30 years on, how far has the revitalisation of te Reo Māori come?

30 years ago, on the 1st August 1987, the New Zealand Government passed the Māori Language Act 1987 making Te Reo Māori an official language of New Zealand. While this should be celebrated, it is worth noting that it took 127 years for the indigenous language of this Country to be formally recognised by the Crown.

I had initially planned in this blog to recount the various ways that the speaking of te Reo Māori was suppressed over those 127 years. I was going to outline the various Crown policies and laws that were implemented to ensure that the language was suppressed and literally ‘beaten’ out of Māori. Laws such as Native Schools Act 1867 that enforced the non-speaking of te Reo Māori in public spaces, in particularly schools.

I had intended to remind people that “It takes one generation to lose a language and at least three to restore it”. Thus given my previous statement it is no wonder that te Reo Māori was in a complete state of decline by the late 20th century, beginning the proactive movement to rejuvenate and revitalise te Reo Māori within all aspects of our lives.

But that all changed on Saturday morning while watching a video post from a prominent te Reo Māori tutor.  He, along with his whānau, was abused in their local supermarket in their hometown for speaking Māori to each other. The tutor and his partner had made the decision to raise their children in te Reo Māori. Therefore, by their own choice, they speak Māori to their children and around their children wherever they are.

Imagine while talking among themselves, their shock being confronted by an irate woman telling them in a loud aggressive voice “this is New Zealand, we speak English here not that gibberish!” Aware of their children, they thanked the woman for her opinion and continued on with their shopping. A few minutes later, while the son was speaking to his mother in te Reo Māori, the woman started to mock the boy, telling him to speak English, the real language of this country. Naturally the parents interjected, politely rose above it, collected their children and shopping and left.

Naturally I was angry and sickened that someone would do this to a child.  But more importantly, I was sad and disappointed that in this day and age there are still people with these antiquated views.  We might be an educated and progressive society, but for some people it’s still 1867.

But don’t be disheartened. When we measure the tangible achievements of the last 30 years, we clearly see how far the revitalisation of te Reo Māori has come. How well this rejuvenation has worked:

  • Te Reo Māori, the indigenous language of New Zealand, is recognised as an official language of New Zealand and with this the right to speak it anywhere and at anytime;
  • Kōhanga Reo and Māori Early Childhood Centres;
  • Kura Kaupapa, Kaupapa Māori special character schools, bilingual units;
  • Iwi rejuvenation programmes such as Kotahi Mano Kaika, Hāpai i te reo;
  • Tertiary degrees in te Reo Māori, ōna tikanga me ngā ahurea Māori;
  • The ability to write your University thesis in te Reo Māori;
  • A week long total immersion wānanga known as Kura Reo;
  • Whare wānanga;
  • Incorporation of te Reo Māori in some work spaces particularly government offices;
  • Some bilingual signage and dual names;
  • two television channels – one totally in Māori;
  • 21 iwi radio stations and a further 5 kaupapa Māori focused stations with te Reo Māori segments;
  • An agency dedicated to supporting te Reo Māori aspirations known as Te Taura Whiri;
  • A National committee of te Reo Māori Champions know as Te Mātāwai, tasked with assisting with te Reo Māori aspirations;
  • Te Reo Māori books, Facebook pages, apps and electronic resources;
  • A course dedicated to the pursuit of excellence in te Reo Māori me ōna tikanga – Te Panekiretanga o te Reo Māori;
  • A week where the whole nation ‘celebrates’ the Māori language;
  • A social experiment for the month of September when those who speak Māori choose to speak only Māori throughout that month on a nominated day, week or for the entire month;
  • Presenters on ‘mainstream’ television use more te Reo Māori than ever and that’s just the Pākehā ones! More te Reo Māori is being normalised through every day use.
  • Te Ture mō te Reo Māori 2016 the first and only legislation written in te Reo Māori – not just translated.

Ah yes we have come a long way in 30 years, we do have much to celebrate.  But imagine how much more we could have achieved if we, as a nation, had embraced te Reo Māori 127 years ago. All New Zealanders would be bilingual for starters. There would be no need to repair 127 years of attempted cultural and language genocide. All New Zealanders would know the true history of their country. We would perform (properly) more than one haka for all occasions – and understand them. We would all sing both versions of the National anthem. These are just some of the things WE could have done. But we didn’t do that and now we are where we are.

