News that Māori Television is increasing its broadcast hours to focus on language revitalisation has been welcomed by Māori academic Korohere Ngāpō from the University of Waikato. The former school teacher who’s worked for six years in the Faculty of Education’s Te Kākano Rua programme recently made Waikato University history by being the first student at Waikato to complete a PhD in te reo Māori.
His thesis is titled ‘Te Whare Tāhuhu Kōrero o Hauraki – Revitalising ‘Traditional’ Māori language of Hauraki.
“This was a subject close to my heart,” says Dr Ngāpō. “There are no native speakers left in Hauraki, and it concerned me that a lot of the ‘traditional’ language – the more formal aspects of our language – was being lost and, for many reasons, I think we need to keep it alive. It seemed natural for me to write my thesis in Māori.”
He has facilitated wānanga reo throughout Hauraki marae over 15 years and that, coupled with support in Hauraki from a hard core base of family members and kaumātua, assisted his research.
In addition, Koro Ngāpō is an inductee of an elite group of Māori scholars named Te Panekiretanga o Te Reo Māori, which is taught by Dr Tīmoti Kāretu, Dr Te Wharehuia Milroy and Professor Pou Temara who represent the pinnacle of the Māori language and Māori customs. Te Panekiretanga is for people who are fluent in Māori – they take scholars to higher levels of fluency to reach excellence in Māori language.
“These guys are my tohunga, my role models and if weren’t for them I would know nothing,” says Dr Ngāpō. “In the Māori culture one needs to be humble and remember this. Just because you have a PhD means nothing if you can’t or won’t give back to your people. Pou, Wharehuia, and Tīmoti expect this of their students from Te Panekiretanga, so this is what we do.”
He says now he’s finished his PhD, people think he’s got lots of free time. “Wrong! I continue to learn from my Tohunga. I have so much more to learn from them. The first thing you learn is you never stop acquiring or contributing to the Māori world. This is the true essence of what Te Panekiretanga epitomises.”
Dr Ngāpō also has praise for his supervisors Professor Linda Smith, Associate Professor Margie Hohepa, Dr Ray Harlow and Dr Rangi Mataatua. “They really inspired and encouraged me to get going. When you have all these people to keep you grounded and learn from education is cool!
“My hope is that writing a PhD in te reo Māori here at The University of Waikato will serve as an example for my kids, nephews and nieces that anything is possible if you work hard and focus.”
Dr Ngāpō is equally convinced of the benefits of being multi-lingual. “You look overseas, in Europe, children speak at least three languages but the majority of our children in New Zealand cannot. Māori is an indigenous language of New Zealand, it’s important for us to speak it; it contributes to our cultural understandings, can contribute to tourism and if you don’t have the language it’s difficult to participate in Māori events, particularly on marae.”