MONDAY MAY 5 2008
Let My Whakapapa Speak – On Maori Television
They are the two magic words in the story of how a struggling Maori language was pulled back from the brink of
extinction: ‘kohanga reo’.
Now that ground-breaking education movement, and the remarkable woman behind it – Iritana Te Rangi Tawhiwhirangi – is
the subject of a fascinating feature-length documentary LET MY WHAKAPAPA SPEAK, to premiere in Maori Television’s Sunday
Feature slot, Kiriata Ratapu, on Sunday June 1 at 9.00 PM.
Kohanga reo, or ‘language nest’, is a unique and innovative programme for babies and pre-schoolers, based on a simple
but powerful principle: total immersion in Maori language and values. More than 25 years on the movement can be seen as
a turning point and cornerstone for Maori, in the fight to revive the language – the heart of any living culture – for
The impact and influence of kohanga reo is profound. These days it is taken as given that children can grow up and do
all their learning – from pre-school to primary and secondary school – entirely in te reo Maori, anchored by that early
immersion experience. International groups, inspired by the success of kohanga reo, have used it as a model to create
native language nests in their own corners of the world. And many of the original generation of tamariki have come full
circle, and are back in the kohanga reo fold with their own young ones.
This documentary, by renowned director Tainui Stephens, examines the struggles that led to the growth of this movement –
and the woman at the forefront of change. An inspiration to many, a thorn in the side to some, Tawhiwhirangi is a woman
whose reputation precedes her as someone unafraid and compelled to speak her mind. She is one of a generation of leaders
who emerged in the post-war era to take the Maori world forward into the future, and her influence has ranged across
government, broadcasting and tribal issues, and of course, education.
A trained teacher, in her early days this Ngati Porou woman worked with Sylvia Ashton-Warner at Waiomatatini, an
experience she says informed what would later become founding the principles in the kohanga reo movement.
Tainui says that to be in Iritana’s presence is to feel the power of profound love and intelligent conviction: “Iri can
be many things in the one meeting. I have watched her be a gentle loving kuia, a cheeky girl, a wise teacher, a shrewd
civil servant - and a pocket battleship. She is one of the most extraordinary and capable people I have ever met. The
crew and I loved being with her.”
This documentary features in-depth interviews with major figures from Maoridom including politicians Winston Peters and
Tariana Turia, and the man within government who drove the change in policy that lead to the establishment of kohanga
reo, Kara Puketapu. Educationalists Tamati Reedy and Cathy Dewes, among others, also give interviews.
From the early part of the 20th Century, Maori leaders encouraged their people to use English, in the belief this was
the only road to achievement. By the end of the 1970s, the effects of this policy meant several generations were unable
to speak their own language. Something had to be done – and it was. This is the incredible story of how the tide was
reversed: LET MY WHAKAPAPA SPEAK premieres in Maori Television’s Sunday Feature slot, Kiriata Ratapu, on Sunday June 1
at 9.00 PM.