Will te reo Māori survive?

There is a choice. Kei a koe.

Te Reo Māori, ka ora rānei? The survival of the Māori language, by Te Wehi Wright

A discussion point often brought up but never settled. As is the case with many Māori words, the arguments for and against whether people believe the Māori language will survive vary depending on context and circumstance. Thus the relevance of the saying, “He tōtara wāhi rua” speaks true. The tōtara has indeed been split, unfortunately.

However, as a first language learner of te reo Māori, I have always maintained an extreme bias towards one side of this argument.

I could spend hours defending my position as to why I know the language will survive, but to do so is to buy into a narrative by the same group of people that continuously let me know of the worth of te reo Māori, or lack thereof. My position need not be justified, or defended. My language need not be put on trial to be determined by an unappreciative mind. The survival of my language need not be questioned.

Illustration by Te Hana Goodyer, courtesy of The Wireless

This is why.

I was born to second language learners of Māori who shared the same dream, to raise a Māori speaking family.

My mother learnt under the tutelage of Ani White, while my father learnt under the firm hand of Tīmoti Kāretu. Although they were contrasting teachers for a variety of reasons, their teaching methods produced the same result: a profound passion and immeasurable love for te reo Māori and all that comes with it.

From my parent’s dream came six children, all of whom grew up with te reo Māori as a first language. As Māori-speaking siblings, and Māori-speaking parents, this offered a unique world view.

Growing up in a te reo Māori bubble, we drew from the caring environment of kōhanga reo, and developed ourselves through the principles of Te Aho Matua. Privileged in culture and exposure to things Māori we were ignorant of outside realities, mistakenly assuming that all shopkeepers could speak Māori like our Four Square man on Clayton Road. This false sense of security only became a beam of inspiration in later years once we realised the gravity of the dream our parents wanted.

Stepping outside of the bubble, I was met with a feeling I hadn’t experienced before: Alienation by virtue of the language I preferred, a shortening of my name due to an inability to pronounce, and a reluctance to allow them to butcher it. Through these kinds of experiences, I was reminded of the significant role my parent’s dream had on my upbringing and my development.

Equipped with the values to guide, the language to use, and the passion to motivate continued use, the ability to speak Māori has developed a perspective that only comes with the nuances and minor intricacies locked within it. It has grounded me whilst navigating my way between worlds, and continuously offers closure and support when I need it. The reliance I have on te reo is more than the reliance it has on me. For this, I believe that this language will be with me and my uri for generations.

The dream that started from two people, is now a reality for over 50 others. Influencing parents, children, and grandchildren, it has lasted four generations so far, and is looking likely to last another four generations from now.

That is why.

Te reo Māori will not die out because it will always be maintained within my whānau.

Te Wehi Wright, 2017. Photograph by Tim Onnes. Te Papa

This is how.

These tips are specific to my whānau and are what my siblings and I went through growing up. I do not advocate for them to be the best way to ensure survival but they are what worked for us.

Te Wehi Wright’s language survival kit:

  • Only speak Māori to your children.

  • Teach tikanga as well as Māori to ensure they are not mutually exclusive.

  • Only allow them to watch Māori language TV shows (we only had Te Karere in the '90s).

  • Only allow them to listen to Māori music (we only had iwi radio in the '90s).

  • Tell everyone else to only speak Māori to your children as best they can (including almost every shopkeeper).

  • Sing oriori to your children every night in their early years.

  • Keep taking them back to the marae.

  • Send your children to kōhanga reo.

  • Send your children to kura kaupapa Māori

  • Up-skill to ensure the collective language growth between generations.

  • Only speak Māori to your mokopuna.

10 ways to help Māori die, by Hine Te Ariki Parata-Walker

Te reo Māori is my second language. Like most second language learner’s reo journeys, mine is not a straightforward one.

All my schooling was in Māori but we mostly spoke English at home, despite my parents’ and siblings’ understanding of, and ability to speak, Māori. I grew up in and around my marae, helping sing mōteatea after my dad and uncles’ whaikōrero from a young age.

