When soccer fans arrive in New Zealand this month ahead of the Women’s World Cup, they may find themselves welcome not in Auckland or Wellington, but in “Tāmaki Makaurau” (“Tah-mah-key Ma-kow-row”) or “Te Whanganui- a-Tara” (“Tay Fung-a-noo-ee a Tah-rah”).
Those names — what the cities are called in the country’s indigenous language, te reo Māori — are reflected in the official documents for this year’s Women’s World Cup, which unapologetically put indigenous languages and imagery front and center.
Each city that will host a match is listed in its English and Indigenous names, and FIFA announced this month that it will fly First Nations and Maori flags at every stadium. This effort came after football and government officials in hosts Countries Push for a more comprehensive approach, and it will “mean a lot to a lot of people,” said the Football Federation Australia president.
In New Zealand, the decision reflects an ongoing conversation about the nation’s identity. For decades, many New Zealanders have been routinely distorted and mispronounced Maori names for the country’s cities and towns. Taupō (“Toe-paw”) is pronounced “Towel-po.” Ōtāhuhu (Oh-tah-hu-hu) was “Oter-hu.” Paraparaumu (“para-para-oo-moo”) was sometimes referred to simply as “Pram”.
More recently, legislators, broadcasters, and much of the general public have tossed around these mispronunciations as part of a coordinated national effort to say names correctly. At the same time, many choose to use their cities’ original Maori names over the English alternatives. Last year, an official petition was signed to completely rename the country and restore all Māori names More than 70,000 people.
“Before, it was like choosing to say names correctly,” said Julia de Pres, a linguist at New Zealand’s Massey University. “And now it feels like the option not to.”
Visitors should use exactly these names, as well as the common salutation “kya ora” (“key of ow-rah”), said Hemi Dale, director of Maori Intermediate Education at the University of Auckland.
“Once you understand vowels, you can get your tongue around most words — long vowels, short vowels, and macarons,” he said, the horizontal line above the vowel indicating a stressed syllable.
(Note: New Zealanders abroad – of any origin – will often allow themselves inner wonder at the way foreigners say the word “Maori”. The correct pronunciation It is closest to “Mao-ree,” not “May-or-i.” The plural is simply “Maori,” without the “s,” which does not appear in the language.)
Māori place-name advocacy is apparent throughout New Zealand life: Increasingly, New Zealanders call their homeland Aotearoa, a Māori name often translated as “Land of the Long White Cloud” and which Maori have used to refer to the country for decades, if not centuries. Maori and English names are used by the state Weather forecasting serviceon Newly released official maps and on Signs on the roads of the nation.
Rauenya Higgins, the country’s Maori Language Commissioner, said the changes are the result of a decades-long movement to revitalize a language that was at risk of extinction by colonialism.
When English-speaking settlers became the dominant population, Māori and their language were marginalized and suppressed. In the late 1980s, Maori children were beaten at school for speaking the language, and many adults chose not to pass it on to their families.
Beginning in the 1970s, the Māori language revival movement led to the adoption of te reo as one of the country’s two official languages, along with sign language, and the creation of Nearly 500 early childhood schools spoken exclusively by Maori.
Many non-Maori New Zealanders have embraced the change, and there are long waiting lists for Maori language courses. The government aims to have one million New Zealanders – roughly a fifth of the population – speaking a primary language, Maori, by 2040.
But for a small but vocal minority, a bicultural society is seen as divisive rather than inclusive.
Last year, after chocolate maker Whittakers temporarily changed the packaging on its milk chocolate bars to read Miraka Kirīmi (creamy milk), some in New Zealand called for a boycott of the brand. The issue of bilingual road signs has gained prominence ahead of this year’s general election, as questions of racial politics have become a feature of center-right rhetoric.
Place names, like some of the most obvious examples of metamorphosis, have become caught in the fray. Lost in this debate is the fact that colonial names for countries often have little to do with the places with which they are associated.
For example, the city of Christchurch is named as a reminder College at the University of Oxfordwhile the name Auckland was given as a thank you George Eden, Earl of Auckland. Eden was the chair of the former Governor of New Zealand, William Hobson, who chose the name. Aden never set foot in the city.
By contrast, Maori place names reflect site-specific information, including important stories or where to find food, said Hannah Skerritt-White, a Maori educator, advocate and translator who has worked with artists such as the singer Lorde.
“Maori names tell stories,” she said. They talk about our history, about important events, and in fact they serve as pockets of knowledge, the way we pass information from generation to generation.
“When these names are deleted, our knowledge systems also get disrupted in the process.”
English translations of Tāmaki Makaurau, as Auckland is known in Māori, vary. One version states that the city, with its harbors and volcanoes surrounded by palm trees, is a place many would desire. Another story tells the story of Tamaki, a beautiful princess, and her many admirers.
From a Maori perspective, every understanding is equally valid, and individual tribes, or iwi, can approach it differently, said Paura Buru, a Maori language advocate and co-founder of the Maori social enterprise Te Manu Taupua.
He said: “People have their own interpretations, their own meaning.” “I liken it to an invisible umbilical cord that binds you to that place, and to the traditional connection of your ancestors, or their association, or their profession, or their use of that very region.”