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Te Kaieke Tohorā by Witi Ihimaera, nā Tīmoti Kāretu i whakamāori

We all know the story; from the time of her birth, Kahu is destined to become the leader of her tribe in the East Coast village of Whāngārā. But her grandfather, Koro Apirana, is caught up with the problems facing the tribe. He refuses to accept that a girl could take over from him as chief. Then a pod of whales beach themselves at Whāngārā. Kahu has to act, if she is to save them and her people.

Āe, it's The Whale Rider, that New Zealand classic by author Witi Ihimaera that became an internationally successful film.

Te Kaieke Tohorā is the te reo Māori translation from Tā Tīmoti Kāretu. Kāretu was the inaugural Māori Language Commissioner and is hugely respected for his linguistic knowledge and for championing te reo Māori.

This te reo Māori translation was first published in 1995 but has long been out of print. The renaissance in the language prompted this revised edition, just in time for te wiki o te reo Māori.

Given that the book shot straight to number eight on Nielson Bookscan New Zealand best selling fiction list shows just how much demand there is.

This book is solely in te reo Māori, there's no translation at all, and as such is one for those who are fluent. Kāretu has said he didn't translate the English version word for word - which is virtually impossible in te reo Māori. Instead he worked with Ihimaera to understand the essence of words, and would use that instead of the words on the page to guide his translation.

This revised edition was proofread by Pānia Papa, and with two well-respected te reo Māori champions, this book carries a lot of mana.

As someone who was once fluent in te reo Māori but now can kōrero conversationally, it was hard going. Knowing the English story quite well was immensely helpful. Immersing myself in the reo definitely renewed my commitment to gain my fluency back. Raising bilingual children, it was really heartening to see my children's reactions when peering over my shoulder. While we have oodles of te reo Māori picture books, seeing their language in a "grown up book" had them in awe, with both declaring they couldn't wait to read it.

Kāretu uses Tuhoe dialect, so for some readers there may be sentences or kupu that might trip you up a little. Fortunately there are such wonderful te reo Māori resources around now, a quick glance at a dictionary will set you back on the right track if you aren't able to make an educated guess.

There is a real dearth in books for more fluent speakers of te reo Māori. While there has rightly been an influx of picture books, there hasn't been a lot to really stretch and challenge yourself with once you step closer to fluency, unless you move into academia.

Having more books for those wanting to up-skill their te reo Māori is important. However the learning aspect can often be overlooked for something as equally important - reading as entertainment.

There are very few options for fluent te reo Māori speakers wanting to read fiction or read their favourite English language stories in te reo Māori. As more and more of us learn te reo Māori, it's important the opportunities are there for us to read for enjoyment, rather than necessarily for learning.

Te Kaieke Tohorā offers fluent speakers the chance to engage creatively with te reo Māori, and that's incredibly important.

Reviewed by: Rebekah Lyell

Raupō, RRP $26.


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