I had the privilege, on Monday, to be able to spend the day with Jason Ruakere on his marae. This was very much a step outside of the comfort zone for this city lover. For me it really was like being in another world. I was out of the city. The pace was slower. It was more relaxed. I was introduced to eating Pūhā – which Jason had collected and cooked with pork bones – and immersed (at least in a small way) into Māori culture.
Reflecting on this it makes me sad that it was outside of my comfort zone and that of many other New Zealanders because it should be a part of what makes us Kiwi. The Māori culture may not specifically be my culture but it is part of my Kiwi-ness. Speaking for myself (although I’m confident this is the case for many Pākehā), I am quick to embrace some parts of Te Ao Māori when it suits me (the haka as a part of our rugby and sporting culture, for example) but other parts I tend to shy away from. I know this is due to a lack of understanding on my part – understanding of what is being said or done and why it is happening.
As a part of my inquiry this year I really want to find ways to connect with and engage with parents, whānau, and the school community. From my perspective, this is an area that many schools struggle with. By getting the opportunity to spend time with Jason, and the boys he has been teaching on the marae, I was able to experience a way of learning that is relatively unfamiliar to me but is quite normal for a large number of families in New Zealand.
On arrival I was welcomed onto the marae with a karanga from one of the “aunties” and a hongi with all present. I have to say I was grateful that is was just a small affair, which included the 5 boys that Jason has been teaching, as I think if everyone had been asked to come to the pōwhiri I might have felt a bit more uncomfortable. Jason gave a short mihi and I responded with a mihi that I had managed to learn (and get all the way through without checking my notes!) in the three days leading up to the visit. We then went around the group sharing our pepeha, starting with Jason and ending with me. This was a good chance for the boys and me to practice our pepeha.
Kōrero tuku iho
A quick break for morning tea before it was time to hear some of the stories of the marae and local area. I found this fascinating and really wished I had a better memory to recall all that was shared! Jason had been sharing the stories with the boys and continued the tradition of oral storytelling by encouraging the boys to share the stories with me. And they did well! It was great to see them supporting each other as they shared how Rauhoto, the rock that placed on the marae, came to be there. How Taranaki maunga had followed the rock from the central North Island area after losing a battle with Tongariro maunga over the beautiful Pihanga.
It was great to see the boys’ fascination and interest in the photos of people within the various whare. They were interested in the stories about them, and how they fit within the history of the area. It helped reinforce to me the importance of whanaungatanga.
Between the dining room and whare we passed a couple of mill stones. It amazed me that the boys would likely have walked past them many times but they had never asked what they were or where they came from, but then I realised I probably would’ve done the same if Jason hadn’t pointed them out to me! Jason shared that there used to be a number of factories in the area and the marae used to be a very busy place with many more houses situated around it. There were a number of dairy factories as well as a flour mill. The mill stones came from the nearby flour mill next to Werekino stream at the end of Komene road.
Te Reo and technology
Before the boys had to head back to school at lunchtime, they showed me some of the work they had been doing on the iPads. This included drawing and telling the story that I shared above of Taranaki maunga’s journey to where it is today. The purpose of this was for the boys to retell the story of the maunga in their own words. One of the boys told me he didn’t like writing with a pen because his writing wasn’t very neat and he found it difficult, but was happy to type stories on the iPad. They all said it was fun but they were confident they were learning.
I was also shown some of videos they had made using rākau (Cuisenaire rods). The boys had Te Reo lessons, after which they photographed each stage of their learning and recording their voice to help with pronunciation. Using Educreations they were able to revisit the lesson to reinforce their learning.
Jason then took us through a quick lesson in Te Reo using the rākau. Although a simple lesson, I found it a little challenging having to listen carefully for the words I did recognise (numbers and colours) and pick up the correct number rākau of a certain colour. Then Jason changed the words slightly to something he had taught the boys recently and I had to listen carefully to what he was saying to the boys and what they were doing as a result. Instead of saying a particular number, he was saying “tētehi” meaning “one of” and “ētehi” meaning ”some of”. I was not familiar with these words at all and had to interpret their meaning as he was talking to the boys.
As a teacher of science in my past life, this was a good reminder that we can sometimes speak another language (in my case scientific vocabulary) that our students have to pay close attention to, in order to understand! Teachers/educators/academics often speak another language too!
After lunch, Jason took me to Parihaka – a significant site during the land wars in the latter half of the 1800s. He explained his connection to Parihaka and also the stories of the main leaders of the various marae. While I don’t remember all of the details, I really came away with a sense of community and belonging for those of the area. There is so much history and meaning for the families living there and those from the area.
Beyond the classroom—engaging the community
From a school perspective, the trip to Puniho emphasised to me the importance in making connections beyond the classroom with the local community, whānau and marae. As a school we should be aware of the history and tikanga of the community in which we are situated. Connections to this knowledge can be made through the learning that occurs in the classroom.
Schools are busy places. As a result it can be easy, sometimes, to fall into the trap of “ticking the box” in regards to community consultation and engagement. Schools are a part of the community in which they are situated. Instead of having a hui at the marae – taking school-specific business to the marae – what if you decided as a school to build partnerships with the community without a set agenda? What if you took your staff and/or students to sit amongst the koroua, kuia and others gathered at the marae and let them tell their story? This may help the school to develop an understanding of its place within the community as well as helping the wider community feel comfortable to speak into the life, goals and plans of the school.