A decision to learn Maori almost 20 years ago changed the course of Archie Hurunu's life forever.
The Hawera man now carries the flag for his iwi, Nga Rauru, by representing them at gatherings, tangi and other events. And it is a responsibility he accepts with open arms.
''It was a taonga and treasure given to me so it is my role to share it with everyone else,'' he said.
As a youngster, Hurunui was sheltered from the language and culture as English was promoted by his family as the way to ''survive in this world'' instead.
His first taste of Maori culture was as a teen during his years at Fielding's Hato Paora College but his main motivation to learn te reo came after his father died.
Hurunui embarked on a six-month total immersion course held in 1995 in Patea, joining 35 others on a similar journey, including his mother.
He said he considered himself to be lucky to have been taught the language by some of Taranaki's most prominent speakers, including Drs Ruakere Hond and Huirangi Waikerepuru.
However, without his own personal drive to maintain the language, he may not have survived the ''difficult'' road to learn it.
''It took me at least five years to learn how to listen,'' he said.
Hurunui said he felt the key to increasing the use of te reo lay within whanau and should not be the responsibility of learning institutions.
''The onus is actually on the parents to stand up and be counted,'' he said.
And learning te reo for Hurunui was more than just knowing the right words to say. Knowing the tikanga, kawa and history of your iwi was just as important.
''When you stand, you don't just speak for yourself, you speak for everyone,'' he said.
Hurunui - who spent a number of years working for Te Kaahui o Rauru, an organisation set up post iwi treaty settlement - said he was encouraged by the numbers of youth within the iwi who could speak te reo, although many of them still lived outside of the rohe.
Although Hurunui can be called on at any time of the day or night to fulfil iwi duties, he still had time to reflect on what life might have been like if he had not made the decision to learn the language.
''There would have been something missing in my life,'' he said.
Favourite whakatauki or proverb:
Ko toku taonga, ko toku reontsTnte
Ko toku reo, ko toku taongantsTnte
My language is my treasure and my treasure is my language (this proverb has its origins with Ngati Ruanui)
- Taranaki Daily News
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