Why the Revival of the Māori Language Is So Important

Tamaki Māori Village offers encounters with authentic Māori rituals and traditions
Tamaki Māori Village offers encounters with authentic Māori rituals and traditions | © Graeme Murray / New Zealand Tourism
Jordan Lane

Te Reo Māori, the native tongue of Māori New Zealanders, has been fading out of everyday life for a long time. But now the language is experiencing a revival, which is bringing Māori heritage to the forefront of Aotearoa.

Loved by over 40s
A group of Māori people pose at a dwelling in Rotoruahana, 1880

New Zealand became a colony of Britain in 1840, and in the years that followed, the nation’s identity was massively altered. Migrants arrived in waves, and the population of Pākehā (New Zealanders of European descent) grew enormously. Land disputes produced tragic losses, history was made, and the country’s culture was changed forever.

The conch is a a traditional Māori instrument, played here on the grounds of Waitangi

One of the countless results of these events was a decrease in Te Reo Māori speakers. Colonisers established English as the language of trade and communication, and in the decades that followed, the British influence grew. By the 20th century, English had almost completely taken over – at the expense of Te Reo Māori. The Native Schools Act of 1867 even demanded punishment for school children speaking Māori, seeking to secure the future dominance of English.

Between 1996 and 2013, the proportion of the Māori population who were able to hold conversation in Te Reo dropped from 25% to 21%. Numbers of speakers were, and still are, far smaller among Pākehā. The decline showed no signs of ending, but all this was soon to change.

Ngahiwi Apanui is the chief executive of the Maori Language Commission

Recent appreciation for Māori culture and the importance of Te Reo Māori in New Zealand history has sparked a fresh interest in the language’s protection. It is being increasingly acknowledged as a cornerstone of New Zealand culture, and an important part of the country’s heritage. Allowing it to be forgotten would mark a massive blow to New Zealand’s identity, and awareness of this dawning truth has led to the tide being turned. Members of Parliament and the country’s population alike are seeking to protect and give new strength to the language. In communities up and down Aotearoa – the Māori name for New Zealand, which means “Land of the Long White Cloud” – new hope for a reversal of the language’s fate is being celebrated, more than ever before.

After Fush restaurant, a family-owned seafood eatery, added menus in Te Reo Māori and table talkers with basic Maori phrases, co-owner Anton Matthews started to offer free Te Reo Māori classes, attracting hundreds of people on Monday nights

The question of whether Māori language lessons should be compulsory in all New Zealand primary schools was central to the general election last year, and the conversation is continuing to gain momentum. There are already full immersion schools that teach in Te Reo, but the adoption of lessons by mainstream schools is beginning to feel inevitable.

Technology is increasingly playing a role in the language’s revitalisation, too, through developments including the Kura app designed by Victoria University of Wellington, and Māori Television, a channel that broadcasts shows specifically catered to learning the language, among other programming. In addition, the New Zealand Film Commission has recently announced a fund of NZD 2.5 million (£1.2m) in support of feature films being made in Te Reo Māori, as well as assisting the work of Māori film-makers.

Ongoing campaigns are actively promoting the revival of Te Reo Māori

Even the smallest steps count. In May 2018, Hawke’s Bay McDonald’s became the first branch of the chain to introduce a bilingual menu in Māori and English, marking a significant symbolic statement.

This rekindling of Te Reo is a reminder of its crucial importance to New Zealand. It has been an official language since 1987, thanks to an act which was arguably the beginning of the return of Te Reo, and it is finally being recognised as one by the majority. The presence of Te Reo Māori in the daily life of average New Zealanders is no longer limited to place names and certain key phrases, and there is a lot of progress still to be made, but the situation today indicates that the future will be positive for this key part of New Zealand culture.

This article was written in association with The Boar, a student publication based at the University of Warwick.

culture trip left arrow
 culture trip brand logo

Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip

meet our Local Insider

Hanna

women sitting on iceberg

HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?

2 years.

WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?

It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.

WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?

I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!

culture trip logo letter c
group posing for picture on iceberg
group posing for picture on iceberg

Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.

map of volcanic iceland trip destination points
culture trip brand logo
culture trip right arrow
landscape with balloons floating in the air

KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?

Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.