Wahine toa

Leanne edited

It was very moving and a lot of fun. Yesterday I took part in Massey University’s Māori graduation, a special ceremony which is held after the main graduations to celebrate the university’s Māori graduates. Every one of the graduands was met with a haka/challenge, waiata/song, or karanga/call – and sometimes all three. So it took over three hours, but was action-packed. As well as plenty of whānau/family, students from the kura kaupapa Māori/Māori medium schools were there to tautoko/support their graduating teachers, and several of the graduands came across the stage with their children or other whānau. One sports science graduate responded so vigorously with his own haka that I briefly wondered if the stage would hold up.

I was here to celebrate with my friend and former Māori language teacher, Leanne Kerehoma, a true wahine toa/woman of strength. Her Master’s thesis was based on her experience as a kapa haka teacher and as a parent raising children as first language te reo Māori speakers, one of whom was also graduating as a teacher. When Leanne crossed the stage with Mahi, their whānau started ‘Te Ahu a Tūranga‘, a local waiata-ā-ringa/action song, and most of the audience rose to their feet to join in. I was the only one standing on the stage to tautoko her who could not remember the words or actions (in line with my status as her worst ever student), so I hope my smile made up for it.

We have come a long way. Although our gowns are medieval, in many cases they are worn with feather korowai/cloaks. No Latin in this ceremony, but an easy mix of te reo Māori and English – codeswitching from English to Māori, sometimes with translations and sometimes without; as well as constant codemixing with words of the other language added in. In a ceremony like this nearly everything could be understood whatever the language, and yesterday this celebration of language and culture was the strongest  message.


  1. What an emotive event. I would have cried throughout. Lovely to hear about it. Makes me homesick for my multiple identities at home.


  2. Aaaaw so blessed to have you at graduation, you made the day so much more special xx

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