Should I learn te reo Māori?

When I went to primary school in the 1960s I was taught virtually nothing on Māori related history of this country, and no te reo Māori at all. I can remember doing Po Karekare Ana in singing one year, but that was a minor curiosity only, similar to The Volga Boatmen and Frere Jacque.

I would have liked to learn about New Zealand and Māori culture and history, and I would have liked to learn some te reo Māori. I could have even chosen Māori over French in forms 3 and 4. It would have been more relevant, and more use to me.

I went to school in rural South island where there was close to no sign of anything Māori apart from the place names we mispronounced. I still think of Kawarau (the river) as Ka-worra.

A year behind me there was a Māori looking boy, but his adoptive parents didn’t look Māori. He seemed culturally non-Māori.

I found out at some stage that my best friend had some Māori ancestry, but that was nothing more than a small curiosity. He was also Catholic, but that wasn’t obvious at all either.

Outside of school I had little exposure to anything Māori. I can only remember two things Māori when I was a child, and this is a bit cringey. One:

Image result for the half gallon jar by hori

And the other:

Image result for the half gallon jar by hori

I thought they were quite funny at the time, but it seems terrible now that that was my most memorable Māori exposure.

In my late teens I lived in Auckland I played and for a couple of seasons played social rugby for Utukura, linked to a small Northland settlement. They had a Labour Weekend tournament, and we were accommodated on their marae, so I saw a bit of Māori culture there – and it was a good impression. As a pakeha I was made to feel very welcome. I also played for a rugby club that had a strong Māori influence. That was a great experience, but brief.

Over the years I have learnt some Māori words. But that’s about it.

I understand about as much spoken Māori as I do French – close to zip.

I tried to learn a bit of Esperanto in my late teens but quickly came to the conclusion it was a good idea that would never rise to popular appeal or use.

About a decade ago I did Italian night classes and dabbled with language software and CDs. Then I tried German. I have since been to Germany and Italy and France and while I could recognise a few words I was largely ignorant of foreign language conversations. (I was in Germany with someone whose first language (from way back) was German and they struggled to understand local a Franconian dialect. They simply didn’t understand a northern Swiss (German based) dialect.

To me Māori is similar – I don’t understand it when spoken, and know a few but really not many word meanings.

Some Māori culture is ok, but some not so much. I understand how much some people get into and like doing the haka, but it’s not my thing. Before rugby games on TV that’s when I get my drinks and snacks ready.

(I don’t like our anthem either – funnily the Māori version is ok, perhaps because I don’t understand the words, but I cringe at the English version, especially the lyrics).

To be honest, I have no real inclination to learn te reo Māori. I understand it’s importance to some, but it just doesn’t feel like my thing. I really have little inclination to spend time and effort on something I see little need for, for me.

In Dunedin there’s probably as much Scottish and English and Chinese and Lebanese influence as Māori. There’s a number of Japanese and Indian and Italian restaurants, even Mexican, Korean, Cambodian. And of course plenty of American franchises (that I largely avoid). Nothing Māori that I know of.

These are all just a pot pourri of cultural curiosities to me. I don’t feel any real affinity or attraction to any of them.

In the modern world people like me may be increasingly common – we have some sort of culture but it’s hard to define what it is. Perhaps it could be described as a beige culture, borrowing from a diverse range of influences.

If RNZ keeps going further into everyday Māori language use then I will be less inclined to listen. I find the little spiels that reporters sign of their reports with unnecessary and distracting.

If I was younger I might have a different view. But I really have little interest in doing anything other than continue to pick up bits of Māori, without going out of my way to do more than that.

And this should all be my choice to make. I shouldn’t feel like I need to learn te reo Māori if I don’t want to. It is easy to do without in everyday life.

Compulsory te Reo Māori in schools?

Te Wiki o te Reo Māori  (Māori  Language Week) is being used to promote wider use of the language, and calling for compulsory te reo Māori in schools.

