One little h' spells bright new future

By Tariana Turia

1 comment


I'm delighted that the name "Whanganui" is finally being gazetted as an alternative official geographic name for the city of Whanganui. Last week in Parliament the Statutes Amendment Bill (No 3) was passed, giving recognition to the correct spelling.

The correct meaning for the name Whanganui is the long wait. "Whanga" meaning to wait and "nui" meaning large or long. Our own historians tell us that the name originates from the time of Kupe, the great navigator, when his people waited for him to return from a journey up the Whanganui River.

The name was then re-emphasised when the great ancestor Hau (Te Ati Hau-nui-a-Paparangi) stood at the mouth of the river waiting for the tide to change before he could cross safely.

The name Whanganui has a meaning and a history that is unique to the Whanganui River, the region, and the local iwi. It always was and always will be a Maori word.

This is about te reo Maori. It is about identity. It is about culture.

So ironically it has also been a "long wait" for the people of the Whanganui River for the correct spelling of Whanganui to be recognised.

There have been local body referenda, district council meetings, submissions to the New Zealand Geographic Board and finally Minister Williamson's decision in December 2009 to gazette Whanganui and Wanganui as alternative geographic names.

That decision was then held in limbo by the Green Party, which was the only party to oppose the current Statutes Amendment Bill.

Statutes amendment bills only occur when there is unanimous support across the House, so I am relieved that finally, after three years of delay, the Greens allowed the bill to proceed.

The decision reinforces the integrity of the Maori language, as well as restoring the mana of Whanganui iwi.

The impact on iwi identity by the use of the corrupted word (Wanganui) instead of Whanganui has been immense.

When a people's identity is so closely linked to a word, as is the case for Whanganui iwi, it has been difficult to endure the consistently incorrect spelling and pronunciation.

There is nothing that fills your heart with such gladness than to hear your mita (dialect) pronounced correctly, particularly when you are far from home.

The existence of alternative names takes into account that it may take some time for changes to be made, to enable the correct spelling of Whanganui to be formalised.

By formally gazetting both Whanganui and Wanganui, the legislation allows for that process to occur.

I hope that all Crown entities and government departments take a lead, when they are replacing signage and letterheads, in acknowledging respect for te reo Maori, respect for the iwi of Whanganui by using Whanganui with an h.

I join with the people from home in celebrating this momentous legislative change.

E rere kau mai te awa mai Te Kahui Maunga ki Tangaroa

Ko au te awa ko te awa ko au

The river flows from the mountains to the sea

I am the river and the river is me.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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