From banned in schools to celebrated in the streets; Porirua kids design city's first bilingual te reo Māori road signs

Porirua's first bilingual road signs go up around Takapūwāhia Marae.
JARED NICOLL

Porirua's first bilingual road signs go up around Takapūwāhia Marae.

Once banned from schools, te reo Māori has now been used by Porirua kids to make the city's first bilingual road signs.

Students from Te Puna Mātauranga, an iwi-based learning support and education centre, in Takapūwāhia have one message for motorists: āta haere - slow down.

Their message adorns new traffic signs that have gone up on the streets around Takapūwāhia Marae, and are the first bilingual road signs in Porirua with more to come as old signs need replacing or new ones introduced around the city.

Porirua deputy mayor Izzy Ford, mayor Mike Tana, and Kapiti Mana Police area commander Tracey Thompson.
SUPPLIED

Porirua deputy mayor Izzy Ford, mayor Mike Tana, and Kapiti Mana Police area commander Tracey Thompson.

The signs were revealed as part of Māori Language Week in mid-September, and Porirua Mayor Mike Tana said it symbolised how much things had changed since the 1867 Native Schools Act that said English should be the only language used in the education of Māori children.

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While Tana's kids are all learning te reo, he said his father stopped speaking Māori after being caned for doing so when he was a child at school.

Takapuwahia Marae along Ngāti Toa Street in Porirua.
JARED NICOLL

Takapuwahia Marae along Ngāti Toa Street in Porirua.

"My dad never spoke Māori after that.

"Our young people are now owning Maori as their language to speak and can normalise that. It's about being respectful to where we live, Aotearoa, and to our children who have made the effort to learn te reo."

While the Act was stopped in 1969, the language was still far from common-place.

Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Toa chairman Taku Parai performs a blessing.
Ivor Earp-Jones

Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Toa chairman Taku Parai performs a blessing.

Tana hails from Ngāti Whātua and is believed to be the city's first Māori mayor. 

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In 1984, his relative Naida Glavish, also from Ngāti Whātua, hit headlines after her boss at the post office demoted the telephone operator after she refused to stop saying "kia ora" and only use formal English greetings.

Then-Prime Minister Sir Robert Muldoon got her permission to use the Māori salutation.

Kapiti Mana Police area commander inspector Tracey Thompson, from Te Aitanga-a-Hauiti and Ngāti Whakaue, was the youngest of 10 siblings so her parents were older than most others when she was a kid.

"They would have  lived through that time when te reo wasn't to be spoken, and they brought us up that way. It never featured in the family at all.

"The sad thing for me was that by the time I got the hunger to learn it, mum and dad passed on. You've got all those stories, the histories and the skills - they're gone.

"It took that sad time when mum and dad passed on to appreciate what we didn't know."

During almost 23 years with police, Thompson has taken te reo lessons in all the towns she's worked. She hoped to see the language become a mandatory part of the school curriculum.

Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Toa chairman Taku Parai said when he was a kid, Māori was spoken by elders at marae particularly during ceremonies.

He learned from his grandparents who were fluent and would speak it at home.

"Our people were abused. They were strapped, whacked, and punished by all means for speaking it in the presence of a teacher. Particularly in urban areas like ourselves. In the country there wasn't all that monitoring."

Ironically, people around the world have enjoyed watching the All Blacks perform the iwi's Ka Mate haka.

Major Māori-language recovery programmes began in the 1980s, including the the first kōhanga reo opening in Lower Hutt and Māori was made an official language of New Zealand under the Maori Language Act 1987.

Te Puna Mātauranga student Te Uatorikiriki Solomon said he hoped Porirua's first bilingual road sign would be the start of many.

"We don't have many signs in Porirua that have Māori on them and there should be. It's a reflection of our hapori [community]."

 - Stuff

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