Whakataukī for Rāapa

Ko te kai a te rangatira, ko te kōrero

Language is the food of chiefs.

Rāapa’s (Wednesday’s) whakatauki.

Te Reo – pēpe hīkoi

Cover of The Value of the Maori LanguageI 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!

Rāapa / Wenerei – Te kupu o te rā

Kia oraKia ora, it is Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori and each day we will bring you a new word or phrase with some audio.

Rāapa / Wenerei – Wednesday

Tau kē!


“As long as the story is moving”: Margaret Mahy 21 March 1936 – 23 July 2012

Margaret Mahy displays

Two years ago, we lost “word witch” Margaret Mahy – a famous Canterbury local and a much loved children’s author.

Cover of The ChangeoverWhat better way to remember her legacy than with words. There is a session The Changeover: 30 Years On at the WORD Christchurch Writers & Readers Festival on Saturday 30 August 2014. Join Stuart McKenzie, co-writer and producer of the forthcoming Changeover movie, and young adult writers Elizabeth Knox and Karen Healey, as they discuss with children’s literature specialist Bill Nagelkerke the importance of this great teen novel and its ongoing relevance.

Words are also for consumption. Search our catalogue for books by Margaret Mahy.

Margaret used to be a children’s librarian at Christchurch City Libraries and our Margaret Mahy pages are full of ideas about writing as well as info on Margaret and her stories:

If the ideas don’t come I go for a walk, listen to music, do a bit of gardening, but I have so much work, it is always easy to go onto something else for a while. If it is urgent I make something happen, even if I am not particularly satisfied with the level of invention, because I think as long as the story is moving something is going to happen, and so far I have been lucky.

We are also lucky to have online the poem Down the back of the chair, and The word-eater written by Margaret Mahy, and illustrated by Bob Kerr. You might recognise the setting of the Central Library in Gloucester Street.

The Word-eater - written by Margaret Mahy; Illustrated by Bob Kerr

More Margaret