12 Sep 2018

Ngā Taonga: History of te reo Māori lessons in New Zealand

From Afternoons with Jesse Mulligan, 1:37 pm on 12 September 2018

For te wiki o te reo Māori, we take a jaunt back through the Ngā Taonga Sound and Vision archives to explore how learning te reo was regarded in the past.

Māori language week parade in Wellington

Children marching in te wiki o te reo parade in Wellington this week. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

Today, there are cheap or free courses at universities and online, podcasts and nifty new apps all aimed at spreading te reo.

However, it's not always been so easy. For many years, young Māori were beaten at school for speaking their own language.

Read more about te reo Māori from RNZ:

Sarah Johnston of Ngā Taonga Sound and Vision takes a look back through the archives and explores the limited ways those who wanted to learn te reo could do so, other than from whānau.

First recording - Whakarewarewa school, Rotorua, 1948

We have very few existing recordings of New Zealand children from the 1940s - especially of children just being children, Sarah says.

"If there are any recordings of children in the 1940s, they're being wheeled into a recording studio to sing a little song or something."

Whakarewarewa school today.

Whakarewarewa school today. Photo: Facebook

However, the first recording - of children at Whakarewarewa school in Rotorua in 1948 - is not of children learning te reo, it's first-language reo-speaking kids learning English.

"I think you can really feel the wairua, the spirit of the children in this.

"By the time those children from 1948 moved on to secondary school, sadly there were very few options for learning te reo."

Teacher: Right we'll go onto the next word, what is it?

Children: 'Feed!'

Teacher: Now tell me about 'feed'?

Child: My mother will 'feed' the baby

Teacher: Right, next word is?

Children: 'Greed!'

Teacher: Now, what does 'greedy' mean?

Child: A boy is 'greedy'

Teacher: Why is a boy 'greedy'?

Child: He doesn't get anyone any kai!

Teacher: Yes, he doesn't get anyone any kai, he doesn't share anything with anyone, does he?

Second recording - Te Reo Māori lessons by radio correspondence, 1956

The Māori boarding schools like Te Aute, Hato Petera and St Joseph's College did teach te reo Māori, but in the state system, the options were very limited until the late 1960s, when te reo became a language subject for School Certificate.

Hironi Wikiriwhi, right, who was a teacher for several years at the correspondence school in Wellington, with Col Arapeta Awatere.

Hironi Wikiriwhi, right, who was a teacher for several years at the correspondence school in Wellington, with Col Arapeta Awatere. Photo: Crown Copyright

"One way that did exist in a limited way early on was via the correspondence school which of course used to broadcast classes via radio," Sarah says.

This second recording is from one of those classes, led by teacher Hironi Wikiriwhi.

"They're great, some of those correspondence book school lessons, they're very much … of the era," Sarah says.

Hironi Wikiriwhi: "Morena ra, morena ra, good morning, Māori pupils.

"1956: it's our first Māori lesson for the year. 1956 in Māori - kotahi mano, e iwa rau, e rima tekau, mā ono.

"Kotahi mano - one thousand; e iwa rau - nine hundred; e rima tekau - fifty; mā ono - and six.

"It's quite simple, isn't it? Now, to all new members, it's your first lesson in pronunciation - but don't be dismayed, Māori is the easiest language to speak, it's purely phonetic.

"It begins with the alphabet. Notice there are 15 letters in the Māori alphabet - now, that's a good start - for, as you know, English has 26 letters - so we find that Māori is much simpler, it is only 15."

Third recording - the NZBC series  Māori for Beginners, 1972

Māori for Beginners LP, NZBC 1972.

Māori for Beginners LP, NZBC 1972. Photo: Courtesy Alexandra Porter

It wasn't until 1972 that the first Māori Language Day was held - and it was another three years before the first Māori Language Week, Sarah says.

"So, '72 was when the te reo Māori society and Ngā Tamatoa presented their famous petition to Parliament calling for action to preserve the language.

"In 1972 if you wanted to learn the language you couldn't reach for an app or go online - you went out and you bought some vinyl."

This third recording comes from a 1972 series called Māori for Beginners, which was commissioned by the NZ Broadcasting Corporation, which became RNZ.

 Logo of Nga Taonga Sound & Vision

Māori for Beginners featured well-known te reo speakers and teachers Tamati and Tilly Reedy and kaumatua Matiu Te Hau, and opens with 'The Alphabet Song'.

Te Ao Hou magazine, 1956

 Te Ao Hou magazine, 1 October 1956. Photo: Courtesy, Papers Past


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