I went to primary school in the sixties, and looking back it seems it was a time of tokenism towards Te Reo. This week, as you may well know, is Te Wiki o te Reo Māori (Maori Language Week). We have come a long way since my formative years of stick games and children’s songs. I don’t remember being told what most of the words of AEIOU meant, and when we flung our newspaper roll sticks (tī rākau), or poi with abandon, we probably didn’t know the traditions behind our actions or, again, what the words meant of E Papa Waiari, which, I have just discovered, are quite sad and full of heartbreak.
As a Pakeha, from a long line of English and Scottish folk, but with my paternal ancestors landing on Banks Peninsula in the 1860s, I have only recently understood the importance of using the language, if even in a minuscule, baby-steps kind of way.
I realised a few years ago, how many Maori words have seeped into my life, and the lives of us all as New Zealanders. Even if we don’t use some of these words, they are known to us, we know their meaning and context and it’s just a small jump to start using them yourself.
The common words that are part of our vernacular, such as Kai, Mana, Whare, Hangi, Koha, Kia Ora, Waiata, Aroha, Iwi, Whanau and Tapu along with many others, are all part of our lives and I was made aware of this when I spent some time with a group of visiting Australian women. I found myself using Māori words such as Mana or Kai or Waiata and seeing their confused faces and realising these words are unique and special, and in fact a taonga for all who live in New Zealand.
I jumped a personal hurdle when I decided to say Kia Ora on the telephone when I answered it at the library. I felt as if I was not entitled to and that it was lip service, but I tested it out, and I am so comfortable, I also say it when I answer the phone at other places too. I’m not sure I’ll ever learn Te Reo in a full fluent way, but by being aware, embracing what I can and learning the meaning of waiata I sing, words I hear or see used, it can’t be a bad thing. Baby steps! Pēpe hīkoi!