Language revitalisation hiccup during global pandemic

By Tumamao Harawira

The global pandemic is having an adverse effect on efforts to revitalise the Māori language.

Te Wānanga o Te Ahikāroa is an initiative established in the Hokianga last year to strengthen the language through traditional practices of whaikorero and karanga on the marae. But Covid-19 means its trainees can't meet - and the practices can't really be taught via Zoom.

 Te Wānanga o Te Ahikāroa was launched at Motukiore Marae on the shores of the Hokianga Harbour in Northland. It was created as a vehicle to revitalise Te Reo Māori throughout this part of the region, encompassing the hāpu of Te Ngahengahe, Te Honihoni, Ngāti Toro, and Te Pōpoto.

The unique aspect of Te Ahikāroa is the teaching of the language through the mediums of whaikōrero and karanga.

Iwi throughout the country are experiencing difficulties in reinvigorating their taumata kōrero or pae kōrero so Te Ahikāroa was launched as a way to fill those key roles on the marae.

According to Pene Tāwhara, the number of elders able to conduct the customs on marae is dwindling.

"A person goes to the marae in Northland and not just in Northland, there are many marae that is like this. They are poor in terms of having no elders."

"So, because of that, we must be ready. Our nets, our storehouses, our baskets of the language must be ready."

Tikanga as a medium 

Wikitōria Mākiha, along with her team, which includes her sister and two cousins, is responsible for teaching the art of karanga. She believes that through learning karanga, students also learn Te Reo Māori.

"To me, karanga is a way of learning te reo, a way of gaining an understanding of customs, and is also a way of marrying the two together."

"This is important for home. There are only a few women who are capable of karanga, for lack of knowing perhaps."

She believes Te Reo Māori is central to a person understanding who they are.

"To me, the real value of Te Reo Māori is for the person to represent their cultural identity if they're Māori."

Hei ngā rā ki tua

One of the other aims of Te Ahikāroa is to ensure the next generation can carry on these traditions. Pene says the transmission of knowledge from one generation to another is imperative.

"The main aim is the next generation on the marae, at home and within the whānau. Furthermore, how can we transmit this knowledge if the parents don't know?"

The hope is next year the initiative will resume.