In a country just beginning to face up to the ugly truth of colonisation and its ongoing effects, there are glimmers of hope – one being the surge in use and awareness of Te Reo me ōna tikanga.
As we near the end of the Gregorian New Year, I’ve been reflecting on what a remarkable year it has been for the growth and exposure of Te Reo me ōna tikanga.
The acknowledgement of Matariki as the Māori New Year has to be one the most historic moments of our nation in recent times; its timing and value can’t be understated. For those who have been fortunate to grow up within te ao Māori, it comes as an affirmation. For those whose whakapapa connections have been severed, it’s a chance to reconnect.
This cultural event has been given national recognition even as the country grapples with the pain of its gradually expanding awareness of how badly tangata whenua continue to be marginalised by the ongoing impact of colonisation. It enables an opportunity for Māori and non-Māori alike to engage with tikanga and learn about Māori cultural beliefs and practices that highlight our spirituality and connection to the environment.
Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori celebrated its 50th year, with young rangatahi community leader Hana-Rawhiti Maipi-Clarke standing defiantly on the steps of Parliament and addressing the nation in her mother-tongue.
From ‘shit-stirrers’ to national treasures
Dr Tame Roa, a member of Te Rōpū Reo Māori who delivered Te Petihana Reo Māori to parliament alongside Hana Te Hemara and Ngā Tamatoa in 1972, highlighted how he and his peers, including the likes of Tāme Iti, were at the time regarded as shit-stirrers by New Zealanders. Now, they’re regarded as national treasures, reflecting a growth in the consciousness of wider New Zealand. The fruits of those who have laboured for the survival of Te Reo are being seen, heard and felt throughout the country.
The Black Ferns won the Rugby World Cup, opening their matches with thrilling performances of karanga and haka. In the stands, in unprecedented scenes, supporters of all ages and backgrounds wielded poi in support of their team and country.
Opening the competition this year, Dame Hinewehi Mohi sung the anthem in Māori and English, 23 years after her electric Te Reo-only rendition at Twickenham during the 1999 men’s World Cup. Following that performance she was vilified by the media and the public in a racist backlash. Since then, she has shaped the nation even further with the Waiata Anthems project, using music to normalise Te Reo and making it more accessible for all. The normalisation of the Māori anthem and her return to sing on the field to rapturous applause signals a shift in attitudes.
This year also marks the 50th anniversary of Te Matatini, which saw a collection popular waiata re-recorded to honour the cultural milestone, gaining hundreds of thousands of plays on streaming platforms. The numbers reflect the growing appetite for waiata Māori and a burgeoning interest in kapa haka, with Te Matatini the largest cultural festival in the country. Despite the popularity and mobilisation of Māori communities, political calls are being made for more equitable funding to support an event of its magnitude. The late composers Tuini Ngāwai and Te Kumeroa Ngoingoi Pēwhairangi were inducted into the NZ Music Hall of Fame, which Sir Tīmoti Karetu acknowledged as long overdue.
Both The Lion King and Frozen were released in Te Reo, strengthening the relationship between Matewa Media and Disney following the initial success of Moana Reo Māori. The impact of having these two iconic movies available in Te Reo for young toddlers and kids will only be truly realised once they’ve matured. But one thing is for sure: it has been a major leap forward in normalising Te Reo in the eyes of our kids.
One language champion in particular, Oriini Kaipara (Ngāti Rangitihi, Tūhoe, Ngāti Awa and Ngāti Tūwharetoa) made headlines around the world as the first Māori woman with a moko kauae to present primetime news in English. The cultural practice of tāmoko, alongside Te Reo, has been flourishing over the years and the inclusion of Kaipara in a role of such high visibility shows the gradually changing attitudes towards Māori.
But while we celebrate their achievements, we acknowledge that both Oriini Kaipara and 1News weather presenter Te Rauhiringa Brown receive racist emails and comments because of how they look, what they represent, and their use of Te Reo.
In a similar vein, the prime minister received criticism for opening her UN address with a Māori greeting. It’s ironic, given that many of the world leaders speak in the language of the country they’ve been elected to represent. And in other coloniser news, an Australian TV presenter called out a Six60 poster for using Māori words, which the band then used to create their own viral content. Despite the wins for Te Reo, we must acknowledge there are still harmful attitudes out there towards Māori culture, language and people.
And some might say that’s been the case since the arrival of non-Māori, so what has changed?
Well, the relentless, strategic, committed efforts by the dedicated few who live for Māori language, culture and customs are starting to take effect. The tide is beginning to turn and on the surface Te Reo appears to be thriving and more popular than ever. On the ground, it’s the parents, grandparents, teachers and community leaders who drive the movement and keep it moving.
I’m reminded, as the calendar runs down, that although many gains have been made, we all need to keep pushing and play our part, Māori and non-Māori, in the normalisation of Te Reo me ōna tikanga.