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Say My Name … and say it right

Te Wiki o te Reo Māori [Māori Language Week] starts today, celebrating its 48th year after being introduced in 1975.

The seeds of Māori Language Week were planted on September 14, 1972 when three groups petitioned parliament to promote the language as part of their reo revitalisation efforts.

Auckland-based Ngā Tamatoa [The Young Warriors], Victoria University’s Te Reo Māori Society, and Te Huinga Rangatahi [New Zealand Māori Students’ Association] presented the petition containing over 30,000 signatures.

Despite the revitalisation efforts over the last four decades, Aotearoa New Zealand is still miles away from being a bilingual society with only 7.9 per cent of the population having a “fair” understanding of the language as of 2021 according to Stats NZ.

Pronunciation is one of the biggest struggles for English-speaking learners of Māori.

But things are changing and a group of UCOL Te Pūkenga Wairarapa students are exploring the thoughts and feelings that people have when their name is mispronounced.

The group performed in the national TheatreFest showcase in Ōtautahi [Christchurch] over the weekend and walked away with a sweepstake of winnings.

Their performance, ‘Say My Name’, was initially an assessment piece where the ākonga [learners] were tasked with creating a 20-minute production to show how important tuakiritanga [identity] is to them.

Kiri Riwai-Couch, performing arts lecturer at UCOL Te Pūkenga Wairarapa, said that a person’s name is important as they are often passed down through generations, or hold cultural or historical significance.

“By looking inside, we begin to understand why our name is so undeniably connected to our identity and who we are or aspire to be,” she said.

The learners are all students of the level six Diploma in Performing Arts [Māori and Pacific Dance].

‘Say My Name’ was performed for regional secondary schools and some local organisations before receiving an invitation to perform at
Wairarapa TheatreFest.

The group performed at the Lower North Island Regional TheatreFest on August 26, and then at the national showcase in Christchurch, which was held on September 9-10.

TheatreFest, run by Theatre New Zealand, is a national competition where theatre, youth, and school groups perform short productions.

Representatives from the Association of New Zealand Drama Adjudicators [ANZDA] judge the performances.

Lecturer Kiri Riwai-Couch was announced as the new cultural advisor for Theatre New Zealand and won a scholarship to attend a Theatre NZ summer camp in January 2024.

All up, the group walked away with:

  • Jannat Aitchison Memorial Award for Distinctive Emerging Talent.
  • Ewen Coleman Award – Best Adult Production.
  • He Pito Aranui Award – Acknowledges new writing and performance, which must be created by and contain Māori or Pasifika content.
  • Third place in the poster competition.

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