In this new series, Siena Yates, who’s taking her first, stumbling steps in her reo journey, has been talking to some of the big guns of the reo — the winners from last year’s Ngā Tohu Reo awards run by Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori (the Māori Language Commission).
Here she is with reo icon Hinewehi Mohi, who won three awards (including the Supreme Award) for her work on the album Waiata Anthems.
(This story is available here in te reo Māori, courtesy of Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori, as well as reo Pākehā. We begin with the reo version.)
I tēnei o ngā raupapatanga hou, ka kōrero a Siena Yates, te tauhou ki te reo Māori, ki ētahi o ngā mātanga o te reo — arā ki ngā whakaihuwaka o Ngā Tohu Reo, ngā tohu tuku taonga a Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori.
Anei rāua ko Hinewehi Mohi, te toa o ngā tohu e toru (tae atu ki te Tohu Tiketike) i āna mahi mō Waiata Anthems.
Mai ka whānau mai au, ko Hinewehi Mohi te tauira o te tuawahine Māori.
I pakeke mai mātou i runga i tāna waiata ōwhiti a Kotahitanga, tētahi o ngā paku waiata reo Māori i te rangona i ngā reo irirangi auraki o tērā wā. I taku pakeke haere ake i Te Puke me taku tiro kei hea te Māori i te ahurea waiata arotini, ka whai mana ake te ao Māori i ngā puoru a Hinewehi. Whakahīhī pai au i tērā.
Kātahi ka pupū ake ko Twickenham.
Ko te nuinga o tōku reanga (e 30 tau tōku pakeke) kāore e whai whakaaro ki tā tātou waiata i te ngaringari ā-motu i roto i te reo Māori me te reo Pākehā. Heoi i mua i tā Hinewehi mahi atu i tāna mahi i te Ipu Whurupōro o te Ao i te tau 1999 ki Twickenham, kore rawa i rangona te reo.
Koia tonu tana whakatau ki te waiata i te ngaringari reo Māori, me te kiriweti o te hunga pāpaho auraki o Aotearoa ehara tēnei i te tikanga “noa”, me te rorirori o te marea i te rongo atu i a E Ihowa Atua . . . Ka pahū te ao irirangi. Ka tonoa atu ngā reta tukituki ki te ētita. He anuanu, he āwha kaha — te tukutuku mai o ngā tao kī, a te pene kōhuru ki a Hinewehi. Ahakoa anō kua 20 tau mai i tērā wā, he uaua tonu mōna ki te whakapuaki i āna maharatanga me te “ngaukino” i taua wā.
Nō hea te whakaaro ka pāhotia koe mō te whakawhiu he whakahīhī nōu ki te kōrero, ki te waiata i tōu reo ki te atamira o te ao katoa.
He tino wā tēnā mō te motu. E ai anō ki te Tumuwhakarae o Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori, a Rawinia Higgins, ko te rangi tērā i rongohia te reo rongomaiwhiti o tēnei motu: “Nā te korokoro o te wahine toa nei i panoni i a Aotearoa.”
Kāore au i pakeke Māori mai. Waihoki ki ētahi whānau Māori, e rua whakatipuranga anō mātou e ngaro atu ana i te wā kāinga – ka noho kuare mātou ki tō mātou whakapapa.
Nā te noho momotu i ōku here tae atu ki tōku kiritea, kīhai au i rongo i te mahana i te marae, i ngā hui Māori rānei, ā, kīhai anō i tangata whenua te kōrero i te reo Māori, me te whakahua tika i te kupu, ahakoa anō e mōhiotia ana ki tōna tino whakahua – kua whakamātau te paku kōrero, ka taunu mai: “Tēnā tiro atu ki tēnā hēki, e whakataruna ana he Māori ia.”
Nō te wā rawa i tūtaki ai māua i tērā tau, ka hopo te ngākau i te māharahara ki te taha ahurea o te kōrero.
Tūtaki rawa i a Hinewehi, koia tonu te whakatinanatanga o tāku i whakaaro ai – ā, he ngākau māhaki, he aro ki te hā o te tangata i rata au ki a ia. Ka rongo atu i tōna aroha, i tōna mauritau me tōna whakatenatena i a au ki runga i tēnei huarahi ōku. Mai i tērā wā, ka riro māna au e whakapā ki te hunga āwhina i a au ki te rangahau i tōku whakapapa. Heoi, he kōrero anō tēnā.
