It’s possible now to read longer texts in te reo — even to attempt a novel. But, as with so many other experiences on this journey, it’s really just a process of finding out how little I know.
Whereas I can pick up a book in English any time, and feel my brain relax through the process of reading, it’s a different story with Ngā Waituhi o Rehua. Because it’s a ‘second language’ for me, reading it can be really taxing. I can read three or four pages—even a whole chapter—if it’s first thing in the morning, when my brain is firing with fresh energy. If it’s last thing at night, I’m ready for sleep after three or four paragraphs. It’s amazing how demanding it can be — in the evening, I can feel each line of text tiring me out as I read. A potent lesson in humility, and a small suggestion of what it might be like for people who are denied easy access to their own language.
For me, this book speaks to another extraordinary wero. It says in the kōrero whakataki that Katerina Mataira was inspired to write it by something that happened at a hui. At that meeting, someone questioned what value te reo Māori could have in today’s world. Apparently a big believer in Western science, this person said te reo wasn’t capable of giving expression to the full range of contemporary thought. (At least, that’s my rough translation.)
In response, Katerina Mataira went home to write. Te Ātea, the korero states, was her response to that wero—the first book of its kind, and published prior to Ngā Waituhi o Rehua, which itself went on to become a classic. That’s one heck of a reply.
'One unexpected learning was about the capacity of a pig
to act as an emergency first-responder...'
As usual, I was pretty late to the party in buying this book last year. It was published a number of years ago, becoming loved and lauded for for its writing and design, but I learnt some new and surprising things. Kupu hou, the mita of Ngāti Porou, sentences I hadn’t come across before — these are just some examples. One unexpected learning was about the capacity of a pig to act as an emergency first-responder (saying more would give the story away, for people who haven’t read this book yet).
I’d never read the kōrero that emerges from Taka Ki Ro Wai about the tapu status of these birds. I reckon you have to read the book to get the full sense of it. But I was blown away by the kōrero, even as it tipped over one of my long-held understandings. Just another reminder of how much I haven’t known, and have never seen, in this country I thought I knew. Which in itself is one of the many, and perhaps the most important, hua of learning te reo Māori for someone like me.