That which was lost is lost no more

Issue: Volume 93, Number 12

Posted: 14 July 2014
Reference #: 1H9csz

Since 1975, as a nation we’ve set aside a week each year to celebrate te reo Māori, and 2014 is no different. This year, Te Wiki o te Reo Māori (Māori Language Week) runs from Monday 21 July until Sunday 27 July.

Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori (the Māori Language Commission) with Te Puni Kōkiri (Ministry of Māori Development), the Human Rights Commission, and various other public service institutions help to bring Māori Language Week to life for all New Zealanders, and get us thinking about how we might use more te reo Māori in our daily lives; whether at school, the work-place, or at home.

The theme of this year’s celebration is ‘Te Kupu o te Wiki”, which means ‘The Word of the Week’. Under this theme, a new Māori word is highlighted each week throughout the year. This can be a great way to get your learning centre focused on expanding te reo Māori vocabulary, one word at a time. See the sidebar to this article for lots of resources and links.


So many of New Zealand’s learning centres now build lots of te reo Māori – and just as importantly, elements of te ao Māori (the Māori world-view), tikanga Māori or Māoritanga (customs and protocols), and kaupapa Māori, the philosophy that gives meaning to the Māori language – into school life.

Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori yearly acknowledges those stand-out learning centres who are doing great work in continuing the drive to revitalise te reo Māori, and ensure that it remains a living language, preventing it – as many indigenous tongues have – becoming no more than an academic curiosity; nothing but a memory, no longer used to share our lives and thoughts.

Last year, two of the centres who received a taonga (treasure, prize) from Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori in acknowledgement of their efforts to make te reo Māori a part of the life of their institution were Thames South Primary School, which received the Ao Mātauranga – Tuwhera (Education Open) award, and Te Kōpae Piripono Māori-medium immersive early childhood centre, which received the Ao Mātauranga – Reo Māori (Māori-medium) award. Education Gazette examines what makes both institutions great examples of learning centres embracing te reo Māori.

Binding principles

“We breathe te reo Māori here, in everything we do. Starting with morning karakia, to karakia kai at the end of the day where we share our learning in a Māori context.” - Wayne Whitney, Assistant Principal, Thames South primary school.

Te reo Māori is a strong element of school life for all 10 classes at Thames South: one rumaki (full immersion), two bilingual classes, and seven ‘mainstream’ classes. For Assistant Principal Wayne Whitney, the world of kaupapa Māori embodies the forces of togetherness that make his school a community he’s proud to be part of. Pride in identity and its power to draw the school together as one with the community is behind everything they do, says Wayne.

“It’s about knowing where we hail from, and being proud of the connection to our home and our people. For example, whenever you explain to someone, ‘I hail from the Hauraki area, my mountain is Te Aroha’, instantly people that know of this place have a connection with you. That bond is something I’ve experienced so many times in my adult life, and now it’s about preparing our students as they move on to secondary school and out into the world.”

Wayne and his colleagues recognise the value of the little daily habits, the contributions that together create an overall understanding of kaupapa Māori among teachers and students alike. In all classes, the school day begins with students standing before their peers and delivering a mihi (formal speech), which includes a tauparapara, which can take the form of an explanation to the gathering of where the speaker comes from; their mountain, their river, their genealogy.

Wayne incorporates te reo Māori into his classroom interactions wherever possible, and estimates that around 30 per cent of his communication with students is in Māori.

“[Most of the spoken Māori] that I use in class is instructional. So that means whenever I give an instruction to the class, it’s always in Māori. The kids hear these common instructions and requests repetitiously, and that reinforces the learning of the phrase. It’s amazing how much they pick up on.”

Te reo Māori is ever-present within the management sphere at Thames South also. Staff routinely plan for an element of Māori in all learning programmes.

“We always try to bring everything back to te ao Māori; the Māori world. The kids know there will be learning in that context. It’s always on our mind, and applies to everything we do,” says Wayne.

Ticking all the right boxes is one thing, but knowing why is another, says Wayne. When asked why he considers the integration of te ao Māori into day-to-day learning to be crucial, his answer is immediate.

