CEO of Kotahi Rau Pukapuka, Pānia Papa. (Images: supplied/Tina Tiller)
CEO of Kotahi Rau Pukapuka, Pānia Papa. (Images: supplied/Tina Tiller)

ĀteaJanuary 13, 2022

An epic quest for a hundred books

CEO of Kotahi Rau Pukapuka, Pānia Papa. (Images: supplied/Tina Tiller)
CEO of Kotahi Rau Pukapuka, Pānia Papa. (Images: supplied/Tina Tiller)

Summer reads: Pānia Papa has devoted her life to te reo revitalisation. In the quest to translate 100 popular book titles into te reo Māori, the Kotahi Rau Pukapuka CEO – and former Silver Fern – is making sure reo speakers have high-calibre literature at their fingertips. 

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First published November 25, 2021

A new generation of te reo advocates are on the rise, weaving new threads, thoughts and flavours into the multidimensional fabric of te reo revitalisation. Earlier this month Ngāti Rānaki me Te Ranga Tipua, a fresh te reo take on the classic Marvel comic Avengers vs X-Men by teacher and translator Te Korou Whangataua, became the latest addition to a growing body of te reo literature. The launch took place on Facebook live and was introduced with an epic Marvel-inspired karakia by Paraone Gloyne. It’s part of a wider strategy under Kotahi Rau Pukapuka which aims to translate 100 books into te reo and fill a gap in Aotearoa book publishing.

The Kotahi Rau Pukapuka Charitable Trust launched in 2019, with Pānia Papa (Ngāti Korokī-Kahukura, Ngāti Mahuta) weaving together this korowai of Māori literature in her role as raupine (CEO).

“Our main goal is to increase the amount of te reo being consumed by those who are passionate about reading it. Beyond that, for those who have a desire to let their imagination soar within these creative texts, within these novels, and the many forms of written language available within them,” she says.


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With six publications to date, including Te Ruānuku (a te reo rendition by author Hemi Kelly of Paulo Coelho’s classic The Alchemist), Papa is confident these books will find their place within Māori homes.

That aspiration is becoming a reality, with the Ministry of Education having purchased 26,000 copies of Hare Pota me te Whatu Manapou, Leon Blake’s translation of Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone. An additional 13,000 copies of Nōu te Ao, e Hika e! – Dr Seuss’s Oh, The Places You’ll Go – by linguist and lecturer Dr Karena Kelly, have also been purchased and distributed to kura kaupapa Māori, kura-ā-iwi and rūmaki reo around the country.

“My hypothesis is that this move by the ministry will elevate the status of these books to the level of those Māori language books that are already out in the world. Will children read them? Who knows. That’s difficult to research, but at least the ministry is sending this book into the schools and homes where our children are,” says Papa.

Māori language novels are few and far between, and we’re at a point where demand is greater than supply. There is a flourishing group of kura kaupapa Māori and whare wānanga graduates, as well as second language learners, whose interests in te reo need to be stimulated with a range of high-quality literature.

Papa says this group can be engaged by promoting “the uncommon reservoirs of knowledge within these books and the quality of te reo – the language of the distant past, of our ancestors, that is illustrated through many different subjects”.

For speakers of te reo who wish to further develop their understanding and command of the language, Papa points to these publications, highlighting that the level of excellence demonstrated by today’s reo idols can be found between the pages of these books.

“If they want to speak like Te Korou Whangataua, like Mataia Keepa and Leon Blake, then the direct route to the high-calibre te reo that they possess is by reading what they have written in their translations.”

She acknowledges that setting a target of 100 books is ambitious, but explains that unreasonable ambition is what’s required for te reo to survive.

“It’s a formidable target, perhaps not unlike most objectives related to regenerating this language. It’s a distant goal, and it must be so, in order for it to succeed,” says Papa.

A panel from Te Pakanga a Ngāti Rānaki me Te Ranga-Tipua/Avengers vs X-Men (Image: Marvel/Auckland University Press)

The first publication, Mātāmua ko te Kupu! by none other than Tā Tīmoti Kāretu, is a collation of waiata and haka supplemented by his invaluable interpretation and knowledge of their meanings. Patron of the Kotahi Rau Pukapuka Charitable Trust, Witi Ihimaera’s own award-winning book, Bulibasha, has been translated by Te Tairāwhiti language champion Ruth Smith and given the reo name Puripāha – Te Pane Kaewa.

It’s through this variety of books, both novels and non-fiction, that Papa says the extent of the language is being covered.

“Tīmoti’s [book] is factual, it’s not an imagined topic. That’s its own genre. Hare Pota is the epitome of imagination, that has its own genre. This Marvel comic contains conversational and interactive dialogue, it has argumentative and combative language, as well as colloquial sayings and onomatopoeic words,” explains Papa.

She adds: “Witi’s novel has fictional narratives and contains the language used by sheep-shearing gangs. So there are no bounds to the styles of language that have been written by the authors, which we are translating.”

How the books are selected depends on timing and relationships. Some are requested by the authors themselves, others are suggested by those who are passionate about te reo, some by publishers, while some are put forward by trustees of the Kotahi Rau Pukapuka Charitable Trust.

“In terms of titles, we aren’t focusing on books for young children, because there is already a vast amount of those being written, so we are targetting 12-year-olds and above,” says Papa.

The stories will be made into audiobooks. This is where the strategy in terms of language revival really kicks in, says Papa.

“Ki a au nei, koirā te game-changer i roto i ēnei mahi. Koirā au e kaha akiaki nei aku hoa kia hurihia ngā pukapuka ka whakaputaina e mātau hei pukaoro, e hoki mai ai te mauri o te reo kōrero ki roto i ngā mahi pānui, kōrero pukapuka me kī, koirā te kupu tawhito a ngā kaumātua ko te kōrero pukapuka, kaua ko te pānui nā reira ka tino hāngai tērā ki ngā pukaoro.”

“To me, audiobooks are the game-changer. That’s why I’m eagerly encouraging my peers to transform the books that we’re translating into audiobooks, to allow the essence of the spoken word to be reinvigorated.”

Having audio accompany written text is a useful tool when learning te reo, especially for those who aren’t competent readers.

“By listening and reading congruently, those who are enthusiastic about te reo can improve those skills and gain awareness around its use,” says Papa.

Hare Pota has already been voiced by Pānia Papa and actor Tiare Tāwera, and Ruānuku has been completed by Hēmi Kelly. Puripāha and Nōu te ao, e hika e! are also lined-up to be released as audiobooks next year – although due to the challenges around gaining permissions from publishers, Ngāti Rānaki me Te Ranga Tipua won’t be receiving the same treatment.

More than just capturing audio to accompany the te reo translations, Papa says it’s about bringing the essence of the language to life with all of its subtleties and nuances.

“The feeling of reading differs significantly from the feeling of language being spoken. That’s where the real work is. Therefore, if we succeed in our pursuit to produce a number of Māori audiobooks, there will be a greater number of verbal examples, of a high-standard, that are being transmitted within communities,” says Papa.

Next year, the goal is to publish an additional eight books in te reo. Papa acknowledges that while it may take 20 years to reach one hundred books, each book contributes to the overarching objective, which is to restore the mauri of te reo.

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air.

Mad Chapman, Editor
The Spinoff has covered the news that matters in 2021, most recently the delta outbreak. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

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