A line drawing of a Māori carving against a background pattern of water.

Māori for Beginners

9 Feb 2017
Alexandra Porter's journey from India to Christchurch, and her Te Reo Māori Experience.

By Alexandra Porter (Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision) 

Tēnā koutou katoa
Ko Alexandra Porter tōku ingoa
Nō Ingarani me Kōtarania ōku tīpuna,
I whānau mai ahau i Īnia,
Kei Ōtautahi tōku kāinga ināianei

Ka nui te mihi ki a koutou katoa
Nō reira, he waka eke noa
Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā tātou katoa

Born in India from English and Scottish parents, I emigrated from Ingarani (England) at the age of 20 and apart from a couple of years in Tūranganui-a-Kiwa (Gisborne) and Ōtepoti  (Dunedin) have settled largely in Ōtautahi (Christchurch). I consider Aotearoa home; it is where my son was born (Waitaha, Kāti Māmoe, Kāi Tahu) and where I have been growing roots for the best part of 23 years. It is with a degree of embarrassment then when I admit te reo Māori had been on my list of things to do for far too long.

Fortunately my challenging but inspiring journey of te reo began in March 2016 when support from work and a window in the evening schedule allowed; challenging because my brain is not a great receptor between 6.30-8.30pm, and inspiring because it opened up te ao Māori and has served to strengthen family ties. My son continues to learn te reo at school and takes great satisfaction from correcting my whakahua (pronunciation) and testing me on my mahi kāinga (home work) which I am grateful for, as teenage years advance and the general urge to kōrero with parents can diminish.

In Ōtautahi te reo Māori and tikanga has been something I personally associated mostly with formal or bicultural occasions, scattered within extended whānau gatherings or at work, limited to the beginning and ending of email correspondence. However, one has to start somewhere, and only in daily use have I found any new language sticks. Therefore (thanks to colleague and fellow te reo student, Sarah Johnston) my workplace and home are now covered in pieces of paper to assist this slow process of neuro-linguistic embedding.

Our wonderful kaiako (teacher) and talented kaiwaiata (singer) Antoinette Koko (Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāi Tahu) has introduced us to a variety of traditional karakia (prayer) and waiata (song) as part of the curriculum, the latter to which I was initially resistant as singing in any capacity is not my thing. Timely choral bursts do, however, serve to expand her class’ attention span whilst lifting spirits and confidence (it’s a good trick). So when, following the end of the term last year, a friend played me The Alphabet Song from a 1972 vinyl LP produced by the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation I was eager to both share and find out who else had come across it.

A recent and proud addition to his vinyl record collection, the LP titled MAORI for BEGINNERS* by Professor Biggs was purchased from a Christchurch second-hand store for just a few dollars. The spellbinding first track immediately seized my attention as its melodious vocal pattern of letters was unique to anything I’d heard before.

Hero image: 'Maori for Beginners' - LP Cover (New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation, 1972)

Album cover of 'Maori For Beginners'

'Maori for Beginners' - LP Cover (New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation, 1972)

Back at work a search in Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision’s collections database revealed that we had a copy on DAT (Digital Audio Tape), taken from an LP of the same name produced in 1972 – but no original vinyl disc was present in the archive. DATs are high on all sound archive preservation agendas as the format (largely from the late 1980s-early 2000s), developed for storing and backing up data onto magnetic tape, is unfortunately rapidly deteriorating. Now however, following its digitisation, this taonga is available to listen to in its entirety on our online catalogue.

Below are the first couple of audio tracks from the LP, which for me highlight the tone of this 1970s te reo lesson. The lesson was originally created for radio, though now of course the station is better known as RNZ – Radio New Zealand, Te Reo Irirangi o Aotearoa.

'Maori for Beginners', Audio Track 01: The Alphabet Song (00:04:17)

'Maori for Beginners', Audio Track 02: Lesson One (00:02:45)

Transcription from the rear of the 'Maori for Beginners' LP cover:

NZBC Maori for Beginners by Professor Bruce Biggs

This record contains the conversations from Maori for Beginners, a series of 26 lessons written by Professor Bruce Biggs of the University of Auckland, for the NZBC.

Each conversation is spoken clearly and precisely, but a normal conversational speed is maintained. The dialect is standard Maori, understood by competent speakers of the language from any part of NZ. Care has been taken to avoid dialectical features restricted to certain tribal areas.

The Alphabet song, which opened each lesson, contains the five vowels of Maori: lines two and three contain the ten consonants. The chorus is a patter which each week combined a different consonant with the 5 vowels.

The speakers are:
Tutor… Tamati Reedy B.A.
Hera… Tilly Reedy, B.A.
Matiu… Matiu te Hau
Pare… Becky Paapu
Hoani… George Bennett

(A complete transcript is included.)

MAORI FOR BEGINNERS was commissioned by the NZBC, produced in their Auckland Studios and broadcast in the National Programme.

Enquiries concerning Maori For Beginners should be addressed to: NZBC Head Office Spoken Features Section, P.O. Box 98, Wellington, NZ.

Enquiries concerning this record album should be addressed to: NZBC Head Office Radio Transcription Section, P.O. Box 98, Wellington, NZ.


* macrons were not used in the Biggs material