'Kia kaha' - learn te reo Maori: MP

By Kaysha Brownlie

3 comments
Ikaroa-Rawhiti Labour MP Meka Whaitiri encourages people to get on board with te reo Maori.
Ikaroa-Rawhiti Labour MP Meka Whaitiri encourages people to get on board with te reo Maori.

Ikaroa-Rawhiti Labour Member of Parliament Meka Whaitiri is determined to expose her sons to te reo Maori in the same way she was when growing up on her father's marae.

Born and raised on Manutuke Marae in Gisborne, Ms Whaitiri said learning te reo was part of who she was and part of her obligation to the people of her marae of Kohupatiki.

Her late father was the inspiration behind her own Maori language journey, she said.

"My late dad was a fluent speaker of te reo and was of the generation that was caned at school for speaking te reo."

She said he often shared his stories of translating his teacher's speech to his grandmother, who didn't speak English, when they visited their home.

"Both his grandmothers had traditional moko kauae, chin and lip tattoo done the traditional way - chiselled, three cuts to the skin to give deep ink penetration."

Her father had been pushed into "pakeha" education by one of his grandmothers before becoming a Maori language teacher at Karamu High School.

"Dad was active in not only the teaching of te reo at Karamu, but was involved in all the speech and kapa haka secondary school competitions throughout Hawke's Bay for over 25 years."

Ms Whaitiri moved with her family to Hastings in 1971, where she was raised.

She performed with several kapa haka groups and learned te reo Maori throughout her education.

As a 22-year-old, the MP worked in the Maori Perspective Unit of the Department of Labour with the late Hon Parekura Horomia.

All members of the unit were fluent speakers who, she said, surrounded and nurtured her.

"After marriage and starting a family, I was determined both sons will be immersed in the language."

They went to a Kohanga Reo before attending a total immersion primary school in Porirua.

"Like many parents, I was active in my sons' education. I was chair of the Horouta Kohanga Reo and Te Kura Maori o Porirua school boards."

But it wasn't until she returned to Hastings in 2009, at age 44, that she picked up the language again.

In that 20-year gap, Ms Whaitiri embraced the tikanga of other iwi as well as Wellington.

During the past seven years, she has attended several iwi-led total immersion courses and some tailored for her in the parliamentary office.

It has now become a weekly engagement where her whanau attend Megan Chong's two-hour classes each Sunday at Te Kura o Mangateretere.

"I absolutely enjoy Megan's classes, fun and technically proficient."

"So my message to all people - Akina te Reo - Give te reo Maori a go!"

Whakatauki (proverb)

* "Kia kaha, kia maia, kia manawanui."

* "Be strong, be brave, be steadfast."

- Hawkes Bay Today

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