17 Oct 2023

Māori sports app shares veteran broadcaster's vast dictionary

From Afternoons, 1:40 pm on 17 October 2023
Māori broadcaster Hemana Waaka

Māori broadcaster Hemana Waaka Photo: Creative Bay of Plenty

After decades of collecting and developing te reo Māori words for sports terms, sports commentator Hemana Waaka discovered he'd come up with something like an encyclopedia.

The 77-year-old is sharing his knowledge via the new Māori sports dictionary app, Ipurangi Pāmamao.

Hemana says he first got the go-ahead to develop his own lexicon from the Māori language commissioner Sir Tīmoti Kāretu back in 1988.

"'Go away and make one' - that's exactly what he said to me in Māori," Hemana tells Jesse Mulligan.

"That was the seed sewn right then. I knew there was nothing, so I knew I could start afresh with this journey."

Hemana started learning te reo Māori when he was four.

"I grew up in the language, in the smoke of it and fire and red-hot embers. We spoke Māori at home fluently.

"And as I grew up, the language grew with me. Playing sports we spoke in Māori and our aunties and uncles yelling out to the sidelines spoke in Māori. All the way through to my teenage years that [te reo] sports terminology still stayed in my dialect.

"And it was an asset to us as Māori playing in the [rugby] competitions in Whakatāne, most of the teams were Pākehā so we would talk in Māori…"

As a young sports commentator, Hemana asked Māori leader Sir James Henare whether it was okay to use his Tūhoe dialect while live broadcasting.

"He put his hand on my shoulder and said to me 'Whatever the words you come out with in te reo Māori, that is for all of us'. That was my visa stamped right there. It didn't matter which dialect I used. It would be heard for the first time as a live commentary.

"Then I shot off down to my hometown in Ruatoki, gathered a couple of my uncles together, gave them a whiskey just to warm them up, then sat them round in a circle. I said to them 'Uncles, I'd like to have the Māori names or the positions in rugby and rugby league. Do not give me literal translations like half-back hawhapeke, no, no, no. I want the real McCoy explained to me.

"The first one he gave me was 'haika' [the Tūhoe word for 'anchor'] for full-back. I said 'Explain to me why'.

"[He said] 'The anchor holds the waka steady, it doesn't allow the waka to float away. And an anchor is always the last person of defence in warfare. He's right at the back, he's leading from the back to the front. Sometimes leaders lead from the front and they die quickly. Māori are clever. They lead from the back.

"He explained to me 'The anchor is the key, man, and the anchor is the last line of defence', so that's how that terminology came about."

Another kaumātua told him the word for the hooker position in rugby was 'kaitīkape'.

"Using his fingers, he described to me on a table…. he said 'what are my fingers doing? I said 'You're scratching the top of a table'.

"He said 'Imagine a bird in the bush walking along the grass scratching for worms ... What does a hooker do in the scrum? He's scratching the ball back. That's your word - kaitīkape'."

The Ipurangi Pāmamao app combines audio, illustrations and diagrams to highlight action words and positions in te reo Māori and it will be used primarily in school classrooms.

Hemana hopes it will help encourage young Māori to become sports commentators.

"Once they've got a command and knowledge of [speaking about] a particular sport, then it's just a matter of teaching them how to be a commentator. That can be easily done in a day."

Ipurangi Pāmamao was developed with the Auckland University of Technology and launched at the educational organisation Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi.