9 Sep 2018

'My life is enriched by learning Te Reo Māori'

From Te Ahi Kaa, 6:06 pm on 9 September 2018

As part of te wiki to te reo Māori, Te Ahi Kaa looks at life in the classroom with student Pat Old and teacher Justin Kereama

Pat at her home in Pyes Pa.

Pat at her home in Pyes Pa. Photo: RNZ/Justine Murray

When Pat Old attended her daughter’s wedding, language proved to be a major barrier.  

“The wedding reception was at Pārāwera marae, we were sitting there up the front and I couldn’t understand a word that was being said during the whaikōrero, so I thought 'if this is going to be part of my future then I have to learn',” she says.

Pat lives on the outskirts of Tauranga with her husband. A semi-retired fibre artist, Pat graduated with a Degree in Māori Art from Te Wananga o Aotearoa, and this year enrolled in Te Putahitanga Māori language lessons and credits the whanau atmosphere in class that makes learning easier.

“I try really hard to understand what’s being said and it doesn’t’ always work and I can sometimes say the wrong thing, but [our tutor] tells us 'well, if we’re making mistakes we’re in the right place'."

Pat Old is a semi retired Fibre Artist and graduated this year with a Degree in Māori Arts.

Pat Old is a semi retired Fibre Artist and graduated this year with a Degree in Māori Arts. Photo: RNZ/Justine Murray

Pat is from Wakefield in the South Island and doesn't see many Māori in her community. Despite this she’s always been interested in the culture and enjoys learning the context of different words.

“I think the way the kupu, the language is tied in with whakatauki ... with the way of life for Māori, I go onto the marae and [see] the special traditions ... I really enjoy the community.”

Her daughters married into Māori whānau and Pat says everyone in her family have either learned or are learning the language.

Pat has spent the past nine months finishing off a korowai fashioned from muka with hukahuka tassels. From time to time she is commissioned to create pieces, and likes to make kete (flax bags) and porowhita (circle flax designs). She says it will be kete for Christmas this year.

Justin Kereama has worked as a Māori language teacher for 15 years.

Justin Kereama has worked as a Māori language teacher for 15 years. Photo: RNZ/Justine Murray

Ko te reo te taikura o te whakāro mārama – The language is the key to understanding and enlightenment. Na Te Wharehuia Milroy

In his fifteen years as a teacher Justin Kereama has heard a lot of excuses when it comes to not learning te reo Māori.

 “I’ve heard people say 'oh, I was never brought up in the reo' ... for me, its like 'are you dead', 'no' … 'can you still learn?' ... 'yes' - then go to class or go to somewhere you can learn to reo.”

Justin is aware that his comments can sound harsh, but he has spent fifteen years both in Auckland and the Bay of Plenty teaching the Māori language. 

Today he teaches levels three and four Te Ara Reo and even though other classes are filled with waiting lists, his class has a different make up.

"Most of the students are retirees, others are employed in shift work, and some haven't done any tertiary study", he says.

Te Ara Reo is not an immersion class, but an "accelerated learning environment" where new subjects are taught every week. Homework is described as "homeplay", so students don't take it too seriously. 

“We have formulated scripts and [it's] not really serious ... tonight we’re doing assessments with kupu takitahi (singular words) and I know it sounds freaky but sometimes we sing too,” he says.

Born and raised in Ruātoki, Justin is also a musician and plays percussion alongside his partner Whirimako Black.