Nātemea e tīmata tonu ana tōku ako i te reo, ka rata tōku ngākau i te meka, i uaua tonu ngā whakatutukitanga a Hinewehi ki te taha ki tōna whai i te reo. E marama mōhio ana ia ki ngā uaua o te whai i te reo i tōna kite i taua āhuatanga i tōna whānau. Ko te reanga o ōna kaumātua tērā i hāua mō te kōrero Māori.
“Ki te horoia tō waha ki te hopi i te kōrero Māori, e mea ana tērā: ‘He paruheti tēnā reo, kaua rawa e hamumuhia. Kāore ōna paku take. Me horoi kia mā te waha.”
“Nā reira kāore ōku kaumātua i kōrero Māori ki tōku pāpā me ōna tuāhine. Kāore rātou i rata kia pērāhia rātou. Engari ka mahue te reo Māori, kore rawa i ākona, ā, ka noho tūtūā.”
“I te wā e 10 tau ana tana pakeke, ka whakatau tōna pāpā ki te ako i te reo. “I ērā rangi, kāore he ipurangi, he pukapuka noa iho, tē aro i a au, nānā tonu mātou i tō atu!”
He wā tērā ehara koia te tino tauira. “Ko taku hiahia he hūkarikari motupaika i te pāmu, ko tāna kē kia noho tahi māua ki te ako i te reo.”
Ka piki tonu ia i te ara poutama ki Hato Hōhepa i Ahuriri, kātahi rawa ki Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato, ki ngā taniwha o te reo – a Timoti Karetu rātou ko Te Wharehuia Milroy, ko Murumāra (John Moorfield), ko Hirini Melbourne.
I Ngā Tohu Reo Māori i tērā tau, ka toa i a Hinewehi ngā tohu e toru mō tana kōpae puoro a Waiata Anthems, he kōpae i whakaputaina anō ai ngā waiata pāreka a ngā rangatahi Māori mai, Pākehā mai, ā, ki roto katoa i te reo Māori.
E whakawhānui atu ana ia i te kaupapa nei, e tuwhera ai ki te hunga waiata te whakamāori i ā rātou waiata, ki te hanga i ētahi mea hou i roto i te reo – ahakoa anō kāore e mōhio ki te reo.
E tautokona ana te tūmahi e APRA (te wāhi ka mahi a Hinewehi ki te tautoko i ngā tūī o te ao Māori) rātou ko Recorded Music New Zealand, me Universal Music – te hunga i whakaputa i a Waiata Anthems, ā, i toa takirua ai rātou ko Hinewehi.
“E kōrero nei tātou mō te hanganga o te ahumahi puoro reorua,” te kī a Hinewehi.
“Taro ake ka kite ngā tohungatoi katoa he mahi tēnei ka taea e rātou, ā, ka noho māori tēnei tūāhua, te hanga waiata reo Māori, me te rāwekeweke i ā rātou anō waiata. Nā reira ka noho tēnei hei mahi tūturu ake mā tātou o Aotearoa nei.”
He mahinga nui nātemea i te tirohanga atu, e āweke ana te ao pāpaho auraki ki te puoru Māori, engari e matapopore ana ia ki te āwhina i te hunga kia tūhono ki te reo.
E kitea ana i Waiata Anthems, e para ana a Hinewehi i ngā huarahi hou, ā, kua mahue noa atu a Twickenham.
“I hangaia au e te tangata i taua mahinga, kotahi meneti noa iho te roa pea? E mātau atu ana. E mārama mōhio ana au ki tōna whai hiranga, engari he rawe te anga whakamua ki ngā kaupapa e mahuta ake nei.
“E whakapono ana au i āwhina te kaupapa o Waiata Anthems i a au ki te ahu whakamua – kia takoha atu i te wāhi ki a au e pā ai ki te rauoratanga o te reo mō te 20 tau haere ake nei.”
Kua whanake te motu whānui i roto i te 20 tau kua pahemo. I ēnei rā e manahau ana, e kaingākau ana hoki te marea ki te reo me te ahurea, tae rawa ake ki te hunga rangatahi – kāore e kore ko Hinewehi tētahi o ngā tauiratanga o tērā tipuranga.
Ko tētahi wā motuhake mōna, ko tana kite i a Drax Project, tētahi rōpū kei runga i a Waiata Anthems, e waiata matawā ana i tā rātou waiata pāreka kua whakamāoritia.
