One song, one singer, one language
Singer Hinewehi Mohi has a special place in the history of the revitalisation of the Māori language. In 1999 she was in the UK promoting her first album, oceania when she was asked to sing the national anthem at Twickenham before the New Zealand-England World Cup game. And she did. In Māori.
From that time, it became customary to sing the first verse of the anthem in both Māori and English, but the reaction wasn’t universally positive at the time.
“I had performed the anthem before as a duet in two languages for rugby league and netball.
“So it seemed natural to do it in Māori as this was the best I could do as an ambassador for our country. I got a fair bit of flak for it and it was quite upsetting because naively I did not realise that there were so many people opposed to the inclusion of the language. Why it caused such a furore baffles me to this day, especially as the haka is performed straight after the haka in te reo Māori.
“I am really glad for the outcome because at least it created dome discussion and thought and consideration of the inclusion of the Māori version. There is now a widespread acceptance (and higher volume!) of te reo Māori version.
“I sang without musical accompaniment so it was pure and from the heart. Māori and other New Zealanders who appreciate our culture and felt it was it was a wonderful day of celebration. It was a small percentage who were very upset. On reflection maybe they thought they did not have an opportunity to participate but now they have the opportunity to learn. When New Zealanders are overseas they like nothing better than hearing or performing Pokarekareana and Ka mate ka mate - this is an extension of that. Overseas people are captivated by Māori language and culture. That we still have this unique indigenous language and culture It defines us as new Zealanders. Everywhere I go and everywhere I perform it is on behalf of my tūpuna and those who are fiercely proud of the culture and language we have.
“My tip for those singing the anthem is: ditch the music. Backing tracks are plonky. They make it hard to invigorate the song with sense of greatness and nationhood. But when sung acapella it is very beautiful.
“Put your hand on your heart and feel the wairua of those that have been and those who still live and breathe the strength and vitality of our nation. Sing your heart out.