Sadly haters are always going to hate.  What happened to that young Māori whānau the other Friday night vocalised thoughts born of ignorance and fear of the unknown. This an evolution people, not a revolution. Yes this might be New Zealand and we might speak English here, but the indigenous language is Māori. A language I, like that young whānau, are proud to reclaim as our birthright. Learn it, live it, love it!

So, 30 years on how far has the revitalisation of te Reo Māori come I ask? Well, a lot further than some expected, but considering that incident in a large supermarket in Hastings, perhaps not as far as most of us would have hoped.

Te Iwa o Matariki – The Nine Stars of Matariki

Kua ara ake ahau i te papa o te whenua
Kua kite ahau i ngā whetū e tūtaki tahi ana
Ko Matariki te kairūri
Ko Atutahi kei te taumata o te mangōroa

The scope of our imagination is from the earth to the stars
Professor Te Wharehuia Milroy, Kura Reo ki Te Waipounamu 2014

Matariki 2017 is a fresh look through old eyes at Māori oral traditions, practices and customs associated with the Māori New Year. Over the next three years the Christchurch City Libraries will be re-introducing ‘Te Iwa o Matariki – the Nine stars of Matariki’ beginning with Te Kātao o Matariki – the water stars of Matariki, Waipuna-ā-rangi, Waitī, Waitā.

Matariki 2017

Nine or Seven? That is the question!

The star cluster of Matariki (Pleiades) has long been associated with the Greek tale of the seven daughters of Pleione and Altas, who, upon being harassed turned into doves and flew into the heavens. In this version of the story, two stars were not included in any traditions or commemorations, rather the mythical seven were embraced.

Pleiades star cluster
Pleiades open star cluster, public domain image via Wikipedia

However history records that Māori were aware of the presence of more than seven visible stars within the cluster as noted by historian Elsdon Best in his 1955 book The Astronomical knowledge of the Māori:

“[Historian William] Colenso writes [in 1839 in the far north]: “I found that the Maori (sic) could see more stars in the Pleiades with the unaided eye than I could, for, while I could only see clearly six stars, they could see seven and sometimes eight.” (Best, 1922)

Associate Professor, Dr Rangi Matamua, Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato, is a leading Māori astronomer. He has spent over 20 years researching indigenous astronomy. Awarded the 2014 Fulbright Scholarship – Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga, Rangi used the grant to study how astronomy is embedded into the cultural practices of indigenous people. That same year he was successful in leading a group of Māori astronomers in securing funding from the Royal Society – Te Apārangi (the Marsden Fund) to continue this study. It is through his Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga research and the work of the Marsden Fund project Te Mauria Whiritoi that Rangi has re-confirmed that there are nine stars that constitute the star cluster of Pleiades or Matariki not just seven stars as commonly believed.

For this reason Rangi and Te Reo Māori Language expert, Paraone Gloyne produced an article in Mana Magazine reclaiming the two missing stars and providing an insight into Te Iwa o Matariki.

“Contrary to popular belief, there are nine stars in the constellation of Matariki, rather than seven. They all hold dominion over particular areas of our environment as seen from a Māori world view. They are; Matariki, Pōhutukawa, Waitī, Waitā, Waipuna-ā-rangi, Tupuānuku, Tupuārangi, Ururangi, and Hiwa-i-te-rangi. Traditionally, our ancestors did not just look at the constellation as a whole, but rather viewed each star individually, gaining an insight into the year ahead.” (Gloyne, Matamua, Mana, May 2016)

Puanga or not to Puanga?

For some iwi, Puanga not Matariki marks the start of the New Year as it rises just before Matariki. For others Puanga is seen as the pre-cursor to the rise of Matariki. It is Puanga that foretells the fortunes of the coming of the New Year by his appearance and placement when he first rises after the first new moon. It is Matariki who confirms it through her placement and appearance when she appears three days later.