“He rangatahi Pākehā te nuinga o ngā kaimātaki – heoi nō te whitinga atu ki te reo Māori, ka pohū ake te minenga i te whakamiha atu.
“Ki a au nei e tohu ana tēnā: ‘Nō mātou anō tēnei reo. Koinei ka whai motuhaketanga ahau. E tino rata ana mātou.’ Kāore aku kupu e taea te whakapuaki tērā whakamanatanga me te panga o te ao puoru ki te tirohanga a te tangata ki te reo.”
Kei kīia he kuare te whakaaro ka āhei te waiata arotini ki te whakaora. Ko tāku tino mōhio ki te ahurea, ko te puoru tētahi wāhanga nui, e whai mana ana.
I runga atu i tēnā, ko te ahurea puoru me tērā o te puoru arotini, he waka eke noa mō te hunga pēnei i a au – koinā tā Hinewehi e mau mai nei: ko te ara whānui. Nātemea, kia whakatauākitia ia, ko te puoru te “kaiwhakarangatira i a tātou”.
Tēnā ki te taea e au te whakamahi te puoru hei huarahi ki te reo, ka pātata atu au ki tōku āhua ake.
E toru ngā tohu i riro i te kamupene a Hinewehi Mohi, a Raukatauri Productions, me Universal Music New Zealand, ki Ngā Tohu Reo Māori, ā, i riro hoki ko te Tohu Tiketike (he mea koha mai e Te Wānanga o Aotearoa), mō āna werawera ki te tūmahi o Waiata Anthems. I whiwhi anō ia ki te Tohu mō te Toi me te Whakangahau i kohaina e Te Matatini, me te Tohu Hapori o Aotearoatanga i whakaratoa e Te Manatū Taonga.
He mea āhei ēnei whakamāori e te pūtea tautoko a Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori.
My whole life, Hinewehi Mohi has been presented to me as this powerful, all-knowing, beautiful wahine.
I’d grown up with her hit song Kotahitanga, one of the few reo-Māori songs I’d heard on mainstream radio. For a Māori kid growing up in Te Puke and looking to pop culture for some sign that we existed, Hinewehi’s music had made me feel empowered. Proud.
And then, of course, there was Twickenham.
Most people my age (I’m 30) take it for granted that we sing both the reo Māori and English versions of the national anthem. But before Hinewehi made the brave call to sing the Māori version at the 1999 Rugby World Cup in Twickenham, it was unheard of.
In fact, her decision to sing the reo version was such a radical departure from mainstream New Zealand’s “norm”, that a lot of people lost their minds after hearing E Ihowā Atua . . . Talkback radio blew up. There were outraged letters to the editor. The backlash was ugly and relentless — and it took a toll on Hinewehi. Talking about it, even 20 years later, brought up difficult memories and “heartache” for her.
Imagine making global headlines simply for having the audacity to speak, or sing, your reo on the world stage.
It was a defining moment for our country. As the Māori Language Commissioner Rawinia Higgins has said, that day at Twickenham was the day te reo broke through to become a key marker of our national identity: “This wahine toa songstress helped change Aotearoa.”
I don’t have the reo. I wasn’t raised in the culture. Like many Māori whānau, my immediate family has been disconnected from our Māori roots for a couple of generations — to the point where we no longer knew our whakapapa.
And because of that disconnect and my light skin, I never felt welcome on the marae or in other Māori spaces, and I never felt comfortable speaking te reo Māori or even pronouncing words the way I knew they should be pronounced — because, when I did, I was often met with: “Oh, look who’s trying to be a real Māori.”
So, meeting Hinewehi for the first time last year played on every cultural insecurity I had.
But, in person, she’s everything I thought she’d be — and, on top of that, she was also accepting and understanding and did what she could to put me at ease. She offered me compassion, patience, and encouragement like I’ve never experienced on this journey of mine. Since then, she’s also put me in touch with people who are helping me trace my whakapapa and give me some answers. But that’s another story.
Being at the baby stages of my reo journey, there’s some comfort for me in knowing that Hinewehi’s accomplishments in the reo didn’t come easily. She knows how hard it is to overcome that disconnect from the reo because she’s seen it in her own whānau. Her grandparents were part of the generation that was punished for speaking their language.
“When you have your mouth washed out with soap because you’ve been speaking Māori, that’s saying: ‘That language is dirty, you’re not to speak it. It has no relevance. We want to wash it away, wash it out of your mouth.’
