Kia hari, kia koa!
(Karakia tīmatanga for children’s storytimes, composed for Wellington City Libraries by Suezanne Pohe in 2016)
In this article, Stephen Clothier of Te Matapihi ki te Ao Nui Wellington City Libraries (WCL) shares his perspective on a recent step taken at WCL to develop their bilingual services for tamariki.
Tēnā koutou kātoa e hoamahi mā. I am not Māori, nor do I consider myself fluent in te reo Māori. I am fortunate to have worked with and been supported by many kaimahi Māori and speakers of te reo over the years I have worked at WCL, and my description of our libraries’ recent journey is only made possible through their expertise and generosity. There are too many people to name and thank for their incredible mahi over the years, but I would like to pay special homage to Suezanne Pohe, Louise Dowdell, Pippa Cubey, Ann Reweti, Te Atawhai Scott, Charlotte Findlay, Leila Waiora Bailey-Moore, Deon Knox, and Belinda Davis – ehara taku toa, he takitahi, he toa takitini. Auē!
In late 2022, the Children and Youth Services (CYS) team at WCL was faced with something of a dilemma as we considered how best to provide bilingual programmes in English and te reo Māori to the pēpi and tamariki of Te Whanganui-a-Tara and their whānau. Since 2009, we had run a popular te reo Māori storytelling programme across our branches called Kōhunga Kōrero, derived from ‘kōhungahunga’ – ‘to be young, of people and birds’.
Kōhunga Kōrero, or KK as we affectionately called it, was envisioned as a full-immersion programme, where fluent library kaimahi would share stories, waiata and pūrākau, and converse with families fully in te reo Māori. Introducing Kōhunga Kōrero was an important step for WCL as we sought to bring te reo Māori storytelling to our youngest library users. The example provided by the amazing wāhine leading the programme led to more and more of our presenters who were running the nominally English-medium Preschool Storytime incorporating stories and waiata in te reo Māori in those sessions as well.
However, through circumstance and staffing changes, we started running short of kaimahi who had the level of fluency required for them to feel confident and comfortable leading such a session. I started helping to deliver Kōhunga Kōrero in 2018. By this time most of our KK presenters moved out of necessity to a more bilingual delivery model. Some of us felt quietly whakamā that we were not living up to the Kōhunga Kōrero vision, even though the whānau attending our sessions were enjoying themselves.
This worry that we were not fully honouring the whakapapa of Kōhunga Kōrero and the legacy of the amazing wāhine who had led it for so long, and the fact that the responsibility for presenting this programme was falling on the shoulders of a smaller and smaller number of staff as the years went on, was creating a situation that we knew we had to address.
After an initial brainstorming session, we came to what felt like the most obvious solution for everyone. Most of our storytellers had been incorporating te reo Māori into their English storytimes already, and many of our Kōhunga Kōrero presenters found it expedient to use English during their sessions as well. Why not simply combine the two approaches?
Nohinohi Reorua, from ‘nohinohi’ – ‘to be small, little, new’, was imagined as a bilingual storytelling programme where presenters use both English and te reo Māori to deliver a session shaped by mātauranga Māori and in accordance with a tikanga that we built together.
We worked out an appropriate order of karakia, mihimihi, story-sharing and pūrākau, waiata and kēmu to create sessions that reflect the order of proceedings of a pōwhiri but still feel intuitive and enjoyable to tamariki who want to listen, move their bodies and participate. We developed a handbook that kaimahi can use to help them plan a session. And, thanks largely to work by former kaimahi Suezanne Pohe and Leila Waiora Bailey-Moore, a new training programme and staff guide to te kohikohinga Māori to help them select pukapuka at the right level for their reo, with kupu and rerenga kōrero that they can pronounce confidently.
Preparing for a Nohinohi Reorua session is familiar for staff who have presented Preschool Storytime in the past – looking for books, deciding what waiata to use, maybe preparing an activity or a game. The key difference is that we do it intentionally with tikanga and mātauranga Māori at the heart of each decision we make. The goal is to deliver a session centred around te ao Māori and to foster a warm and inclusive atmosphere where all feel comfortable exploring kōrero i te reo Māori to the degree they can.
Following a period of practice and preparation, we introduced Nohinohi Reorua at six of our libraries in May 2023. The response from the public has been wonderful and immediate – our sessions are bursting with tamariki from preschools and kindergartens, and whānau who are keen to participate and learn more about te reo and te ao Māori. Attendance at Nohinohi Reorua is about 50% higher than usual for our English storytimes.
But the greatest success, I think, is in how wholeheartedly my amazing colleagues have embraced the new approach. Where previously there was a dwindling group of just four or five staff who felt confident delivering Kōhunga Kōrero, we now have 20 staff across our network working together to run Nohinohi Reorua.
Since May we’ve added one more library and a community centre to the list of locations that are offering the programme. And a fresh group of 10 more kaimahi is on the waiting list to attend training. I am feeling more positive than ever about the future of te reo Māori in our children’s programmes. I can’t wait to see where our kaimahi take the programme next – and how we can start integrating what we have learned across all our programme offerings.
Stephen Clothier is the Children’s and Youth Services Coordinator at Te Matapihi ki te Ao Nui Wellington City Libraries. His library-related interests include reading to children in funny voices, teaching robots to read to children in funny voices, and breaking things (usually dramatically) with the express purpose of putting them back together again – hopefully better than he found them.