Our Te Reo Māori journey

September 12, 2022: People, Perspectives

With the 50th anniversary for te Petihana Māori (the Māori Language Petition), and 35 years since te reo Māori became an official language, we see this as a time of great reflection and remembering the Māori advocates who fought for the survival of te reo Māori in its decline.

Te reo

Warren and Mahoney is committed to actively learning, understanding and promoting the thriving language that is te reo Māori in the work we do. As a practice founded in Aotearoa, New Zealand, we acknowledge the importance of understanding the deep foundations and beauty of te reo Māori, and all that comes with learning this history.

Below, we hear from four inspiring individuals from Warren and Mahoney – Wirangi Pirata, Katherine Skipper, Whare Timu and Kelsey Muir - who share their journey to learning, rediscovering and embracing te reo Māori.

Our Te Reo Māori journey
Wirangi Parata
Te Matakīrea Architectural Graduate

I tipu ake au ki Porirua, i reira au i ako ai i te reo Māori mai i te Kōhanga tai noa ki te Kura Kaupapa. Ahakoa i whānau mai au ki Te Whanganui-a-Tara ka whakapapa mai i ngā Takutai o te Rāwhiti whakawhiti ki te Hauāuru o Te Ika a Māui - Ki te taha o tōku māmā ko Ngāti Kahungunu ki Heretaunga me Rongowhakaata ngā Iwi. Ki taha o tōku pāpā ko Ngāti Ruanui, Ngāti Toa Rangatira me Te Ātiawa.

I grew up in Porirua, which is where I began my language journey of te reo Māori through Kōhanga Reo (Māori language preschool) right up to Kura Kaupapa Māori (Māori language Primary School). Although I was born in Wellington, I descend from both the Eastern and Western regions of the North Island. On my mother's side, our tribal affiliations are Rongowhakaata and Kahungunu. On my father's side we hail from Ruanui, Toa Rangatira and Te Ātiawa.

He aha te reo Māori ki a koe? What does te reo Māori mean to you?

I think Nelson Mandela said it best: "If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart."

For me, te reo is not just a language to revitalise; it is a part of our identity. It is critical to define who we are as people, where we are from, and how we exercise our beliefs.

What has your journey been like to learn te reo? Ngā piki me ngā heke…

It hasn't always been smooth sailing. When I was 12, we moved to Hawkes Bay, and a part of this transition meant that I was going from a decile 1 Kura Kaupapa into a decile 10 mainstream education. As a young Māori boy from the pā, attending private school was daunting. I quickly learnt that te reo Māori wasn't as common outside the four walls of the Marae.

Trying to operate as a Māori in a predominantly pākehā environment was difficult, and I often shied away from my culture just to fit in. Besides the small number of Māori students at the school, no one spoke the language or engaged in anything like Kapa Haka or Whaikōrero. During these years, I felt my language and identity slowly fade away. As a result, my ability to speak, read and write in Māori also disappeared.

Later during my tertiary education, I knew something needed to change. I felt a passion for my culture that I once remembered as a kid and sought ways that I could engage my culture in everyday life. For example, using Māori culture as a catalyst within architecture became that turning point for me. Motivated by my whānau (family), my iwi, my ahurea (culture) and our taiao (natural world), I rediscovered a new love for my culture.

Today I am still on my language journey, and I am happy with the direction it's heading. Being involved with Te Matakīrea and our Rūmaki Reo at Warren and Mahoney allows me to practice my language daily. I'm confident that we will continue to embrace te reo Māori and our culture more every day.

Favourite whakatauki / whakatauāki / kōrero / waiata?

