Protecting What Is Left: An Inquiry into the Sacred Aspect of Maori Language

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Alongside the overwhelming preference for the rationality of scientific and legalistic discourses in colonised lands, indigenous peoples are identifying a fundamental change in the way they themselves perceive the nature of language. Where language may once have been connected to a greater spiritual association with nature and the cosmos, now language may be in danger of being relegated solely to the role of meaningful communicator. In New Zealand, effort has mainly been exerted towards increasing the number of speakers of the Maori language; however, the holistic aspect of this language, and its interruption by colonisation, has become an important and necessary topic of discussion. This paper will consider some of the writings of those who have articulated the philosophies underscoring language in Maori societies. For example, an enlivening of language occurs through the existence of ‘mauri’, loosely translated as life-force, which creates a link between the body, language and the environment. Maori have long believed that nature is animate and that words combine with the environment to form living entities in their own right. This belief appears at odds with dominant contemporary discourses around the nature of language. This paper will contemplate the opposition and briefly discuss whether any reconciliation between the views on language can occur.

Keywords: Sacred, Language, Colonisation, Maori
Stream: Anthropology, Archaeology, Cultural Studies, Humanities
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
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Carl Mika

Senior Lecturer, Masters Programme, Te Whare Wananga o Awanuiarangi
Whakatane, New Zealand

I have a background in law and am currently undertaking PhD research, through the University of Waikato, Philosophy Department, into the sacredness and instrumentality of language generally and particularly of Maori language.I am a senior lecturer and coordinator of the Masters programme at Te Whare Wananga o Awanuiarangi. My interests are in the philosophy of language, indigenous philosophy and the effects of legal discourse on indigenous peoples.

Ref: I08P0571