There has been some teaching of te reo Māori in schools for years, like days of the week, counting in Māori and other basics alongside cultural awareness and more. Schools in Dunedin with very small numbers of Māori pupils have popular kapa haka groups.

So I think the question is how much te reo Māori (and Māori  culture and history) should be taught in schools.

I’m happy for a continuation of what is being done with te Reo Māori in primary schools now, and perhaps an increase, alongside all the other specific and general topics on the curriculum. Fundamentals like reading, writing and arithmetic are essential, as well as art, music and physical education. Māori history, Aotearoa history and new Zealand history are important for kids to know something about.

All of these subjects are compulsory at Primary level now, so there’s no reason to change that. One question is whether to increase how much is taught.

And probably the biggest question is whether conversational Māori should be taught. I’d be happy if it was, to an extent. It should at least be promoted as a positive thing to learn.

But when it comes to Secondary level I don’t think Māori should be compulsory. Most subjects at this level should be choices for pupils.

Is English still compulsory? I expect so, and I think there’s a good case for this, especially to say Form 5 (now year 11). Everyone benefits from a good working knowledge of English in this country, and it is useful in many places around the world.

But I think that Māori, and French and Japanese and Chinese and any other languages, should be optional rather than compulsory at Secondary school.


RNZ, te reo Māori and Brash

Ki te tangata?

An increased use of te reo Māori on Radio NZ has been a talking point for some time.

It doesn’t bother me, but I think it is overdone at times.

But it has bothered Don Brash. Late last month:

There was a response by Emma Espiner at Newsroom: The threat of Te Reo

It’s become a running joke among friends and family that my husband, vampire-like, feeds on and grows stronger with each criticism of his use of Te Reo in his role as co-presenter of RNZ’s Morning Report. What’s less of a joke is the sustained attempts by some, who agree with Brash, who are fighting against the use of Te Reo and against Guyon and RNZ in the form of BSA complaints and letters to RNZ’s managers, CEO and Board.

I dislike the ‘old white men’ argument where one simply says those three words and the offending viewpoint is rejected because of its provenance without any further need for debate.

It’s good to see her saying this.

What’s interesting to me as a Māori woman, is the way that my Pākēhā husband has been able to champion Te Reo into the mainstream in a way that it would be impossible for me to do, were I in his position. As a Pākēhā man with a powerful role in the New Zealand media he has a position of extraordinary privilege from which to challenge the status quo. He has strong support in this endeavour among the leadership of RNZ, most importantly from other noted Pākeha man, CEO Paul Thompson.

Over at TVNZ Jack Tame is cutting a similarly admirable path on the flagship Breakfast show.

The complaints about Te Reo being used in mainstream media give me great heart looking to the future. This positive response might surprise some, but I believe we can view these people (and they’re always the same people) as the rearguard of progress.

As society shifts, they will continue to yap at our heels and protest, but the trend for Aotearoa is against bland mono-culturalism and fearful mono-lingualism.

A decade ago it was Māori Television. Today, it’s using Te Reo on Morning Report and Breakfast TV and putting macrons in newspapers.

In ten years time these things will be completely normal and there will be another battle, which the rearguard will again resist and lose.

There is definitely a trend. In the main I am fine with this. But not so Brash – and Kim Hill wasn’t fine with Brash over it.

She interviewed him on 2 December, if ‘it can be called an ‘interview’: Don Brash – Ragging on Te Reo

He has weighed into the debate about the use of Te Reo in the past few weeks, saying he’s “utterly sick” of the use of the language by RNZ reporters and presenters.

I haven’t listened to that, but I saw a lot of comment about it. It is still being talked about.

Karl du Fresne: Don Brash didn’t stand a chance against Kim Hill

The first was to think he could criticise a high-profile Radio New Zealand presenter on Facebook and get away with it. The second and much bigger mistake was to accept an invitation to explain himself on Kim Hill’s Saturday morning radio show.

