Guest Post: Lets do Te Reo

A guest post by Larry Mitchell:

Why, in writing to my Pakeha friends, do I need to think twice before mentioning that next week, we celebrate the beautiful, mellifluous, musical, often tear-jerking (think National Anthem/Haka/”Pokare”) … experience of and respect for our Maori-Te Reo language? 

taonga (treasure) and yes … an Official Language of Aotearoa-New Zealand.

Now there are several words in the above sentences that will raise the hackles of some of my friends and coupled with my need to ‘think twice” both indicate some rather hidebound out-dated sensitivities. 

Well to hell with it, enough of the sensitivities.

The objectors, always in my experience, older white people, are currently  pushing against an inevitable tide for further Maori language enrichment of our conversations.  

Consider also how many Maori words are increasingly becoming an accepted part of our vernacular? … count to 100 for starters. It ain’t likely to stop folks.

I believe that Te Reo is a unique gift to all New Zealanders, a gift because of its ability to say things in a unique Kiwi way, a way that we all can understand and treasure. 

This notion of a gift though, comes often in the face of resistance from Pakeha/White people, people who may never  have stopped to ponder the language’s beauty, its sounds and the feel of spoken Maori in its fullest significance. Whether this is on a Marae, at a funeral (Tangi), or just by adding meaning for its place in our Pacific way of life, “here”  … “not over there”. 

Take the word “Mana” as an example. Note:  “I” use a caps “M” intentionally, such is the significance of the word itself. The word is in widespread use here in New Zealand, by all ethnicities, because “we get  it” .It is a “Big” word freighted with both deep spiritual and common meanings alike. 

And “We” all know what it means. Other languages have no suitable substitute for Mana as they fail to carry the Maori word’s fullest meaning, freighted with all of its significance … of a personal stature, of one’s earned (and inherited) cultural and hierarchal positions, all deserving of respect. 

Word associations and context are often significant. Mana is a word closely connected to Utu (revenge-comeback- “the protection of ones Mana”). However, the word Utu is possibly too brutal and tribal for general use these days. Both are “Big” words but the connection of the two, elevates the meaning and significance of the “Mana” word.  

Mana takes some explaining to a new immigrant or to an overseas visitor.  There seems to be no exact English equivalent (“standing” does not do it Justice) … no word has quite the same power as the fullest meaning … of the Maori word … “Mana”. There are many other Maori words in common usage similar to Mana even if they have become assimilated and are used only due to our general acceptance.   Potae for Hat, Kuri for Dog, Turangawaewae for … a place to stand. 

“Acceptance” of Maori words and language in our conversations and now increasingly in the media are good enough justification are they not for their use?  

We enrich our Kiwi language with more Maori words which often, and tellingly, have no exact English equivalent. Taiaha, Marae, Pounamu and possibly hoha are further examples.This can be a rare thing indeed for improved English spoken word power when the over 65,000? words already in use in the English language are considered.

So where is this headed? For mine … I’m planning to join my son and daughter’s conversational Maori classes this Spring. Maybe you could give the idea some thought too? I sign off with my new “learnings”…  the Maori phrase de jour … 

“Nga mihi nui mahana whanau” 

Translation: … “easy … why don’t   you   do it”.

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