Wairoa born and raised, Connie Houkamau bravely left her stomping ground in pursuit to
reclaim te reo Māori for herself and her whānau at Te Ūranga Waka.
Connie has since flourished on her journey reclaiming te reo Māori. She encourages Māori who also have the desire to learn - to take the leap. Mary-Therese interviews her to share her story.
Nō hea koe? || Where are you from?
Ko Whakapunake te maunga
Ko Te Wairoa Hōpūpū Hōnengenenge Mātangi Rau te awa
Ko Takitimu te waka
Ko Ngāti Kahungunu te iwi
Nō Wairoa au.
Ko Connie Houkamau tēnei.
I was born in Napier but grew up in a small town called Wairoa. It is a sleepy town where I
can always go back to - to rest my mind and be surrounded by my family.
Have you always wanted to learn te reo Māori?
Honestly, no. When I was a little girl I remember someone mentioning that te reo Māori
wasn’t going to benefit me in the long run. I truly believed that back then.
What were your early experiences with te reo Māori like?
I moved to the Wairarapa immediately after graduation to study music at UCOL. One of the assessments required us to write a song in te reo māori and I remember struggling. My teacher expected that I could speak te reo on the spot. I was frustrated with the fact that I couldn’t, to the point where I dreaded that assessment. I remember that the band reached out to the Māori Department to help and they suggested we use the whakataukī ”He aha temea nui o te ao? He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata.” It took a really long time, but that song ended up being my favourite in the set.
What inspired you to take “the leap” and enrol at Te Ūranga Waka, embarking on your
journey learning te reo Māori?
Many things contributed to me wanting to learn te reo Māori, but the main push happened during the covid-19 pandemic. I worked full time in hospitality and was working my way up the ranks until the pandemic happened. I was absolutely thriving, enjoying work and networking. But when the lockdown happened I couldn’t work and like many others, I spent a lot of my time scrolling through Tiktok. Many Māori figures and speakers of the reo came across my screen. They all addressed the message “we deserve to know our language”. I felt like I was receiving advice that I didn’t hear often. And that’s when I felt the pull to learn te reo. Once I made that decision everything fell into place so quickly, it was like it was meant to be.
What is it like learning at Te Ūranga Waka?
Everyday while walking to class I see warm smiles and people who are genuinely excited to learn te reo Māori. Te Ūranga Waka is a relaxed and welcoming environment. It is a place where I can think freely. It is definitely different, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Are you enjoying it?
I love learning te reo. It has its ups and downs. I definitely have had to knock down a few
walls that I had built to keep me safe in my childhood. It is a process and a journey, and I am here for it till the end.
Has there been anyone who has had a positive impact on your journey learning te reo
My first teacher, Whaea Mākere. She is such an inspirational and kind woman. She truly
makes you feel welcome in her class. In our first lesson, she asked everyone to draw the
reason why we had decided to learn te reo Māori, and if we felt comfortable, to share our
story with everyone else. I truly felt heard and seen that day.
How does it feel being on this journey?
Sometimes I feel like I progress slower than other students in my class. But I go home to
Wairoa often. When I go home, my family asks how I am doing and what I have learnt at
kura. I’m always excited to share my experiences and how I’m progressing. Going home and being with my family always reaffirms to me that I made the right decision.
Do you have any advice for anyone who is seeking to learn te reo Māori?
If you have the desire and a chance to learn, do it. Do it for you, do it for your future. Just go for it and don’t let other opinions affect your desire to learn. You deserve to know your
language and your culture.
Acknowledgement from the author:
E tōku hoa, nāna i tuku iho tōna kōrero ki a tātou. Tēnā koe mō tō māia me tō mōhiotanga.
Nga mihi nui ki a koe.
Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air.