Teaching and Learning an Indigenous Language Through its Narratives: Mäori in Aotearoa/New Zealand
Moorfield, John C (2006) Teaching and Learning an Indigenous Language Through its Narratives: Mäori in Aotearoa/New Zealand. Junctures: The Journal for Thematic Dialogue (6: Language). pp. 107-116. ISSN 1-877139-65-3
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In a society which is based on oral tradition, the contribution of those individuals who are vested by their society with significant knowledge of, and stature in the culture, is vital in the propagation of knowledge. These individuals, referred to as ‘repositories’ play an important role in Aoteaoroa /New Zealand in the preservation of Mäori as a living and taught language. One teaching method used widely in Aotearoa/New Zealand, the Te Whanake collection, while essentially a resource for teaching Máori as a second language to adults, also features narratives by well-known repositories of Máori knowledge across Aotearoa/New Zealand who saw the importance of the written word as a tool to aid in the survival of the Mäori language, history and culture. Within the collection, the voices of these repositories echo the idiosyncrasies of the tribes to which they belong, thus providing a cross-sectional glimpse into various aspects of the Mäori world. In the Mäori world, people with a deep knowledge of their tribal culture, history and traditions and with fluency in the language are highly respected by their own tribe and Mäori people in general. They are regarded as repositories of this knowledge, much of which will have been handed down from earlier generations. Prior to colonisation, this knowledge was transmitted from generation to generation by word of mouth. However, most modern Mäori do not have the finely-honed memory necessary to maintain such an oral tradition because of changing traditions which de-emphasise the spoken transfer of cultural knowledge. Thus they must use modern technology to preserve this knowledge, whether this be the written word or audio or video recording equipment. The passing of people who do have a deep knowledge of their tribal culture, history and traditions is lamented, partly because with their death, so much of what they know is lost to Mäoridom forever. To retain that knowledge for future generations is important. However, knowledge is passed on only if the person with the knowledge is confident that it will be used only in an appropriate manner, and for the benefit of the tribe or wider Mäori community. Permission to publish some of this knowledge requires the confidence of people imparting the knowledge that it will benefit future generations of their people. Thus trust and integrity are key ingredients in the relationship between the ‘repository’ and the recipient of the knowledge which will be shared. The Te Whanake collection was developed in an exciting era near the beginning of what is commonly referred to as the Mäori Renaissance, a cultural explosion of initiatives by Mäori people of all ages across the country to reassert and reaffirm Mäori identity. Central to this renaissance was the Mäori language. Efforts to increase the use of the language have been made on a wide range of fronts, including in the fields of education (from early childhood to tertiary), of the visual and performing arts, of sport and recreation, and of the media, especially radio and television. The belief among Mäori is that the language is the key to a deeper understanding of the culture and their world-view and values. As a result, there has been a strong revival in the use of Mäori language in a wide variety of domains. Improving their ability to use Mäori is an important aim of many Mäori of all ages. Despite this revival, in 1995 only 59% of Mäori adults spoke the language to some extent and only 16.6% spoke Mäori with medium to high fluency The primary focus of the author’s research and writing has been on developing the collection to contribute to the collective effort towards Mäori language revitalisation nationally with the intention that Mäori remains a vibrant language used in a wide variety of contexts. The author also views the collection as providing a voice for Mäori repositories who do not have the time to publish their knowledge as indigenous scholars because of the huge demands on their time from their own communities. This is a demonstration of the cultural concept of tauutuutu (reciprocity) in appreciation of the trust these repositories had in the author to publish their knowledge with accuracy and dignity. The focus of this article is on the importance of the narratives by native speakers of Mäori that have been included in the Te Whanake series. These narratives have either been written especially for specific parts of the various texts, or have been selected from sources not readily available for the themes of particular chapters. The quality of language, as well as the relevance to the themes, has been important in the selection. Incorporating these narratives by native speakers of Máori implied an adherence to important ethical principles. I conclude this article by identifying these issues for the benefit of others who may wish to use language materials by speakers and writers of indigenous languages. These ethical procedures are discussed at the end of the article.
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