Kōrero with Stacey: Stacey Morrison shares inspiring te reo proverbs

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21 April 2021

Reading Time: 2 minutes

In Stacey’s humble opinion, these whakataukī are full of practical wisdom.

If this column comes across as a veiled (and vain) reason to bring up an award I won, please do stick with me here! My discomfort at being recognised is the ironic rationale behind telling you about it.

At the Matariki Awards run by Māori Television, I was very humbled to receive the Waipunarangi award for te reo and tikanga, in recognition of my contribution to the revitalisation of te reo Māori.

As I wrestled with the idea that I was worthy of this award, when so many people are tireless and unsung heroes of the revitalisation movement, a friend suggested I was suffering from imposter syndrome. She was right, but I genuinely believe that teachers and nannies at Kōhanga and Puna reo, Kura and wider schools are true champions of te reo Māori. They seek no accolades as they do the vital work of nurturing the next generation of speakers. Yet, there I was at this lovely award event, talking about myself!

Fortunately, there are whakataukī (proverbs) we can lean on and be inspired by, that are concise yet say so much, and can be used in many settings.

Ehara taku toa i te toa takitahi, engari he toa takitini kē

This success is not mine alone, it is the success of the collective

You’ll hear this whakataukī at many award events, as it affirms that there may be one person accepting the award, but they wouldn’t be there without the support of many people. As I said this, I thought of all my teachers who nurtured my love for te reo Māori, and offered me insights I’ll treasure for my entire life. If I am being recognised, they are being recognised too. One was the late, great Professor Te Wharehuia Milroy, who uttered this next saying, which has become widely known across the country.

Ko te whakaiti te whare o te whakaaro nui
Humility is the bastion of higher thoughts and actions

There are various translations for this saying, which I hope isn’t so much confusing as fascinating. You could say that proverbs take on a new life in personal interpretation, as they should do. I particularly wanted to add “and actions”, as my understanding of this kōrero is influenced not just by what Te Wharehuia said, but also what he did. Humility in action is so powerful, yet often unheralded as a trait.

Kāore te kūmara e kōrero mō tōna ake reka
The kūmara doesn’t speak of its own sweetness

This is probably the most famous whakataukī about humility. In researching this column, I found some people who find this whakataukī problematic, because it may suggest they shouldn’t blow their own horn – yet in modern day business, don’t we need to do that sometimes? Some have actively urged people to speak of their sweetness, to reset that idea. Others gave examples of rangatira (leaders) who don’t necessarily need to always be seen leading, but can empower others to grow and emerge in their leadership. You could say this column has been kōrero kūmara (talking yourself up) and I’ll have to live with that, because these whakataukī do add to my inner compass so I’m sharing them, with aroha.

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