Facebook search for shy Māori language speaker

By Kelvin McDonald

Te reo Māori speaker Nicky Birch has turned to Facebook to help reconnect with a young man she says is too shy to use his Māori language skills.

During the January school holidays, Nicky and her whānau were making their way back to Wellington from Ahipara when they stopped in Whangārei to watch a movie.

Nicky says she was speaking with her children in te reo Māori when she was approached by a young Māori cinema worker. “This lovely young taiohi (youth), said to me, 'It’s great you speak Māori to the kids'.”

Nicky says she replied, “’Kia ora’, and walked on, and turned and asked, 'do you speak Māori?'”

He responded, “’Āe whaea, I speak Māori, I went to [Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te] Rāwhitiroa, but my parents don't speak, so I don't speak at home. And I am a bit shy to speak.'”

Nicky says she was “moved to tears” by this and said, “‘Aw, don't be shy, be proud, you're awesome and it’s awesome you can speak our reo’ and gave him a big awhi (hug).”

As she left him, Nicky says he yelled out, “kia pai te pikitia whaea.”

Nicky was so affected by their kōrero that she says she went back after the movie, but he had gone – and returned the next day, but he wasn’t there then either.

“The end of our conversation hit home for me.  That after all those wonderful years at Rāwhitiroa and with the ability and skill of our beautiful language, he is shy in life to speak his language.  And that he represents I suspect many of our rangatahi, taiohi, and who knows other speakers who are shy or embarrassed to speak Māori,” she says.

Nicky says it was when she got back to Wellington that it really sunk in and that’s when she decided to try Facebook.

“It stuck with me what a missed opportunity and [I] took to Facebook knowing our whānaunga (wider family) and friends in Te Ao Māori and in Whangārei would surely know him.”

She says the young man has inspired her to set up a platform for te reo Māori speakers to connect.

Nicky says if she does find the young cinema worker, she’d like to encourage other te reo speakers to connect with him.

“I would like to ask him if he is ok with me asking him some questions, getting a photo and sharing with Māori speakers that he is a speaker and where he works and we can speak Māori with him.”

Asked if she didn’t manage to reach him, what message she would like to leave him, Nicky says it’d never occurred to her she wouldn’t locate him “knowing our kumara vine”.

“But if I didn’t, I would have him as the heart and source of the idea to create a place for us all to share the many people who speak te reo and where we work to enable us more and more to speak in places we are,” she says.

“In that moment when he spoke Māori to me, he instantly overcame his shyness and was proud. I was immensely proud and moved for him and with him. And to thank him for that reminder and the inspiration that he is and was for us to do more to support our rangatahi and our speakers in an easy, achievable, fun way,” says Nicky.

Nicky doesn’t have much to go on in her search. “Aue, that is the issue, I don’t know his name, his age early 20s if that, approx. 5 foot 8”, she says. But she does know, he’s a Rāwhitiroa graduate and that he works at Whangārei Event Cinemas.

And she does have all of her Facebook friends on the look out for her.

“Totally, all my Māori language speaking mates and my whānau and I finally took to social media to seek him out.  They’re as excited as I am. Today I am being asked have you found him, does anyone know him?  So I'm even more certain that I’ll find him.”