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Thomas Wynne: Reclaiming our reo Māori

Saturday 9 March 2024 | Written by Thomas Tarurongo Wynne | Published in Editorials, Opinion


Thomas Wynne: Reclaiming our reo Māori
Ura Pau (drum beat) dancers at Te Maeva Nui NZ. Photo: RNZ Pacific/Tiana Haxton/23100316

Who grew up thinking of themselves as half caste, quarter caste or part this part that but never the total sum of all of who we are, writes Thomas Tarurongo Wynne.

Some who went through the ‘side schools’, or who were at schools here in Rarotonga looking over at the side schools saw sometimes better staff and resources for these schools as they taught the caste children, those who were not wholly “Maori” and whose grasp of English was considered better. Some I spoke to at home who went through the ‘side schools’ knew their chances were better and it was in some ways a privilege to be in that stream of education, back then in Rarotonga.

I wonder sometimes if we hadn’t been subjected to language trauma, the smacking of our parents and grandparents and the diminishing of our language, driven by others and sadly enforced by our own education system and teachers. Who became agents of this cultural weaponising?  Where would our language be today? It’s clear why so many of us are having to work through the now intergenerational trauma of language being ripped from the tongues of our people and cast aside for the hegemony and dominance of English.

Even as I write I am cognisant that it is English I write this column in, each and every week and cognisant that there is so much of the coded of Māori I miss because it is not a part of what my tongue can or cannot do. Though it needs be said, I have met many Māori, both here in Aotearoa, whose tongue is proficient in te reo Māori, but their heart, their ngakau, is pale as the noon day sun and their thinking whitewashed by generations of assimilation, acculturation and colonisation. They’re often the biggest hurdles for addressing these pressing issues on our people both here at home and in Aotearoa.

But let us be clear, we were not just victims of this larger power and world view, we were also agents of it, in our desire to have what this larger world had to offer. It came at a price nonetheless, from the inculcation of the hideous Blue Laws, on the Cook Islands Act 1915, land, our tribal structures, spirituality and language were assaulted by outside forces, with inside forces partnering with them to this end.

I remember first arriving in 2010 and sitting in a meeting at the National Auditorium, when the MC got up to speak, he spoke in English and then apologised to those who could not speak Māori, as he moved from English to Māori. And as I sat there, I was astounded that we would ever, in our own country and amongst our own people have to apologise for speaking Māori, to those who could not or did not speak Māori in the crowd.

Free association with New Zealand has never ever been free. When something is free, you have paid for it already, you just didn’t realise it at the time, bundled into the package you already paid for. The cost to our country, for this free association has been seen in our labour force, revenue, capacity build and cannot be fully quantified but if it was it would be in the billions what we have lost to other shores and other countries and governments. Nonetheless, as we do our people carve a place for them and work hard to build what they have with the tools available because that also is who we are.

In 1990, at the Tumu Korro conference, Puati Mataiapo said – “Taka’I koe ki te papa ‘enua, “akamou I te pito enua, a’u I to’ou rangi”. We step onto the land we are born in and fix our umbilical cord to it then carve out this world before us. We continue to do that as a people no matter where that land may be, but the land of our Tupuna must also be the land we affix our pito to or what do we become? We must circle back if we are to sail into a digital, divided and complex 2024 to ensure as we carve out this new world our reo, our Pe’u Māori and our identity are carved into that enua and world view also.