Creators on TikTok elevating Māori culture and language

A growing community is using social media networks like TikTok to promote the Māori language and culture.
A growing community is using social media networks like TikTok to promote the Māori language and culture. © France 24 Observers

A growing community of Te Reo Māori educators are using social media platforms to teach people New Zealand’s indigenous language, which was at risk of total extinction for decades.


Known in New Zealand as "te reo" [the language], the native Maori tongue began to decline with the arrival of white European settlers in the 19th Century. By the 1950s there were fears that the language was dying out, but campaigns by Maori elders and government initiatives since the 1970s have resulted in a revival, which has been amplified since the beginning of the pandemic. 


“I’m always looking for innovative ways to promote the language”

The Observers team spoke to Sonny Ngatai, who has amassed more than 25,000 followers on TikTok with his short videos teaching people easy Māori phrases and how to correctly pronounce Māori place names. 

I love te reo Māori and have always been an advocate for te reo Māori. I’m always looking for innovative ways to celebrate and promote the language. 

My videos are a little taster that I hope will encourage people to begin a relationship with my native language, because I have earned so much from speaking it.

Māori radio stations and television sparked my desire to share these tasters, and I feel lucky to bathe in the fruits of those who did all the hard work back in the day.


“We’re experiencing a tipping point where people are starting to see value in the language”


The Observers team also spoke to Hemi Kelly, who teaches Te Reo Māori at the Auckland University of Technology and through his 'Phrase a day' videos on Facebook

I started by posting occasional videos on Instagram and it just grew massively, it went viral. The success can be owed to the timing, it was in the middle of the pandemic so people who had wanted to learn the language in the past now had the time to do so. 

I just think that social media is another tool that we can utilise to spread the language further for everyone who wants to learn - whether they are Maori or not. Here on home ground, there’s a deep connection to the language, and speaking the language helps us better understand our native birds, trees, places and people. For non-Maori who live in New Zealand, I think it gives them a better understanding of the place where they live and its history, while for Maori, it’s an expression of our identity and culture. 

There has also been an interest in my videos outside New Zealand, with people tuning in from places like Japan, the United States and various European countries.

In the past, it hasn’t been given the value it deserves or recognised properly. But we’ve seen that starting to change. We’re experiencing this kind of tipping point where people are starting to see the value in the language and how important it is to them. 

About 25 percent of the Maori population currently speak Te Reo Māori at a reasonable level. Only 9 per cent rate themselves as fluent. Meanwhile, about 1 percent of New Zealand’s non-Maori residents speak the language.