My favourite whakatauki:
Ehara taku toa i te toa takitahi, engari he toa takitini" Success is not the work of an individual, but the work of many.
Kōrero: All of Moana Jacksons talks
Waiata: Maumahara Noa Ahau – Brannigan Kaa

Our Te Reo Māori journey
Katherine Skipper
Wellington Studio Principal

E te whānau, tēnā koutou,
Nō England me Ireland ōku tūpuna
I whānau mai au i Aotearoa
I tipu ake au i Te Whanganui a Tara
Kei Kāpiti au e noho ana
He kaihoahoa ahau ki Warren and Mahoney
Ko Katherine Skipper tōku ingoa

My ancestors were originally from England and Ireland, but my family lives in New Zealand now. I grew up in Wellington mostly, and I now live on the Kāpiti Coast. I am an architect with Warren and Mahoney, and my name is Katherine Skipper.

He aha te reo Māori ki a koe? What does te reo Māori mean to you?

Te Reo Māori for me is about respect. I whakapapa (descend) back to England and Ireland, and while my family has lived in New Zealand for six generations, we have continued our own traditions and history like many European families, somewhat ignorant of the land and the culture around us. I remember in the 80s as a child in Hastings my dad (who was always a free thinker) came home one night and announced at the dinner table that he was going to learn te reo Māori. I can remember thinking as an 11-year-old, 'Why?' And I feel sad now that he never managed to stick with it - mostly because I think he was the only one learning in our whānau. He eventually fizzled out with his learning, and we never really talked about it again. So now, with about 40 years perspective I can see what he was thinking. He was a very respectful man who valued everyone he met. He wanted to be able to communicate with all people he came across in our community, in their native language. I wish I had worked that out when I was 11, so we could have learnt te reo Māori together. For me it's about respect, and it's about finally honouring the lesson my pāpā was trying to teach me.

What has your journey been like to learn te reo? Ngā piki me ngā heke…

It wasn't until I spent time at a weekend wānanga at Te Puia in Rotorua last July that the spark really ignited in me. Being immersed in not only te reo Māori, but te ao Māori made me realise that it was important for me to start my learning journey, and that through starting, I would be opening myself up to a whole world of learning that will be wider than I previously imagined.

Late in 2021 I attended a short course through the Victoria University of Wellington alongside two of my whānau members - Workplace Māori: Level 1. We would have kai together before class each week and then travel home together in the car (often singing A Haka Mana over and over). The whole purpose was to become familiar, learn some basics and be in a safe learning environment. It was fun, and I learnt a lot - and then felt inspired to enrol in a longer course.

I was offered a space at Whitirea, a Level 1 Te Reo Course (part time, full year), starting February 2022. At the start of Term 2 we had the awful news that our pouako (teacher), Evan Hippolite had passed away. Coupled with this, I had eight weeks in a row coming up where I had work commitments. By the time I could make a class I felt too whakamā to turn up, so I withdrew from the course, and my learning has stagnated a bit since then. I've learnt a lot from the process though; for me, short courses (with others) work well; self-directed learning at a time that suits me is better; and that I'm ok with just being on the journey. I can't imagine you are ever 'done' with learning te reo, so I'm at peace knowing I'm on the journey, and that's all that matters to me.

Favourite whakatauki / whakatauāki / kōrero / waiata?

For me, the story shared with us when we visited Mokoia Island at the Te Puia wānanga which has had the most profound effect on me was of Te Ao-kapurangi, and you can read the story here.

The story is essentially that of a wahine toa who used her intellect to save her entire family from destruction. It reminds me that it's not what we say that is most important, it's what we do, for ourselves, and for others.

Our Te Reo Māori journey
Whare Timu
Principal, Te Matakīrea Lead

Anei rā te mihi ki a koe,
Ko Whare Timu tōku ingoa,
Nō Ngāti Kahungunu me Ngāti Awa ngā iwi i te taha o tāku pāpā,
Neke atu ki te taha o tāku māmā, ko te Te Arawa waka hoki ahau. Arā, Nō Ngāti Whakaue ahau kei waenga, me Ngāti Tūwharetoa ahau kei te kei o te waka.

