Creators of Māori language-speaking dolls up for innovation award

From Te Ahi Kaa, 6:06 pm on 16 July 2017
Kristin Ross and Hohepa Tuahine with their children Marere Te Puawaru Tuahine and Hinehui Pukehau Te Hoata Tuahine and the Pipi Ma range.

Kristin Ross and Hohepa Tuahine with their children Marere Te Puawaru Tuahine and Hinehui Pukehau Te Hoata Tuahine and the Pipi Ma range. Photo: Supplied

Te Ahi Kaa meets an entrepreneurial couple who are finalists in the Tupu a nuku Business Innovation category at the upcoming Matariki awards.

Eight months ago, Pipi Mā, a range of four Māori language-speaking dolls, launched online – the first lot selling out in just 36 hours.

The creators of Pipi , Kristin Ross and Hohepa Tuahine, describe the launch as ‘surreal’.

Ross and Tuahine run a multi-media production company called Punarau Media.

They had thought their first product would appeal to a small market, especially parents with children at Kōhanga Reo, and were more surprised than anyone when their dolls set off an online buying frenzy.

“We were targeting those whānau that were exactly like us, that wanted to normalise the language anywhere and everywhere they could and they just wanted resources. I think we were mostly blown away by the amount of [interested] people outside of that market,” Kristin said.

The couples daughter came up with name Pipi and inspired the range of dolls.

The couples daughter came up with name Pipi and inspired the range of dolls. Photo: Supplied

The main focus of their work is normalising the Māori language in the home, say the couple.

Their commitment to te reo is at the heart of all of the work they do.

“I think when you are trying to aim for the normalisation of the Māori language that’s not just confined to the school, but it is inclusive of the home and everywhere where we live. So if we wanna make the language normal it has to be normal everywhere for children.”

Ross and Tuahine began their own personal journey of learning the language just seven years ago. The couple enrolled into Te Tohu Paetahi at the University of Waikato, and took part in a four-week total immersion course.

They are both graduates of Te Panekiretanga o Te Reo Māori, the Institute of Excellence in the Māori language.

No compromise is made when it comes to ensuring the quality of the language in their products, say the couple.

Titoki is one of the characters of Pipi Ma.

Titoki is one of the characters of Pipi Ma. Photo: Supplied

Currently, they're working on a cartoon series based on the Pipi Mā dolls and characters.

They wrote the scripts for the series and had them checked by their mentor and te reo expert Te Haumihiata Mason.

They are also launching a 'mihi’ range of Pipi Mā dolls – pint-sized versions of the original ‘kōrero’ range that will come with basic Māori language greetings and helpful words for learners and tourists.

“Pipi Mā is a good example for iwi if they want to create their own dolls they can, and if they want to please get in touch with us, we’ve done a lot of that back work. I think that’s where we are going, I think Pipi Mā is a good example of te iwi Māori taking it upon themselves to uplift the language.”

The animated Pipi Mā series is set to debut this November on Māori Television.