Fanaura, one of our Cook Island Maori translators, shares what her mother tongue means to her and why she works as a translator. We will publish her account in several parts.

Kia orana kotou katoatoa i te aroa maata o to tatou Atu Akaora ko Iesu Mesia.

Greetings to you all in the precious name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Old stamp from the Cook IslandsI consider myself an extremely lucky person considering the fact that from the very early age of 12 years (in 1952) I found myself alone with over one hundred English speaking children and teachers at St. Mary’s Diocesan private boarding school, in Stratford, Taranaki.  There were also 5 Samoan and 3 Tongan students at the school, but I was the only Cook Island Maori student.  It was to be expected therefore that English was the only language of communication for me, not being Samoan or Tongan.

Most fortunately for me however, my father and mother were also in New Zealand for two years so that my father could attend a further 2 years of theological studies at what was then the Mt. Eden Congregational Theological College in Auckland.  My father had completed the required 5 years theological studies in Rarotonga, but the Head of the national Takamoa Theological College who was from England, decided my dad should come to New Zeeland and do 2 more years of study.

I was lucky because with my parents in Auckland, I was allowed to go and stay with them during the school holidays.  All Pacific Island students in those days had to go with friends from their school “to help further improve their English”, according to the Department of Education in Wellington!

While at St. Mary’s, it became a habit for me to keep correcting my friends at school whenever they mispronounced a NZ Maori word, or the Maori name of a town, of a person, and every Maori word pronounced incorrectly.  When the May holidays arrived, it meant a long train ride from Stratford to Auckland.  And of course, all the way I would quickly correct my school friends when they kept mispronouncing Maori names of the towns the train went through.  We eventually arrived at Auckland and there my mum and dad were waiting for me!

On our way in a taxi to the Mt. Eden Theological College, I was bubbling over with all I had to tell my Mum and Dad about the school, the boarding house, the freezing temperatures of Stratford, the teachers, the Anglican church we attended every Sunday and so on and so forth.  I had barely started chattering however, when my mother firmly put her hands on my knee and said to me in a very stern but quiet voice, “Look, he [pointing to my Dad] is Maori, I am Maori [pointing to herself], and you are Maori [pointing to me!].  When you go back to where you have just come from, you speak to them in that language.  When you come back to us, don’t speak to us in English.  We are Maori and we have our own language.  I don’t want you to speak to us in that other language but in our own Maori language!”

That lesson from my mother over 62 years ago has remained with me ever since.  The fact that I was the only Cook Island Maori student at St. Mary’s for the one year I was there before I was sent on to New Plymouth Girls High School, where again, I was the only Cook Island Maori student with a huge number of boarders at “Scotlands”, the boarding house, and even more at school, as well again as a lot more Samoan and Tongan students than there were at Stratford, did not deter me from keeping my language through reading my Maori Bible and singing songs and hymns to myself.

To be continued…