Don’t speak English!

The playground fence at Te Awhina Kohanga Reo

There is nothing quite like getting told off by a four year old to make me feel guilty. His tone was severe, ‘Kaua e kōrero Pākehā (Don’t speak English)!’ I wanted to justify my breaking of the rules—honestly, the teacher said it was OK (for me to whisper to my Japanese colleague in English)—but he had moved on to other activities. Te Awhina Kohanga Reo is a Māori ‘language nest’ which allows only Māori to be spoken in the classrooms, and is quite strict with parents and visitors alike as a way of keeping the culture strong.


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A saying on the wall at Te Awhina Kohanga Reo: “Hold fast to culture, for without language (kupu), without spirit (mana), and without land (whenua), the essence of being a Maori would no longer exist”.

Earlier we had seen the outcome of Māori medium schooling, when we visited a Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Manawatū, a Māori philosophy primary school. We were there at the same time as an all Māori speaking film crew shooting a session for the popular Pūkana Māori Television show. The presenters had themselves been to kura kaupapa Māori and the children were obviously big fans. They loved interacting with the whole crew, who are an impressive group of young people, totally at ease in te reo Māori—and also in English when talking to us (out of earshot of the children).

Matariki (Pleiades, Subaru, the Seven Sisters) rise above the southern hemisphere horizon in mid-winter, signalling the start to the Māori new year. A classroom in Te Kura Kaupapa o Manawatū.

I am looking forward to seeing the final edited nine minutes on Pūkana in a couple of months’ time. By then the members of the film crew will have moved on to other shows where their ability in te reo Māori may not be so important (one said he will be filming a ‘reality’ television show in Thailand). It is not often I get a chance to mix with television stars, and I am kicking myself for not getting a selfie!


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