Maori language pioneer dies

Matriarch: Jean Puketapu has help from her nephew Pou Temara before receiving a diploma in early childhood education in 2004.
Matriarch: Jean Puketapu has help from her nephew Pou Temara before receiving a diploma in early childhood education in 2004.

A co-founder of New Zealand's first kohanga reo has died in Lower Hutt, the survival of the Maori language her legacy.

Jean Puketapu helped found Pukeatua in Wainuiomata in 1982, along with Kara Puketapu.

Pukeatua celebrated its 30th birthday this year.

Friends and her large extended family have begun gathering at the Waiwhetu Marae to mourn the loss of "Nanny Jean".

Maori Language Commissioner Erima Henare said Mrs Puketapu "put her shoulder to the grind-stone" over a long career in Maori education.

Mrs Puketapu spoke Maori growing up in Waikaremoana, and she spoke it to her children.

But without back-up at school, she saw the language was lost.

"She could see what urbanisation was doing to the Maori language and she wanted to do something about it," Mr Henare said.

He recalled travelling around New Zealand with Mrs Puketapu in the 1980s, promoting Te Reo.

"I got to know her very well."

She would be sorely missed by her extended family, he said.

"She was a real matriarch of Waiwhetu."

The first kohanga reo in New Zealand began in an old factory at Pukeatua in Wainuiomata in 1982.

As well as co-ordinating kohanga reo nationwide, Mrs Puketapu taught there with her baby granddaughter at her side.

She nurtured four generations of her family through kohanga reo.

She was made a member of the Queen's Service Order for her contribution to education.

Mrs Puketapu received a diploma in early childhood education in 2004.

Lower Hutt Mayor Ray Wallace said Mrs Puketapu left a "wonderful" legacy.

"She was a wonderful lady, and it's a very sad day for the community."

Contact Paul Easton
Hutt Valley reporter
Email: paul.easton@dompost.co.nz
Twitter: @pwe74

The Dominion Post