University of Wisconsin–Madison

He Taonga Te Reo!

Kia ora e hoa,

I suppose a bit of translation is needed here. For those of you who don’t know much about New Zealand, the above language belongs to the native Maori people. The title of the post means “Language is a treasure!” and the greeting means “Hello friend”. I’ve started learning phrases like these in my Maori Language class, which is slowly becoming my favorite class this semester.

Although on the first day of class, it was probably my scariest. When I walked into the Maori Studies building on campus, the first thing I notice was the line of shoes outside our classroom. It is Maori custom to take off your shoes before entering a building, so I followed along and added my shoes to the line outside. Once it was time for class to start, our professor stood up and immediately started a long rant in Maori. At this point I was thinking I must be in the wrong class, but after a minute, he finally said “Hello everyone!” and clarified that indeed this was the introductory class to Maori.

I’m glad I didn’t grab my shoes and run on that first day because learning Maori is actually really fun! At the beginning of every class, we start with a karakia, which is a prayer that is traditionally recited before important events. There are many different kinds of karakia, but we tend to practice just one—which I have to admit— I’ve gotten pretty good at reciting. Now when I go home and people ask me to say something in Maori, I can impress them with my karakia!

My professor also brings his guitar to class so we can learn Maori by singing songs. Most songs are used to practice things like pronouncing vowels and remembering common words like “Monday, Tuesday, etc”. Even though the content of these songs are really simple, when we all sing them together they sound really beautiful. In one of the first classes we learned that every Maori word ends with a vowel, which makes every words and sentence flow very smoothly. When put to music, even singing the days of the week sounds incredible.

My class has also taught me lessons about the Maori culture too. For instance, knowing who your tribe is and where your ancestors came from is very important to the Maori people. So when you introduce yourself to someone new, you are expected not only to say the place you are from, but also where your iwi (your tribe) comes from. How you tell someone your name is also a bit more complicated in Maori. If I was to say “My name is Scott” in Maori, I would say, “Ko Scott tōku ingoa”. Tōku means “my”, but its only used when referring to things that don’t actually belong to you, like “my parents” or “my ancestors”. By saying it in this way, the Maori people recognize that their name is given to them by those who came before. Again, this shows how much respect the Maori have for where they come from.

Even outside of class, I’ve started to learn more about the Maori culture from one of my friends who is a native Maori. He and I have had talks about where each of us comes from, and for him, he can trace his family tree all the way back to when his ancestors first arrived on the shores of New Zealand. He also knows that he is related to the man on the front of the $50 dollar bill and even why he gets small red hairs in his beard (Scotish people settled in his region when New Zealand was first being colonized). He then said, “If someone asked me, ‘Who are you?’ I know exactly what to say”.

This amount of importance that the Maori place on their past amazes me. Learning about their culture makes me want to go back to my ancestor lands and know where I come from too. I’ve found it sad though that the present day Maori receive many negative stereotypes within New Zealand. But I believe I have seen what the true Maori people are like —a people full of pride and respect for Aotearoa (aka New Zealand).

Ka kite anō, (see you again)

Scott