Māori Language Week connects the past with the future


Praneeta Mahajan
Hamilton, September 12, 2023

The Māori language, Te Reo Māori, holds a special place in the cultural tapestry of Aotearoa New Zealand. As one of the country’s official languages, alongside English, it embodies the rich history and traditions of the Māori people and their ancestors.

Māori Language Week is an annual celebration held in the third week of September. This year it takes place from September 11 to September 17, 2023. The theme of Kia Kaha Te Reo Māori (making the language stronger) will continue this year, picking up from where it left off in 2022.

A brief history

Te Reo Māori has been spoken in New Zealand for over a thousand years, well before the arrival of European settlers, the language was primarily oral, with knowledge and traditions passed down through generations via oral storytelling and traditional songs (waiata).

There was no written word, so the communication was done through symbolism. The detailing in carvings, knots and weavings was the way Māori recorded stories, while traditional songs in Māori shared the myths and folklore of their ancestors.

The 19th century brought significant challenges to the Māori language as the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 established British sovereignty over New Zealand and led to land confiscations and the suppression of Māori culture and language.

In an attempt to assimilate Māori into European society, the government discouraged the use of Te Reo Māori in schools and public spaces. As a result, many Māori began to lose their language.

Despite the adversity faced by the Māori language, it never disappeared entirely. A dedicated group of Māori language speakers and advocates worked tirelessly to preserve and revitalise Te Reo.

Standing the test of time

The Māori language is a testament to the resilience of the Māori people and their determination to preserve their cultural heritage. In the face of historical adversity, the language has made a remarkable comeback and continues to thrive in contemporary New Zealand. Te Reo Māori is not just a language; it is a living connection to the past and a bridge to a more inclusive and culturally rich future. As New Zealanders embrace their indigenous language, they not only honour their history but also strengthen the bonds of their diverse society, ensuring that Te Reo Māori remains relevant and vibrant for generations to come.

About Māori Language Week

Born out of protest, the week is now about promoting te reo to everyone. This year will also mark the third Māori Language Moment, ‘Te Wā Tuku Reo Māori’, a challenge to stop and celebrate te reo for a moment. Devised by Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori, the aim is to get more than one million people to take part because one million speakers are needed by 2040 to safeguard the language.

“New Zealand’s response to the annual Māori Language Moment has been massive. Young and old, Māori, Pākehā, Indian, Samoan, Chinese. Tiny country schools to high-rise buildings in our biggest cities. Retirement homes, hospitals, kindergartens, supermarkets, building sites,” said Minister of Māori Development, Willie Jackson.

“More than 1 million took part in the first moment and in doing so they set a world record, it was the biggest Māori language event in the history of our nation. This year will be another opportunity to unite for a moment, this Thursday, September 14, 2023”.

“I want to encourage everyone to get involved and have a go in the festivities this week and support our beautiful culture and language so it can be cherished for generations,” Mr Jackson said.

Communities across the country are preparing to come together to celebrate the indigenous language of Aotearoa New Zealand for Māori Language Week ‘Te Wiki o te Reo Māori.’

“Te Wiki o te Reo Māori is an opportunity to recognise a unique part of our national identity and to celebrate the collective journey we are taking towards its revitalisation,” he said.

You can log on to www.reoMāori.co.nz website to find out what others are doing and how you too can get involved.

Praneeta Mahajan is an Indian Newslink reporter based in Hamilton.

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