Breaking new ground in language

A digital resource for deaf Maori students has been launched as part of Maori Language Week.

The project was developed by Kiwa Digital and launched by Education Minister Hekia Parata on July 4.

Produced as an educational resource, Rūaumoko– The Rumbling Voice is the first-ever digital book for deaf Maori students. It tells the story of Rūaumoko, the god of earthquakes and volcanoes.

The project is narrated in te reo Maori, New Zealand Sign Language and English by students from Kelston Deaf Education Centre.

It was built during an intensive 5-day workshop held by the Ministry of Education, Kelston Deaf Education Centre, CORE Education Ltd, and Kiwa Digital.

Kiwa Digital works with indigenous groups around the world, using technology to preserve language and knowledge in formats that are relevant and accessible.

Chief executive Steven Renata says the company’s latest innovation shows how technology takes language revitalisation into exciting new realms.

“The app breaks new ground in language revitalisation, interpreting the world of a deaf Māori student through art, storytelling, and mobile technology,” he says.

“We see in the students’ reaction how the app validates the importance of te reo Maori in their lives and for all New Zealanders. This shift in societal values is now recognised as the key factor in language revitalisation.”

In recent years there has been the development of Maori signs, which are incorporated into NZSL. Maori experts have approved the signs as appropriate and understandable.

Renata says this was part of the reason the project was a good fit for Maori Language Week.

“Also we wanted to give deaf children the ability to navigate the external world in a way that was culturally appropriate to them.

“Rūaumoko was perfect because he stomps and makes vibrations, which hearing-impaired children can feel. A lot of his actions are also similar to some of the signs in NZSL.”

Stephanie Awehto, the senior NZSL English-Maori interpreter in New Zealand, worked to help interpret the language and interests of the deaf students involved in the project.

A student from Kelston Deaf Education Centre says the resource is good for anyone.

“Hearing people can use it, we will all be equal.”

The story aims to familiarise deaf students with their whakapapa and give them the sense they are associated with one of Nga Atua Maori, demonstrating they are powerful and valued.

The narrator explains the connection with the deaf community and their identification with the way Rūaumoko sends vibrations through the ground to gain the attention of others, similar to the way they may need to.

The app is available in iOS and Android formats and is free to download.