Dr Ēnoka Murphy, senior lecturer at Te Pua Wānanga ki te Ao / the Faculty of Māori and Indigenous Studies at the University of Waikato, and the Prime Minister’s Educator of the Year. (Photo: Waikato University)

In the course of his 50 years, Ēnoka Murphy has learned a bit about teaching from his Māori dad, Takawai Murphy, and his Pākehā mum, Chris. And there’ve been other significant allies and mentors, such as Huirangi Waikerepuru and Cathy Dewes. So it’s small wonder that he’s thrived and become so highly regarded as a teacher. Last month, for instance, he was named the Prime Minister’s Educator of the Year, the highest accolade in teaching.

 It hasn’t always been a smooth pathway, though. For instance, just over 20 years ago, cancer had him down to barely 40 kgs. But he outlived his doctor’s predictions and is now very much a part of the reo Māori revolution which has teaching institutions rocking with reo and tikanga Māori. Here, he and Dale are looking back at the progress he’s made.


Tēnā koe, Ēnoka. Would you be kind enough to give us your full name and the background to the names you carry — and an overview of where you grew up and of your tribal connections?

Tēnā koe, Dale. My full name is Kane Ēnoka George Murphy. My mother and father gave me the name Kane, and my sister got a Pākehā name as well. But we were fortunate that they also gave us our Māori names, which we’re known by.

My name Ēnoka was given to me by Chick Waitai, who used to be in the New Zealand softball team. His father’s name was Ēnoka. Along with my parents, he went to Ardmore Teachers’ College, and he was the best man at Dad and Mum’s wedding. He’s passed now. He was a carver — and, on my birthdays, I’d get carvings. I was so fortunate.

I come from Murupara, Ngāti Manawa. My hapū there is Ngāti Hui. My marae is Rangitahi. That’s on my koro’s side. My father is Māori. His name is Takawai Murphy. My mother is Pākehā. Her name is Chris Murphy. They’re both teachers and they’re renowned for teaching decolonisation — decol as it was known then.

On the side of my dad’s mother are Tūhoe and Ngāti Ruapani ki Waikaremoana. Te Kūhā is my marae, Panekire te maunga and, of course, Waikaremoana te moana. I have other affiliations to Maniapoto and Takitimu.

I was born in Rotorua and then we moved to Reporoa, where Mum and Dad were teachers. When I was four or five, we moved to Murupara. And when I was seven, my mum and dad made a great move from Murupara, 300 kilometres away to Mokau, a little place on the beach and roughly on the boundary of Tainui waka. There was a two-teacher school there, and we had the teacher’s house.

Murupara is bush everywhere — you look to your left, to our maunga Tawhiuau, and it’s all Te Urewera from there. So, it was an extraordinary move going from that environment to the tahatika, the coastline, of Te Moana Tāpokopoko a Tāwhaki, the Tasman Sea, with our lounge window looking out to the Tasman Sea. I knew that I was privileged when I lived there. It was just beautiful.

When I was 12, the three choices of secondary schools were boarding school or Piopio or Waitara. My parents decided that they’d get jobs in New Plymouth, so we moved there, and I started at New Plymouth Boys’ High School. Then I moved to Spotswood College, a co-ed high school. That’s my schooling.

At Waikaremoana. From left: Paihuarere o Taikākā Wiringi-Murphy, Ngahuia Murphy, Marunui Murphy, Ēnoka, Pirimaia Tanczos. (Photo supplied)

Tēnā koe, what an interesting kōrero. I didn’t know the connection with your pāpā, but his name, Takawai Murphy, loomed large in our media work across generations. So I mihi to your parents as well. Their commitment to our people is longstanding.

You mentioned those decolonisation seminars your dad ran for many years, which were so helpful to many. How proud are you of your dad that he had the foresight to recognise the need for this sort of kaupapa and wānanga all those years ago when it wasn’t that common? Tell us more about your feelings for your mum, your dad, and the sorts of kaupapa they tried to advance in their careers.

