A delegation from Tahiti recently visited a Maori community in New Zealand in order to study their approaches to teaching their language to children, since the use of Tahitian is dying out.

Maori children
Maori children from the Te Kohanga Reo program dance and tell stories in Dunedin, N.Z. (Image by Dunedin Public Libraries on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

The Rotorua Daily Post published a story last week about the visit and the kohanga reo system (literally, “language nest”) developed by the Maori to immerse their young children in their own language from infancy until they reach school age.

The Tahitian group visited Rotorua, a city on New Zealand’s North Island that serves as an important tourist destination and a center for Maori culture. The Rotorua Lakes Council welcomed the Tahitian Puna Reo delegation. Trevor Maxwell, cultural ambassador for the Rotorua Lakes Council and a District Councilor, played a ukulele with a band composed of Tahitians while traditional songs and dances were sung. Mr. Maxwell said that he has been to Tahiti twice and he has learned some of their songs. He was glad to welcome the Tahitians.

The Tahitians had heard about the kohanga reo movement 10 years ago and contacted a trustee of the movement, Derek Te Ariki Morehu. Mr. Morehu helped the Tahitians establish a similar movement which they called Tahitian Puna Reo. The Puna Reo people traveled to New Zealand to study the Maori culture and to see what additional ideas they could pick up about developing pathways they could take to foster their own Tahitian culture.

Mr. Morehu’s daughter, Heeni Morehu, said that the Tahitian visitors received no financial support from their own government, so they had to secure the funding for their trip themselves. But, she said, they are very eager learners. “They have become part of our family,” she indicated.

The secretary of the Tahitian delegation, Dom Leoture, told the reporter that a group from New Zealand had traveled to Tahiti 30 years ago to learn about their culture. Now, the Tahitians are the ones reaching out for assistance. The Tahitians intend to present a petition to the government of France, which still controls Tahiti and the rest of the Society Islands, to start programs in their schools that will teach Tahitian.

The news story in the Rotorua Daily Post includes a 47-second video clip of Trevor Maxwell playing his ukulele with some of the Tahitian visitors.