Many people who don’t see themselves as speakers of te reo Māori might still be surprised at just how many words they know, if they were to add up not just place names but also everyday sayings, names for objects, greetings and expressions.
Part of this familiarity is no doubt due to growth over the past few decades in the use of te reo in schools, newspapers, in spoken language, signage, and in opportunities for informal and formal learning.
While this increase in te reo around us may seem new, this hasn’t always been the case since the arrival of English as Aotearoa New Zealand’s second language.
Early settlers were dependent on Māori for many things and had to quickly learn to speak the language, to trade, exchange ideas, form relationships and communicate effectively.
For the first half-century or so of European settlement, Māori language was a common way of communicating.
While at first, many new colonial settlers arrived in New Zealand with a mix of origins and accents, it didn’t take long until families grew.
From about 1886 more than half of all non-Māori people living in Aotearoa New Zealand had been born here, and many understood and used te reo, or words and expressions borrowed from it, with confidence.
While increasingly English became the dominant language of New Zealand, these new New Zealanders were also interested in what gave their new nation a unique identity.
It is therefore not surprising that about this time the kiwi began to be adopted as a national symbol, and that from about the 1880s to the 1920s, Aotearoa New Zealand was often popularly known as ‘Māoriland’.
This familiarity, pride and sense of identity can be seen in a number of images and objects in the collections at Ashburton Museum.
Taking the example of just one familiar expression, ‘Kia ora’, its notable how widespread understanding of its meaning has been, and how adaptable its adoption, for a variety of purposes.
Kia ora koutou
When the Prince of Wales was being driven through the decorated Coronation gates at the Ashburton Domain in 1921, the words that greeted him were “Haere-mai, Haere-mai, Kia-ora” painted boldly above the arch of the gates.
The Kia Ora Tearooms were once a popular spot for a meal break. Owned first by Charles Beech, then businesswomen Miss Collorick and Miss Kennedy, and later a Mrs Irving, they were located on Tancred Street. The Kia Ora Tearooms later became Salts Café and continued under other names until the mid-twentieth century.
The Kia Ora Cricket Club was established in 1931, having formerly been the St Stephen’s club. They were a busy club, playing a mix of competitive and social or friendly games, and hosting socials, euchre parties and dances for members through until at least the 1950s.
While each of these short histories are encapsulated through photographs in the museum collection, several objects in the collection are also a reminder of the use of te reo.
An example is a small metal tin with an embossed tiki and the words “NZ Kia Ora” on the lid. While today the tin is empty, it’s thought it was once possibly used as a tobacco tin by a soldier, or for keeping small items. No similar tins are known to exist and slight variations in the embossing suggest the design may have been handmade, rather than the tin bought with the design in place.
Another is a soft leather book cover with a yellow kowhai flower painted on front and “Kia Ora” on the back flap. It once belonged to Miss Warrington, late of Springburn and Dobson Street.
A fine example is a hand carved ornamental breadboard, once a very popular object to carve. In the centre it features the words “Kia Ora” surrounded by the North and South Islands, silver ferns, and customary whakairo designs with paua shell inserts.
On back is a note explaining that the whakairo (carving) was given to Jenny Harris in 1945 by a Mr Rangi from Mangatarata, Ngatea in the North Island.
Under the top section are carved intertwining hands, no doubt representing a friendship, a very fitting symbol to accompany this popular and widespread greeting.
By Tanya Zoe Robinson
This article has been modified for this blog and was originally published in the Ashburton Guardian, 19th of November 2019.
1. An arch with the words “Haere-mai, Haere-mai, Kia-ora” above the gates that welcomed the Prince of Wales to Ashburton Domain in 1921.
2. A postcard of Tancred St taken from East Street shows the sign for the Kia Ora Tearooms about halfway along the left hand side of the street.
3. Members of the Kia Ora Cricket Club, who won the Ashburton Junior competition, 1934 – 35. From left to right, back row: SM Cassidy, L Moore, OJ Stills, L Chambers, H Lennon, VJ Stills, GV Furby; front row: T McNally, R Wear, SW Kerr, J Dillon, H Jordan, F Holloway.
4. An embossed tin with a tiki and the words “NZ Kia Ora’ on the lid.
5. A leather book cover with a yellow kowhai flower painted on front and “Kia Ora” on the back flap.
6. A whakairo (carved) wooden breadboard that features the words “Kia ora”.