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Adults paint unique te reo picture

Mike Kawana at Te Amorangi Whare on UCOL’s Masterton campus. PHOTO/FILE

UCOL staff and students celebrated the revival Māori language in Wairarapa with a group mahi toi [art project].

The group painting project, which took place on Wednesday in UCOL’s Hub, was based on a prophecy of Paora Potangaroa, a tipuna [ancestor] of Wairarapa iwi Ngāti Kahungunu and Rangitāne.

Paora Potangaroa’s prophecy stated that Te Reo Māori would be lost to the people of Wairarapa but that it would come back through their tamariki [children] and mokopuna [grandchildren].

At the time people didn’t believe the prophecy because Te Reo Māori was in frequent use.

However, Māori language was violently suppressed in Wairarapa [as it was in the rest of the country] throughout the 20th Century.

“My grandparents were beaten at school for it, and when I started learning my grandfather got really angry and said ‘what do they want to bring it back for?’ They were trying to protect their tamariki from being beaten at school,” said Maxine Hemi, kaitūhono tauira [student engagement coordinator] at UCOL.

But Te Reo Māori did return in Wairarapa, with the first kōhanga reo in the region opening in 1983 and Te Kura Kaupapa Māori following in 1993.

Hemi’s daughter Chakani Hemi organised the group painting event in UCOL’s Hub.

“We’re painting our stories about being Māori and speaking our language, everyone is free to participate,” Chakani said.

Maxine started learning Māori while taking Chakani’s sister Keilah to kōhanga reo.

“I started taking her to kōhanga when she was 10 days old, and she ended up staying for five years,” Maxine said.

Mahi toi [art project] at UCOL Masterton celebrating Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori 2022. PHOTO/ FLYNN NICHOLLS
Maxine’s mum Pat Bolstad came to learn Māori at the age of 50 and went on to found Wahi Reka Te Kohanga Reo in Lansdowne.

It was their tamariki being at kōhanga reo that provided context for Pat and Maxine to learn Te Reo Māori as adults.

“Your culture and identity are lost when you don’t have your language,” Maxine said.

Chakani organised the project as one of UCOL’s events for Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori.

“Kaupapa [initiatives] like this help people understand that our language is and always was a living language.

“Our tamariki and their tamariki will learn it”.

Mike Kawana had taught Te Reo Māori to adult students since the 1990s when UCOL Wairarapa was called Wairarapa Community Polytechnic.

Today, he continues to teach the higher-level Māori classes, as well as being kaumātua and cultural adviser to staff and students at the Wairarapa campus.

UCOL runs beginner level [NZQA levels one and two] Māori night classes, which have been very popular for several years.

They also operate an intermediate [NZQA level four] year-long programme, and next year are starting an advanced [level five] programme.

“We get a wide range, varied groups of all ages.

“We get school leavers and adult learners of different abilities and walks of life,” Kawana said.

Not every student wants to get the same thing out of the course.

“It’s not always about fluency; some students just want to understand what is being said”.

Two of Kawana’s students were a couple in their 70s who wanted to support their granddaughter studying Māori at secondary school.

“This year, which is unusual actually, the majority of my level four [more senior] students are Pākehā, some of them having completed online courses from Te Wananga O Raukawa in Otaki.

“One of the things I’ve mentioned to our night students about our language [is that] it pleases me the way people are supporting it and encouraging it across Aotearoa.

“The feeling is different since when I first started teaching in the 1990s.

“Our attitudes have come a long way, like the hīkoi [march] the Kura Kaupapa organised on Monday, I’m not sure it would have been as well received then.

“It’s cool, really cool, and our kids have got a lot to do with it.

“One of the things I’ve noticed is that it’s difficult for adult learners who only know one way of doing things, and they’re afraid of making mistakes.

“The younger generation doesn’t care as much about making mistakes.

“The young ones are the leaders who will carry our language on”.

Flynn Nicholls
Flynn Nicholls
Flynn Nicholls is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age who regularly writes about education. He is originally from Wellington and is interested in environmental issues and public transport.

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