“That’s an easy one. We’re actively seeking to honour what we see as a commitment to these values. We live and learn in a world that honours biculturalism. If we can help to foster a young person who can live comfortably in both worlds, with mutual respect for both, then our job is done.”


Part of te ao Māori is a re-shaping of the western view of concepts like ‘community’ and ‘family’. Thanks in part to initiatives like Māori Language Week, most Kiwis know that one of the central pillars of te ao Māori is the myriad contexts in which the word ‘whānau’ can be applied; everyone knows that ‘whānau’ means ‘mum, dad, siblings, children’ in an immediate family context, but the word can also apply to a community of people who are pursuing one purpose or direction; a school like Thames South, which looks to kaupapa Māori for its binding principles. Constant reinforcement of this is key, says Wayne.

“We have a thing once a term called whakawhanaungatanga [the process of establishing relationships with others]; we close the school at lunchtime on a Friday, and we get the community in, because they’re the experts in certain areas.

“We leave aside the reading, writing, and maths for the rest of the day, and get stuck into some hands-on stuff. For example, one parent might come in and they’ll strip a lawn mower, and show the kids how it works. We’ll have whānau taking cooking and sewing lessons, arts and crafts, leading groups through the Hauraki cycle trail, hiking into the mountains. These are the different types of learning that you don’t get in the classroom, but the elders and the experts within our whānau are the ones to pass on this kind of knowledge.”

Living by a set of principles guided by a commitment to whānau – in its wider sense – is the basis for an environment at Thames South that is much more than just learning, says Wayne. Erasing the disconnect between family, students, staff, and community makes it easy for him to get out of bed each day, he says.

“Living by our kaupapa is making a big difference. The support that I see our students giving each other is one example. We don’t spend much time here any more managing classes. We spend our time teaching. At previous schools that I’ve been at, I would spend 50 per cent of my time managing behaviour, dealing with fights in the playground, things like that. Since I’ve been at this school, I think I’ve seen two fights. And I think 5-10 per cent of our time as teachers is spent managing the class; the rest is all good stuff. I think that’s a direct result of the way we try as a community to underpin all our efforts with a sense of whānau; families help each other out, don’t they. It’s wonderful to watch, and it makes us as teachers strive harder, because we’re part of a whole.”

That which was lost: Te Kōpae Piripono

Te Kōpae Piripono, a Māori Immersion early childhood centre in Taranaki, turns 20 in October this year; a “huge” celebration will mark two decades of dedication to the revitalisation of Māoritanga and te reo Māori.

In what can be seen as a shared connection of purpose between schools like Thames South Primary and Māori-medium centres, Te Kōpae Piripono directors Aroaro Tamati and Hinerangi Kōrewha say that reclaiming the values of the whānau in its broad meaning give purpose to their learning centre.

“Everyone’s important, but everyone has different roles. We all have to contribute to make it work, everyone has to support each other in terms of using te reo Māori in the home environment, to maintain our immersion setting on a daily basis.”

Part of any effort to revitalise Māori culture must include a look backwards, says Aroaro, into the lives of their forebears and the principles they lived by.

“In Taranaki, we’ve had generations of loss of our culture. It’s more than trying to recapture and revitalise education in a Māori context: it is that as well, but its way bigger than that. It’s reclaiming ourselves and our identity as Māori.

“Our purpose is to restore that which was lost: our language, and the things that our tūpuna [ancestors] did ‘back in the day’. We are reclaiming and re-introducing customs, culture and practices that were done at home in the days of our ancestors, including child rearing practices. As Māori we did a lot of things on the land, for example, that we don’t do these days, but which still apply. So, that which can apply, we will bring back and restore within our own homes.”

One example that the Te Kōpae Piripono whānau is intimately involved with is the growing of food; in accordance with the customs of those who got their hands dirty in Taranaki soil hundreds of years ago. Māori of the region traditionally cultivated food with the help of the stars, to tell them when to plant and harvest. Learning about the practices and spiritual dimension to the growing of sustenance provides deep learning for the tamariki of Te Kōpae Piripono, says Hinerangi.