Back in the late ’80s, I’d just left school. I was 16, and Dad and I decided to go to Huirangi Waikerepuru. Huirangi had taken the Crown to the Privy Council on three different occasions and won every time. He was the chair of Ngā Kaiwhakapūmau i te Reo, and he’s the reason why we have te reo irirangi Māori (Māori radio) because he won that case.

My dad took leave, and we both went to Huirangi. He was an extraordinarily inspirational individual. Both my dad and I loved him, and he shaped my father and me into what we’ve become. Huirangi, Te Ururoa Flavell and Ruakere Hond created Te Pūmaomao, the decol wānanga that my dad carried. And my mum joined him in the early 2000s. It was exceedingly popular back then among Māori. It was a life changer.

The late ’80s and ’90s was an incredible time to be caught up in protests, in noho, in occupations — and carrying the politics of tino rangatiratanga. We all walked together with Huirangi’s guidance. We’re very, very privileged to have been under the mantle of such a great individual as Huirangi Waikerepuru.

Were you a kōhanga kid, Ēnoka?

No. Kōhanga wasn’t around when I was a child. In my upbringing, my taha Māori was my nanny and koro’s house. He kōrero Māori tērā whare — they spoke Māori in their house.

My koro’s parents had passed, but my grandmother’s parents were both alive. I didn’t have any idea whether they knew how to speak Pākehā. However, in those days, children were talked to, not talked with. And you don’t hang out inside. You’re outside.

So, the reo that children grew up with in those days was instructional reo. And your ears were on the alert to hear commands because it wasn’t worth not obeying. So, I was very familiar with reo tohutohu (instructional language) and puta ki waho, which means “get outside”.

All the children in my whānau were treated the same, except for our youngest cousin who was allowed to stay inside and seemed to be the favourite. We were all very jealous of her.

Who was that?

Kororia Manley. She’s a daughter of one of my dad’s sisters. And she was the spoiled one.

Enoka’s parents Takawai and Chris Murphy.

Yeah, there’s always one of them. So, the reo came naturally for you. I notice that a lot of people are appreciative of the style and the sort of man you are. It’s one thing to have taonga to share, but it’s another to know how you impart that knowledge.

You’ve already touched on fine teachers and wonderful characters like Huirangi and Te Ururoa. And there are other great examples, like your mum and dad. So it was sort of inevitable, I guess, that you’d end up being in the teaching profession. Was that an expectation, or simply an area that you personally wanted to delve into?

I had absolutely no choice in the matter. I passed School C in two subjects, Māori and English. The moment when that occurred, I was enrolled with Huirangi, and he had me teaching at the kuratini (polytechnic) within three months. I found that job tough, so I shared that with him, and he sent me straight into the kōhanga — and, not long from then, I was head teacher there.

It was a vibrant time and, if you knew how to speak te reo Māori, you were involved in everything. I was well looked after.

When I was 17, Huarangi said: “It’s time for you to go home now.” Home is Murupara, but the closest thing to home was Rotorua and the kura kaupapa there, Ruamata. At that time there were only two kura kaupapa in the motu — and I was privileged to be a kaiako at Ruamata with Cathy Dewes, one of the greats.

I followed everything that Huirangi said. No arguments. Just do it. So I went to Ruamata and I came under the mantle of Cathy. She nurtured me, taught me, assisted me in learning how to teach.

In those days, we were at Ruamata Marae, in the old wharekai, Tao i te kura.

Tao i te kura had no separating walls or anything. There were five classes, with each class situated in a different part of the wharekai. So you had to learn how to teach with four other classes in the same room. And control your class without bothering the next class. There were some amazing skills that I had to learn there.

Finally, in their fifth year of operation, they got government funding. Even so, Huirangi rings me late that year and tells me I need to get back to Taranaki, to help create the first kura kaupapa Māori in Taranaki.

