You will have to forgive me, Jess, if I appear to have missed the boat on this slightly. You had timed your letter on people's attitudes towards pronouncing te reo right so perfectly, what with it being Maori Language Week and everything, but in between, life, other columns, well things kind of got in the way. Last Thursday, however, under the marvellous night sky at Auckland's Civic Theatre, I was reminded that we spurn te reo at our peril. Its mangling is our loss.
I was fortunate to be at the Civic for the opening night of Poi E: The Story of Our Song. It is a film that filled me with gladness to be from and of this place. And when the Patea Maori Club got up to perform their famous song, and alongside the kuia and koro in their best suits and feather fascinators, there was Stan Walker, and there was Grant, the Pakeha butcher who gave Dalvanius $100 to record the song, not because he knew anything much about music, but because he loved his community. It felt like there, on that stage, in front of that magnificent flamingo curtain, was everything that was good about us.
It made me mad, too, though, because while we have come such a very long way since Maori children were strapped for speaking their mother tongue at school, or the Patea Maori Club were turned down for public funding to travel to Britain and perform for the Queen, I still hear people, parents at my children's school, say that they don't mind their children being taught "a bit of Maori", but that they don't really want them "wasting too much time on it". I am floored by their shortsightedness. I imagine they are the same people who baulk at adding an "h" to Wanganui. That's the way I've always said it, they protest. Yeah, and women used to be burnt at the stake, too. Tradition is not the infallible defence we sometimes assume.
Jess was driving along in the school holidays listening to the radio with her young children when her daughter asked why anyone would say "Hauraki" as "How-rackee". "I love my children's reaction to hearing mispronounced Maori words," she writes. "It's a kind of dumbfounded, 'Why wouldn't you say it, or at least try to say it properly?' reaction. I think it's that lack of effort that gets me. The lack of importance placed upon it. Lots of Maori words are tricky to pronounce correctly. I get that. But you can tell when someone's trying. Hopefully my children's attitude to it is typical of their generation."
My husband is Ngai Tahu. Almost a decade older than me, he had never spent time on a marae or learnt any te reo. At primary school I was taught a few waiata. In third and fourth form, I chose te reo as my option. My children soak up te reo, so proud when they know more than their father or me. But then I don't know anyone who has learned te reo, in fact anyone who has taken the time to learn any language surplus to their own, who hasn't felt more whole for it.
On freedom of choice
Keith told me he has lived his life according to the notion that "the best is the enemy of the good". "Last year I decided to change my car and was faced with a potentially enormous range from which to choose. I made a short list of my key requirements and picked three makes to look at. Perhaps there is a vehicle that would have been perfect, but the one I chose does the job quite adequately." I wish I could introduce him to Peter, they sound like kindred spirits. "My perfect supermarket would have three of every product - the best cheap option, the best mid-range one, and the best high-end one. I could handle that."
A reader sent me an interesting quote on what it really means to be committed: to a lover, a friend, a company, a hobby. I thought next week we might try to tackle the subject.