Graduating with mana

Issue: Volume 101, Number 4

Posted: 6 April 2022
Reference #: 1HATZX

Ākonga graduating from Te Tāhu Rua Reo bilingual unit at Shirley Intermediate School last year received a very special gift from their kaiako – a stunning image of themselves in kākahu Māori. 

The images are a lasting memory of Te Tāhu Rua Reo. For some it was the first time they saw themselves as Māori.

The images are a lasting memory of Te Tāhu Rua Reo. For some it was the first time they saw themselves as Māori.

Kaiako at Te Tāhu Rua Reo bilingual unit wanted to do something special for their tamariki graduating in 2021, a memory to treasure of their time in the unit.  

“Ākonga had missed out on the celebration of kapa haka because of pandemic restrictions and therefore had not had the opportunity to dress up and perform,” says Whaea Ang Reeves. 

“The students hadn’t been able to see themselves in Māori dress. In some ways, they hadn’t been able to feel or be seen as ākonga Māori, in the way that they had expected when they joined the class.”

Matua Thomas Parata and Whaea Ang, decided to arrange for the children to don traditional Māori dress and have individual portrait photography sessions. When initial enquiries to photographers indicated too high a price tag, they looked to the school community for support. Resource teacher Māori Gaynor Hakaria, Kaiarahi Whaea Adrienne, and a photographer friend of Ang, Trevor White, all stepped up.  

“I explained my vision for the photos, that students would see their Māori selves in the mirror looking back at them,” says Ang. 

Gaynor’s mother, a weaver, loaned kākahu/cloaks and other taonga, Adrienne took care of styling, and the photography sessions began.  

Across one day, all graduating ākonga were dressed, styled, and photographed, and Trevor then superimposed the children’s images onto his shots of spectacular scenery of Arthur’s Pass in Kā Tiritiri o te Moana, the Southern Alps.

A taonga to remember

Thomas explains that they wanted to create a photo of the students as a gift to them and their whānau for the two years spent in Te Tāhu Rua Reo – a lasting taonga.

“The students were a little anxious about having their photographs taken but once they were dressed and styled, they rose to the occasion. We wanted to give them a bit of mana, and as they prepared for the shoot and then posed, they stood a little stronger, a little taller. 

“We place immense value on te reo me ōna tikanga at Shirley Intermediate School. It is the only intermediate school in the Canterbury region with a bilingual unit attached and for many of our students, Te Tāhu Rua Reo is their first introduction to te ao Māori, te reo Māori and tikanga Māori.”

There are 42 students in the unit, more than double the roll of just two years ago – an increase Thomas attributes to the teacher student ratio of 1:18, the high achievement levels across curriculum, and the exceptional opportunities for cultural learning.  

Last year, ākonga were able to carve their own pounamu with five days’ full instruction from a visiting agency, Tu Hono, and to paddle waka up Ōtākaro/Avon River. 

Around 30 percent of the school’s roll of 150 identify as Māori, but the only criteria to enrol in Te Tāhu Rua Reo is that they agree to be taught 50 to 80 percent of the time in te reo Māori. 

“When they saw their photographs for the first time, they felt very empowered, they had mana,” says Ang.

She adds that ākonga looked at their pictures for a long time and were happy to share good thoughts and words of encouragement with each other, especially of the group photos, and that the parents loved them. 

“One parent said she cried because the image was such a celebration of her child being Māori. And one of our students said that until she saw her photograph, she had never imagined herself as Māori, but now that she could see herself, she realised she was fully Māori.” 

Kaiako and friends in the community spent a day styling, dressing and photographing ngā tamariki.

Kaiako and friends in the community spent a day styling, dressing and photographing ngā tamariki.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 11:52 am, 6 April 2022

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