I am 73 and grew up in Hamilton at a time when there were almost no Māori in the town, except to the west in Frankton. I went to Whitiora Primary, Peachgrove Intermediate and Hamilton Boys High School and my class photos show virtually no brown faces. If there were any Māori children they were just kids to us. High school was a bit of an exception but I think the few Māori boys there were from Raglan and Ngaruawahia. Again, they were just part of the mix.
Consequently, I grew up with almost zero Māori contact or knowledge and from memory our class social studies teaching was very superficial.
Once I started work in the mid 1960’s things changed as I was posted to places like Mt Maunganui and Taneatua. The industry I was in, and allied to, had many Māori workers. We mixed and mingled freely on the job and over a beer. I enjoyed the banter, some of which had racial overtones. They gave as good as they received, often with a smattering of Māori words or phrases. When I sort translations, there were always roars of laughter, from all parties.
Today I sometimes regret that we did not learn more about our own history, pre and post the European arrival. I have always thought there was a place for some language tuition as well. Not as detailed as the manner in which I learnt French and Latin as that was really instruction into the form of the languages to better help us understand English. But a little basic Māori would have helped to put some context around the culture and beliefs. Ideally those classes would have been best in the two intermediate school years.
Today I am not sure. Maybe the horse has bolted. When I was at school the learning process was quite heavily controlled by the Education Dept. with fairly firm curriculum requirements.
Today, schools have much more freedom as to what they teach and the methods to do so. What facts taught today in Otorohanga may differ widely than those in Oamaru. (I chose Otorohanga on purpose as the college there has form)
Today I have almost zero confidence that pre 1900 New Zealand history could be taught with any consistency and Māori language would be unrecognisable to a fluent speaker of the language fifty years ago.
As far as the language is concerned one example highlights the issue. I was recently at a meeting of a history group with a couple I know quite well. They are brother and sister, in their early 80’s and have been fluent Māori speakers all of their lives yet now admit they can only converse within their own age group. They simply cannot understand the language as it is spoken today by younger people. Today the language contains so many “transliterations” of English words. They both described it as sounding like pidgin to them. The sister also explained that spoken Māori includes a lot of facial expression and body movement that no longer exists. I think she was saying you have to feel it to say it, and that it is very much a visual language. That doesn’t work on radio!
From their comments I believe that any Māori instruction at main stream schools should confine itself to the basics and the language as it was many years ago. Unfortunately, I don’t think that is the plan. I suspect that those pushing for compulsory Te Reo at all schools won’t be satisfied until it is a completely parallel language to English. They will want to see the operations manual for the “Giant Hadron Collider” printed in Māori.
I am also conscious that early Māori was a spoken language only and it was only after the arrival of the missionaries in the Bay of Islands that an alphabet was developed so the language could become a written language. Those early missionaries had no linguistic training and developed a written language from what they heard. They had no way of knowing that pronunciations and the manner of speaking was not common throughout the land. The language they developed had only 13 letters of the modern English alphabet, plus a couple of compound letters, such as ng and wh. The latter is often used in a similar manner to the English f but is not universal across the land. With so few letters it is often difficult to translate an English word into Māori. English has many words that start with ch and end with ck. Sometimes both in the same word. What is the Māori word for chuck? The Māori dictionary came up with this whiuwhiu. Now I am really confused!
Because there are so few letters some of the vowels need a macron when the simple vowel becomes a long vowel. To complicate that matter the Waikato Māori people don’t bother with the macron, they simply double up on the vowel. For example, Māori becomes Maaori. I wonder which way the schools at Otorohanga and Oamaru will jump? It is easy to accept that a spoken language may have regional differences but very unusual for a written language to have similar variations.
Today of course, a language must be both oral and written and almost all written language today is done on a keyboard. My computer has the latest “Word” software that does allow me to add macrons by the “Insert/Symbol” command but it is quite laborious. My “Outlook” email program doesn’t have that facility however. I have no idea what my Samsung phone can do! I assume that Māori language programs are available but I suspect most of us will choose not to avail ourselves of them.
Delving into the ridiculous, and to reinforce much of the above, I will relate a conversation I heard on National Radio recently. It was not long after Don Brash was ridiculed for his reported opinion on the subject of Maori language on that network. It was a four minute exchange between Mihingarangi Forbes (not her real name) and an announcer with a French sounding name. She was instructing him on how to make a cup of tea, or coffee, in the Māori language. I suspect they were taking the piss, but it sounded very real. It was very obvious to me that almost all of the words were actually very modern “transliterations” of English word, pronounced as if they were the genuine thing.
That exchange led me to analyse just how pre European Māori would go about making a cuppa.
Tea. I suppose Mānuka would suffice.
Coffee. Not known pre European times.
Water. No problem. Just dip your gourd into the nearby pūkaki for your kātao.
Boil Water. Ngāwhā kātao. Sadly, impossible as Māori lacked a vessel to boil water in!
Tea pot, cup, saucer, teaspoon, milk, sugar, lemon. All foreign objects with no translation.
That is the end of the lesson children. Please go outside and play nicely.