Te reo fire will never be extinguished

Issue: Volume 97, Number 16

Posted: 10 September 2018
Reference #: 1H9k_S

Kei aku manu huia, nā koutou tēnei pī i whāngai, i poipoi i roto tonu i tō kōhanga reo Māori. Kua whai huruhuru tēnei pī, ā e rere pai ana. E aku whaea, e aku kaiako kua ora kāinga rua tēnei i a koutou.

Ngarangi Williams’ journey in te reo Māori began well before she was five, but it was the university years in which the ‘reo fire’ reignited – and it has burned strongly ever since. Here Ngarangi shares her Māori language learning journey.

My whānau is from Whakatane but my kuia was the last one to be raised in our tūrangawaewae. My mum has both Māori and Pākehā whakapapa and my dad migrated here from Wales. My mum purposely gave us Māori names: she knew that having Māori names would help us carry our Māori identity. She was part of the generation that was affected by the hara that my kuia’s generation experienced. 

I’m an urban Māori. I’ve never been brought up in my tūrangawaewae and nor was my mum. So the reo knowledge I gained was through my kuia Waana and that was where I could continue the language after school. And, of course, with my sister. I didn’t really have strong links back home with my iwi. Strengthening my taura here back to Whakatane is something I’m very passionate about, but having the reo makes it a lot easier.

Early beginnings

I started kindergarten but I was always exposed to Welsh and Māori languages at home. I’d never been totally immersed in either of those languages.  

When I was five, Mum decided to put me into Māori education through total immersion. I can vividly remember my first day: everyone was speaking Māori and I understood very little of what they were saying. But I don’t remember feeling frightened. I had a buddy who spoke to me in Māori and I just picked it up and off I went. There was no English taught or spoken in class. 

Then Mum put me into a mainstream intermediate school at age 10. I had been going to Kip McGrath to learn basic English and maths through my primary school years, which probably helped the transition into a mainstream school. It was definitely a massive change – not just in terms of the language I was learning, but also in the cultural differences between the two schools.  

I went from a school where never once was my name mispronounced to one where I was having to correct the pronunciation of my name all the time. It was my first real exposure to language challenges. 

I think I was in a bubble. I didn’t realise what the taumahatanga that came with being Māori were, and being the minority in a non-Māori environment. I think that’s what’s interesting when I look back on my journey – not just with te reo Māori but being a Māori in an urban setting. Some people will have had similar experiences, but everyone has their own unique story and everyone’s journey will be different.

After intermediate, I went to a Catholic girls’ high school, which was an easier transition. But I was losing my reo – and with that my confidence. 

My name was often shortened to ‘Nga’ to make it more convenient for others. I’ve always introduced myself as ‘Ngarangi’, but I was often asked – and frequently by teachers – if I had anything shorter to go by. I felt disrespected. 

I went straight from high school to university, where I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts with Honours in Māori Studies. I wrote my Honours thesis completely in te reo Māori – all 15,000 words. University was where my passion for te reo flourished again.

Having the reo ability has given me 10 times more confidence. I’m confident in my identity because of it. I feel like there are endless career pathways that I could take through te reo.

I truly admire my mum’s courage in putting my sister and me into Māori education and providing us with the reo she missed out on. As a result, the cycle of language loss in our whānau has been broken.

He uri a Ngarangi nō Ngāti Awa. 

Ngarangi’s advice to teachers who are considering offering te reo Māori

If you’re going to offer te reo Māori or integrate it, it has to be genuine. If you have the right intentions, they’ll be seen.

There are some non-Māori and Māori teachers who want to give te reo a go but don’t want to get it wrong and offend anyone. Reach out and learn; there are so many pathways available. 

Tread carefully to make sure the integrity and mana of te reo Māori stays intact. 

Ngarangi’s tips for learning te reo

Have the confidence to give it a go. It’s never too late to learn.

Find your own reo Māori ‘whānau’ who will support you on your journey.

Just start with kupu. Label items at home with the Māori word and start using it. “Let’s sit at the tēpu” is a good place to start. 

Māori/English translations

hara – wrongdoings

kuia – grandmother

kupu – words

taumahatanga – difficulty

taura (in this context) – ties

tēpu – table 

tūrangawaewae – domicile 

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 9:00 am, 10 September 2018

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