I grew up with the kōrero tuku iho (oral traditions) of my whānau, hapū, and iwi as my bedtime stories – mine and my sisters’ favourite was always the story of the famous Ngāti Porou tīpuna, sisters Materoa, Tawhipare, and Te Ataakura.

I have very few memories of kaumātua and kuia speaking Māori to me, my grandparents included, and fewer still of areas in my predominantly Māori community where I knew te reo Māori was the norm.

Hine Te Ariki Parata-Walker, 2017. Photograph by Tim Onnes. Te Papa

A couple years out of school, I was in my last year of my undergraduate degree taking a 300-level Māori language paper and was shocked at the state of my conversational reo: how hard it was to string basic sentences together, trying to remember the simplest of words, how it sounded to my own ears like English sentences structures using Māori words.

Since then I’ve been on a windy pathway to actually normalise te reo Māori in my life. I’ve had to take a good, honest look at the state of my reo and unlearn some lessons I’d unknowingly internalised. Hardest of all, I’ve had to accept that it was my fault my reo was so poor, no one else’s. It’s my reo, it’s my responsibility. So, here’s a list of lessons I’ve had to unlearn.

Hine Te Ariki Parata-Walker’s 10 ways to help Te Reo Māori die:

  1. Think your reo will survive even though it’s unused – Spoiler alert: it won’t. Use it or lose it.

  2. Treat te reo Māori as this sacred precious treasure – It is a taonga. But it is also a language to express embarrassment, humour, lust, confusion, and the whole spectrum of human emotion. Not all of which is sacred and precious.

  3. Believe people should be incentivised to speak – At the end of the day, it costs nothing to speak Māori.

  4. Speak Māori out the front and another in the back – Formal speaking (kōrero ōkawa) is much easier than impromptu speaking (kōrero ōpaki), ask 15-year-old Hine at Manu Kōrero Nationals, 2009. Normalising te reo in both situations will save you a lot of embarrassment, trust me.

  5. Come off the stage and go back to English – I’ve lost count of the amount of kapa haka I’ve seen and even been in once or twice, singing about the importance of our reo on stage – then as soon as their off the stage – go back to speaking English.

  6. Expect [insert organisation here] to revive our language – I refer you back to “it’s my reo, it’s my responsibility”.

  7. Judge people on their level of reo – Particularly in reference to learners and non-Māori. This is the opposite of constructive, no one wins – especially not te reo. Though if they’re being paid to teach it, that’s another matter entirely.

  8. Be drunk to love our language – Come on, I’m not the only one guilty of this. I’m looking at the spontaneously bilingual brothers and sisters who pluck up the courage to speak Māori once they’ve had a few. Cool that you’re speaking it, let’s keep speaking when we’re sober.

  9. That language isn’t the Māori I know – Te reo Māori isn’t one homogenous language. Say what you want about certain TV presenters’ reo and fancy sayings of which I can usually decipher every two or three words. Their reo is thriving. The aim for us is to ensure our mita (pronounciation) do too.

  10. Te reo should be made compulsory in schools, yet forget about it at home – Take this from a person who had it compulsory at school and not in her home. Unless te reo Māori is normalised in all aspects of our lives, we’re not allowing it the opportunity to truly live. Start in the home first and it’s a more straightforward pathway from there.

*Ko Ngāti Porou me Kāi Tahu ngā iwi o Hine Te Ariki. Ka arohanuitia te reo Māori e ia. Ka whangaihia e ia ki āna iramutu me te ipurangi hoki, i runga i te manako nui ka ora te reo mō ngā whakatipuranga e haere ake nei.

Hine Te Ariki’s iwi are Ngati Porou and Kai Tahu. She loves te reo Māori. She speaks te reo Māori to her nieces and nephews, and on the Internet in the hope that te reo Māori will survive for the coming generations.

This article originally appeared on The Wireless