When I told my son I was finally following my dream of learning te reo Māori he was very supportive. BUT he said I should try not to be affected by politics. oy vey! or yeah right! Anyway, there’s no denying that there is a heap of politics around the Māori/Pākehā divide. Where am I with it? To be honest the more I am immersed in the Māori world the more knowledge I gain about te ao Māori and therefore I am able to see things from a Māori viewpoint as well as Pākehā. I strongly believe that I have to be able to know BOTH sides to even comment. So many people are opinionated but they only see things from their own side. That there has been – and still is – a major unjust occupation of Māori land/language/customs I am in no doubt.
I see some of the lasting evidence of this occupation in my te reo class. At the start of the year I was aware of the Māori students in my class. Although the class is inclusive of anyone who wants to learn, it is most important for Māori to connect with their reo and their roots. Herein lies the politics. Her are tangata whenua coming along to this course and learning something that should have been their birthright! Many of their parents and grandparents were forbidden and/or punished when they spoke Māori. Many well intentioned parents wanted their children not to speak Maori as they felt is was best for them to learn the language of the dominant culture. Heart wrenching and also beautiful to see tangata whenua going through grieving and reclaiming their culture with pride. I feel privileged to have the opportunity to be part of this and to do my little part of being an ambassador for promoting this beautiful language.
Every now and then I have these “moments of clarity” or some feeling of inspiration that learning te reo Maori IS the absolute right thing for me to be doing.. I’m never entirely clear why I am doing it but it FEELS right and I WANT to do it and I am LOVING it. That should be enough reason I reckon. I’m intrigued by the many comments I get from people who I tell. Some are great and say “good on you” and “Wow, that’s amazing and I would love to do that too” But then there are others who are incredulous “Why would you want to do that?” and “What are you going to do with it” This got me thinking about how we are so often in our society driven by what are we going to get out of something, what gain, what for etc. Its less common and seems less acceptable to just be doing something because you want to or having some calling to it like I have to this.
The journey is more important than the destination. This is definitely true for me but obviously not for everyone. I am a journey person, I am not particularly ambitious. In fact I’m not really ambitious at all. I have some ideas and dreams but mainly I guess I live in the moment. Although that is not to say that I am contented and at peace with myself and the world – far from it. I spend much of my time worrying about this and that. Maybe more ambition would give me a focus but it does not seem to be who I am. I am working on trying to be who I am and be OK with that. Today I will be proud that I am doing something I want to do and not for something or someone. Doing things because of my perception of what is expected of me has not got me anywhere so time to try something different.
So, why indeed?
I’ve always had an interest in languages. I speak fluent Hebrew – which I learnt the immersion method i.e. living in Israel for 12 years. I’ve thought of other languages that I’d like to to learn like German which is both my parents mother tongue. Spanish and Japanese would be interesting too. But I live in Aotearoa and the first language here is Maori. Since I’ve been here I’ve been drawn to the Maori culture and I passionately believe that its important to preserve this language – the whole culture of a people is embedded in the language. Lose the language, lose the culture. Living here, I feel its my responsibility to do my small part. It dosn’t really feel like my learning Maori could make any difference but hey I guess if everyone said that about what they believe in, nothing would happen. I suppose I feel a bit like an ambassador but that’s just the start of it. There are many other thoughts and feelings that I have as I continue on this journey.
Of course I’m also doing this for my own personal reasons. I want to feel as though I can achieve something. My sense of self worth has a low default setting. Having past the 50 year old mark, I’m probably going through a mid life crisis – I have questions about the purpose of my life and what it is that I have achieved. I brought up my beautiful son as best as I could. I worked as a counsellor/ support worker/ advocate for people who were marginalised either by disability or difference or trauma or any combination of those. Maybe I made a little bit of a difference.. ? Maybe very slightly with a couple of people for a short time. Now its time for this new journey, wherever it takes me.
At the end of the day when all is said and done I am falling in love with te reo Maori and every day I learn a little more about the culture, the tikanga and I love it all the more. Can you have a love affair with a language?
What is it like – this “immersion” into Maori culture/language?
Its like getting into a waka and going to another place, a different country.
Where the language is Maori.
The customs are Maori.
The rules are Maori.
I am a foreigner, a Pakeha.
Welcome but nevertheless a foreigner.
Well not really, a bit, sort of… well actually no, not yet.
The path this waka takes is pretty stormy.
Its filled with emotion.
This is what its like to be a new immigrant
in a land where my language is not dominant.
Te reo Maori is taking me over
It really is immersion
I want to run away
I feel like I’m not in control
My brain is straining, hurting, stretching
Is this how it feels when new neural pathways are being forged?
I feel slow
I feel old
I wake at night a lot
Hot flashes ( what a punishment)
Heat radiates from my core and out to the rest of my body
Then, kupu Maori enter my befuddled brain
Bits of this and bits of that
A word here and word there
Random and in no particular order
A tune of a Waiata but I cant remember which one it belongs to
Bits of Karakia
I try to make sense of what we are learning
I can’t so I get up make a cuppa and read, if Im lucky I’ll fall asleep for a couple of hours till the next hot flash, Torture!
Is this what its like to learn a new language.
February 2012 (entry 1)
I am not sure how normal it is that it is soooo hard to retain the new words I am learning.
I take say, four words of a song I am learning. I say it a few times, I say it many times. I go off and do something else. I come back to it – I’ve forgotten! So I look again at the words, I say them another few times, I try to find little ways of remembering. Thinking of a rhyming word or associating it with an English word, and so it goes on, its like pulling teeth. I come back to it later – forgotten! I’ve never been one for patience. Little by little I remember a word, a phrase, I get used to the sound of it. Repetition is the only way that works over and over and over again. Then there’s some young people in the class- they pick it up and REMEMBER! That makes me feel my age.
So slowly I move along, word by word. I am only at the beginning and I feel there are challenges on many levels. I find myself really hoping I can persevere for a whole lot of reasons I will go into more about later. Like I remembered from my few past experiences I love the waiata and seem to do better at learning words when in the context of music. Music has always been a great passion of mine so no surprise there.
February 2012 (entry 2)
Feeling really blah about it today.
Every day I am trying to memorise words and my retention is so slow. I get it, then the next time I try to say it, its just not there. Is my age, menopause or just my brain not being used to work? Maybe its a bit of all of the above. In any case it of course makes me wonder why I am doing this – what for? Where am I going to use it anyway? Who do I think I am? Its way too early for me to be feeling despondent – I knew I would hit walls but surely not yet… and the group thing. I am so not a group person – I seem to lose myself when in a group. And of course this type of immersion learning IS all about doing it in the group. So can I be part of that? Really? As a Jewish, neurotic, reclusive, menopausal Pakeha woman???? Hang in there!
So Oy vey in wikipedia is:
Oy vey (Yiddish: אױ װײ), oy vay, or just oy—or even more elaborately oy vey, oh weh!—is an exclamation of dismay or exasperation like “woe is me”.
The Maori dictionary simply translates Ka pai as:
ka pai 1. good.
The “ka” actually indicates a future tense so I would say it was also “it will be good” or maybe even a kind of “She’ll be right”
These two things are almost like polar opposites. Hmmmm Me learning Te Reo? – This could make for an interesting experience.