Te wiki o te reo maori – feel the joy of connection

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YOURWORD: Darren Rewi

Darren Rewi is Queenstown-based Ngai Tahu kaumatua, or elder

The benefits of learning or being on the Te Reo journey for me are many. Like a growing number of people there is a desire to learn Te Reo and to be able to converse in one of the official languages of New Zealand. To participate in powhiri (welcomes and blessings), to connect with the whenua (land).

As well, my father lost the language years ago as he came from an era when his parents and he and his siblings were beaten for speaking Maori. They grew up not wanting the same for their tamariki (children) and mokopuna (grandchildren), and so sadly let the beautiful language of their ancestors fade into memories.

Like many others, and always being curious, Te Reo excites my desire to know more. Being an amateur etymologist, the origins of words become really exciting. Understanding the meanings and/or the origin of Maori words (kupu) provides another level of fulfilment.

Small words that you will know such as ‘hui’, just another three-letter word? ‘Ui’ means the unanswered question and the ‘h’ is the giving breath to that discussion, therefore the ‘hui’ is the discussion to resolve whatever question was raised.

Another we have already mentioned is mokopuna, meaning grandchildren. Moko is the facial tattoo, our trademark we wear. Puna is a spring or pool of water within which we can see our reflection, therefore mokopuna (grandchildren) are a reflection of ourselves.

Kaitiaki meaning guardian, steward or similar. When broken down it consists of three smaller words that provide for a beautiful meaning. Kai means food. With a prefix, it denotes a human agent, (e.g. kaimahi, a worker; mahi, meaning to work). Ti means indescribable light and aki is to encourage or draw out the potential. Kaitiaki, therefore, is to be the person that allows one to fulfil their potential.

Place names also tell a story. In times past, those stories were the equivalent of a GPS location finder. A good example is the Arrow River, which is also known as Haehaenui. Haehae has two meanings, one of which was the gouging or scratching of oneself to express grief, but it also described the parallel grooves between the lines of the dog-tooth pattern in carvings. These parallel scratchings are similar to the scratchings that weka, the native wood hen, make. Archaeologist Athol Anderson believes the Wakatipu was first settled by Maori about 1100AD, and when they first arrived what a wondrous sight they encountered. Pouakai, the world’s largest eagle, was abundant, and this area was teeming with moa. Along the banks of the Haehaenui and all throughout the Wakatipu, weka were plentiful and Maori came into the area in winter to harvest these flightless birds when they were fattest.

The weka lived amongst the undergrowth, farming for grubs and insects. They actually farmed the area; they would scratch up an area equivalent of a square metre and then move on and scratch up another area.

This would create a false layer of bark and leaves, which would fool the insects and grubs into believing it was safe and so they would come out.

The weka would then easily harvest the bugs and insects. There was no natural predator for the weka, so the populations were vast. Maori would follow the trails until they came to te awa Haehaenui (the river of many scratchings).

They would know they had arrived by the vast expanse of weka scratchings visible along the whole river.