So, as soon as the school year was over, I was back in Taranaki, back to the kōhanga reo that I’d left, and working towards creating the kura kaupapa Māori there. We opened in ’91 or ’92. And we were fully engaged in creating that kura and setting up our reo Māori radio station Te Korimako o Taranaki, and kapa haka and everything.

I was the morning show co-host on Te Korimako o Taranaki. Get there at 5 in the morning. Then, at 8:45am, run downstairs straight into the kura. Teach there all day. Leave there at 4:30. Plan my tomorrow. Then teach the parents of the new school te reo Māori from 6 to 10pm. Then get home and compose and choreograph everything for the new adult kapa haka group that a group of us had started.

And that was life. Just so busy. Total faith and belief in the kaupapa. Nothing to do with money. Nobody’s earning money. My boss at the kura kaupapa was paid with grocery vouchers and petrol vouchers. It was all about belief. Amazing times.

Can we touch on Cathy Dewes as a mentor, too? How influential was she in sharing with you her resilience, of not taking a backward step, of fighting for what we believe to be right?

I was so fortunate to go to that kura and be under her mentorship. Cathy led by example. You don’t necessarily have to sit down with somebody and tell them much. You simply lead by example. Cathy was another māmā, not only to every child in the kura but to us young ones as well. You were safe with her.

You never forget the people who’ve been trying to help shape you. Can I say, too, Ēnoka, I love the way you laugh, and this is an important thing. When we talk about how serious the colonisation reality has been, it would be easy to be angry. Even though I harbour resentment at the colonising process and the way our people have been shortchanged, we have to come to terms with aspects of that, don’t we? Have you forgiven the Pākehā for their treacherous ways?

An important lesson that I learned many years ago is to remove it from the centre of your emotions. And that way you can discuss it with anybody without getting upset. Be able to talk about the subject sensibly, compassionately. I think that’s an important rule for us because it’s easy to feel the hurt and to walk around angry.

Ēnoka receiving the Prime Minister’s Educator of the Year award in Wellington last month, with his whānau behind him. (Photo: University of Waikato)

You’ve gone on to influence many, as your dad did, too. Let’s push through to the fantastic recent acknowledgment of your lifetime contribution to te ao Māori and to mātauranga, and being awarded the Prime Minister’s Educator of the Year last month. Talk with us about some of your stepping stones from your 20s to where you are right now. I’m picking you must be about 50.

Yes, I have to admit that. My daughter put me on Facebook and, hello, there it is announcing that I’ve passed 50!

As a primary school child and all through my life with my parents, right to today, whenever we had manuhiri to our house, my mum and dad, even if I was in bed asleep, would wake me up and tell me to come out — and I’d have to sing to our manuhiri.

What was your go-to song? What did they want you to sing?

Any song of Hirini’s. Hirini Melbourne was putting out tape after tape after tape in those days — in the ’70s, ’80s, early ’90s, till we moved on to CDs. Then he was putting out CDs. He was one of my heroes, and Te Wharehuia Milroy was another.

And, you know, just getting nurtured by Te Wharehuia and Hirini and this ilk of people, was incredible. They could talk about absolutely anything — and whoever was listening would be utterly enthralled, regardless of the kaupapa of the kōrero.

In the late ’90s, I became very ill. I wouldn’t be able to walk at times. They were my sick years, hospital years, cancer years.

Hirini was diagnosed in December of 2001. I was diagnosed in March of 2002. So we shared chemo together. I went from 78 or 79 kgs to 42. They gave me three months to live, initially. Then six weeks. Then two weeks.

But I’m a very stubborn chap, and thankfully, at the time, my partner was pregnant with our youngest. And so, when the specialist tells me that I have only three months, I tell him: “Don’t talk to me like that again. I’m not going anywhere. I just want to know the plan. Let’s talk about the plan.”

