Embracing Te Reo: WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

Jeanette King, Hana O’Regan (head manager of Oranga at Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu), lecturer Hēmi Kelly and writer/broadcaster Miriama Kamo gathered early on Sunday morning to kōrero about one of our official languages, te reo Māori.

All agreed that there has been a positive shift in the last few years towards te reo, a gathering of momentum or fruition from the hard work from the past decades. There has been a nationwide increase in enrolments of those learning te reo Māori, and presence in the media has been increasing, with reporters all the way up to our Prime Minister using te reo on TV and radio. Exciting times!

Miriama was keen to capitalise on this goodwill by starting to teach our history properly in schools to understand what we as a country have gotten wrong or right, to understand who we are and where we come from through an historical perspective. For her pronunciation is a key place to start: “For me I love to hear people trying, even if you get it wrong your heart’s in the right place. This is our official language! We should be owning it, wanting to speak it.” This is especially important for those with a Māori name: “If you don’t pronounce my name properly it’s not really my name, is it?” Something close to my heart as someone whose name is also frequently mispronounced.

Hana thought promoting te reo as a normal part of our community is an important step in getting over our fear of bilingualism or multilingualism. We’re all still caught up in the historical narrative that learning more than one language compromises our ability to use our first tongue, or that te reo isn’t useful, which isn’t supported by the evidence at all: we’re actually doing our children a disservice by raising them monolingual. “Bilingualism is a benefit to everyone — it doesn’t matter what language it is, but the positive impact is compounded [with te reo] because it’s connected with our history and the land.” Hēmi agreed, pointing out that as New Zealanders none of us are that far removed from te reo Māori as we are surrounded by Māori place names and kupu that are in common usage.

When Jeanette asked about those who feel hesitant to learn and speak te reo due to worrying about appropriating yet another aspect of Māori culture, Hana shook her head. “I can’t even comprehend a negative reaction to someone learning to speak Māori. Every person who uses te reo is actually showing not just respect but is doing their bit to make sure this important part of our heritage is still around.” In fact as more people learn te reo and we hear more around us, the easier and quicker it will be to learn, and the easier it will be to find teachers who can teach te reo. The struggle to find qualified teachers is one major obstacle for immediately making te reo Māori compulsory in schools, so a graduated approach is recommended. Making sure all graduating teachers have a certain proficiency would be a good first step.

It takes a short time to demolish a house but it takes a lot longer to built it — Christchurch knows this! It takes longer to reconstruct something that has been destroyed. Don’t get disappointed by the first hurdle, or pot hole or road block. Good things take time and Aotearoa is worth it. — Hana O’Regan

This goes also for those struggling to learn te reo — just because you’re not amazingly fluent straight away doesn’t mean you should give up! Every bit you learn is helping those around you as well as yourself. Hēmi: “Everybody in this room is a change agent.”

To help you make a start, here’s one kupu from Hēmi Kelly’s A Māori Word a Day:

hua (n) product, result, outcome, benefit, gain.

He nui ngā hua o te mōhio ki ngā reo e rua. There are a lot of benefits in being bilingual.

Mā te mahi ngātahi e kitea ai ngā hua. Through working together, the results will be seen.

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Follow our coverage of WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

Shifting Points of View : Fail Safe / Fail Better

One thing Fail Safe Fail Better did not do was fail to deliver. Six speakers gave candid, entertaining and unique accounts of both personal and professional failures in their lives.

Clementine Ford, Victor Rodger, and Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel at WORD Christchurch, Friday 1 September 2017

Not at all negative, the evening was filled with magic. Glenn Colquhoun invoked ghosts of poets past on the walls of the Christchurch Art Centre’s Great Hall and filled the empty space with poetry (Denis Glover’s The Magpies) and song: his own composition of the ill lucked couple in the poem calling to each other.

While Glenn suggested that sometimes words can fail, he didn’t fail at his task; reciting his performance from memory. I thought you were in great voice, Glenn, as was Witi Ihimaera, who as well as getting the audience to sing in rounds (we failed!) and telling us an alternative fairytale (The Ugly Princess) told us all that his incredible success was all somehow a glorious accident…

Witi’s new book, Sleeps Standing / Moetu, is by no means a failure. Written in bilingual form with Hemi Kelly, it is an outstanding account of the Battle of Orakau, during the New Zealand Land Wars. Witi does however claim to have failed along the way; the Trowenna Sea was not a huge success.

Victor Rodger regaled us with the fact that failure is in the eye of the beholder. Or is it that you can’t please everyone all the time? A hugely successful playwright (2017 Writer in Residence Victoria University, 2012 Pacific Artist in Residence at the MacMillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies, 2009 Ursula Bethell Creative Writing Resident, Canterbury University), Victor’s use of another well-known F-Word in his work fails to impress the one person he wants to be proud of him – his Mother.

The nature of failure follows a pattern; as we say, when one door closes, another opens. Each lost opportunity leads to another, or a different path in life. A higher lesson in there, perhaps, on freedom and predestination.

This was an idea shared by Christchurch Mayor, Lianne Dalziel. Sometimes the timing just isn’t right; the universe has other plans. Our first shot at life and love may be an opportunity to reflect and refine. For her this manifested in a burn-out at Parliament after an exhausting inquiry into the Health Sector, which led to her standing down from Parliament. This left her in a good position to carry Christchurch through its transformation and rebirth.

These experiences are not without wounds. We’ve all been hit by failure, but it’s the resilience we gain that makes us stronger, says Hana O’Regan, Kai Tahu. It’s all in the way you look at it?

A champion of Te Reo, Hana turns life lessons into “rivers of words” writing her way through the experience to the learning on the other side. Each experience brings a lesson, says Hana; they turn up to say, we’ve been through this before, and we can get through it again.

Lastly, and certainly not least, Clementine Ford. Clementine shared a story of mislead youth and heartbreak. This lead us to two realisations: one: life isn’t a John Hughes movie (Pretty in Pink,The Breakfast Club), two: success is not marrying a wanker. Lol.

Fight Like A Girl author Clementine demonstrated her greatest weapon, her wit, in abundance; the lesson in her story being to hold your head high and laugh in the face of crushing (public) rejection.

Glenn Colquhoun, Witi Ihimaera (and Clementine Ford chasing offspring) WORD Christchurch Fail Safe Fail Better, Friday 1 September 2017

Some of the stories shared here were so candid that I chose not to share them. Those gems were for our ears only.

My failures? Well, I started the evening keeping to the theme. On a rainy spring night, I failed to find a car park close to the venue (ah the fun of driving around the CBD in circles) and didn’t make the venue on time. Miraculously the event started late. And the rest? Well thats Witi, Glenn and I…

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