Kia ora koutou. Nau mai, haere mai ki Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori!
This week in New Zealand, we celebrate Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori - Māori Language Week. This is a week in which everyday Kiwis make an effort to incorporate our indigenous language into conversation, both at work and at home. I’m celebrating by labelling various things around my apartment with their Māori names.
The Māori, the indigenous people of Aotearoa New Zealand, first arrived about 700 years ago from islands in East Polynesia. The language has since evolved in New Zealand over the course of several hundred years, building upon the dialects of the various islands.
An endeavour which might prove challenging in some other westernised countries, widespread participation in a week celebrating indigenous language is not as difficult as it sounds. New Zealand has been celebrating Māori Language week since 1975, and as a bi-lingual nation, Māori language is spoken by an estimated 157,000 people, 4% of the population.
Though only a small proportion speak fluent or conversational Māori, the large majority of New Zealanders know at least a few words and phrases. As a young nation, whose history has been comparatively inclusive of indigenous culture in the national discourse, Māori words and phrases are common place.
Many of our towns and cities bear Māori names, as do mountain ranges, national parks and lakes. Our five banknotes feature native birds along with their Māori names, by which some are commonly known. Similarly, many New Zealand native trees are known only by their Māori names – the mighty kauri, the swamp-loving kahikatea, and my personal favourite the rimu, which resembles a prickly weeping willow.
Within formal settings, it is custom for both Māori and Pakeha (European New Zealanders) to use a mihi whakatau to introduce themselves in the traditional Māori style of introduction, which ties a person intricately with the land and their ancestral connections.
This introduction provides context to give the audience an understanding of your history, your connections to place, and to find common ties.
Since the establishment of the Māori Language Commission, Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori, in 1897, Te Reo Māori has been undergoing a resurgence with efforts made to keep the language alive and well. Māori radio stations and a dedicated Māori television channel, bring the language into our homes daily. The Digital Māori Forum are helping to connect information technology and entrepreneurship into Māori-speaking communities.
And it starts at an early age. There are over 70 Māori-language immersion schools around the country, and most other schools offer Māori as a subject. Some of my best memories of school growing up in Whakatane, Tokoroa and Rotorua are of singing Māori songs (waiata) and playing traditional Māori games. As a member of the Māori Culture Club, I loved participating in the song and dance that celebrates Māori culture. This grounding in Māori culture since childhood makes me, as a European-descended New Zealander, immensely proud to be part of a nation that celebrates our roots.
Māori language and culture is something that all Kiwis can feel a part of, whether your ancestry is Māori or not. One of my favourite Māori songs contain the beautiful lyrics below that represent togetherness and solidarity – two fitting ideas from which to embark into Māori language week.
Have a great week, Mauri ora!
More about Māori Language.
Alina Siegfried is a half-Swiss Kiwi, with a sprinkling of Canadian tendencies on top. A pragmatic muser on a mission to save the world through social enterprise and slam poetry (via her not-so-secret alter-ego Ali Jacs), Alina writes content and communications for Kiwi Connect.