Passive learner now teacher

By Doug Laing


The kitchen table at the home of Tiwana and Yvonne Aranui in Napier seems an appropriate place for a gathering of te reo Maori students to gather on the eve of Maori Language Week.

Mrs Aranui, who joined a language renaissance among those laid off when the Whakatu meatworks closed 27 years ago, says it was in the kitchen on the marae where the fat was chewed when she was young.

There was the Maori spoken at home by parents, and there was the Maori spoken on the paepae at the marae, but she says it was the "kitchen reo" among kuia that was "where everything happens - the grassroots".

That is part of explaining the pathway of someone who understood what they were saying, but hadn't learnt to speak it.

"Passive learning," she calls it, knowing that now, at the age of 56 and midway through a Level 4 course in Maori through Te Wananga o Aotearoa, she will never stop learning.

It's what Hemi Brown, 56, and wife Roberta are doing, their Sunday afternoon study group disrupted a little by a gathering talking more about waka ama and training on the Bay that morning.

The waka ama is pertinent, however, for Mrs Aranui knows its arrival in the national sporting framework probably wouldn't have happened without the renaissance of the language first.

It brought positive change in a lot of people's lives, and she reels off names of those who've "gone back to school" to educate themselves in the language she believes they already know. It just needed something to bring it out, and much of the impetus came within her own community of Maraenui, where she first went to tino rangatiratanga courses for those wanting to work in kohanga reo.

Maraenui School, where she was to work liaising between school and home, became the country's first bilingual, English-Maori school 25 years ago, with mother-in-law Dolly Aranui among the kaiarahi reo as it went a stage further in 1992 to also provide a rumaki class.

Daughter Zoe, one of five five-year-old full-immersion Maori-language pioneer pupils, went on to hold a BA in Maori Studies.

"All the girls have done well," says Mrs Aranui, who sometimes wonders why her parents didn't make her and her siblings learn the language, in a household of the Ratana faith, growing up around Wairoa, Otoi Station back of Raupunga, and later in Napier.

The parents' younger days, however, had been in times when children "got the strap" for speaking Maori at school. But tikanga and reo went hand in hand at home, and she recalls: "I don't remember being told, for example, to sit down and be quiet.

"You knew when manuhiri, and whanau, were coming, so you knew that's what you did. It was part of the make-up you grew up with."

Concentrating on a career in early childhood education, she's let the more formal studies rest at times, but is motivated now by supporting her husband, who chairs the trust at urban Pukemokimoki Marae, which opened in 2007.

Some of those who've taught Mrs Aranui and others will be recognised in the inaugural Ngati Kahungunu Te Reo Awards at the Hawke's Bay Opera House in Hastings on Saturday.

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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