Wellington has a new beating heart. In June the name Te Ngakau, meaning “seat of affections” or simply “heart” in te reo Maori (literally: the Maori language) has been gifted to the city by the local iwi or tribe for the city’s central Civic Square.
The new moniker is one visible statement of Wellington’s commitment to becoming a te reo Maori city and to ensure the language of New Zealand’s indigenous population is seen and heard much more around the capital city.
”We want to make te reo part of the fabric of the city, show a commitment to the language and acknowledgement of history – because we can, because we should, because Wellington is better for it,” mayor Justin Lester explains.
New Zealand’s first language will soon be popping up in signage on buildings, direction signs, murals and visitor attractions, and in September the capital will host one of the biggest Maori language parades to celebrate the nationwide Te Wiki o te reo Maori or Maori Language Week.
For one week all New Zealanders are encouraged to give te reo a go. Greet their whanau (family) with a cheerful kia ora (hello) or Morena! (good morning), order a kawhe (coffee) and listen to some waiata (song). The Maori music awards will take place as well as workshops, lectures and book launches throughout the country to celebrate the country’s taonga (treasure).
It’s been more than 30 years since te reo Maori was made an official language in the Pacific nation in 1987 but despite many efforts to grow the use of te reo, it is still on the UNESCO list of endangered languages.
“It is important to keep the language alive not just for Maori cultural reasons but also to maintain our unique national identity,” says Maori academic Professor Rawinia Higgins.
The language is a defining feature of the country and an important element to what makes New Zealand distinctive. Te reo Maori is also not just an official language.
According to Nanaia Mahuta, Minister for Maori Development, it is the “indigenous language of Aotearoa New Zealand and plays a significant role in establishing strong identities for all tamariki (children).”
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Photo credit – New Zealand Maori Culture.