According to some oral traditions, Puanga is the older brother of Takurua his younger brother, and his pretty younger sister Matariki. Jealous of the attention Matariki gets, “the task of Puanga is to strive ahead of Matariki that he may again take possession of the year for himself.” (Puanga, Star of the Māori New Year) It is for this reason he appears prior to Matariki in the hope that he may be heralded as the bringer of the New Year, only to be overlooked with the appearance of Matariki.

Does Matariki always rise in June?

No, the last quarter of the moon cycle known as the Tangaroa nights of the moon is when Matariki rises. This can vary from year to year but is always in the cold months from May to July. This year the rise of Matariki is from 17 to 20 June while the period of Matariki is from 17 to 24 June.

Further Reading

This article was published in issue 4 of our quarterly magazine, uncover – huraina. Read it online.

Living by the moon: Wiremu Tāwhai’s legacy

Cover of Living by the moonLiving by the Moon – Te Maramataka o Te Whānau-a-Apanui

In 2014 this amazing little book was released. Beginning it’s life as a MA thesis at Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi. Sadly Pāpā Wiremu passed away before the book was published however with the kind permission of the Tāwhai whānau it was published by Huia publishers. It is a wealth of information for old and young, Māori and non-Māori.

The following is a review I wrote for Te Karaka edition #61 Kahuru 2014 (and reproduced by permission here)

Ko te Kuti, ko te Wera, ko te Haua, e ko Apanui…!

Every now and then you get the opportunity to read a book that not only leaves you feeling privileged to have read it, but more importantly, wiser for having done so. Living by the Moon – Te Maramataka o Te Whānau-a-Apanui is one such book.

Written by the late Wiremu “Bill” Tāwhai, a well-respected kaumātua of Te Whānau-a-Apanui, Whakatōhea and Ngāti Awa, it is a collation of Te Whānau-a-Ruataia inter-generational knowledge pertaining to Te Whānau-a-Apanui lunar calendar. Long before shopping malls, smart phones, “Uncle Google”, and social media, our tipuna planned their lives by the lunar calendar. Every iwi had one. Knowing the lunar cycle, understanding how it affects your environment, and your competence to analyse and interpret correctly those effects, determined your ability to hunt, grow, and gather food. Thanks to Wiremu’s natural skill as an orator, this knowledge is conveyed in a way that is not only easily understood but leaves the reader feeling as though they are sitting with him. It took me back to a time when I was young and would sit with my own father listening to tribal kōrero.

Sadly, Wiremu Tāwhai died on 2 December 2010, before his book, which began as his MA thesis for Te Whare Wānanga o Te Awanuiārangi, was published. However, he left various legacies for future readers within his text. These included the consideration of what is to become traditional wisdom and knowledge such as the maramataka, reminding us of their importance “to sustain a healthy environment for the enjoyment of generations to come.” Encouraging words for all Māori to research their tribal knowledge, build tribal repositories, and openly share this knowledge among tribes and internationally with other indigenous nations.

His final words are for his people of Te Whānau-a-Apanui, encouraging them to continue the exploration of their traditional knowledge basis, record their findings and therefore ensure the distinctiveness and character of the tribe will endure.

Living by the Moon is beautifully written in both Māori and English. As Joan Metge notes in her forward:

Wiremu Tāwhai demonstrates his own gifts as a word-weaver… the rewards [of this book] are greats when the texts are read side by side, paragraph by paragraph.Taken together, they complement and illuminate each other.

Doing this makes the book an easy read, with an insight into a world that once was and that many are now returning to.  It is certainly one book I will return to again and again, even just for the pleasure of reading it.

E Tā, ka rere āmiomio atu te whakamiha ki a koe e te huia kaimanawa mō tēnei taonga i tākoha mai nei.  Māringanui katoa mātou i tōu tiro whakamua i tō whare kōrero kua whakakaohia e koe, hei taonga whakamahi mō ngā uri whakaheke e manakotia mai ana ki ēnei mea.  Nā reira e Tā, ahakoa kua riro koe ki te manaakitanga o rātou mā, ā, e ora tonu ana tōu owha, te owha nā ngā tipuna.  Āpōpō ko te Rakaunui te tīmatatanga o te maramataka hou hei arahi i tō rahi.

Further reading