Growing up, I was far from immersed in Māori culture.
The use of te reo was not common at the schools I attended and I had few Māori influences in my circle of friends or extended family. At the same time, it was never something I actively pursued an interest in.
However, now older and slightly wiser, I am not afraid to admit my own ignorance. It is up to me to show an interest in something so deeply woven into the history of this great country we live in.
I moved to Rotorua, the Māori tourism capital of New Zealand, three years ago, and quickly realised just how little I knew. All of a sudden I was immersed in a community full of people passionate about their Māori culture.
It was time to stop making excuses, starting with basics such as attempting to pronounce place names correctly.
As I picked up little bits of te reo, I still found myself taking the safe option a lot of the time because I was terrified of getting it wrong, sounding stupid or offending people.
This year, I discovered that Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology runs free te reo classes. I decided this might be the only way I would ever become confident with the language and signed up.
We have a three-hour class once a week and showing up on the first night I was filled with anxiety. Would I be light years behind everyone else? Would I be able to keep up? Will I ever work out how to roll the letter R properly?
I was relieved to find out many of us were in the same situation and shared the same worries. Even those who already knew a little te reo were quick to help out the rest of us - no judgement, just a group of people eager to learn the language and culture of Aotearoa's tangata whenua (people of the land).
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Te reo almost died out completely a couple of generations ago and I understand now what a tragedy that would have been. It is a beautiful language and a culture too steeped in history to be ignored.
Our tutor Tangiwai Doctor is fantastic. She has to deal with wide-ranging abilities in the class but she is always patient and willing to repeat instructions.
We are about six weeks in now and I'm enjoying the class more than I could have imagined. I'm far from fluent but I can name and count huarākau (fruit) and kararehe (animals). I can introduce myself, talk about where I'm from and my whakapapa (family tree).
It is not just about learning the language, though. It has been great learning more about Māori culture, something I wish I'd taken more of an interest in decades ago.
Taku hoa wahine (my partner is) a proud Māori woman so I get to see first hand the value and importance Māori have for their whakapapa.
I find the way Māori respect their elders and pay tribute to those who have come before them really beautiful. The connection with the land, both where they came from and where they now call home, and their ancestry is something I haven't experienced so much in my own whānau (family).
My knowledge of my own whakapapa is basically that we came on a boat from Ireland a few generations ago. Most of what I've learned about my own tupuna (ancestors) has been during speeches at funerals, which I think is a bit sad.
Perhaps my reasons for signing up to the course were selfish in a way, more about my own ability than respect for our tangata whenua.
However, six weeks into the course, I can confidently say my eyes and mind have been opened.
Pākehā can learn a lot from Māori culture and customs. Te reo almost died out completely a couple of generations ago and I understand now what a tragedy that would have been. It is a beautiful language and a culture too steeped in history to be ignored.
Regardless of your own ethnicity, your upbringing or you biases - I would recommend taking the plunge and learning te reo.
It is more than just a language.