By Huia Lloyd, Pou Tairangahau, Kahui Kaupapa Atawhai
It’s Te Wiki o te Reo Māori 2015, Māori Language Week – a wonderful opportunity to learn new words and phrases in one of New Zealand’s official languages.
Te reo Māori has had an interesting journey. At one stage in our history, children were caned for speaking te reo in the playground, but a revitalisation and official acknowledgement by the Government in the 1970’s saw a rapid growth in acceptance of the language.
Research had showed us that language survival was critical to cultural survival. So we begun to recognise that, if we wanted to keep the unique culture of Aotearoa alive, we needed to cherish and champion the Māori language.
Māori names in nature
Many of the tracks, mountains, rivers, landmarks, plants, insects, animals on public conservation land have Māori names.
Lots of these names are environmental indicators and give an insight into their origins, uses or description for identification.
Take kohurangi (Brachyglottis kirkii var. kirkii). If you translate kohu = mist and rangi = sky it helps describe this holo-epiphyte that would have grown in the canopy on top of other plants.
When it is flowering, it would look like a mist in the sky.
The puawānanga (white clematis, clematis paniculata) derives from pua = bloom and wānanga = obtain knowledge.
This climbing vine takes its name from the story of Māui who climbed to the heavens to obtain knowledge for humankind.
When you look at the flowering plant from the forest floor up to the canopy, you could observe that the flowers were descending from the heavens.
The flower is shaped like a star and the puawananga clematis are said to be offspring of Puanga (Rigel, the bright star of the Orion cluster) and Rehua (Antares, the bright star of Scorpion).
When they start rising as morning stars (June to November) it coincided with the white clematis flowering, indicating spring and the period of cultural harvest of eels.
As with plants, landmarks are just as descriptive and often have a good back-story.
In the central North Island, Ruapehu was married to Taranaki. One day, she succumbed to the smooth-talking Tongariro and Taranaki challenged him unsuccessfully. Taranaki retreated to the west coast, carving out the Whanganui River. He then headed north to where he rests now.
As Taranaki moved north of the Whanganui, his weight left a depression in the land that filled with water and became the Te Ngaere wetland.
If you travel to Tongariro National Park, there is a basin landform called Rua Taranaki (the pit of Taranaki) that lies to the east of the Tama Saddle where Taranaki stood originally.
Learning a little (or a lot!) of te reo will help you understand Māori knowledge (Mātauranga Māori) better. In the environment where we live, they are more than just names. They are origin stories, survival stories and an insight into another knowledge system that’s both interesting and valid.
Give te reo a go
Give te reo Māori a go. A friendly kia ora goes a long way.
See this amazing speech by Kapiti College Y11 student Finnian Galbraith about the importance of correctly pronouncing Māori words:
For more Te Wiki o te Reo Māori Resources
Māori Language Week runs from July 27 – August 3, 2015.