Waiata in NZSL

Turi Māori experience barriers in accessing te ao Māori. The NZSL Board has committed to a five-year plan to establish a Rōpū Kaitiaki to provide cultural advice to the NZSL Board to dismantle these barriers

Hui across the motu have happened to get an understanding of what Turi Māori want to see happen in terms of access to te ao Māori in NZSL, and a five-year strategy will be developed in early 2023.

In the meantime, some projects are already being carried out to provide some access, like the waiata project that ODI undertook to translate some waiata into NZSL.

There are not many waiata readily available in NZSL, and it can be a challenge for people to translate from te reo Māori into NZSL because it means relying on the English translation, a process where the original meaning can become lost. This was the rationale behind the process of translating the waiata into NZSL by breaking down the waiata from the original version rather than the English.

The process Earlier in 2022, ODI carried out an expression of interest process to select members of the rōpū waiata.

A panel was convened to select members of the project and the following members were selected for the rōpū waiata:

  • Ngawaiata Hau
  • Cruze Kapa
  • Marjorie Rako
  • Emmie Bensley
  • Joanne Becker (NZSL support behind the scenes)

There was also support from Māori NZSL interpreters, and Melissa Simchowitz, with her theatre and media interpreting expertise to provide advice on timing and clarity of the NZSL signs used. Aperahama Hurihanganui of Engaging Well provided the te reo Māori expertise and explained the meaning behind each waiata and the karakia.

The rōpū waiata members discussed waiata they would like to translate – there are many options and they decided upon:


  • Ehara e te mea – Eru Timoko Ihaka (Te Aupori)
  • Purea Nei – Hirini Melbourne (Ngāi Tūhoe and Ngāti Kahungunu)
  • Me He Manu Rere (unknown)


  • Whakataka te Hau (unknown)

A wānanga was organised in early June. During this session Aperahama helped the members to truly understand the meaning of the waiata and the stories behind them, so the group could make sure the NZSL version reflected the te reo Māori and didn’t rely on the English translation.

Another wānanga was organised with only the Māori Deaf members of the rōpū  to continue brainstorming the NZSL for the waiata.  An innovative method was carried out where Abby of Engaging Well created audio files and these were used to develop  ‘karaoke’ type videos to help with the timing of the NZSL signs. This method helped the rōpū work together, figure out the appropriate NZSL to truly convey the meaning of the waiata. Videos were sent to Melissa Simchowitz for checking the timing and whether it made sense as she was not involved in the Turi Māori-only session so her perspective was fresh.

The process was interesting to watch as the rōpū considered the meaning of each waiata and the karakia, and they wanted to make sure the NZSL showed this. The rōpū worked together to create the NZSL, and the Deaf-only time meant they had the confidence to support each other and provide feedback in a safe manner.

The final session was a weekend in Masterton – we had initially booked a marae to film at but unfortunately, at the last minute the marae was needed for a tangi, so we had to change direction and used local scenery as a backdrop. Filming was carried out in partnership with Deaf Aotearoa. The day worked out well and the rōpū can be proud of the work they produced themselves.

Click here to see the Waiata in NZSL at the original web page at www.odi.govt.nz

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