Te Arahi MaipiIt may have taken the Rio Olympics for you to make the acquaintance — by way of television — with Te Arahi Maipi. He’s been in TV since the Māori channel began just over 12 years ago. But, now that he’s a part of the Sky sports team, more viewers are becoming familiar with his breezy style, and maybe with a little more reo than they’ve been used to.

He doesn’t apologise for that. He’s on a mission to normalise the Māori language as well as excel at presenting and sports commentary. And his Huntly background has prepared him well for that role, as Dale learns in this conversation.

 

Kia ora, Te Arahi. Now this interview is unlike most others in our Pathways series because often I’m meeting the interviewee for the first time. But you and I have had a bit of contact through our work in sports television where I’ve come to admire your presence on screen —and to enjoy your company too. You’ve travelled down a much different track from me, though, because you grew up immersed in te reo Māori.

Yes. That was in Huntly. Across the river in Huntly West, the Māori side of the town. And my timing was good because I started preschool in 1982 which was when the kōhanga movement was just beginning.

Our kōhanga was Te Kōhanga Reo o Rāhui Pōkeka based down at Waahi pa. That’s a big marae — not just the marae itself but there’s marae housing too, as well as the kōhanga and a football field. And, growing up there, reo Māori was always spoken. That was a normal thing in my life.

Then, once I hit five, my timing was just right because that was the beginnings of the kura kaupapa. Me and my sisters went to Rakaumanga, which was an old school. It had been a native school. When I started, I was in the first class that was total immersion. And at high school, it was early in the whare kura movement, so there was more total immersion at that level.

That meant, from when I was five until I finished the seventh form as a 17-year-old, I was in Māori speaking school communities. That was my world and it wasn’t until I moved on that I figured out: “Hang on — that wasn’t normal. That was just our area.” I feel really blessed and privileged to have been part of all that.

Has anyone in particular kept you sticking to your reo journey?

That was my grandmother Rangitaiki Tupaea who was an absolute stalwart for the Kīngitanga. For the reo, too. She was largely responsible for me sticking with that. But it wasn’t until I was a teenager that we only conversed in Māori. As a young fulla, like a lot of others, for quite a while, I was a bit too cool for that. She’d speak to me in Māori, but I’d respond in English. She laid the foundation, though. And I think she pushed for my parents to have me go down the education path that I followed. I’ve been very fortunate.

What about your mum and dad?

Mum’s name is Aotea. And her whānau name is Tupaea. She’s a health worker in Huntly and Hamilton. A big-hearted woman for everyone within the whānau. For anyone within the community as well. Loving. Caring. Straight up. And she’s the one who decided I should be called Te Arahi. That means leader. But I’m not sure that I fit that description. Maybe I’ll grow into it eventually.

My middle name is Napi. I’m named after Napi Waaka who, at the time of my birth, was the leader of the Taniwharau kapa haka. He’s been a very prominent character in that kapa haka world.

Dad is Ricky Maipi. A lovely, charming, adventurous man whose whakapapa is Te Ātiawa from Taranaki. There was a man called Maipi Taha that came up from Taranaki a few generations ago and settled in the Waikato area. And his descendants took on the name Maipi.

So you and your three sisters grew up over the river in Huntly West.

Yep. I spent half my time with my nana and grandad (Heremia Tupaea) who lived down by the pa. And also with my mum and dad in Rotowaro up on the hill. Waahi was our home base but then we had Te Ōhākī marae up the road — and our other marae was Te Kauri where my father grew up. All of them in fairly close proximity.

We spent a lot of time on Taniwharau Street which links up with our Waahi marae. Every single house was family. And they all had kids, so there was a whole mob of us. PPKs they used to call us. Paru Pa Kids. Running around and causing all sorts of havoc — but having a lot of fun. Growing up down there was wonderful.

That’s still how it is, too. You’ve got the manaakitanga of all your aunties and uncles. The kids migrate en masse to one house. They’ll go and have a kai there. Then they’re off the next night to another aunty and uncle’s house. You had everyone important to you right there. And, if there was any significant hui, like poukai or things like that, they’re within walking distance.

In our day, the town was booming because Huntly had four coal mines, plenty of jobs, families owning their own homes. Four rugby league teams. Kura. And the rallying point was the Kīngitanga.

It was wonderful going on the poukai rounds throughout the country. Like all the way down to Shannon — almost to Wellington — on the bus with our kaumātua. It really was an amazing experience having a close relationship with Te Arikinui, Te Atairangikaahu, and her grandkids. Growing up with them. Going to school with them, and on holidays, like out to Kawhia. It was pretty special.

That must’ve given you a really strong grounding in taha Māori.

Oh, yes. It was a good system. And not just for the language. I’m talking about being Māori. Kaitiakitanga. Manaakitanga. How to behave on a marae. Those types of things.

I guess, though, that there were many who were concerned that the focus on te reo would mean you’d have shortcomings in English. But that hasn’t been the case, has it?

Well, if you looked at my School C results in English, you might think so. But that was mostly because I didn’t have any interest in Shakespeare or whatever else they were teaching then. I wasn’t motivated. The question about being fluent in English keeps cropping up though. A lot of parents ask me about that when they’re wondering whether they should send their kids to kōhanga or to kura kaupapa.

