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Wiremu Tawhai, loved and respected teacher of language and culture, scholar, author, actor and elder of Te Whanau o Apanui tribe, speaks about his passion for the Maori language, the importance of traditional languages and knowledge, and of his efforts in language recovery in a tribal institution of higher learning in Aotearoa New Zealand and in his own community.
See below for a transcript of this conversation:
Wiremu Tawhai-So those are all attempts at recovering. This is only one of them. And I know it basically because I was one of the facilitators. [maori words] going on all over the place. On marae. Marae-based. Whakapapa wananga (genealogy schools). Otaki Raukawa wananga ???? are providing a combined front in this push.
Because we can do it. Because we’ve got some control over the content or the curriculum. So I can be free to take my class into the bush and talk and teach and draw and touch and taste there rather than in the classroom. This is a Kauri tree. Can you draw the leaf? And they draw it from a picture. But because I am at a Wananga [Maori place of learning] and others like me I can explore and explode boundaries too. We can break boundaries.
Those students are sitting up there, I hope, are telling Colleen[?] these are the things we are being taken through by our teachers.
MS-H In the bachelor of Education?
WT In the Faculty of Education. So I say to them, for example, I’ve got the caretaker’s truck. Put all our desks, put all our chairs in the back. Tie it down, and I’ll drive it over there and you follow me in your cars. That’s the beginning of our lesson. So we get way out into that bush area there, unload, unload, unload, and sit around. We’re sitting under a tree and then whoosh, and they say “oh look that bird’s caught that other bird.” It came out of the blue. Bang. And we were sitting in the bush and little spetula and other birds were pecking the seeds. Oh, caught one. i said “Wee, look at that bird”. So I was able to switch my lesson and talk about the karererea.[?] And talk about capatimora . Because this was a karerereia that came out of the blue, catching one of the smaller birds and sat there holding it in its claws. And there we were under the tree there watching it. Would I see that if I was sitting in a classroom over here? Those sorts of things happen, I say.
“Look at that ridge. How many Maori trees can you see growing there?” They saw none. There is a butchgrove right in front of them. A manuka right in front of them. There is a titoka right in front of them. There’s a himahima right in front of them. So you can do these kinds of things because I’m at a wanaga. I doubt I was able to do that if I was a secondary school teacher in the Whakatane High School. Because there is a program. And I have to sit and the bell rings, and they move on. The bell rings they move on. I can’t borrow the caretakers truck if I was a secondary school teacher for Whakatane high school, could I? So it’s easier to say, “aw Jeff can I have your truck.” “What for?” “I want to take my class but I want the furniture out there.” He says, “yeah, bring it back this afternoon.” You can’t do that in places like. And then we see a karererea hawk capture its prey right in front of us so I switch the lesson around. Leave the trees for awhile.
WT… so they are asking me to be one of their keynote arowa???. So there’s a surprise coming. If I see that the marae is not the place to do it then I’m going to take them to the riverside, maybe, and talk about stones, maybe. Because see those stones up there? See the story they are telling? When I get a stone like this, what is that stone telling? And when I get a stone like that, what is that stone telling? Look. Look at the story these two stones are telling, aye, the geological story. In Maori terms, it is exciting. So, that wananga, if they want me to talk about environmental science it may not happen on marae? because I know they’re living next to a river.