Ko wai koe? No hea koe?

It seems I just can’t be satisfied coming to another country without learning another language. At first, I thought it would be enough to focus on learning to understand the Kiwi’s crazy form of English. It’s been no easy feat to get to the point where I can come out with proper responses to phrases such as “Bob’s your uncle”, “Good on ya”, and “sweet-as”.

However, in addition to English, there are actually two other official languages in New Zealand: Māori and NZ sign language. While I’ve always been interested in learning sign language, I decided to focus on Māori for the time being. Those of you who have visited NZ will know that many place names and signs are in both English and Māori. However, this is a relatively recent change. Māori only became one of the official languages in 1987. Prior to this, and the start of several Māori-language recovery programs, there was actually a fear that the language would be lost. There were many reasons for the decline of Māori speakers, among them the fact that for many years Māori was forbidden in the schools and all proceedings in Parliament were conducted in English. Many Māori felt there was little reason to teach the language to their children. At present only about 4% of the NZ population speaks Māori. However, knowledge and interest in the language (and culture) is on the rise in both official and personal settings.

One of the first things we are learning is “Ko wai koe? No hea koe?”: “Who are you? Where are you from?” It seems like a fairly basic question, but traditionally the answer would include a whole description of lineage and family history. When we first introduced ourselves, we were asked to give our name and place of origin, as well as “our” river and mountain. It’s added a whole new dimension to some of the discussions Greg and I have been having lately about identity.

*Photos courtesy of my mom. Hopefully we’ll get a post up about our travels with her and Robert soon…

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