31 March 2012
St Peter’s College Year 11 student Te Kauru Nohotima of Ngati Porou has won a top New Zealand scholarship for his fluency in te reo Māori.
And at just 16 he is passionate about keeping the language alive.
After years of speaking nothing but Māori with his family, Te Kauru says he is still coming to grips with English at St Peter’s.
He is enrolled in Te Reo Rangatira – similar to Te Reo Māori but for those who grew up speaking the language – which he does via correspondence at home with some help from the college.
Last year he sat NCEA level 1 and two papers in the language and also sat the scholarship paper, gaining the New Zealand Top Subject Scholar award.
It means Te Kauru is the best Te Reo Rangatira student in the country, and will receive $2000 a year for up to three years of tertiary education when he leaves school.
Growing up with his grandmother in Kelvin Grove, Te Kauru learnt to read, write and talk in Māori before he ever knew a word in English.
He attended Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Manawatu when he was five and it wasn’t until he was eight years old that he remembers learning any English.
‘I understood it but I never spoke it,’ he says. ‘I wasn’t surrounded by much English at home or at school. However, when I came to St Peter’s, English was very difficult for me to comprehend. Over time I became more and more fluent in it, but life for a short period was quite difficult.’
Te Kauru says it was often difficult to understand what people were saying in English.
‘I’m still learning English, but Māori always helps me to get my ideas across in English. Sometimes I find myself talking Māori without realising, but I’m getting better at not doing that at school. At home I speak Māori most of the time.”
He says that on the softball field he often yells to his team-mates in Māori.
‘They’re confused. They have no idea what I’m talking about. I think it’s a good tactic. The other team don’t know what I’m talking about either.’
Te Kauru believes the language is dying, especially in schools, and he aims to do what he can to make sure it isn’t lost forever.
‘Most of the Māori language evolved from the olden days when Māori then used sounds to create words, like the names of the birds. They named them only because of the sounds they make.
‘What really made me passionate, and I wasn’t passionate until I came to St Peter’s, was I found that Māori now is slowly dying, so I’m trying my best, however I can, to keep it alive.’
When he leaves school at the end of 2013, he plans to head south to the University of Otago to study Māori psychology but would also like to sit education papers extramurally through Massey University.
‘I wasn’t planning on becoming involved in the education field, but it seems more to be the right place if I wish to keep the language alive. I’m still experimenting in the fields of Māori education but thus far I’m more drawn to education.’
St Peter’s College deputy principal Catherine Gunn says the school is proud of Te Kauru’s achievement.
‘He’s a native speaker [in Māori] and also studies very hard. He’s got goals and aspirations and does everything to achieve those.’
This story was first published in the Manawatu Standard on February 21. It is used with permission.