By Raniera Harrison.
It's been a netball bonanza at the Cadbury Netball Series at Pulman Arena, Takanini.
The quad series sees the Silver Ferns taking on a plethora of opponents - the NZ Men's side who always appear to offer an increased level of physicality in and around the shooting circle, an NZ Invitational side, NZ Mixed and of course, the New Zealand A side, which is largely comprised of players who missed out on selection in Dame Noeline Taurua's Silver Ferns side for the Commonwealth Games.
The number of national top-flight netball players, however, who can speak Te Reo Māori is on the rise. This comes as some of the country's top players rejoice at concerted efforts by Netball NZ to support and promote the use of te reo Māori in its top national teams.
NZ Mens captain Kruze Tangira (Te Whānau a Apanui, Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Te Ātiawa) is leading the charge across the board of the increasing number of semi-professional and professional netball players looking to upskill and learn te reo Māori.
Currently enrolled at Te Wānanga Takiura o Ngā Kura Kaupapa Māori o Aotearoa under Māori language educators, Dr Tāwhirimātea Williams and Dr Kaa Williams, Tangira has come leaps and bounds since returning to his mother tongue and says it pays the greatest of dividends on court.
"It's the eyes - it's that type of Māori language that I use on court," joked Tangira referring to the added level of body language learners pick up while studying of the Māori language.
It most certainly isn't Tangira by himself that te reo Māori finds itself with on the national netball courts. Joined by NZ Mens midcourt specialist and longtime veteran, Junior Tana (Ngāti Kahu, Ngāti Hine, Ngāpuhi) and Eriata Vercoe (Ngāti Pikiao, Te Arawa) there is an obvious increase in the capacity of able reo Māori speakers in the side.
"It's those who have come from rural backgrounds, who had lived close to their grandparents, who grew up on our marae. They are bringing those lessons, with the vernacular of their own homes into this space of ours" said Tana of the new generation of male netball players adept in speaking their native language.
It must be noted also that the surge in proficient Māori language speakers isn't restricted to the NZ Mens team alone. Current Silver Ferns who can speak te reo Māori are Te Paea Selby-Rickit (Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Tūwharetoa) and Maia Wilson (Te Rarawa, Te Waiohua). Now, there's an increased demand to create netball-specific te reo Māori vernacular on court.
"If there is a place for us to put that into our top-level competitions. I think that it's new and exciting, a bit different, but it's definitely something we can uphold," said Tiana Metuarau (Ngāti Porou, Ngāi Tahu), who has been in fine form for the New Zealand A team during the Cadbury Netball Series.
Netball aside, however, the Māori language finding its place on court is really starting to show how important an authentic cultural capacity is.
"I explore what's in my heart. I did not grow up in the Māori world during my childhood. But the main thing to me is to learn the Māori language. This is the time to learn the language," said Tangira, captain of the NZ Mens side.
The fixtures in the three-day series, which tipped off last night, continues this evening with the NZ Mens side set to take on the Silver Ferns before they travel to the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham next week.