. It means 'Good health to ye!' in Southern talk.


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