Christchurch restaurateurs Anton, Jessica and Māia Matthews are taking to the road in their quest to make te reo Māori accessible to all New Zealanders. Along with several staff members from their seafood restaurant, Fush, they will be giving free te reo Māori lessons in nine towns across Te the South Island, starting with Greymouth in April.
The tour follows overwhelming demand for a series of free classes Matthews ran in Christchurch last year. What was initially meant to be a small gathering at the Fush restaurant ballooned into classes of more than 600 students: first, in a high school hall and secondly, at the newly-built public library in association with the Christchurch City Council.
“We were so astounded to get such a positive response that it’s prompted us to take our kaupapa (initiative) around Te Waipounamu,” Matthews explained. “As someone who’s been deeply passionate about the preservation and growth of my native tongue, it’s been incredibly heartwarming to see the change in sentiment over the years in Aotearoa. Not so long ago, I think a lot of people saw te reo Māori as little more than an interesting footnote in New Zealand history: a language with little relevance today. But that’s all changed and people — Māori, Pākehā and people all over the world — now understand the importance of it to our cultural identity. They’re flocking to learn New Zealand’s indigenous language.”
The group and their team are travelling with their “waka”: a caravan kitchen so they can serve up sides of tasty kai with their te reo lessons. All lessons are completely free and at a beginner level. The goal is to help people build enough confidence to speak and incorporate a little bit of Māori in their everyday language, Matthews said.
The full tour includes Greymouth, Westport, Nelson, Blenheim, Kaikoura, Timaru, Ashburton, Dunedin and Queenstown.