Travel, Identity and Māori Language Week

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I have spent most of the last three months in Italy, France and Spain, which prompted me to reflect on our own culture and identity – a relevant topic perhaps for Māori Language Week.

Our holiday was a kind of interlude between completing my role as Executive Director of Todd Foundation and starting my new role as a Philanthropy and Community Consultant; a time to reconnect, reflect and enjoy. And there is such a lot to enjoy about Southern Europe. The interesting people we met. The art, the history, the cobbled streets and cathedrals. The amazing food. The Alps and the Mediterranean. The language and the customs. In short, the people, the landscape and the vibrant sense of culture and identity make Southern Europe a special place to be.

Aotearoa New Zealand has a reputation for friendly, can-do people and stunning landscapes. And, as evidenced by the prospect of a new national flag, we are on a journey towards a shared sense of culture and identity.

To create this identity requires identifying and exploring what is unique about our country. And for me, the main thing which makes our country unique, other than our magnificent natural environment, is our Māori heritage.

But how do those of us who are not Māori explore our country’s Māori heritage? Many of us missed out on learning much about Te Ao Māori (the Māori world), and we can easily feel embarrassed about how little we know and unsure where to start. So, given that this is Māori Language Week, here are some simple suggestions:

  1. We should all try to pronounce Māori place names correctly. For example, it is incorrect and disrespectful to say “Taupo” so it rhymes with “Ow Toe” as many New Zealanders do. (A closer approximation to correct pronunciation is “Toe Paw.”) Hear year 11 student Finnian Galbraith’s convincing and interesting discussion on this or there is a pronunciation guide in the link in suggestion 3 below.
  2. We should take opportunities to visit marae or attend a powhiri – even if we don’t understand much of what is going on it is a privilege and a learning opportunity to be immersed in the Māori world.
  3. We should all know some basic words in Te Reo and understand key Māori concepts. Here’s a great guide.
  4. And maybe from there we can start learning more of the language – this series is a convenient online resource or there are classes in most communities.

With our magnificent natural environment, friendly people, unique Māori heritage and ongoing exploration of bicultural and multi-cultural ways of being, we are well on the road to creating a shared sense of culture and identity as a nation.  And our culture and heritage is at least as vibrant and special as that of Europe – or anywhere in the world. However forging this shared national identity requires recognition and understanding of our Māori heritage. And what better time to start than Māori Language Week?

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