I tipu mai au i tāku awenga nui i roto i te mahi toi, te mahi haehae, te mahi auaha hoki. I tērā wā ko au te tamaiti i noho ki waho i te whare o tāku mātua - me mahi haehae tērā, he tino wā roa he mahia i ēnei whare auaha i runga i te whare o tāku mātua. Heoi anō, māku te mahi hoahoanga e whai ana.

He aha te reo Māori ki a koe? What does te reo Māori mean to you?

My need to convey and converse in te reo to me, is not just to understand the language of my ancestors. For me, it means embracing our traditional reo, our ability to share and provide oral traditions. It means being able to speak in poetry and wisdom, and it means having a connection to our heritage in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Te Reo Māori is for the people, and it's a gift for all New Zealanders, no matter who you are and where you come from – it is there to give it a go! Learning and speaking te reo allows us to fight for the language to remain a taonga of our place in the world. I believe we are in a growth phase, in the political and social realm and with mainstream media normalising greetings via radio and TV and te reo leaders leading large events like Mahuru Māori and Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori.

What has your journey been like to learn te reo? Ngā piki me ngā heke...

I grew up in Heretaunga (Hastings) as the oldest of four boys; my parents were strong Māori people who advocated for the learning of te reo. However, like many urban Māori of their generation, they could not speak Māori and they rarely connected back to their marae growing up. They did, however, send me to on of the first Te Kōhanga Reo programmes established, Te Kōhanga Reo o Waimārama, hoping to awaken within me an appreciation of my Māori heritage.

I was fortunate to be born in the beginning of the te reo revitalisation movement in the 80s. My earliest memory was the yellow school bus that would pick us up from home every morning and drive us to Waimārama. The bus driver (who was also our pouako) would get us to sing an omnibus of waiata to kohanga every day. I remember singing A Ha Ka Ma Na, the lyrics 'mā is white, whero is red', doing 'whakapainga ēnei kai' before arrival like a proud tama Māori.

Once we arrived at the marae, I spent time with the whānau, and kaumātua, and my relationship continued as I grew up keeping close to my taonga tuku iho. Our programme was overlooked by pāpā Timoti Karetu, known as the Godfather of the Māori language movement and our kairangi (patron) of Waimārama. He instilled a whakatauki in our programme, that included the Kura Reo progamme, and an understanding of the importance of being, speaking and expressing our Māoritanga, and supporting those who needed pathways to learn.

"Kei noho wawata noa… kia eke! Don't let it remain a dream, rise up and achieve it" - Sir Timoti Karetu.

Continuing on in my learning, my time in te reo rūmaki at Heretaunga Intermediate was a definitive moment for me. I felt the most valuable experience for developing my proficiency in te reo was the influence of my pouako Beth Dixon, who herself was part of the first student intake of Te Panekiretanga o Te Reo (Institute of Excellence in the Māori Language).

Mēnā he tino maringanui ana te tangata ki tētahi pou whakawhirinaki, pou whakahihiri rānei i aia anō, ko te reo Māori tāna i tipu ake nei, kāore i tua atu i te mau-ā-taringa. Nā te mea kei kona tērā tangata ia rā ia rā hei haumaru i a koe. He pērā rawa i aku mahi me te kaiārahi nei me Beth Dixon. E rima ngā rā i te wiki ka noho atu au ki a ia, i kōrerorero ako mai i tōna reo rangatira, heoi anō, kei te ora tonu te kaiārahi-tanga rä nä te tikanga o Tuhoe-tanga. Ka roa taku noho atu koia te pouako rā, kātahi ka tīmata, ka rerekē noa ake tōku reo nē. Ka taurite ki tō pouako nei, āe nā te mau-ā-taringa i pēnā ai, me te kaha tata o tō māua noho tētahi ki tētahi . . . Engari kāhore i tua atu i tērā huarahi ki au.

