Thoughts on Lorde's mini album translated into Maori.
by Shirley-Ann Rowley
New Zealand’s pop culture princess Lorde released a mini album on September 10th. The songstress took five of her original songs and re-invented them by translating each one into te reo / Maori the unofficial indigenous language of New Zealand and I’m in awe of her creative bravery. Lorde the most successful recording artist of her generation and perhaps the nation’s history dropped her album three days before Maori Language week to which you might expect an outpouring of positive praise and excitement. But that was not the case. Apparently, it wasn’t good enough for some.
The root of the issue is still the same offence. Colonisation of New Zealand and the disembowelment of Maori culture from one clan to many parts strewn upon the wind. I get it! It’s critical. But how are we going to find our way back to the spiritual rest of Hawaiki people if we continue to gate keep who can and who can’t enter our holy of holy’s the temple of language story and song?
Specifically, Lorde was criticised for being pakeha a New Zealand national but not of Maori descent who disrespected cultural appropriateness by translating her creative intellectual property into te reo. The thanks the artist gets for showing courage and attempting to lift the profile of te reo to a global audience include the following harsh press; boring, superficial, no musicality, terrible pronunciation, she’ll make money from it and my favourite she had to hire people to produce the album. Really? How else do you navigate uncharted territory if not by being mentored by experts?
Maori are identified by our song, story, poetry and dance around the world. But if we continue to raise the mere and chop off the feet of those pakeha attempting to walk down our hallowed halls what will become of us? When the All Blacks take to the field and perform the Haka for their fans do, we vet the crowd to see who is pakeha and tell them not to join in? When, Air New Zealand launches another safety video do we stop laughing to criticise the pretty Samoan air hostess for speaking te reo? If Prime Minister Adern achieves her election promise to make Maori, the third official language of New Zealand taught in all primary schools by 2025 what will we say then knowing that the future bearers of the sacred word will be every ethnicity under the sun?
The problem I have with Lorde’s critics is simply this, to stop someone speaking te reo based on ethnicity is racist. There’s no place for that level of defensive argument in the ‘enlightened’ era of the twenty first century. The deconstruction of the fabric of a conservative right wing value system instituted upon colonised countries hundreds of years ago is now unravelling at an unprecedented rate. Maori need to consider where they stand and why they are there. I say this as a 58 year old housewife of Maori and Cook Island descent without the ability to speak te reo. I am another causality of the integration policies of the 1950s that oppressed language and culture amongst Maori. One of my parents adjusted well. One of my parents didn’t and so we lost our language and a big part of our story. My brother and I were like many others from the 1960s poor shabby Maori with grass roots rural values trying to blend into big shiny cities. We had to accept, adopt, adjust, and sometimes succumb to the pressure of change as the tectonic plates of Wellington continued to shift underneath our feet literally and figuratively. We did this not because we were mindless sell outs of tradition, culture, or identity but because that’s what resilient people do. That’s what survivors do.
Maori are survivors. If we allow ourselves to, we can still get to the rudder of the waka and continue traversing the seas of change wholly in control of our context honouring our ancestors and refining our unique identity each day choice by choice. I’m choosing to plan for a stronger future in te reo. I’m choosing to step aside to fling wide open the door and to let those who want to come forward with energy and hope - come. I’m going to let those seekers take a leaf from our tree of knowledge and watch them plant it in new fertile soil. I’m choosing to support Lorde’s Te Ao Mārama project 100%. I’m proud of her guts and unique identity as a performing artist from the beautiful shores of Aotearoa.