A guest post by Jeremy Callender:
According to media outlets, Te Pāti Māori (the Māori Party) would like all NZ place names to
be restored to their original Māori name by 2026 and ‘Aotearoa’ to officially replace ‘New
Zealand’. According to co-leader Rawiri Waititi, this is because “It’s well past time that te
reo Māori was restored to its rightful place as the first and official language of this country”
and “Tangata whenua are sick to death of our ancestral names being mangled, bastardised,
and ignored. It’s the 21st century, this must change.”
Let me start out by nailing a few of my colours, so to speak, to the mast:
- The resurgence of te reo Maori in recent years is a positive development;
- Basic courtesy demands that we try to pronounce te reo Maori words as they are
pronounced in te reo Maori – e.g. Oamaru should not be pronounced Om-a-ru;
- New Zealand maps, road signs, etc should identify locations by their te reo Maori
name and non-te reo Maori names (if any); and
- They can change NZ’s name to Landy McLandplace for all I care.
But for all that, I will not be investing any time in learning to speak te reo Maori. Why? It’s
quite simple really: because I have not the faintest interest in doing so.
My time on this earth may end in 50 years or it may end tomorrow. Whatever my expiry
date, human life is finite and I intend to spend as much of mine as possible doing things that
I actually care about doing. Currently, I find that I like going bodyboarding and hunting and
engaging in practical problem solving in my garage. I like reading and writing and music. I
like playing with my dog. I like spending time with my wife and children, and with our wider
family and friends.
Conversely, I do not find myself feeling that I should get into aqua jogging or learn to pole
vault. I don’t find within myself a desire to tinker with motorbikes or to become an amateur
taxidermist. I don’t enjoy karaoke and I’ve never felt compelled to dress myself in a onesie.
Nor do I wish to learn te reo Maori.
What can I say? Perhaps I’m just quirky.
As intimated earlier, I think it’s great that many New Zealanders are finding enjoyment or
satisfaction or meaning (or whatever) through their discovery or re-discovery of te reo
Maori. More power to them, I say!
But, as it happens, I simply have no interest in taking a magical mystery tour on the te reo
Maori Express. I have not found myself in need of te reo Maori during my 40+ years thus
far, and I see no reason to suggest that I will need it during the time that I have left.
I’m pretty sure that my kids aren’t going to need it either…
And that’s okay.
And maybe I’m wrong.
That will be okay too.
I have never been deprived of my native language, so I can only imagine how important te
reo Maori must be to many Maori. Nobody should be deprived of their native tongue, and it
is a national tragedy that for so long Maori were deprived of theirs. Perhaps this wrong can
be made right.
But I am not Maori and te reo Maori is not my language. And if, in the minds of the Initiated
that reduces me to the status of an ignorant pakeha, palagi, honky or some other name,
then so be it – having the approval of the Approved matters little to me. For I know who I
am, and though sadly I know relatively little of my ancestors, I do know that like Maori, they
came to New Zealand from far across the sea. I know that like Maori, they hacked out for
themselves and their children, a new life in a rugged and often unforgiving land –
sometimes by fair means and sometimes by foul. And I know that like Maori, the efforts of
my ancestors have borne some fruit that is sweet……and some that is bitter.
For such is the way of all people and the way of all things.
So I, for one, will not spend my life as a hostage either to the perceived sins of the past, the
fluctuating resentments of the present, or the certain uncertainty of the future.
My land is Otago and my home is Dunedin; and while it may be Otepoti to Maori, to me it
will always be Dunedin. Furthermore, it will be a meteorologically stable day in Dunedin (as
opposed to a cold day in Hell…) before anyone from anywhere compels me to call it
In any language.