Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol 35 no. 22. 14th September 1972
But We Never Died . .
But We Never Died . . .
What we are trying most to say on Maori Language Day is that we are not dead, and especially that our language is not dead. Nor is it going to die. As National co-ordinator of the day I have encountered several problems. The one that has pissed me off most is the attitude: "The Maori Language (pronounced Marry language) is dead and has no place in New Zealands' Socicty." A lot can be read from such a statement.
To me, this attitude means that the majority of New Zealanders (i.e the pakeha majority) still see New Zealand as a part of Great Britain, that just happens to be divorced from the mainland by a couple of continents and oceans; they refuse to acknowledge the presence of a very large minority group. By saying the language has no place, you are saying that the people have no place. This is why it is important to devote a day to publicise the Maori language — In order to reveal these racist attitudes.
Although the Maori Language is very much a living language, it has very real problems. The first, already mentioned, is the predominant attitude of "No Place for Maori". It is not new. Most middle-aged Maoris and Maori elders can tell you how they were strapped for speaking Maori at school, something which in fact continues in a few country schools today. In most cases the teachers didn't succeed, but they did succeed in belling into them the attitude of Your language is a social and economic hinderance. Thus when they have children they speak English (the language with the "go-ahead-look.") to their children.
However the language used on all marae situations is Maori. When elders speak together they use their native tongue. Thus the problem gets even worse. The generation gap in Maori society is more like a gaping crevice, because the young and old, literally, speak different languages. One doesn't really appreciate how bad the problem is until the possibility' arises of going to ones own mother's funeral, or someone really close to you, only to be alienated from the tangi because of the "language barrier."
There has been no reliable survey on the number speaking Maori in New Zealand and this is an indication of the government's former antipathy and present relative disinterest towards the encouragement of Maori language.
However, Dr Bruce Biggs makes what he calls an informed guess in The Maori People in the Nineteen Sixties. He says that almost all the old Maori people speak the language fluently, over half between 30 and 40 and under half of those aged below 30. Geographically, Maori as the primary language is concentrated in the rural areas — especially the cast coast of the North Island, parts of the Waikato and King Country, the northern tip of the north island, south of Lake Taupo, Otaki and D'Urville island. A greater proportion of Maori people understand but cannot speak the language. While it is true that the percentage of those who speak Maori fluently is declining, there is no doubt that the remaining percentage is large enough to be significant as a communicatory and socialogical factor in present day Maori society.
The retention of this beautiful and living language is not only possible, but inevitable. It has withstood a century of hampering and (unlike Latin, which is offered at most secondary schools) has shown that it is technically capable of adapting to present day conditions. It has borrowed English words and adapted them to the Maori alphabet and pronunciation. Auckland becomes Akarana, table becomes tepu, bullshit becomes bull tutae. These words and phrases are criticized as showing a weakness in the language. Yet English is the result of Centuries of extensive borrowing. Maori is a versatile language and still in the process of evolution. Thus treating the language simply as a classic study is pretty stupid.
As regards the place of the Maori language in schools: There will be certain statements made by groups affiliated with the New Zealand Federation of Maori Students, concerning this on Maori Language Day. One of the most significant events planned for the day is the presentation of Hana Jackson's 2 year-old petition, which calls for the availability of Maori language at schools.
It is time to take an even stronger stand to ensure that Maori language courses arc available in fact as well as in theory — especially at primary school levels.
As it stands Maori language courses are "available", all teachers being entitled to take two hours a week for Maori culture and/or language. Few teachers, however, are aware of this, let alone capable of carrying it out. And two hours a week is insufficient.
One of the main excuses given for not introducing the language into schools is the lack of teachers and it's easy to see why. There are few "qualified" who arc capable of taking Maori language courses in Training Colleges. Present courses are offered at only one or two of the 16 odd training colleges in New Zealand and they arc quite inadequate. Secondly though there is only a handful of 'qualified teachers' who speak Maori, there is definitely more than enough Maori speakers who could be trained. That groups such as Nga Tamatoa and Te Reo Maori have taken the initiative which the government refuses to take, in organising Maori Language courses, teaching seminars etc, is something that I find disgraceful. Such organisations arc low on funds, and to have to go begging for money in order to finance such worthwhile schemes is a condemnation of the governments sense of responsibility. I see the compulsory availability of Maori language courses in schools as a long term plan for making New Zealand a bi-lingual country, and a multi-cultural society.
It is strange that it is necessary to encourage the continuence of a language that is spoken by about 50,000 and understood by double that figure in a country with a total population of just under 3 million. It is equally strange that it is necessary to make a political issue of the retention of Maori language and its inclusion in formal education in New Zealand.
The predominant attitude towards the Maori language is one of condescension by the pakeha, arrogance of some young Maori people who know their tongue, and determination of others like myself who have been stranded.
The pakeha with his bee-hive matches
tried to burn my parent's tongues.
He wants to cut mine out.
But we are not introverts.
We are not mutes.
And now we will speak.
So listen pakeha. Because if you don't
We will shout.
And you will listen.
No reira, Awhinatia!
Akona te Reo Maori.
Kia ora koutou katoa.