Learning the Language

by | Dec 5, 2019 | Community, Stories

Since arriving in New Zealand, I’ve been fascinated with Māori culture. And my experience working for a local healthcare provider highlighted the importance of traditional customs and practices associated with Māoridom being incorporated in healthcare and wider society. But, while most of the Tikanga seemed like common sense to me, what did it all mean? Where did it come from? And why? 

Skip ahead to six months ago, having recently moved from Mōrere to the bright lights of Gisborne, and finally cancelling my neglected gym membership, I ran out of excuses to put off undertaking some study about Māori culture.

The search begins…and ends

One Winter evening in July, I opened Google and began looking for a course. A few hours later, I had well and truly fallen down the rabbit hole. The internet was flush with educational options to study at home or at a number of courses around town, but where to begin? After a full-blown scientific analysis (I composed a note in my phone) of all the courses that met my criteria of part-time, not too advanced, and with a focus on culture, rather than language I hit a wall. Before long, it all got a bit too overwhelming and hard. 

The bright idea that had once enthused me, was now firmly in the ‘too-hard’ box stowed away on the top shelf of my brain. 

That was until… Kopu called.

It turns out, one of the many enrolment information forms I filled out had my correct phone number on it *facepalm* and detective inspector Kopu tracked me down.

Kopuroa Haiwaikirangi is the tutor of Level 3 qualification in Te Whāinga o te Ao Tikanga (Māori culture and protocols) at the Wānanga O Te Aotearoa, Gisborne. He also just happens to be one of the most special humans I have evet met. Kopu spoke to me about the course and what it involved… it was a perfect fit. There was just one problem…it was full time. 

However, after a quick face-to-face interview with Kopu, it became apparent that East-Coast time applies to education as well, and a ‘full-time’ course was more that do-able for me, in addition to a 40-hour work week.

Class is in session

It was “a lolly scramble of personalities” as Kopu described our class. Full-time mums, retired entrepreneurs, local business owners, healthcare staff, council workers and various curious minds looking for ways to connect with Tairāwhiti’s rich heritage – there were even a couple of tutors and staff from the Wananga.

The in-class commitment was two four-hour classes a week. You can choose to attend a day class or a night class, or one of each. Then, once a month we went on Noho – a weekend-long festival of learning. Or as I like to call it…the cheapest possible way to experience a cultural tour of our slice of paradise. 

Honestly – I’m convinced that tourists would pay $500 per person to ride along in the Wananga minivan, and listen to Kopu and our class yarn about the significance of the area and their memories of growing up in Te Tairāwhiti.

It’s time to act on good intentions

Since embarking on the course, nearly everyone that I have told about it has been really enthusiastic. In fact, I would say that 90% of people have commented that they have “always wanted to do it, but…(insert excuse here)…”

Well, I’m here to tell you that you can, and should, do it! 

The past six months have been amazing, I have met people that I would have NEVER come across in day-to-day life. I’ve been inspired, educated and motivated to continue on my learning journey. 

I was delighted to find that while I had a heap of awkward questions, there was no awkward moments in class. Instead we had some meaningful discussions about Tikanga and what made something the ‘right’ way of doing things.

I found some of the answers I was seeking, I understand the ‘why’ behind basic Tikanga, and when at work, I have a deeper understanding of Māori culture, which is enabling me to communicate better, and work more respectfully with Iwi groups.

In short, this course has given me a new appreciation for the place I call home, answered some burning questions, taught me fantastic new things (homemade fry bread recipe, anyone?) and empowered me at work. All for the bargain price of $0! Yep, that’s right, absolutely free!

A gift from me to you

In the interest of streamlining your journey towards some further education, and avoid wasting a solid two hours of data scrolling the internet for courses, this is my gift to you, a one-stop-shop of free Māori Tikanga and language courses in Gizzy. 

Merry Christmas!

Story by Katherine Evett

There a heaps of other free courses out there, including more opportunities from the below providers but here’s a starter pack of some basic language and tikanga classes that are available right here in Tūranga.

Te Wānanga O Aotearoa Whirikoka campus – 630 Childers Road, Gisborne


NZ Certificate in Tikanga (Level 3)

Te Ara Reo Māori (He Pī ka Pao) Learn to speak Māori, Level 2

Toi Maruata Certificate in Māori and Indigenous Art, Level 3

EIT Gisborne Campus – 290 Palmerston Road, Gisborne