Learning Māori puts a menemene on my kanohi

The Māori language class I’m taking is the most joyous part of my week. Everyone is there to learn. Everyone is welcoming.  It’s a diverse bunch of people from all walks of life and nationalities. It is a bubble of positivity, a respite from the exterior world of cynicism and politics. It is a glimpse of the New Zealand I want to live in.

Te reo is great fun. Did you know that Katikati means “nibble nibble”? I’m loving the language. I take delight in pronouncing words like Tauranga and Otumoetai as correctly as I can in casual conversation. You have to move your cheeks a lot more deliberately to get the pronunciation right. It’s like talking with a bubble in your mouth. English is a much flatter sort of language in comparison, especially the way we squash our vowels in New Zilund.

One thing I’ve noticed is how firmly Māori cultural values are embedded into the structure of the language. Whakapapa and heritage are woven through everything to identify your relationship to the people, places and things around you. For example, the way you refer to someone older than you will be different to the way you refer to someone younger. There is no generic word for sibling; my brother would call me his ‘tuakana’, meaning older brother, and I would call him my ‘teina’, meaning younger brother.

So Māori Language Week is 4 – 10 July, what better time to wrap your mouth around some vowels. Here are a few random phrases and sayings I’ve enjoyed learning. Straight to the fun stuff. You can go elsewhere for the basics.

He toki koe. You’re sharp. (Literally, you’re an axe.)
Ka mau te wehi. Awesome!
Kei roto a Han Solo i te waka ātea. Han Solo is in the spaceship.
Kei te pukumahi ahau. I am busy.
Kei muri i te rakiraki. Behind the duck.
He waka eke noa. A canoe that we are all in with no exception. (We’re all in this together.)
Ko te reo te taikura o te whakaao mārama. Language is the key to understanding.

It’s good to be learning te reo. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while. I think every New Zealander should get the chance. That’s an argument for more te reo in schools. Here are a few other things I’ve written previously about te reo and related topics.

Happy to be a little pakeha
Calming our cultural nerves with Māori language
What makes a Kiwi?
Grappling with the Treaty of Waitangi
Battle of Gate Pa: Does local history matter?

Finally, the te reo course I’m doing is via Te Wānanga o Aoteoroa. I recommend it.