Kōhanga reo was so much fun growing up. You were taught to assert your Māoritanga absolutely and unapologetically, probably because you didn’t even know that regard for other people’s thoughts and lack of self-confidence was even a thing yet.
But the true value of the kōhanga reo movement can be seen in the adult population it has produced.
You see, kōhanga reo didn’t just teach us how to speak Maori – kōhanga taught us a way of seeing the world through the vernacular of the Maori language, within which our belief system is underpinned.
Personally, it was responsible for reinforcing the world view of my tupuna that was being nurtured in me by my community.
Thanks to the Maori education pathway, of which kōhanga reo are a pioneering feature, you learned very early to “manaaki” your Kaumātua, not simply because they are old, but because they represent a window into the world of your ancestors.
They are the closest living link that connects you to a wider context of the history of your people. They are an example of your “whakapapa”, another core-value learned from kōhanga.
It is to this end that kōhanga reo gave me my first passport.
It’s called a “pepeha”.
Thanks to kōhanga, kura and wananga I can now travel anywhere in the country, recite my pepeha and be easily identified by others.
I can also listen to the pepeha of others and effortlessly engage with another human being based on a set of pre-existing historical relationships that precedes both of us.
I can walk almost anywhere on this land and feel “at home”.
I can feel like this because kōhanga gave me the tools and information I require to successfully navigate this country in the context of its historical relationships.
In some cases, I merely have to hear the surname of an individual and make a rather accurate guesstimate of where they are from, their family traits and perhaps even the migration route their ancestors used to make their way here from ancient Polynesia.
Kōhanga taught me a valuable networking skill that taps into 700-plus years of genealogical design which serves me nowadays in the same way that a road-map does.
Whakapapa gave me a road-map into people. Why they have settled where they are. Why they believe in the things they believe.
Their dreams, their hopes, their aspirations. Not comprehensively of course – but it has been, in my experience, a clear advantage over others.
All of this, I have gathered about a person before even meeting them face to face.
So to all the Mātua and Kaumātua from kōhanga – thank you.
For all of the privileges now enjoyed in adult life.
Ngaa Rauuira Pumanawawhiti is the cultural market manager at the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute. He has a passion for indigenous New Zealand and hopes to take Maori people and culture to the world.