When people describe Te Reo Maori as a 'living language' it does not mean it has been saved from obscurity - it means it lives within the customs and culture that gave birth to it.

Every minute, day and week of Ross Smith's life is Te Wiki o te Reo Māori - Māori Language Week, said the culture adviser and te reo teacher at Wananga o Aotearoa's Whangarei campus.

"My own view on the language is that it's not the beginning and end of the culture. It's part of the culture, but not all of it," Mr Smith said yesterday at the start of this year's Te Wiki o te Reo Maori.

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He believed there was a role for the language week but it needed to move forward or it would remain a token gesture.

Like all languages did over time, the intention of the week should not remain static but evolve, he said.

Having all New Zealanders dropping words like kia ora, aroha, mana and whenua, for example, into conversations might represent goodwill but did not offer understanding of the language or its roots.

"Words alone do not define a culture. No one is born speaking or understanding any language, but they are all born into a culture.

"I teach the customs and riches of the culture. We ask 'why do we do these things, why does it matter?'

"Then people might decide to go to the language to understand what it was in the culture that resulted, for example, in part of this word and part of that being put together to mean something else," he said.

"Few words mean anything on their own, they need to be attached to a context."

Mr Smith said the drive to revive te reo was led by great Ngapuhi leaders who were scholars of the Maori and English languages, such as Sir James Henare and his son, former Maori Language Commissioner Erima Henare.


The Maori Language Commission set up Te Wiki o te Reo Māori in 1975 to celebrate the language as a unique cultural treasure for all New Zealanders.

Chief Executive Ngahiwi Apanui said the 2017 theme, Kia ora te reo Maori, was chosen to celebrate the well known greeting and because the words 'kia ora' reflected the intent of the partnership for te reo Maori revitalisation between the Crown and Maori.