Six weeks, he tells me. Six weeks. I tell him he can’t talk to me like that. Look at my wife’s stomach. Let’s not talk like that, and please don’t talk to me like that in front of my parents. And then he tells me, two weeks. He just wouldn’t listen to my warnings. That was 2002.

Hirini died in January 2003. I stayed in hospital and got out in November 2004. These were incredible years, years of immense learning. There are things that one learns through sickness that nothing else perhaps can teach. I consider those years as important as all the other years of learning.

I didn’t realise that that’s something you’ve confronted. And I’m so pleased that you were able to work your way through it, by the grace of God, and still be with us, my brother. You’ve obviously touched the hearts of many, culminating in this acknowledgment recently, but what would you say of the changes you might’ve noticed in the attitudes toward mātauranga Māori, reo Māori, by our people and even by those who are not our people?

What stands out for you in the ebb and flow of interest in Māori kaupapa that you’ve witnessed over the past three decades, when you’ve been teaching?

Part of our job in the early years was to go around and promote the kōhanga reo. To talk about the opportunities we were presenting with kōhanga reo and kura kaupapa Māori. And we were really up against it. It was hard to convince Māori to trust us, to send their children to kōhanga reo and kura kaupapa Māori.

We’ve still got a bit of a way to go, but we’ve come a long way. As far as tertiary is concerned, tertiary institutions are now rocking with te reo Māori and tikanga Māori.

For instance, this year, our cohort for this kaupapa that I teach at Te Tohu Paetahi was 230 or 240. Of that number, there might be 20 or so Pākehā, roughly 15 Pasifika. It’s the same in all the different wānanga around the place. They’re rocking with Māori starving for their reo. So I think we’re in a healthy place.

The interest has sparked immensely, but what some institutions struggle with is space and staffing. Also, tertiary institutions are businesses now. When I came here in the ’90s, that wasn’t the case. Now it’s a big dollar sign. And that’s a pity. For instance, if you keep increasing student numbers without ensuring that you have appropriate space and staffing, what does that say? It means that the dollar is the tuakana and not the people.

Enoka’s sister Ngahuia’s PhD graduation in 2019. Left to Right: Paihuarere o Taikākā Wiringi-Murphy (Enoka’s youngest), Pirimaia Tanczos (Ngahuia’s eldest), Ngahuia Murphy (sister), Nandor Tanczos (brother-in-law), their son Te Hau Tanczos, and Ēnoka. (Photo supplied)

We’ve been talking a lot about work, but sometimes people need to refresh themselves, and they can do that in all manner of ways. Some specialise in growing strawberry plants, some paint or pot or hang-glide or whatever. Is there something that you do to keep yourself fresh and enthused with life?

All my life, I’ve been privileged with elders being my best mates. And I loved nothing more than being with them. That has been my favourite thing in the world. Sitting with them, kōrero Māori, learning. They all loved, absolutely loved, te reo Māori, tikanga Māori, kōrero Māori. That’s meant everything to them. So my favourite pastime was being with them.

Now they’re gone. So I love to be at the beach because we moved to Mokau when I was young. I love to be in the bush, I’m from the bush. Those are the things I love to do.

My moko live with me. One of my daughters lives with me. My other daughter lives with me now and then with my moko, and she’s got another moko on the way. So hanging with the moko and my daughters and my boys.

When I can, and I hope it’s soon, I hope to get to the beach and put my line in. I don’t mind if I don’t catch a fish, I just love to breathe, be a part of Tangaroa, smell. I haven’t been back home for a few years to Waikaremoana. We have a whenua to bury there, to go back home. Waikaremoana is one of the most incredible places for me in the world.

But you know, in rumaki, if you’re teaching Monday to Friday, not much else fits in. Saturday is for shopping and everything you need to do, and Sunday is prep day if you’re teaching. Preparation is everything when you’re talking teaching. So I’ve gotta wait till I’m out of rumaki to do those other kinds of things. And I do hope to.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

© E-Tangata, 2023

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