Sydney, Australia, Sep 14 (EFE).- New Zealand’s Maori Party launched a petition on Tuesday for the official name of the country to be changed to Aotearoa, the Maori language name.
It also demanded that all towns, cities and places be changed to their indigenous names by 2026.
“It’s well past time that Te Reo Maori (Maori language) was restored to its rightful place as the first and official language of this country. We are a Polynesian country – we are Aotearoa,” the party said, urging people to support the petition, which will be sent to parliament.
Te reo Maori became an official language of New Zealand in 1987, alongside English.
Aotearoa is commonly used by New Zealanders interchangeably, and widely accepted as meaning “the land of the long white cloud.” The name is also used on New Zealand passports.
With British colonization in the 19th century, the name New Zealand was adopted. It was given by Dutch explorer Abel Tasman – who spent just days in the country – in reference to a province in the Netherlands called Zeeland.
Te Pati Maori’s petition coincides with the official recognition of Maori New Year by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s government.
Ardern, who publicly speaks some Maori, as is increasingly common among the population and in mainstream news outlets, declared the beginning of the new year, called Matariki, an annual national holiday earlier this year in acknowledgment of the country’s shared identity.
During last year’s election campaign, the prime minister said that the idea of changing New Zealand’s name was “not something we’ve explored,” although she encouraged people to use Aotearoa.
“I hear more and more often the use of Aotearoa interchangeably with New Zealand and that is a positive thing,” she said.
“Whether or not we change it in law I don’t think changes the fact New Zealanders do increasingly refer to Aotearoa, and I think that’s a transition that has been welcomed.”
Te Pati Maori said in its online petition that “tangata whenua [people of the land] are sick to death of our ancestral names being mangled, bastardised, and ignored. It’s the 21st Century, this must change.”
According to recent Stats NZ data, of the 20 percent of Maori that make up New Zealand’s population of more than 5 million, only 3 percent speak the language, and a third say they can understand the language at least fairly well. More than half said they had some te reo (language) Maori speaking ability. EFE