Across New Zealand, a week of cultural celebration and unity is underway as the nation comes together to honor Māori Language Week, affectionately known as ‘Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori’. From September 11th to 17th, the country is immersed in the spirit of acknowledging and preserving Te Reo Māori, the indigenous Māori language, and culture.
Te Reo Māori is much more than a language; it embodies the heart and soul of Māori culture. Rooted in centuries of history, this language carries traditions, values, and stories integral to New Zealand’s identity.
During Māori Language Week, New Zealanders can engage with and celebrate Te Reo Māori through various means, including workshops introducing its basics, traditional Māori performances, exhibitions of Māori art and literature, storytelling events, music, and community activities. Additionally, digital platforms are used to extend the celebration’s reach through social media campaigns, online language lessons, and digital storytelling initiatives by both government and community organisations.
Māori Language Week also highlights the challenges Te Reo Māori has faced and the ongoing efforts to rejuvenate it. Like many indigenous languages worldwide, Te Reo Māori experienced a period of decline, but recent years have seen a revival thanks to government initiatives and grassroots efforts within the Māori community.
The New Zealand government has made significant commitments to support and preserve Te Reo Māori, including mandating Māori language classes in schools, increased funding for Te Reo Māori resources, and establishing a Māori Language Commission along with numerous policymaking and projects activities through various government agencies, all aimed at strengthening the language’s presence and vitality.
Māori Language Week isn’t just a celebration; it’s a promise. It’s a promise to protect and cherish the language and culture of New Zealand’s indigenous people. This annual event highlights the enduring strength of Te Reo Māori and its crucial role in the nation’s culture. Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori, as it’s called in Māori, is more than a party; it’s a commitment to safeguarding a unique language that enriches the nation.
Origins and Milestones of Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori (Māori Language Week)
In the early 1970s, a stark truth emerged in New Zealand – the Māori language was fading from everyday use. A growing concern stirred the hearts of many, leading to a heartfelt petition for the Māori Language, championed by the Te Reo Māori Society. It’s worth noting that ‘Aotearoa’ is the Māori name for the beloved ‘New Zealand.’
Approximately 30,000 people lent their signatures to this passionate plea, a moving testament presented to Parliament on September 14, 1972. This historic day would later be recognized as Māori Language Day in 1975, laying the very foundation for what we now know as Māori Language Week.
Back in 2008, Google decided to celebrate Māori Language Week by creating a version of their popular search engine in Māori. They teamed up with the Māori Language Commission to make it happen. It wasn’t an easy task and took about a year to finish. To make things even more challenging, they had to figure out how to translate all those technical words, and it took the efforts of more than 40 people.
Fast forward to 2015, and New Zealand’s cricket team, known as the Black Caps, did something special. They played a match using the name ‘Aotearoa’ to celebrate Māori Language Week. It was a way to show respect and honour for the Māori language. And then, Disney’s movie “Moana” got a Māori makeover in 2016. It was translated into Māori and had its big premiere in Auckland as part of the 2017 Māori Language Week celebration.
In 2021, Te Wiki o te Reo Māori was marked with a special event. On September 14, 2021, more than 1.1 million people set out to speak Māori at the same time. The event was called ‘Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori’ (the Māori Language Moment). The Māori Party started a petition to adopt Aotearoa as the official name of the country on the same day.
Māori Language Week 2023 continues this legacy of celebrating and preserving Te Reo Māori, reinforcing the significance of this rich cultural tapestry in the vibrant mosaic of New Zealand’s identity.
By Dilhan Athapaththu