“And so my grandparents didn’t speak it to my father and his sisters. They didn’t want them to suffer the same thing. But the problem with that is they didn’t teach them to speak Māori at all, so they completely missed out.”
When Hinewehi was 10, her father decided he wanted to commit to learning the language. “In those days, we didn’t have the internet, so he worked really hard just from these real basic textbooks and just, I don’t know, dragged us along with him!”
She wasn’t always a willing pupil. “I just wanted to play and ride my motorbike around the farm and he wanted me to sit down and learn the language.”
The learning continued at St Joseph’s Māori Girls’ College in Napier, and then at Waikato University, where she was lucky enough to be tutored by some of the greats of the reo — Timoti Karetu, Wharehuia Milroy, John Moorfield, and Hirini Melbourne.
At last year’s Ngā Tohu Reo Māori awards, Hinewehi won three awards for her album project Waiata Anthems, where she’d worked with young Māori and Pākehā artists to translate their hit songs into te reo Māori for re-release.
She’s now extending that kaupapa, giving all artists the opportunity to translate their songs, or create new ones, in te reo — whether or not they speak te reo.
The project is being supported by APRA (where Hinewehi works to support Māori artists), Recorded Music New Zealand, and Universal Music — the label which put out Waiata Anthems and was a co-winner with Hinewehi.
“We’re talking about the creation of a bilingual music industry,” says Hinewehi.
“Eventually, all our artists will know that this is something they can access and do, and it will become normal that an artist might have a reo Māori track on their album, as much as they might have a remix of one of their songs. So it will eventually become something that we just do down here in Aotearoa, and creates a new normal for us.”
It’s a big undertaking, considering mainstream media’s apparent aversion to Māori music, but she’s devoted to helping people like me find a safe and easy way to connect to the language.
With Waiata Anthems, it’s clear that Hinewehi has been carving out a new legacy, and that she’s well and truly put Twickenham behind her.
“I was often defined by that moment which was probably, what, a minute? I get it. I understand the importance of it, but it’s nice to be able to focus on new and important developments.
“I think Waiata Anthems has helped to get me through that and move on — and to feel like I can make a contribution to the revitalisation of the language in another way, 20 years on from that.”
We’ve all made a lot of progress in the last 20 years. These days there’s an undeniable excitement and a passion for the reo and the culture, especially among young people — and there’s no doubt that Hinewehi has played a part in that.
One particularly proud moment was when she saw Drax Project, who feature on Waiata Anthems, perform their translated hit live.
“It was a young, predominantly Pākehā audience — and when they switched seamlessly into Māori, the whole crowd erupted with squeals of excitement.
“I think that was basically saying: ‘This is our language. This makes us really unique and special. We’re really into this.’ I can’t tell you how uplifting that is, to see the impact that music can have in changing people’s perception of the language.”
It may sound naive to think pop music could help heal generations, but if there’s one thing I know about our culture, it’s that music is an integral part of it, and so it has power.
On top of that, music and pop culture are an easy, familiar and safe way in for people like me — and that’s what Hinewehi is providing: a doorway. Because music, she says, “liberates us”.
And if I can use music to get to the reo, I can get one step closer to myself.
Hinewehi Mohi’s Raukatauri Productions, along with Universal Music New Zealand, won three awards at the 2019 Ngā Tohu Reo Māori awards, including the Supreme Award (sponsored by Te Wānanga o Aotearoa), for her work on Waiata Anthems. She also won the Arts and Entertainment Award sponsored by Te Matatini, and the Aotearoatanga/New Zealand Community Award sponsored by the Ministry for Culture and Heritage.
This series was made possible with funding from Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori.
Siena Yates (Te Rarawa, Te Aupouri, and Ngāti Kuri) is a journalist who was born in Morrinsville and grew up in Hamilton before moving to Te Puke in the Bay of Plenty. She now lives in Auckland. Siena has been a reporter for Stuff and was the New Zealand Herald’s deputy entertainment editor until January 2020.
Thank you for reading E-Tangata. If you like our focus on Māori and Pasifika stories, interviews, and commentary, we need your help. Our content takes skill, long hours and hard work. But we're a small team and not-for-profit, so we need the support of our readers to keep going.
If you support our kaupapa and want to see us continue, please consider making a one-off donation or contributing $5 or $10 a month.