Kia ora koutou! In honour of Te Wiki o te Reo Maori – Maori language week – this post takes a look back at the beginnings of te reo Maori at the University of Otago. It is perhaps unsurprising, in view of the distribution of the Maori population, that Otago was the last New Zealand university to establish courses in Maori studies. It wasn’t until 1981 that a limited number of Otago students could take an introductory Stage I course in Maori language, taught by linguist Ray Harlow. After Godfrey Pohatu was appointed in 1986 a full programme in Maori studies gradually developed, proving very popular.
But there is an interesting and little known pre-history to the development of undergraduate Maori language courses at Otago. The first courses in te reo began more than twenty years earlier, through the Department of University Extension, which offered community programmes designed to reach out to the general adult population, particularly the many people who had not received any higher education. The Otago extension department’s annual report for 1957 noted: “For the first time a course was offered in the Maori language; this was well attended by members of the local Maori community.” Fifty-one people, two-thirds of them women, enrolled for the 12-class course. The tutor was Mr H. Wesley. This was almost certainly Harold Tarewai Wesley, a respected kaumatua of the Kai Tahu community at Otakou. He was renowned as a native speaker of Maori in a community where the language seemed to be dying.
After this successful beginning, the university extension department continued to offer evening courses in te reo Maori. Mr Rua Bristowe, a public servant whose iwi links were to Ngati Porou, took over as class tutor in 1958, and was himself succeeded by Mr Te P. Tawhai in 1960. As the 1961 prospectus made clear, the classes had a strong oral focus: “The aim of the course is to equip a student with a framework on which to build a speaking use of the language.” Enrolments in the late 1950s and early 1960s were not as impressive as in that first 1957 class, but varied between 10 and 30 people per year.
It appears that there were no Maori evening classes in 1963. Perhaps there was no teacher available that year, because in 1964 they resumed under a new tutor, Reverend J.N.A. Smith. Jack Smith was the minister of Kaikorai Presbyterian Church, but had previously served for over ten years in various North Island stations of the Presbyterian Maori Mission, where he presumably developed some fluency in te reo Maori. The extension department was responsible for coordinating adult education throughout Otago and Southland, and their report for 1964 also notes what may have been their first course in te reo Maori beyond Dunedin: 11 people enrolled in a language course at Balclutha, where the tutor was Mrs Kaye O’Connell.
As the Maori renaissance gathered momentum through the 1960s, demand for language classes was clearly increasing. In 1967, 45 people enrolled for the Dunedin class, 29 in Invercargill, 24 in Oamaru, and 11 in the small settlement of Otematata. Tutoring was taken over by some of the permanent lecturing staff of the Department of University Extension, Alexander Skinner and Pieter de Bres. De Bres was a Dutchman who had recently completed an anthropology thesis at the University of Auckland on Maori and religion, while Skinner was a linguist (he took leave one year to lecture on African languages at the University of California). Technology became increasingly important: “tape recordings will be used to improve spoken Maori,” noted the 1966 prospectus. Textbooks used in the late 1960s included Lessons in the Maori Language by W.H. Wills and Te Rangatahi 1 and 2.
As more people completed a first course in te reo, the department began offering level 2 and level 3 classes. In 1971 they introduced an “extension certificate,” which provided a formal qualification to those who passed an examination after three years of classes. The first six people successfully completed their certificates in 1973. The certificate course boosted enrolments, though, as ever, many people did not move past a first year of introductory language classes. The mid-1970s saw a return to a native speaker of te reo Maori as tutor in Dunedin. This was thanks to the Dunedin Teachers College, which was ahead of the university in offering Maori language courses to its students. Muru Walters of Te Rarawa became lecturer in Maori at the college in 1974, and the Department of University Extension employed him as a tutor for their Maori evening classes. Walters was a qualified teacher with expertise in Maori arts and crafts (he taught in the teachers college art department before taking on the Maori language role). He had also gained fame as a Maori All Black; he later became an Anglican priest and is now Bishop of Te Upoko o te Ika. Another 1970s tutor was Reverend Jim Irwin, Dean of Maori and Polynesian Studies at the Presbyterian Theological Hall, Knox College. English-born Irwin had worked for many years in the Maori Mission and was fluent in te reo Maori.
Enrolment forms for the occasional year have survived in the archives of the Department of University Extension to provide a little insight into the Maori evening class students. The earliest, for 1967, only give names, but those reveal that quite a few of those enrolling were Maori, particularly in the classes outside Dunedin (of course people of Maori descent did not necessarily have identifiably Maori names). The 1975 enrolment forms for Dunedin also include occupations. These varied from typist and mother to boilermaker and journalist. Quite a number worked in the civil service or “helping” professions – police officer, nurse aide, pharmacist, librarian, teacher, university lecturer. But the largest group by far were students, who accounted for 26 of the 48 enrolments. Some gave details of their studies – two were divinity students, one was a dental student and three were student teachers. But the rest were simply “students”, presumably at university. The failure of the university to provide undergraduate classes in te reo Maori had forced them to enrol in the extension department’s evening classes.
Do you have any memories to share of the Department of University Extension’s classes in te reo Maori? I’d love to hear more about them!