Kāore au i te mōhio

Photo by    JJ Thompson    on    Unsplash

Photo by JJ Thompson on Unsplash

Author Note: This fictional and imaginative account was inspired by true events that happened to the authors nanny and many others of her generation.

The young kōtiro with beautiful dark brown hair and large eyes sits quietly at her desk. She is at the local native school, a small wooden building with a single classroom containing desks, chairs and a blackboard. She has only been going for a few days but she already knows that she hates it. The Pākehā kaiako speak a language that she has never heard before speak, so she can’t understand anything. She feels scared of them with their pale-faces and language that she can’t understand. All she wants to do is return to her kāinga, her kind māmā, her brothers, sisters and cousins.

Ever since she was a pēpi, the only language she had ever heard was te reo Māori. It is her language, the language of all the people around her. The young girl is frustrated and asks herself, why does this kaiako speak to us in a language I don't understand? The kaiako is talking and writing on the blackboard, but the young kōtiro does not understand the words that are said, nor the words written on the blackboard. In frustration, the young kōtiro mutters, ‘kāore au i te mōhio!’

The kaiako turns away from the blackboard and says something to the young kōtiro that she does not understand. She looks angry. Even though the kōtiro doesn't know what the kaiako is saying, she does know that she isn’t supposed to speak te reo. The other students told her that. “Not here at kura,” they say. The Pākehā kaiako takes her hand and leads the young kōtiro down the hall to an office. There behind his wooden desk is an even scarier looking kaiako.

The kaiako gestures to the young kōtiro to put her hand out, so the young kōtiro puts her hand out. She is scared and frightened. She starts to cry, her hand is shaking. The kaiako takes out the strap and straps the young girl, multiple times. The young kōtiro is terrified. She cries out each time the belt hits her skin, tears streaming down her face. The young kōtiro does not understand why she is being punished for speaking the only language she knows, why it is so bad. Why it is so bad to be Māori.

‘Kāore au i te mōhio, kāore au i te mōhio, kāore au i te mōhio,’ she cries.

Many years later this young kōtiro grows into a wāhine. She changes her name to a Pākeha one and doesn't teach her children to speak Te Reo Māori to protect them from being punished at school. When her seven tamariki have grown up, not one will be able to speak their language.