The Language (Te Reo) — featuring first crossword

View from Matairangi (Mt. Victoria), Wellington

One thing (of many) that has made our arrival in New Zealand such a soft landing is that one does not need any language other than English to get around. However, one thing that made an impression on us from our first moments in the Auckland airport is the consistent presence of te reo Māori — the Māori language.

Te Reo Māori: The History

Te Reo has been an official language of New Zealand since 1987, but — parallel to the stories of many other indigenous languages pre-dating the arrival of a colonial power and culture — it also suffered terrible injustices over the previous 150 years.

“After the grand promises of a united nation made by the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 were cast aside in favour of a shameless British land grab, not to mention the attempted genocide of certain iwi during the New Zealand wars, successive governments turned to the great assimilation project: Māori would become quiet, English-speaking facsimiles of their white co-patriots, while accepting their status as second class citizens.”

As we have continued to learn more about the culture, history, and current reality of life in this multicultural, multiracial democracy — through reading, museums, and interactions with people in our travels — the role of the language keeps coming up. We hear about the experiences of individuals, family members, and ancestors given the opportunity of learning their language and staying connected to their culture — or denied this opportunity and punished for wanting the chance.

(The language has also had a significant role in the history of New Zealand and in relations among pākehā (European) and Māori peoples — including the Treaty Of Waitangi, about which we’ll post more later.)

Te Reo Māori: The Revival

Meanwhile, a language revival movement seems to be gaining steam, and each year, more Te Reo knowledge is normalized and expected, and more learning opportunities are provided — for children, for government employees, for teachers, for online learners. And online resources like a dictionary and encyclopedia support further understanding and learning as well.

The impact of this revival movement is both practical, and gets to a deeper level of identity on concept of humanity and society. For example, the word kaitiakitanga brings not just a shared language tied to the place to support conservation, but a deeper sense of the human role relative to the natural world:

“Kaitiakitanga is a concept broadly meaning guardianship. As in so many Indigenous cultures, it’s an integral role Māori play in protecting the natural world, of which we are an interconnected part. Animals, mountains, waterways, land, even stars, are ancestors and family. “Nō hea koe? Where are you from?” is the most common conversation starter, meaning not “where do you live?” but “what lands are you connected to?””

In brief: “As the reasoning goes: understand our language, understand us.

This has even extended to a reconsideration of the nation’s name.

Deepening My Understanding of Te Reo Māori

My own knowledge of Te Reo barely encompasses a dozen words, and there’s no way I could participate in a conversation. But I already feel that my understanding of this place — rudimentary as it may be — has been uniquely enriched by interacting with the language by reading it in writing, by hearing it spoken, and hearing it in song, whether traditional, popular, or reinvented.

I am grateful to the language revival movement, and to make my own small contribution towards greater understanding, I have tried to include some entries that I hope expand your understanding in my first 15-by-15 crossword. (Fair warnings: this is my first construction, so there are definitely some rough parts; and some of the entries will be pretty challenging to puzzle out if you haven’t read our blog!) Thanks to the family for helping generate the seed theme entries, and to the gracious test solvers who I connected with through the Crossword Puzzle Collaboration Directory!

I am hoping to continue constructing at least one puzzle a month, based on our ongoing travels. Feedback and suggestions are very much appreciated!

1 thought on “The Language (Te Reo) — featuring first crossword”

  1. Thanks for sharing. It’s nice to see your smiling face. Have safe travels and enlighten us about the world around us.

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