Kia areare ki ngā Reo o ngā Tīpuna

This research project’s origins date back 27 years when Dr Joe Te Rito helped establish local Māori radio station Radio Kahungunu at the Hawke’s Bay Polytechnic, Taradale. Joe saw how the dialect of his iwi Rongomaiwahine-Ngāti Kahungunu was diminishing in quality, in terms of grammatical and spoken fluency, with each generation. The station was to fill the gap for children who did not have Māori spoken in the home or role models to learn te reo from. While schools looked after education, the station wanted to bring the voices into the home.

The idea of a Māori language radio station was new at the time. Local elders hosted various shows, which the station had the foresight to record, and today there are more than 2000 archival recordings. Initially, recording was just to preserve the voices, but the archive would turn into the basis of Joe’s research. Since then, while the number of people learning Māori has increased, Joe argues the quality has declined further. The richness of the previous generations’ language has been watered down and euphony and idioms have been lost. It is important to preserve a language’s quality, because a culture’s world view is expressed through its language – if a language loses its quality, it loses its full potential.

Poor te reo in terms of grammar, euphony and pronunciation is used on TV by many young presenters through no fault of their own, but this fossilises bad habits in the next generation. Joe believes that as a nation of Māori language learners we lack quality conversational Māori to listen to and imitate because teaching has been writing and reading focused. People need and yearn to be able to converse naturally, not just give speeches or write essays.

Joe started this research project in 2009, focusing on recordings of two of the radio’s elders, chosen for their high native oral fluency. Joe worked with locals to transcribe and translate the recordings and through linguistic analysis he was delighted to discover that while the two women’s language is conversational, it demonstrates a strong adherence to textbook grammar and highlights some of the iwi’s different features.

In recent years the station under Joe’s lead has been digitising the recordings, saving the language with technology. Joe and his team produced a “talking book” comprising digital recordings, and transcriptions and translations with associated annotations. This talking book, which will allow people to listen and read at the same time, is available for learners around the world through the download (the audio files are to be provided for access shortly).  Users then will be able to hear and imitate the sound and flow of the women’s language. Joe is also planning an online course using the women’s voices. This idea follows on from the successful and free Korokoro Kīwaha 10-week course which Joe ran through Radio Kahungunu and the Māori radio network for several years, culminating in 2003 with more than 7000 enrolments. This course used scripted conversations and actors, whereas the new course will use real conversation between the elders.

Joe hopes the integration of listening, reading, speaking and writing will contribute to the accelerated improvement in te reo of learners. The desired outcome is a vast improvement in the quality of Māori language being used today and transferred on to the next generation. The content of these recordings will also contribute to the tribal region’s people reconnecting with their ancestors’ history and culture. This project is a model for other iwi and indigenous languages worldwide, showing how dialects and language quality can be saved.

The project's bilingual teaching and learning book 'Pukapuka Kōrero Tahi; He Taonga Nō Te Pātaka Kōrero o Te Reo Irirangi o Kahungunu' is available for download here.  This resource book includes a CD-ROM of conversations, verbatim transcriptions of those conversations, and English transcriptions.

Audio Book One, is a treasure from the Storehouse of Oral Archives of Radio Kahungunu.  It  features the voices of Apikara Rārere and Te Arahea Robin.

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Te Rito, J. (2015). Pukapuka kōrero tahi: He taonga nō te pātaka kōrero o te reo irirangi o Kahungunu. Auckland, NZ: NPM.

Mai i te Taringa ki te Arero: Utilizing Oral Recordings of Maori Elders Conversing to Produce Maori Language Teaching Resources. (December, 2012) Presentation to 1st International Conference for the KACL (Korean Association for Corpus Linguistics) at Pusan National University, South Korea.

Te Rito, J. S. (2012, June). Kia areare ngā taringa: Utilising recordings of native speakers of Māori conversing in the teaching of Māori language. International Indigenous Development Research Conference 2012. Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga, Auckland, New Zealand.

Te Rito, J. S. (2012, March). Māori language revitalisation strategies. Pacific Islands Forum/Fono. Auckland, New Zealand

Book chapters
Te Rito, J. S. (2012). Māori invocation for the 3S Community and for the world [Chapter section in]: Epilogue: A Spiritual Circle. In G. Pungetti, G. Oviedo & D. Hooke (Eds.), Sacred species and sites: Advances in biocultural conservation (pp. 457–458). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Te Rito, J. S. (2012). Struggles to protect Puketapu, a sacred hill in Aotearoa. In G. Pungetti, G. Oviedo & D. Hooke (Eds.), Sacred species and sites: Advances in biocultural conservation (pp. 165–177). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Project commenced:

Research Lead(s) and Team

Rongomaiwahine Ngāti Kahungunu
Kaihautū Mātauranga Māori

Dr Joe Te Rito is of Ngāti Hinemanu descent from Ōmāhu out of Hastings. The community was devastated by Cyclone Gabrielle which flooded the whole community including over 100 houses, the marae, cemetery, school, and kohanga reo. Joe has actively assisted in the recovery efforts by his community since then to provide shelter for displaced families; water, food and stores to local whānau, the rural farming community and other marae; plan for future housing; gather up kōiwi from the cemetery and an ancient burial site unearthed by the flood; recover old carvings from an old pātaka; and revive local Māori history that had been forgotten. He was former head of Māori Studies at EIT (17 years), worked at Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga (11 years), currently works for Ako Aotearoa (7 years); and is the original and current head of Radio Kahungunu (35 years).

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