Dennis Ngawhare: Celebrating Te Reo Māori

A poha, landing net made from harakeke flax on display at a Mahi Kupenga workshop held at Elma Turner Library as part of ...
Marion van Dijk

A poha, landing net made from harakeke flax on display at a Mahi Kupenga workshop held at Elma Turner Library as part of the Arohatia te Reo theme for Maori Language Week.

Ko te kai o ngā rangatira, he kōrero: The food of leaders is oratory.

Ko te tohu o ngā rangatira, he manaaki i te tangata: The symbol of leadership is caring for people.

Ko te mahi o ngā rangatira, he whakatira i tōna iwi: The duty of leaders is uniting the people.

Whaikōrero is the art of oratory, and Te Reo Māori is the language of whaikōrero.

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This is Māori language week, and to celebrate our beautiful language, this article is about whaikōrero and its importance in the Māori culture.

Whaikōrero are spoken during powhiri (welcomes), hui (meetings), and tangi (funerals). The art of oratory has been the formal expression of tradition and ritual for generations and it incorporates history, genealogy, spirituality, current issues and poetry. Only Te Reo Māori is to be spoken during whaikōrero.

Master orators who infuse their speeches with wit, knowledge and creativity are admired, like the local master of oratory Dr Huirangi Waikerepuru. In fact they can be likened to manu (birds) by saying, "he korokoro tui tōna: he has the throat of a tui". Or as "manu tīoriori: Singing birds"

Whaikōrero has its female equivalent in karanga (ceremonial calling) and both are needed to complete ceremonial requirements. The art of karanga also utilises many of the same elements as whaikōrero, albeit in its own distinct format.

Every manuhiri (visitor) who walks across the marae-ātea (courtyard) and into the wharenui (meeting house) must be welcomed with karanga and whaikōrero.

Sometimes the marae can become a battlefield where words become weapons and kaikōrero (speaker) and kaikaranga (caller) are needed to deflect angry words.

"He rakau e taea te karo, he tao kī e kore e taea: Physical attacks can be parried whereas hurled words are not easily deflected". 

Elements of style define a mihi ōkawa (formal speech) from mihi ōpaki (informal speech). The following whaikōrero pattern is regulated by tikanga, tapu and mana and there are endless variations, depending on the speaker.

Often the whaikōrero will open with a tauparapara (chant), karakia (prayer) or whakataukī (proverb). Perhaps the most common of all openings is simply, "tihei mauri ora: I sneeze and it is the breath of life."

A whaikōrero must acknowledge the dead, the tūpuna (ancestors) and whānau (family) who have passed away recently. "He kāpiti hono, he tātai hono: That which is joined together" refers to the connection of the living with departed ancestors. Professor Poia Rewi (in his book Whaikōrero: The World of Māori Oratory) noted that acknowledgements to the dead are not restricted to funereal speeches. The tikanga of whaikōrero in powhiri and other occasions requires references to the deceased thereby bringing their memory into the conversation.

The mihi must acknowledge the land and the tāngata whenua. This is often a pepeha acknowledgement of the maunga (mountain), awa (river), iwi (tribe), clan (hapū) of the area where the whaikōrero is taking place.

Depending on the speaker, and the area, there will also be acknowledgement of Te Atua (God), ngā atua (gods), the poropiti (prophets), or Kingi Tuheitia (the Māori king). 

Of course, the people present at the hui must also be greeted. 

All speakers must refer to the kaupapa (purpose) of the gathering, otherwise what is the point of standing to speak?

Finally the whaikōrero should always end with a waiata (song).

In terms of speaking order, the honour of first speaker is often given to a koroua (elder) because of their experience, knowledge and wisdom.

Usually the kaikōrero of a marae should be from the hau kāinga (home people). However, a kaikōrero is more than just someone who can speak Māori.

I was taught that a kaikorero should know the tikanga and kawa of his marae, but he should also know the running of the whole marae complex and be able to set up the hui, cook in the kitchen, serve in the dining room and clean up afterwards, and work at maintaining the buildings and grounds. This is what it means to be kaitiaki (guardian) of the paepae (speakers seats).

Oratory is an art that can be learned, although it can take a lifetime to master. Fortunately many of the techniques (if not the tikanga) is now taught in schools.

Next week, Taranaki will host Ngā Manu Kōrero National Secondary Schools Speech Competition at the TSB Stadium in New Plymouth. 

This speech competition will highlight the best young orators from schools around the country with speeches in Māori and English on a range of prepared and impromptu kaupapa. Teaching youth the elements of style, form, structure and passion of oratory in a relatively safe environment of Ngā Manu Kōrero ensures there will be strong kaikōrero in the future.

Nō reira koutou mā o Taranaki e hāpai ake te reo me ngā tikanga o te whaikōrero me te karanga, he poitū whakarewa o te kupu ōkawa koutou. Me whakakīkī anō ngā whāwhārua o ngā paepae o Taranaki. 

Whakanuia Te Reo Māori!


 - Taranaki Daily News


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