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  • Ngākura Ngātai-Toopi

Ko tōku reo, ko tōku taonga, ko tōku taonga ko tōku reo

E kī ana te whakataukī “Ko tōku reo, ko tōku taonga, ko tōku taonga ko tōku reo” “My language is my treasure, my treasure is my language” he whakataukī tēnei mai i Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Ngāti Ruanui, he ākonga o mua au nō taua kura.

This whakataukī holds a major impact on myself simply because of the effect colonists have on Māori and our language, te reo Māori. The “proverb” as Pākehā would like to call it, gives me purpose as to why I still fight and protect our reo to this day.

My experiences and the value I place on te reo Māori can be sourced back to my upbringing; I was fortunate enough to be bestowed this taonga from an early age. Unlike most of Aotearoa, te reo Māori was my first language and the only language I could properly communicate with. Growing up I was criticised because of the lack of english I used. Being called ‘Dumb” or asking someone how to spell something as simple as “because” led me to begging my parents to send me to mainstream school. This experience is not unique to most Māori, who have had to substitute Māori knowledge for western standards either by force or by way of life. This is evident throughout the repeated history of Māori inequality in Aotearoa, but it is this repeated history that remains a reminder to my purpose.

Reflecting on my whakapapa & heritage, E uri noa au ki Taranaki – It is only befitting that I turn to the history of Taranaki and the background story of the invasion on Parihaka. An injustice felt by my very own tūpuna.

Mai i Te Waingongoro ki te Hangataua, tū mai ana te mōunga whakahī o Taranaki, ko ngā wai karekare ki tai, ko Parihaka kei waenga nui. Tērā tētehi tokorua rongonui, ko Te Whiti o Rongomai rāua ko Tohu Kākahi, e kī ana ko rāua ngā pou o te papa kāinga rā. Nā a rāua mahi kua mōhio whānui te ao ki a rāua, ki ngā āhuatanga i pā ki te hapori o Parihaka, ki te rohe o Taranaki.

Inā te maha o ngā āhuatanga kino i pā atu ki te hapori o Parihaka, o Taranaki whānui. I ngā tini pakanga o taua wā i hinga te tini o ngā uri o Taranaki, i raupatungia ngā whenua, i tukinohia ngā wāhine. Ahakoa te kino o ngā mahi a te pākehā ko tā Tohu rāua ko Te Whiti, he whai i te ara o te rangimārie, o te maungārongo. I whai ngā iwi e waru o Taranaki i te tikanga a Tohu rāua ko Te Whiti, kāore rātou mo te pakanga atu ki a tauiwi. Ināianei e titiro whakamua ana a Parihaka ki anamata, kia kimi oranga anō i roto i te rongomau, i te rangimārie anō hoki. Ko ngā āhuatanga pēnei ka tino whāia e au i te huarahi e whāia ana e au.

My tūpuna held fast to this tikanga, in the face of adversity they stayed staunch in their identity and protected the mana of Taranaki. To protect the little reo we had left, our values and tikanga – they met violence and disdain with peace and calmness for us, for my generation, past and more. Now, we, as descendants of these great Rangatira continue to have a place to call home, a land to connect to, a history to trace back to.

It is these lessons borne from my tūpuna that I will continue to uphold. It is this very grievance I will keep in mind in my fight for the everyday use of te reo Māori, it is the tikanga of my tupuna I will inherit when dealing with snarky remarks made by pākehā, in my journey to revitalise te reo Māori.

As I now look forward toward the future of Parihaka and find solace within the settlement and peace that my ancestors upheld, I bear this in mind as we further explore the wounds inflicted upon this gift and it’s journey through the colonists standard.

The attack on Māori sovereignty began on New Zealand’s native language, te reo Māori. Signed on the 6th of February 1840 between ngā rangatira o Aotearoa and the Crown, Māori have always considered Te Tiriti as charter for, what was supposed to be a national dual planning system. This founding document written in both te reo Māori and english was meant to incorporate both Māori and Pākeha values into every aspect of decision making in New Zealand. Under these 3 articles it was signed that Māori would be protected, that our sovereignty would be protected, that our taonga, our reo – would be protected. It was promised that we would obtain the same rights and privileges enjoyed by the Queen’s British subjects, that there would be balance between Te Ao Pākehā and Te Ao Māori and yet, to no avail. The Crown failed to uphold this agreement, deliberately. Betrayal was bought upon Māori and our voice was belittled. As the Crown instilled their rule over Aotearoa te reo Māori was no longer a taonga to be cherished but a mere ‘thing’ that needed to be snuffed and the consequences that incurred as a result were ever more damaging.

Back in the ra’s this taonga was wrongfully taken from my people and as the colonist population grew, we were forced to learn a reo foreign to our lips, discouraged to speak our own. The value of te reo Māori began to diminish at the hands of pākehā. Māori children were forbidden to speak their native tongue in common spaces like the playground or within the classrooms, they were prevented from speaking the only language they knew, punished and abused should they disobey or worse – forget.

Imagine the toll this has on a child’s psyche, on their sense of identity and self-worth. Forced to reject the only language they know, to yield their only form of expression. Ko te reo Māori he taonga, it is more than a vehicle used for communication, it is a source of identity, of mana and pride. A tool used to express one’s values and beliefs, it is the substance of their culture and makes up who they are. To strip away a child’s reo is to strip away a child’s mana, to rob them off their native tongue and beat away the very essence of their culture is to rob them of a taonga rightfully theirs.

Frightened by past ridicule, fearing their own children will endure the same, a dramatic decline in fluent te reo Māori speakers arose as parents opted to endorse the use of the english language instead. Consciously aware of what was beaten into them young, parents abstained from passing on this taonga to their children and te reo Maori faced the brink of extinction.

Imagine the toll this has on their children, the ripple effect this will have on their mokopuna. The generations that miss out on a taonga rightfully theirs as te reo Māori dwindles through blood lines, the toll this has taken on my very generation. It is here we see the very first signs of the struggle to keep te reo Māori alive. This trauma continues to be felt everyday as the english language remains superior.

Reflect on this. Māori mā know it all too well, this mamae repeated throughout our nation’s history, scorned into our whakapapa as it spills into our everyday lives, still. Beaten, betrayed, subdued. It’s no surprise this taonga sits withering away now.

Ko tōku reo, ko tōku taonga. My language is my treasure. It wasn’t my treasure at the age of 9, I thought of it more as a curse rather than a gift.

Ko tōku taonga, Ko tōku reo. My treasure is my language. By 10, I hated Te Reo Māori, the only people I could properly communicate with were school friends and family.

By the time I hit high school, I developed a whole different perspective. I was sent to a mainstream boarding school within Taranaki, where I was stereotyped and was viewed as unintelligent, “Hori”, not able to cope with the strict time demands of the capitalist world. A part of me wished I stayed under the umbrella of Te Aho Matua but I don’t think I’d ever change my high school experience amongst a bunch of Pākehā. My experience pushed me even further to fight for the purpose of our reo and encourage other tauira māori to start fighting together in efforts to restore this taonga and return it to its former glory.

Māori have been fighting for the right to be able to speak their language freely for the longest time and though we are still often thrown racist remarks in regard to our reo and simple greetings such as “Kia Ora” are still frowned upon by many.

Tēnei te tira hou, Tēnei haramai nei.

We are the generation of change, languages die because they are no longer spoken so we will speak, we will wear the grievances endured by our tupuna for future generations na te mea ko Te Reo Māori, he taonga tuku iho.


Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air


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