Columnist Stacey Morrison discusses the defining decision to make te reo the first language of her tamariki and her home. Listen to the four woman-inspired words she’s selected below and have a go yourself!
Parenting is quite easy when you haven’t done it yet. Before I had children, I had many theories, now tried and tested and proven wrong, many naiveties that have been corrected by experience. Naivety can make us bold, without us even realising it, and I’m glad for at least one of my boldly naive parenting decisions. My husband Scotty and I determined that te reo Māori would be the first language of our children, and the language of our home.
When we married in 2006, I was what I would term an intermediate speaker. I could hold conversations in Māori, stay in immersion environments – although it was quite hard for me – and Scotty and I would speak Māori about 40 percent of the time. Yet here we were, boldly deciding that the language of our ancestors would be the language of our home.
My husband Scotty and I determined that te reo Māori would be the first language of our children, and the language of our home.
Neither of us grew up with te reo Māori as children. I barely knew āe (yes) and kāo (no) until I was in my 20s. But we had both found our own path and love for our language, and that led to our own love story, in fact. Here we were though, rewriting the script for our children’s upbringing, as many parents do. Something we had missed as children, we wanted for our own tamariki.
I remember realising what “mother tongue” literally means: the language your mother spoke to you. My own mother was Pākehā and she had many love languages I treasure, but te reo Māori was not one of them. It was the missing language in my life that I sought out and worked hard for. Te reo ūkaipō is how we express the concept of mother tongue in te reo Māori.
Mother, source of sustenance, breast. Origin, real home.
The multiple English meanings of this term are in fact connected, and as with so many Māori words, they reveal values and beliefs. Your ūkaipō is your origin, your true home, and simultaneously recognises that your mother sustained you at her breast. I determined that as I fed my children at the breast, I would also feed them te reo ūkaipō.
It hasn’t been easy, that’s why Scotty and I have written books to help others who want to bring a little or a lot of te reo Māori into their homes, and their lives. In this column, I will offer stories of how I came to seek, and be sustained by, the unique language of Aotearoa, and little insights I hope will be of interest and even inspiration to you. As with ūkaipō, the multiple, yet connected meanings of Māori words that relate to mothering and whānau show us a cultural world view that inspires me as a woman.
As well as “family”, whānau also means “to be born”, and “to give birth”. We are born into our whānau, and the role of a mother is honoured in this term.
As well as “pregnant” this word also refers to a subtribe, connected through the pregnancy that created an eponymous ancestor, which becomes the name of the hapū.
For instance Ngāti Irakehu is one of my hapū, our name recognises Ngā tini a Irakehu (the many of Irakehu) who was a female ancestor of ours. Hapū and iwi are named after both male and female ancestors.
The whenua/placenta offers our first grounding into this world, and when we bury whenua after a baby’s birth we are bringing the whenua (placenta) back to the whenua (land).
That’s not to say the mana of women is only recognised in terms of our childbearing properties…but that’s another kōrero I look forward to writing about in the future.