In the last Tertiary Update, TEU member and Pūkenga in the School of Māori and Indigenous Studies at Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato | Waikato University Dr Ēnoka Murphy (Ngāti Manawa, Ngāti Ruapani, Ngāti Rangitihi, Ngāti Kahungunu) discussed the intergenerational trauma experienced by those denied the use of te reo Māori. Here, Dr Murphy tells us more about the ‘courageous ones’ who commit themselves to learning te reo Māori, and 30 years of Te Tohu Paetahi, the total immersion Māori language programme.

For those not immersed in te reo Māori, learning the language is no easy feat. This is particularly true for kaumātua and mature tauira, as learning te reo Māori is a life-long journey. For kaumātua to take on that journey later in life, for them to dedicate themselves to learning te reo Māori and to overcome the whakamā and trauma many experience as a result of losing their reo takes tremendous courage.

When talking about te reo Māori, we often think simply of the ability to speak the language, but there is so much more to the journey, and so much more to be gained. Part of that journey is understanding who you are, your own histories and whakapapa. The ability to mihi and discuss one’s own hapū stories, and whakapapa in te reo Māori, opens up all the doors to your Māoritanga, and importantly, your hapūtanga.

As Māori, we grow up knowing that we have responsibilities to our marae. These responsibilities are often ones we force onto our subconscious. At our marae today, the pae is often full of young ones, many with a greater ability to mihi than their kaumātua. This is a positive sign for future generations, and the future of te reo Māori, but it’s often extremely difficult for today’s kaumātua.

Those I call the ‘courageous ones’ are the kaumātua I encounter every day who are committed to taking action to address this generational loss and trauma by dedicating themselves to learning te reo Māori, and in doing so, to strengthening their connection to Māoritanga, and hapūtanga.

As Pūkenga of Te Tohu Paetahi at Te Whare Wānanga, roughly 30 percent of tauira are kaumātua and mature tauira who have committed themselves, Monday to Friday, to learning te reo Māori. It is an incredibly courageous journey to take, to commit to an extensive and immersive programme of some 40 hours per week in learning te reo Māori, and in doing so, their ability to mihi, karanga, and meet not only their hapū responsibilities, but their responsibilities within the iwi and hapori.

As Te Tohu Paetahi celebrates 30 years of total immersion te reo Māori education it is clear that the desire and drive to learn te reo Māori has only increased for both rangatahi and kaumātua alike. Having reached 150 tauira enrolments last year, the unique programme, the tauira involved, the safe and supportive environment provided by kaimahi, and te reo Māori itself are moving from strength to strength in revitalisating our ancestral language.