Working to keep te reo alive

LANGUAGE LOVER: Dr Hinemoa Elder grew up with little te reo Maori but feels strongly about speaking her native tongue now.
LANGUAGE LOVER: Dr Hinemoa Elder grew up with little te reo Maori but feels strongly about speaking her native tongue now.

Hinemoa Elder will be encouraging people to become familiar with a few new words during Maori Language Week.

The former TV children's show presenter is one of many who grew up knowing just a handful of native words and phrases and is now a strong advocate for te reo Maori.

"My mum was of the generation that was encouraged to speak English. Some of our leaders in the Far North came from an era when te reo Maori was so strong they didn't conceive their people might lose their language.

"But a lot of people moved to the cities and did lose it."

Elder grew up in Manchester and Cambridge in the UK with a Maori mother and Pakeha Kiwi father.

She didn't connect with her culture and language until her return to New Zealand, aged 11.

"I didn't grow up speaking it as a native, but I feel fiercely about it now - I want to speak my native tongue."

Elder is a psychiatrist, specialising in traumatic brain injury. Her clients come from all walks of life but when she offers Maori children a connection to their culture, she says she sees a difference.

"I always bring people a karakia - prayer - at the beginning of the session or the end.

"I've noticed that when young people hear te reo they sit up - their whole attitude changes.

"It opens up different possibilities when you use the resources from the Maori world."

Elder says her Maori language knowledge is at the lower intermediate level and she's improving with night classes at AUT twice a week and two mornings a week.

She and husband Patrick Griffiths also attend regular kura reo - total immersion weeks - in different parts of the country.

"You stay on a marae and go through two classes a day - comprehension, translation and reading. It's empowering, uplifting and scary," she says. "You eat, sleep and breathe Maori."

Elder prefers to spend her money in places she can have a conversation in Maori. So she and Griffiths have been bringing the language to the community through their Ringawera bakery business.

"Our products have bilingual packaging and the shop is an opportunity for people to have fun with the language.

"A lot of my Pakeha friends don't seem to be exposed to the Maori world. We are trying to open the door in a non-threatening way."

Ringawera and its outlets will have a te kupu o te wiki - a word of the week - for people to try out during Maori Language Week.

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Waiheke Marketplace