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A life of te reo

Taina Ngarimu (Ngati Porou) discusses his unwavering dedication to teaching Maori language and culture.

Taina Ngarimu (Ngāti Porou) of Whareponga, has dedicated more than 40 years of his life to teaching te reo Māori me ona tikanga (Māori language and cultural practices). He talked to reporter Akula Sharma . . .

A whakatauki or proverb has always guided Taina Ngarimu back to his roots on the East Coast.

Hoki mai ki Whareponga kia whakamatau koe i nga waiparapara o te Hotohoto e — Return to Whareponga so that you may be blessed by the healing waters of the Hotohoto River.

Papa Taina, as he is known, was born in Waipiro Bay in 1940. He was brought up by his grandparents in a household where their first language was te reo Māori.

“I was lucky to be brought up in Whareponga because every family which lived there looked after each other.”

Mr Ngarimu was taught the value of kai (food) and moana (sea) at a very young age.

“We used to do our own he maara kai (the food garden) for kumara, potatoes and corn.

“I grew up in that world of nature, relying on harvest in the garden and the sea.

“We learned at a very early age to respect the sea, to get only what you can eat and no more.

“In those days the sea was our fridge.

“If you needed fresh food, you got it from the sea.”

Seeing his tīpuna tāne (grandfather) and uncles catch kaimoana and share it with whare (houses) all over the Coast, taught him to share what he had with other people, Mr Ngarimu said.

His inspiration also came from a Pākehā teacher in his school, Don Haine.

“He arrived from Taranaki with no idea about Māori.

“He quickly learned that we at Whareponga Native School didn’t like milk powder.

“In those days, our school received milk powder in tins. Whereas on the highway, schools received bottled milk.

“Don Haines saw this happening and he decided he was going to do something different. He went up the hill, hunted down a couple of hares, brought them back to school and made us kai.

“So we didn’t have to bring lunch to school. The stew and vegetables, for me, were much better than drinking powdered milk.

“He also taught us how to hunt and be self-sufficient.”

It was hard for Mr Ngarimu to move away from Whareponga to Ruatoria for high school because he said it was like another land.

“I was in Manutahi District High School (now, Ngata Memorial College) in Ruatoria for three years.

“After that, I decided to become an electrician, so I went to Auckland, but there were no jobs.

“I then decided I would do a painting and designing apprenticeship, which helped me in my career as a property investor on the East Coast later in life.

“I also qualified with my trade training certificate and moved up north. I did dairy farming for six years in Wellsford.”

Mr Ngarimu had started teaching night classes for te reo Māori at Rodney College while also dairy farming. One day, the school principal offered him a teaching job.

“It was then that I went to teacher training school in Auckland and became a teacher.”

In 1975, Mr Ngarimu received a phone call which later made him teach his students about participating in real life challenges.

“While on holiday, back in Whareponga, I received an urgent phone call from the principal to return to Wellsford.

“I went there to find Dame Whina Cooper on the land march.

“I took my senior students to go and listen to her in the evening. They were fascinated by that kuia, the way she spoke about Māori.

“I had only four senior students at the time. They were only doing an introductory course.

“I told them we will follow this event, we will jump in my car on Friday nights, catch up with land marchers, stay with them over the weekend and return on Sunday night. Their parents were supportive.

“I got them tape recorders, cameras, and pens, for them to write down any

information they got, take photos, and listen to the kōrero.

“After the land march, for two weeks they stayed home late, writing, listening and making a collection of it all.

“We ended up making a full album of the march which we later donated to the school library.”

Apart from the many activities Mr Ngarimu did for the students, he also started kapa haka at Rodney College.

“They had no idea up there about kapa haka, now they do.

“In my days, all our songs and hakas were Ngāti Porou. I just passed the things I knew on to them.

“I see those students now, all grown up

. . . they never forget the link between us.”

Mr Ngarimu later decided to return to Tairāwhiti, his home, to teach at Gisborne Girls’ High School and then Lytton High School, retiring in 2002.

In retirement Mr Ngarimu has not stopped sharing and giving to kids.

With his wife, he gave a lot of time to kohanga reo. More recently, they opened their second kohanga reo in Mary Street.

“I have been teaching te reo Māori there for over 15 years. I am a pakeke for EIT Tairāwhiti. I have been involved in kids’ cultural festivals and kapa haka competitions locally and nationally. I am also on the Māori advisory board for Matai Medical Research Institute.

“I am very delighted to see that now, everyone is learning te reo Māori.

“I have Asian students in my night classes at kohanga reo who are picking up te reo Māori very quickly. It is nice to see all cultures celebrating our language — it shows it was never gone.”

Blessed: Taina Ngarimu of Whareponga has dedicated most of his life to teaching te reo Māori me ona tikanga. Picture by Paul Rickard