Te Reo o Te Rarawa tribal language wānanga labelled a 'success'

By Raniera Harrison

One Far North iwi is making headway with its tribal language revitalisation strategy to allow their descendants to stand adept in their own tribal knowledge.

"Look at the value of the informal language patterns and the language held within our generation as a foundation for learning. That is the first place where language acquisition should take place" says Tatai Henare, teacher at the inaugural Te Reo o Te Rarawa language school, held at Te Rarawa Marae and Te Uri o Hina Marae, Pukepoto at the weekend.

An estimated 130 descendants of Te Rarawa returned home at the weekend to two of the tribal marae in the Far North to take part in the tribe’s language revitalisation strategy, Te Reo o Te Rarawa.

"It is an initiative for vitality. In recent months, Te Rarawa has had numerous funeral processions, so an initiative which promotes health and vitality of our language is necessary" says Raniera McGrath, organiser and teacher of the Te Rarawa tribal specific language.

There are five sections of the tribal language course, from dissecting traditional songs to traditional healing. One teacher says that all sections play their respective role in ensuring the wellbeing of the marae.

"You learn the value of 'taku', and it is not until you emerge to the front where your world becomes aware of 'tōku', for example, 'my mountain,' 'my river'. However, the speaker must be adept at 'my knife' and 'my tea towel' first and foremost. Hence, why a majority of speakers are unsure at the grammatical accuracies in the language of our elders who have spent a lot of time immersed in informal settings" adds Henare, who taught the value of musical compositions to promoting tribal specific knowledge and ultimately as a vehicle of intergenerational transfer of esoteric knowledge.

According to the 2013 census, 16,512 people, or 2.5% of the total population of Māori descent, affiliated with Te Rarawa could hold a conversation about everyday things in te reo Māori.

"To bring together the tribal groupings of the Far North, to rejuvenate the health and wellbeing of the Māori language. Our job is to spark the fire within the person to entice them to their native language, and then to their Te Rarawa dialectal differences in due course" says Nellie-Ann Abraham, herself a teacher, and graduate of Te Panekiretanga o Te Reo Māori.

We need to keep going lest we become stagnant and under the false pretence that the language is alive and well. Learning does not finish, we need to keep going from strength to strength - it's a process without end isn't it?" adds McGrath.

Te Rarawa are contemplating holding their next tribal language revitalisation course in November.