I wasn’t going to wade into the debate around Te Reo Māori in schools. The argument shouldn’t even exist. But then I saw this video, and decided to write a note of support for those who understand the value, the necessity, the rich taonga that is Te Reo Māori.
The video has been shared 11,942 times and ‘liked’ 14,000 times in this facebook post alone. That’s a lot of enthusiastic loving.
Te Hātea Kapahaka group from Te Tai Tokerau (Northland) stand in a Sicilian Church in Italy and sing their hearts out. It made my heart explode. I have no idea when they sung it, but that is beside the point.
It comes as no surprise to me that someone has carefully and beautifully translated this Leonard Cohen classic (Hareruia aka’Halleluah’) into Te Reo. If you can understand Māori, you’ll hear how well it is done. The arrangement is breath-taking.
And there is more to this waiata than beautiful words and a clever harmonies. They stand and sing to pay their respects to the Sicilian people, to the different cultures around them, to the church they are in and to their own people. They stand in acknowledgement and awe of the religion they are interacting with, and they do it all in Te Reo. It is hard to explain just how intricately linked Te Reo and tikanga are (put simply – the correct way/s of doing things). You cannot have one without the other. They could not have done this in English.
When people whine about why they shouldn’t have to learn Te Reo. I mostly ignore them. Because their standpoints are not worth the time it would take to have a really frustrating and dead-end conversation. But inside, it hurts.
It hurts because Māori is beautiful. It is powerful. It is central to Māori culture. Just like all languages are. Cultures simply cannot operate without their own languages. Whether it is New Zealand English (yes, there is more than one kind of English, including ‘street English’…languages grow and evolve – youse people gotta understand this’), NZ Sign Language or computer programming speak. All systems of knowing and being, express themselves differently. Concepts are not universal. Only so much can be translated.
It also hurts because my partner and I go to great lengths to ensure that Te Reo Māori is our kids first language. It is hard work. There are only so many schools that offer bilingual education, and a few Kura Kaupapa in each main centre. Building your networks of Reo Māori speaking people takes time and effort. But it is worth it. We wish it wasn’t so hard.
But the crux of the matter is understanding each other. Even if our ‘collect-nationwide bunch-of-beautiful-kids’ don’t all go on to speak fluent Te Reo, and to have daily interactions with it, they will learn about Te Ao Māori – about tikanga Māori.
To understand each other, to afford each other the respect we all need, we have to know how different cultures are constructed, and this is done though language.
Those who harp on about the ‘racism’ of forcing 5 year olds to learn Māori, appear oblivious to the fact that the Te Reo is a national language, and no one cries foul that all our children are FORCED to speak English. The double standards go on and on.
I can’t be bothered arguing with old stuck in their ways bigots. It’s too late for them. Better to put our energies into the people who are going to change the way this country talks.
Leave it up to the educationalists, the neurologists, the linguists, the people who give a shit about other people. But for goodness sake, leave the decisions about how it rolls out up to Māori (because it IS going to happen). Give the power back. Once you start to learn, you come to know just what a formidible bunch Te Reo Māori teachers are. They are among the most effective, motivated and passionate teachers in existance!
And heck – if you can speak English and want to speak English only, good on you – knock your self out. If you are a grown person, no one is suggesting you must also learn Māori. Don’t sweat it.
Kids however, love learning anything new. And they do so with ease. They’ll learn as many languages as you can consistently speak to them. Happily.
I am a New Entrant teacher, and yesterday I taught my little 5 year olds three new waiata, and by the end of the day (their first day at school), they could name all their fingers and toes in Te Reo. Many adults struggle to do this in English.
Kōnui, kōroa, māpere, mānawa, kōiti – ko ēnei ngā matimati!