Māori language and culture are an integral part of New Zealand’s identity – yet many of us feel disconnected because of a lack of knowledge.
It was that feeling that prompted Pauline Stratford to enroll in a 10 week beginners Te Reo Māori course last year which attracted a wide mix of Taupō locals from different backgrounds.
“The beginners’ class was very good but there were no other follow up classes offered using the immersive method,” she explains. “We wanted to learn more – and not just the language, but the local history and culture and therefore gain a better understanding of our rohe (region).”
“We realised there were a lot of other people who wanted to learn Te Reo and also have that cultural understanding and connection to the place where we live,” Pauline says.
An incorporated society called Taupō Community Reo Group Inc has now been formed (which Pauline chairs) to continue the group’s educational journey.
A local Kaiako (teacher) was found and several immersive classes are now held each week during school term to cater for demand. “There’s hardly an English word spoken in class but the commands are very basic and demonstrative as well,” she says. “Because you are engaging more than one sense at all times, you build a strong Reo foundation without even realising it.”
Taupō Community Reo Group was officially launched in January this year and – although never officially advertised – over 30 students have found their way to classes at Taupō’s C3 Church and Hilltop Primary School.
“Something we (the society members) found so valuable as Te Reo Māori learners was the understanding and the whakawhanaungatanga (relationship building) that happens between us, regardless of our differences. We currently have a diverse range of students, both Māori and non-Māori learning together, and it’s a wonderful experience. It’s very important to us that our classes are open to everyone in our community.
“We also organise wānanga (workshops) and haerenga (journeys) to local marae and specific historical places around Lake Taupō so our students can share in the knowledge and stories of our local Kaumātua. These stories are embedded in the landscape and this is what we’re hungry to learn about in our rohe.”
BayTrust has approved a $5000 grant to help the society support the growth of Māori language and culture by covering some of the operational costs, developing teaching resources and training some assistant teachers so classes can expand.
“We’re overwhelmed,” Pauline says. “We were so happy to receive that money and very grateful because it’s a springboard to enable us to do what we’ve been planning to do.”
Books are currently being developed which will cover foundational Te Reo, pepeha (personal introduction), mihimihi (greeting), karakia (prayer), and build on the classroom lessons.
“The money from BayTrust will go towards developing these new teaching resources, our venue hire, and compensating our Kaiako for his teaching time.”
In conclusion, Pauline says there have been many special moments in the group’s short existence, and students are being encouraged to step up into leadership roles.
“Nurturing and developing traditional Māori leadership roles of men and women is part of our group’s philosophy,” she says.
Anyone who is interested in attending classes in the future is welcome to email their interest to firstname.lastname@example.org.