And I tell them that it’s a wonderful place for our kids. And it’s also great for parents to be involved. Especially those parents — like Jade and me nowadays — who’re living in the city. Otherwise they may not have any connection with their marae and their speakers. I think it’s vital.

Their number one question is whether their kids will miss out on English — or on any other subject. But I tell them that you can’t help but learn English because it’s everywhere you go. As soon as you wake up. Soon as you turn on the TV. Soon as you walk down the street. It’s all English. Kura kaupapa is a great way to immerse yourself in the Māori world. The Pākehā world is always there anyway.

Let’s move on to the time you got caught up, as you are now, in the media. But you didn’t head straight there from high school, did you?

No. Not at all. Jade and I were young parents. In fact, I hadn’t finished high school when we had our first son, Tuteauru. That was 1998 and I was still in the seventh form at Rakaumangamanga. My wife, Jade, and I have been together now for 19 years. But that was an interesting time.

Anyway, we decided it would be a good idea if I went to work and Jade carried on at university. So, I got a cadetship with Tainui. In those days, the company was called TCL, which was Tainui Corporation Ltd. And I landed a job in the accounts department where my work was to do with the property management of the land and assets that Waikato-Tainui had received in the Treaty settlement.

I spent a couple of years there and then moved on to Mātua Whāngai, a social service provider in Hamilton. Still doing the same thing, looking after and managing accounts. In the meantime, Jade had graduated from the University of Waikato.

So that was my background leading up to my introduction to the TV game.

And there you were for about 10 years at Māori Television in Newmarket. How did that come about?

It was by chance, really. Te Anga Nathan, who was the head of news current affairs at Māori Television, was looking for a sports reporter for Te Kaea, the news programme. This was March 2004 when Māori Television began. But they couldn’t get anyone. They’d asked one of my cousins, Harley Raihe, who I’d grown up with at Rakaumanga. He was a really good football player — and a handsome bugger, too. So, they weren’t too far off the mark there. But he’d just graduated from university with a teaching degree. And he was heading off on that career.

Then my name popped up. I’d never ever done a day of TV before in my life. And I’d never told anybody that my dream job, right back when I was an eight-year-old, was to be a rugby league commentator. But it all turned out that way.

I remember that on the first day, I worked in the news as a sports reporter. I was one guy in a team of three. We had Julian Wilcox as the presenter, Bailey Mackey as the producer — and I was the reporter. You can see it was a massive operation.

It was exciting for all sorts of reasons — especially being a part of an organisation aiming to be a flagship for revitalising te reo me ngā tikanga. And especially for me with my kōhanga reo, kura kaupapa, whare kura background.

And it wasn’t too long — maybe not even a year — before I was doing rugby league broadcasting. That was in 2005 when we were covering a three-test series between the Cook Islands and the NZ Māori team.

That was truly exciting for me because I was working with Richie Barnett, the ex-Kiwi captain. And I’m buzzing out that I get to work with Richie. But I also get to work with Dale Husband. This is the guy whose voice I’ve heard for years doing rugby league matches. Wow.

And I kept meeting players I idolised. The first time I ever got to meet Kevin Iro, I almost fainted. Then, when I met Clayton Friend, I was like a schoolgirl. But the biggest deal for me was interviewing Artie Beetson who’d been a super hero for Queensland and the Kangaroos.

Now after a decade of reporting, presenting and producing sport at the MTS, we’ve seen you working for Sky TV for the last couple of years — and there’s been progress there with staff now much more likely to get Māori names right.

Well, for me it’s another step in trying to normalise te reo Māori. That’s one of the things I’m trying to do. Not that my efforts meet with the approval of all the Sky viewers. I’ve had complaints that there’s too much Māori being spoken. That I’m being separatist. That I’m ramming my thoughts and feelings down people’s throats.

Those particular criticisms kind of freaked me out. On social media I’ve had heaps of people say unflatterings things about me — and that hasn’t been a worry. But, when it comes to the reo, those critics have got it the wrong way round.

The way I see it, trying to normalise the reo is an inclusive thing. Not separatist at all. It’s just helping to make normal something that, for various reasons, isn’t normal. It’s not a matter of trying to convince people that they have to learn Māori. But it allows people to hear a Māori word or phrase spoken properly. And they can go: “Okay. Sweet. That’s how we’ll use it.”

And the cool thing about the environment at Sky at the moment is that I’m nowhere near the only one making an impact in that area. There’s Scotty Stevenson, Mel Robinson, Karl Te Nana and Andrew Mehrtens. And there’s Ken Laban and yourself Dale. There’s a whole raft of sportscasters who use Māori phrases, pronounced right, in normal commentary or when they’re presenting. And that’s what normalising te reo Māori is all about. The more people hear it, the more normal it becomes.

Just before we go, we should note that, although you’re still a young fulla, you’ve had some big gigs on telly. You fronted the Rugby World Cup for Māori Television. And, in just the last few weeks, you’ve been presenting the Olympics on Prime. Not too bad for a Huntly boy.

Well, yes. It does bring a bit of a smile to my face. There’s this pa kid fronting the biggest sporting event in the world on the free-to-air, mainstream channel in New Zealand. That’s one for the kura kaupapa kids. For all Māori kids. If they can see that this kid can do it, then what’s to stop them from doing what they want to do?

 

© E-Tangata, 2016

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