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Te reo Māori is a taonga for all of New Zealand

As Te Wiki o te Reo Māori 2023 draws to a close, people across the motu [country] are continuing to celebrate and learn the language.

Mike Kawana, te reo Māori lecturer and Rangitāne o Wairarapa kaumātua [elder] runs a total immersion te reo class at UCOL Te Pūkenga Wairarapa campus.

As part of their assessment, ākonga [students] must organise, plan, and run both a debate and quiz in te reo, and complete a full marae welcome.

The course isn’t just about the Māori language, though; it’s about all aspects of te ao Māori [worldview and way of living], Kawana said.

Some of the ākonga have grown up with te reo being spoken in their homes, something most of the class agree is a fortunate experience, while many of them are returning to the language after a hiatus.

Speaking of her own experience, Sandy Ngamoki said it was important that she “get back on that waka again”.

Self-described Pākehā Maureen Hyatt, grateful for the opportunity to learn, noted that it would take several hours to cover all the reasons why she thinks it is important.

“To live beside Māori, we need to understand each other. To understand each other, you have to learn the language and find out more about te ao Māori,” Hyatt said.

“It’s a long journey and I don’t think I’ll ever get to the end” – a sentiment that was echoed through the room.

Although Warren Chase completed the immersion course a few years ago, he said there is always more to learn, something he does by attending more classes. Chase now teaches other ākonga level one and level two te reo Māori classes at UCOL Te Pūkenga.

“It is a lifetime journey, and you don’t finish,” he said. The ākonga took the time to reflect on Te Wiki o te Reo Māori, what that means, and whether a week is long enough.

The consensus was that a week is not long enough to learn a language.

To learn te reo without the tikanga [customary practices] or the overarching te ao Māori is not the full experience, Evelyn Chase said.

She likened it to dulling one of your physical senses. If you take out your eyes, you can still hear, you can still feel and talk – but you can’t see the full picture, she said.

Hemi Smiler started his te reo journey as a child in primary school, though admitted there have been times in his life where he took his language for granted.

It was his departure and subsequent return to Aotearoa New Zealand that sparked a respect for his own language and culture, he said.

“There’s a lot to be said for reconnecting with your culture and what it does for your wairua [spirit].”

Terina Tipuna counted herself fortunate to grow up attending a kura kaupapa Māori [language school] but said the course has helped to give her the confidence to speak her reo. Reconnecting with her reo was prompted by the prospect of becoming a mother.

“When I found out I was having a child, I wanted to go back on that path,” she said.

Tipuna hopes that her reconnecting with her reo will inspire her daughter and future generations to carry on the language.

Mike Kawana appreciates the week-long celebration of te reo, noting that while it’s not long enough to learn the language, it is an opportunity to give it respect.

“It’s a week of trying to put a message out there to all of our people here in Aotearoa that Māori is a beautiful thing and it’s for everyone, not just Māori,” he said.

Generations of te reo speakers have been restricted or forbidden from using their language, including Evelyn Chase’s parents.

They were both fluent, she said, but “they were of the generation where they were both beaten [for speaking it].”

As a result, neither of them ever spoke te reo in front of her or her whānau.

Courses like the immersion programme at UCOL are helping ākonga connect with both the Māori language and culture, regardless of where they’re from.

Originally from England, Les Roberts has lived in Aotearoa for over 60 years and chose to learn te reo 20 years ago.

He said learning te reo is what felt right.

“New Zealand has been very good to me,” he said.

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