Having grown up in Rotorua to the age of 10 I was immersed in Māori culture. It was then a bit of a shock to the system when my family decided to move to Auckland. I hadn’t even realised I was part of a bi-cultural family until we arrived in Howick, Auckland.
My older sister, Karlene had studied in a bilingual class before our move, and wrote her first essay at her new school in Auckland, entirely in te reo. She was commended for doing so, but then asked to re-write it in English. We found this hilarious at home, but sadly this marked the beginning of something of a removal of Māoridom from our lives, to enable us to ‘succeed’ in our new city.
My memories flash back to the days growing up in Rotorua only a 40 minute drive from my Marae Tahuwhakatiki (Romai) in Welcome Bay. This was also where my Great Grandmother Nana Ruihi resided.
Karlene and I were always so excited to make that trip to visit her. She was my idol in every way and she always made a point of speaking te reo to us. I admired the beauty behind her soft husky tone and gentle manner. I have vivid memories of taking note of how she did things and hoped that I would be like her one day.
Talking to us in te reo was perhaps her way of trying to keep our culture alive. I recall those days fondly and wish she was still with us to teach us her ways.
Fast forward to 2018 and I've been on a journey of rediscovering my roots. This is supported by the surprising and welcome place we seem to be at in society where te reo Māori is resurfacing and becoming embraced and even encouraged in some environments.
This is long overdue and while not comfortable to recall, we can't forget that the absence of te reo has a lot to do with it having been literally punished out of many of our people in schools (members of my whanau included) and a sense of shame then associated with it.
My cousin Te Karehana (aka recording artist Teeks) and his whanau were incredible in holding onto our culture in the face of such difficulties. Te Karehana talks about how being fluent in te reo Māori informs his every day:
“Te Reo Māori isn’t just a language it’s a world view. Being able to speak and understand the language means you get to see the world the way I see it, through a Māori lens. From the way you relate and interact with people and the environment, to being conscious of how everything from this earth has an essence or life force, and knowing we’re all connected through that. Acknowledging both the physical and the spiritual. It teaches you about respect which is one of the most fundamental values in our culture.”
Since having my daughter Seldon Ruihi, her Dad and I have been doing our best to use te reo so we can work towards having a bi-lingual home and see things with a Māori lens like Te Karehana. It’s also keeping Seldon connected to her roots and namesake, my sweet Nana Ruihi.
We are now living in a time where Māoridom is thankfully finding its very important place in our world again, and in spite of the immense difficulties previous faced, I reflect on Nana and think she would be extremely proud.
Kia kaha te reo Māori!