Jacoby Poulain: Never too late to embrace language

By Jacoby Poulain

I sat there intrigued and amused. I could hear tap, tap, tap, then chuckle, chuckle, chuckle. Tap, tap, tap again - chuckle, chuckle, chuckle. I swung around and popped my head over the couch, enquiring of my father, who was engrossed in his subject matter, "what are you doing?" He beckoned me over.

I sat next to him at the computer as he tapped away at, and trawled through, photo after photo on a particular family Facebook page. He was reminiscing and taking much delight from his childhood days and memories in Holland. He paused at each photo and delivered me a running and excited commentary of the featured ancestors. Some were old, wrinkled and weathered. Others were beautiful young maidens dressed in pinafores and with neatly maintained hair, pulled back ready for the day's work. Clogs on their feet and windmills in the background were telltale signs of the Dutch lineage and heritage.

Contrast this with other somewhat ethereal photos of my Maori heritage that hang on my parents' living-room walls. Together, these pictures depict my dual heritage, yet I do not speak either native tongue fluently. Dutch was spoken intermittently and sporadically in the home as a child, as was Maori. Though seemingly regrettable that I know neither language to any intimate extent now, the joy is that I now get to learn.

In fact I am studying weekly Maori language classes with an amazing and passionate group of classmates through our local branch of the learning institution of Te Wananga O Aotearoa.

The benefit of learning as an adult is that though it takes a bit of effort fitting study in with life, it's perhaps this extra exerted effort that makes me value it more than perhaps if I had I simply learned by immersion as a child.

Despite being Maori, only two years ago I was freaked out to even step foot on a marae or in a Maori language class. It was foreign, intimidating and I didn't want to go, but for a constant compulsion within that gnawed at me.

I found a fostering group that encouraged and supported me on the marae, just as I have found a fostering and supportive Maori language class. I'm still in my infancy and have a lot to learn, however the ironic thing is I'm now being approached to speak of my testimony of being Maori among other things and the things I get up to.

This week, I have been invited to, and am privileged to attend, Hastings Girls' High School. Again, I don't profess to know all, far from it, in fact, however if I can help encourage a few, or even just one person to seek more meaning, significance, satisfaction and fulfilment from their lives by sharing my journey, then my journey is worth it.

I would not have been able to help encourage some of these young ladies and others had I not first begun to learn myself.

There's something about knowing who we are, where we come from and learning the culture and the ways of the land that makes us strong. How we speak and what we speak are markers or an indicator to others of our background, heritage, values and beliefs - in essence, among other cultural factors, our language signals who we are.

It's Maori language week, which deserves acknowledgement. All other languages and cultures that make us who we are deserve acknowledgement also and encouragement to flourish.

Language is identity and it's never too late to learn.

Jacoby Poulain is a Hastings District Council Flaxmere Ward councillor.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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