The annual ‘Epetoma o te reo Māori Kūki ’Āirani: Cook Islands Language Week is being held from Sunday 29 July – Saturday 4 August 2018. This guest blog is by Francie Oberg-Nordt, Qualification Coordinator in Ara’s Hospitality, Travel & Tourism Department.
Some reflections from a NZ born Cook Islander
As a non-Maori speaking Cook Islander; born and raised in Christchurch by a Cook Island mother and NZ born Norwegian father I often reflect on why being a child of a multi ethnic background that I only speak English. I regret the fact my mother did not making a conscious decision to teach my sisters and me her native tongue. She left school at age 13 to come and work in NZ in the Wairarapa, to help support her family back in the islands. I guess she struggled with English herself and because both my parents worked long hours in our family business when we were young Cook island Maori was certainly not a priority. As mum spoke English and dad did not speak Cook Island Maori , English was our language by default.
I remember every Sunday as a child being taken to church for the combined service followed by a Cook Island service. Combined service was in English and at times interesting. I loved the old stories from the bible but in the Cook Island service, the minister would be rattling off in Maori and I found it hard to focus and sit still. I did not understand and I found it boring. Needless to say, I started finding other things to do on a Sunday. When in my teens, I would often say to mum “why didn’t you teach us Maori when we were young” and Mum always told us “ if you want to learn it you will learn it” and I guess she was right. If you want something bad enough then make the effort yourself to get it, however at the time there was nowhere in Christchurch to learn Cook Island Maori. I remember Mum helped organise Christchurch Polytechnic’s first Cook Island Maori language course in Christchurch.
I was unfortunately unable to attend any of these classes due to work commitments, and as you can imagine there was not a great demand for the language to be taught and the courses eventually stopped running.
When I started university I decided to take Maori 101 and it is because of this foundation Maori course that I can understand smatterings of Cook Island Maori and understand sentence structure and feel comfortable with pronunciation (to a degree anyway)
My inability to speak fluently and understand the language of my fore fathers has not really been a problem for me over the years however on my trips back to Rarotonga; which are two or three times a year now, I have encountered some problems. When it comes to formal protocol, community and land matters; all of which are important in our culture, Cook Island Maori is essential. At land and community/family meetings I know I have a right to be part of these events to be on the land and when there I feel that connection to the land but when it comes to formalities I often feel inadequate or left out or that I’m missing out on the deeper meaningful of the conversation… I look and feel like a Cook Islander but somehow I’m different. Some native Maori speakers see me as different; as a foreigner or a “snob” because my English sounds “too perfect” (which it is not) or my accent is not “fob ish” (it can be if I want it to be) enough. However, this is not everyone. At the end of the day, it does not matter what they think, it only matters what I think and feel about my identity as a Cook Islander.
With plans to move to Rarotonga in my later years i.e. retirement (if that day ever comes) I have decided one of the first things I will do is to learn Maori at the local school or polytechnic. Not because I need to or others think I should but because I want to learn. I want the language to survive and my culture to survive. My daughter moves back to Rarotonga soon and she will start lessons in October with my husband who lives in Rarotonga. In the meantime I am trying to learn and use some basic greetings and phrases. My focus next week at work will be to teach my students some of the following words and phrases.
Here are a few words you could start with:
Kia Orana (key a or rahn ah) = Hello
Aere mai (eyeear ree my) = Welcome
Meitaki (may tar key) = good
Meitaki ma’ata (may tar key ma art a) = good or thank you (formal)
Popongi (Paw pong e) = Good Morning.
Kia Manuia ( key a ma nu e a ) = good luck
Pe ea koe? (Pear ear Koy?) = How are you?
Ine (e nay) = Please
So, I hope young you give Cook Island Maori a go. You might find it useful when visiting the Cook Islands for a holiday.
A warm smile and Kia Orana greeting will be understood and much appreciated by the locals.