If a person is lucky enough to have someone to depend on, or to energise them, who grew up speaking te reo Māori, there is nothing better than learning by listening. That's how it was with this teacher, Beth Dixon. Five days a week I sat with her, and I would learn through her language that was of the Tūhoe dialect. Then it started, my reo began to change. It became like my teacher, yes and it was learning by listening that made it happen, and because we were so close to one another . . . But that is the best method in my view.

Favourite whakatauki / whakatauāki / kōrero / waiata?

One of my most cherished whakatauki, comes from the late Wharehuia Milroy, who was known for his ability to use traditional whakatauki in new ways, even making some of his own. Like this proverb below, expressing his hope that the oral traditional of Māori would be maintained:

'Whakahokia te reo mai i te mate o te pene, ki te mata o te arero'

(Bring the language back from the tip of the pen to the tip of the tongue)

Our Te Reo Māori journey
Kelsey Muir
Interior Designer

Ko Ngāti Pākehā te iwi
Nō Kōtarana ōku tīpuna
Ko Martha Fisher te waka
Ko Patterson te hapū
Ko Rangitoto te maunga
Ko Okura te awa
Ko Waitematā te moana
Ko ngā wai ō Horotiu te marae
Kei Kaipātiki tōku kāinga
Ko Kelsey Muir taku ingoa
He Spatial Designer ahau

Hi, my name is Kelsey, I have Scottish ancestry and I am pākehā. I was born in Kaitaia where my dad grew up but moved to Auckland as a baby which is where my mum grew up and her family lives. When I left school, I studied Spatial Design at AUT university. I have been working at Warren and Mahoney for a little over five years. I have two stepdaughters with my fiancé Tim and our dog Jet who occasionally does office visits. We spend a lot of our spare time sailing and generally love the outdoors.

He aha te reo Māori ki a koe? What does te reo Māori mean to you?

What te reo Māori means to me has evolved over the years, almost like it was an acquaintance and now we're becoming friends. It's always been there in the place names and school songs but when you're a kid you don't give a second thought about what it means. Going overseas highlighted to me how beautiful it sounds spoken and how it is uniquely part of Aotearoa identity. When the opportunity arose to learn te reo at work, I jumped at it and quickly realised that it was a bit more than just learning how to string a sentence together. One of the first things you learn is your pepeha, which is fundamental in te ao Māori – Māori world view. Now I am in my second year of learning, I believe that te reo is an important gateway to understanding the culture. This journey to learn the language has enabled me as a pākehā to gain a deeper appreciation, perspective and understanding for a language that is considered endangered. As a part of our nation’s identity, I believe it would be incredibly sad to lose te reo Māori. Therefore I believe the more people who can kōrero, speak te reo Māori together, the stronger the language becomes.

What has your journey been like to learn te reo? Ngā piki me ngā heke…

I think most people who grew up in Aotearoa would have had a similar experience to me through school. At primary school you learn Tūtira Mai Ngā Iwi, A haka ma and maybe a few more. Beyond this there was little education of any meaningful te reo. I remember visiting a marae and learning rākau māori stick games at school with tightly rolled up newspaper. We quickly adapted this into a game where we ran around hitting each other with the newspaper sticks so I'm not sure we really appreciated the culture. Then between primary school and joining Warren and Mahoney, there was a gap where I didn’t learn any te reo Māori.

As mentioned earlier, my trip to Europe inspired me to learn te reo. I decided to join in the lunchtime lessons at Warren and Mahoney office, which was a great introduction covering pronunciation, tikanga, and pepeha. I think covid really kick-started the next phase as I wanted to know more and felt I was losing what I had learnt. I then enrolled in AUT evening courses and here I am two years in. Some days I feel like I've learnt so much and nailing it and some days I feel like I can't remember anything, but I guess that's all a part of it. In the end I would love to be fluent.

Favourite whakatauki / whakatauāki / kōrero / waiata?

Kia whakatōmuri te haere whakamua

I walk backwards into the future with my eyes fixed on the past