Maori Language Week 2021: Heperi Mita’s Te reo Maori Journey




Heperi Mita attends the ‘MERATA: How Mum Decolonized The Screen’ premiere during the 2019 Sundance Film Festival at the Prospector Square Theater. Photo / Getty Images

Heperi Mita grew up in Hawaii and the continental United States with her New Zealand filmmaker parents, Merata Mita and Geoff Murphy. When he arrived in Aotearoa 10 years ago, he decided to be fluent in te reo. He describes his ongoing journey to achieve this goal.

Although my mom is known to be an avid pro-Maori wahine toa activist, I have to admit that I didn’t have much exposure to te reo growing up. In my defense of whanau, this is mainly due to the fact that I spent most of my schooling in the United States, a place where having a Maori name like Heperi Tikitere Mita arouses raised eyebrows.

I always knew when a teacher first reached my name on the call by the uncomfortable break they took before desperately slaughtering him. I developed a perverse sense of delight in watching professors proud of their worldliness and linguistic prowess squirm as they try to decipher how to pronounce my name. They all inevitably failed despite their best intentions (bless them).

My peers, on the other hand, wasted no time with unsuccessful efforts, quickly settling down to call me “hippie” – which was slightly funny, or “happy” – which made me the opposite of that.

However, these were nothing compared to the savagery of the nickname “herpes”.

Heperi Mita with his parents, filmmakers Geoff Murphy and Merata Mita, while graduating from Punahou High School in Hawaii.  Photo / provided
Heperi Mita with his parents, filmmakers Geoff Murphy and Merata Mita, while graduating from Punahou High School in Hawaii. Photo / provided

But despite the occasional teasing, I’m eternally grateful that my parents named me Heperi Tikitere Mita, and that’s partly because it brainwashed me into the habit of rolling my R’s and got me used to using the R’s. vowel sounds te reo maori.

And when I finally came back to Aotearoa in my twenties – having already developed fluency in my own name, giving me the same language skills as a small child – I couldn’t wait to learn more te reo.

I was naive to think I could speak fluently after a few lessons, but even more naive to assume that New Zealanders would be better than Americans at pronouncing my name. In the end, “Heperi Tikitere Mita” also turned out to be a tongue twister for most Kiwis.

Witnessing the demand for beginner reo classes made me proud, but its popularity meant long waiting lists.

I was very lucky that my job at the time was to work for Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision as an archivist reviewing a lot of content from the first Maori TV. Kōrero Mai was one of my favorite shows because it was a language tutorial structured around a soap opera called Ākina, which I initially thought was a cheesy distraction. But from episode 20, I was completely seized by the drama of 3, rue Reka.

I consider programs like Kōrero Mai and Tōku Reo to be the foundation of the language skills I have today – in fact, I still use a karakia that I learned on the MÄ«haro preschool show. And this access to te reo content was a huge boost for when I finally entered a Te Ataarangi Beginner’s Course.

At that point, I finally got a place in this course that was close to my heart, as did the other 30+ people in the reo evening beginner’s course. The advantage of learning a new language in a full immersion environment is that conversation is a learning experience and not some kind of awkward social obligation imposed on you.

As the years went by and the standards progressed beyond the beginner level, I noticed that the class sizes were decreasing, as was the waiting list. Demographics also changed, where beginner classes were 90 percent non-Maori, more advanced classes were evenly distributed.

And while there are a large number of different options available for beginners in terms of courses, programs, and schedules, the number of intermediate level courses is relatively small. TV shows for language learners no longer teach you new things and more advanced shows are still incomprehensible. The resources appropriate for this level of te reo are dwindling rapidly.

I call this phase the “intermediate plateau”. This is the step that shatters most language learners, even the most enthusiastic. This is the stage where your journey becomes dependent on the flexibility of your schedule and your financial situation to be able to access the mātauranga of reo-speaking communities.

Some people have the commitment, determination and access to reo to get through the middle plateau, but I’m ashamed to say I’m a victim of it.

After 10 years of living in Aotearoa, I am still not where I wanted to be in terms of the ability to speak. At the same time, I know that I am extremely privileged because I know a lot of people who have spent decades on this journey and who have spent their entire lives dealing with the negative stigma of not having reo in their own country. .

I would bear to be called “herpes” because of this anytime.

Heperi Mita is a journalist, filmmaker and currently financial advisor for New Zealand On Air.



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