Inevitably, Brash was savaged. It was as close as RNZ will ever get to blood sport as entertainment.

Brash described Espiner’s flaunting of his fluency in te reo as “virtue signalling” – in other words, displaying one’s superior moral values.

For this offence against the spirit of biculturalism, the former National and ACT leader was summoned for a discipline session with Radio NZ’s resident dominatrix.

The result was entirely predictable. Hill was acerbic and sneering from the outset.

She didn’t bother to conceal her contempt for Brash and neither did she bother to maintain any pretence that this was a routine interview, conducted for the purpose of eliciting information or expanding public understanding of the issue.

It was a demolition job, pure and simple – utu, if you prefer – and I doubt that it was ever intended to be anything else. Its purpose was to expose Brash as a political and cultural dinosaur and to punish him for criticising Hill’s colleague.

Perhaps, but it could have been more than that. Hill may have also thought that Brash was a political and cultural dinosaur.

Then du Fresne gets to the crux of his complaint.

Here’s where we get down to the real issue. RNZ is a public institution.  It belongs to us.

The public who fund the organisation are entitled to criticise it. But can we now expect that anyone who has the temerity to do so will be subjected to a mauling by RNZ’s in-house attack dog? Or is this treatment reserved for despised white conservative males such as Brash, to make an example of them and deter others from similar foolishness?

Either way, Hill’s dismemberment of Brash was a brazen abuse of the state broadcaster’s power and showed contemptuous disregard for RNZ’s charter obligation to be impartial and balanced.

I presume Brash was given some sort of right of reply in the interview. I don’t know if he was given a decent chance to defend himself.

This is nothing new, of course. The quaint notion that RNZ exists for all New Zealanders was quietly jettisoned years ago. Without any mandate, the state broadcaster has refashioned itself as a platform for the promotion of favoured causes.

I often listen to Morning Report, it looks at a wide range of topical issues in far more depth than most other media, and generally seems reasonably fair and balanced.

Interviewers do sometimes push their guests hard – but this is essential, in politics in particular. It is a sign of a healthy democracy.

But Brash has a perfectly valid point. Whatever the benefits of learning te reo, it is not the function of the state broadcaster to engage in social engineering projects for our collective betterment – for example, by implying we should all emulate RNZ reporters and start referring to Auckland as Tāmaki Makaurau and Christchurch as Ōtautahi.

Social engineering? That seems over the top. RNZ is not making me use te reo Māori, and I generally don’t. Also, I learn something from their use if it. That’s a good thing.

There’s quite a bit on RNZ I don’t want to listen to. If so I turn it off (increasingly frequently when John Campbell gushes over the top in another crusade).

RNZ does many things very well and my quality of life would be greatly diminished without it, but no one will ever die wondering about the political leanings of many of its presenters and producers.

RNZ is often referred to as ‘Red Radio’.

Some of the RNZ presenters have fairly obvious political leanings, to varying degrees. That’s normal in any media. I can make no judgement of their producers, I don’t listen to them.

But te reo Māori is cultural, not political, so du Fresne seems to be confused.

Brash criticised Guyon Espiner in particular, someone who seems more balanced and non-politically leaning than most journalists in politics.

Du Fresne’s article has morphed from a grizzle about the use of te reo Māori, to a grizzle about Kim Hill doing a tough interview on the poor Don Brash, to a grizzle about some radio presenters appearing to favour one side of the political spectrum.

I could go to The Daily Blog or The Standard and find plenty of claims that media is far too right wing. This is just lame ad hominum from them, and that is what du Fresne resorted to in trying to conclude his argument against the use of te reo Māori on RNZ.

Perhaps that should be ad hominum/ad feminum (Latin seems to be a sexist language).

Or should it be ki te tangata? What about ki te wahine? (Māori seems to be a sexist language)

But at least du Fresne is talking about it. RNZ successfully getting a point across. You will inevitably annoy some people when you try and make cultural progress.