Noho Marae – Why Stay on Marae?

A big part of the course I am currently doing is the 10 noho marae, which is where you go and stay (noho) on the marae from Friday evening through to Sunday after lunch, approximately every 4 weeks. Although our noho marae is held at a place which is technically not a marae, it’s effectively the same. We all sleep on mattresses on the floor in the wharenui (meeting house, main building), we all eat meals together prepared by the ringa wera (the workers in the kitchen, lit. hot hands) – but we do the dishes and clean up the whare kai (dining room). We say karakia (prayers) in the morning, evening and before meals, and there are a lot of waiata (songs/singing).

Since this is for the purpose of our course, we spend most of the time doing lessons (when not eating or talking!). Since it is an immersion course, we are theoretically speaking Māori i ngā wā katoa (all the time). In reality there are times when people just really want to have a conversation in English and then pretend that they didn’t… 🙂

As far as I know, noho marae are almost always a part of learning te reo Māori, and they are generally considered the best way. At least part of the reasoning is that you can’t very well separate language from culture, and the marae is the main place where Māori culture is preserved and practised. Although you can practice Māori culture in other spaces, for example in a classroom, the marae is simply the natural space. It also provides an unbroken immersion in language and culture, rather than everyone going back out into the world of te reo Pākehā (English, lit. the Pākehā language) at the end of each day. It’s always annoying when you have to go back to te ao Pākehā (the Pākehā world) afterwards and no one’s speaking te reo Māori and you can’t even practice the most basic of sentences!

At the noho marae, as well as the lessons, you get the opportunity to practice conversational language with your hoa (friends), and to learn and use the type of language you only encounter in a living situation – about showers, and cleaning, and cooking, and passing the salt. You also get to practice a lot of basic sentences, like where is so-and-so, how was your sleep, who’s is this pen, and so on. In a normal academic learning situation, you tend to keep moving up and on, and learning new and more complex structures, and using those more complex structures in your work, rather than consolidating the myriad of basic, everyday sentences.

For me, I really wanted to do this course specifically for the noho marae, in order to fill in the gaps I have in my basic reo (language) and to develop a fluency – flow and immediacy – in that basic level of language which is used for the majority of communication between individuals.

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