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Youngsters excited to learn their reo

Saturday 6 August 2022 | Written by Supplied | Published in Culture, National


Youngsters excited to learn their reo
Community volunteer Mata Enua runs a Ma'uke Community rehearsal for their Cook Islands Language Week performance at the Auckland Museum atrium on Saturday. Photo: ABIGAIL DOUGHERTY/STUFF/22080545

Cook Islanders in Auckland are optimistic their reo will survive into the future, thanks to growing enthusiasm among the community’s youngest members.

Amid Cook Islands Language Week this week (‘Epetoma ō te reo Māori Kūki 'Āirani), the spotlight has been on one of the most endangered languages of the Pacific.

Fewer than 10 per cent of Cook Islanders worldwide speak te reo Māori Kūki 'Āirani (Cook Islands Māori), including on the Cook Islands where English is used across all parts of society.

But among young Kūki 'Āirani Kiwis, excitement is growing about learning their reo – mostly among people who weren’t taught it growing up.

Ma’uke Community volunteer Mata Enua said she gets sad for the tamariki who missed out on their language, especially when it means they have language barriers with their relatives.

“It’s sad for our children these days… They go to school, they speak English, and when they come home they still speak English. It’s up to us parents to teach our kids to speak their reo.

“We teach them through singing, and that way they can catch up, they can pick up some words.”

Cook Islander and researcher from the University of Auckland Tangatakiikii Teura'atua-Rupeni studied how community groups support youth to learn their reo for her masters’ thesis.

She found more often than not, lessons were informal and subconscious, rather than in a classroom.

“We are learning in church, or in our sports groups or cultural groups or at school at Polyfest,” she said. “There are a lot of spaces where we immerse ourselves into the language.”

“It’s more about being part of an experience. That is where our youth come and want to be part of these events and gatherings, and that’s where our elders teach.”

“We teach [the children] through singing, and that way they can catch up, they can pick up some words,” Mata Enua said. Photo: ABIGAIL DOUGHERTY/STUFF/22080546

In the past there was despair around preserving te reo Māori Kūki ‘Āirani, but people are more optimistic and eager to learn now, Teura’atua-Rupeni said.

Despite the low numbers of fluent or proficient speakers, the enthusiasm among the community tells a different story – and dwelling on the dwindling numbers feels disheartening, she said.

“We do have a decline of our reo speakers, that’s the reality, but it doesn’t mean it’s coming to an end.

“It just means we have to ask what solutions are we putting in place, what are we doing in our communities to support our non-reo speakers, what are we doing to encourage those that have that spark to learn.”

Enua and her community members are from Ma’uke, also known as Akatokamanava, which lies 277km northeast of Rarotonga and has a slightly distinct language variety from te reo Māori Kūki 'Āirani.

The ‘Epetoma ō te reo Māori Kūki 'Āirani – Cook Islands Language Week concluded yesterday.

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