“There is a whole cycle of life involved in cultivating food. We learn the names of the processes, the names of the plants, the names of the stars. These practices don’t get taught in a typical school environment, and they don’t get practised. We get our hands dirty in these practices throughout the whole cycle. It’s about the doing as much as the learning.”

When, as undeniably happened in New Zealand, one world is effectively subsumed by another, the bit that’s hardest to get back – when we reach a level of maturity that demands the restoration of the tangata whenua to their rightful position – is that which can live only in cultural memory. Concepts that defined the Māori as a people cannot be recaptured once they’ve been forgotten. This is a theme that Hinerangi and Aroaro come back to again and again.

“I mentioned ‘that which was lost’, and at the heart of what we as Māori lost is that we don’t traditionally separate our families. We want to rebuild our community as our ancestors understood the notion, and bring our whānau together again. Part of that is finding ways to interact and participate. Whatever we choose to do, we do as a whānau, as a community.

“The way the world works within the western cultural model is that the family separates from their children really early on. The parents drop their kids off at school, they go to work. What we’re trying to do is say, ‘well actually, we don’t want to do that.’ We want to work together in raising and educating our kids as a whānau in the community sense.

“We live this kaupapa by ‘doing and being’ in that way, by living our lives according to that principle.”

Living this kaupapa can take the form of the recent Matariki (Māori new year) celebrations – which in the Taranaki region is called Puanga.

Extended family members, teachers, parents, community leaders; everyone connected to the school gathered at the local marae for a noho (in this context, a ‘sleep-over’) and had many wānanga (discussions, learnings) around Puanga. There were skits, presentations, and waiata, and when the children ran out of puff, the adults got to work preparing the breakfast feast, which was duly scoffed on waking.

Exclusivity is a myth

Hinerangi would like to dispel a common misapprehension that she feels is still prevalent among those who have only a passing grasp on what institutions like Te Kōpae Piripono are all about: they are not exclusive to those who can trace their lineage back to the first waka; but they are exclusive to those who are facing in the same direction.

“Some of our whānau are not Māori. Te Kōpae Piripono is comprised of those who want this kaupapa for their tamariki. A particular whānau that I have in mind is one that hails from Scotland. They chose to raise their children biculturally, and more than that, to be bilingual. As hard as it was for them, they bit that bullet, and they became what I consider an amazing example for all New Zealanders.

“Those who choose to support our kaupapa; they are our whānau, regardless of their ancestry. Everyone is welcome. Over the years, we’ve had whānau from Mauritius, from Scotland, Samoa, from heaps of places.”

We asked Hinerangi and Aroaro to share their thoughts on whether New Zealand is on the right track, in becoming a nation that truly recognises its inherent biculturalism, and therefore knows itself and its own unique character. Both say that there’s been lots of progress, but that more work and care will always be required.

“We’ve got a way to go, I think. It’s my feeling that our thinking – as a nation – around the place of Māori language, and Māori culture, needs to change to embrace these things as the taonga they are, to be cherished. We don’t as a country yet recognise the value of te reo Māori as a nation.

“Successive generations of Māori never had the opportunity to learn their own language. It’s critical for Māori to know their language, but it’s also very important for the whole country to learn te reo Māori so that they can be supportive, and understand the beauty of it, understand the deep value it has to us and our identity as a nation.

“I think there is the danger that the language may become ‘academicalised’ to a degree. Whereas – as my brother’s recently completed PhD research points out – the regeneration of te reo Māori must happen in the community. We need to continue to build te reo Māori as a spoken language, that’s used every day within communities and families. And that I think is where the main thrust of government support should be directed: grass roots regeneration.

“This grass roots regeneration will in turn further strengthen the Māori identity – and our pride in that identity – and that can only be a good thing for our country and everybody living in it. If Māori are strong in their identity, New Zealand is strong in its identity.”


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BY Jaylan Boyle
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 6:56 pm, 14 July 2014

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