EIT Tairawhiti graduates Gayleen Walker and Joedine Birch hope their oral history research project will become a valuable tool for the region in years to come.
At the moment, thanks to an EIT research grant, they are working to put the information on a database that Tairawhiti students can access, but they dream bigger.
The two, who each hold a BA (Maori), are working on an archival project called Te hu o te Puoro, with mentoring from Maria Wynyard, Pia Pohatu and Wayne Ngata. The two are going through old recorded korero, including interviews with koro and kuia, haka songs and waiata.
For both, it is like delving into a treasure chest.
“It is so incredibly interesting,” says 34-year-old Ms Walker, who fell into her degree purely by chance.
“I came over from Opotiki to stay with a friend for a little holiday and she was doing her nursing studies at Tairawhiti. Te Whatukura was right across from her class and I came over to have a look. I wasn’t intending to study right then, but it had always been on my mind.”
She adored it, and is even happier it has led to her current research project. Ms Walker is also studying for her honours.
“All the information we are working on was just sitting there on a hard drive.”
Twenty-six-year-old Ms Birch, a mother of two who is also a teacher aid at Gisborne Girls’ High School, says the recordings, which date back to the 1950s, contain real treasure.
“It is amazing to see how some of the old waiata have evolved – it is just amazing.”
She started her own Maori language journey after becoming frustrated when she couldn’t understand her son who was attending kohanga.
“I had to reach for the dictionary – it was just embarrassing.”
She started with the national certificate in te reo, which led to her degree.
“It’s awesome – you get so wrapped up in the language, customs and tradition,” she said.
Funding for the research project runs through until June, and both women are hopeful more money will be found so they can continue the work.