Culture for the Digital Generation

What does it look like these days when a child hears a traditional story for the first time? The chances in a New Zealand context are, that the story will be told in English. It’s almost certain that our kids will be exposed to a wider range of cultural and religious beliefs than previous generations ever were. And, let’s face it, many of them would rather be playing on their iPads or computers than learning about customary stories. It’s just so hard for cultural traditions to thrive in that environment.

Part of Kiwa’s mission is to make culture more accessible no matter whose it is. We do this through our SLAM workshops, but we have recently embarked on creating a series of four beautiful graphic novellas. They are traditional Māori stories designed specifically with today’s young Māori-speaking audience in mind.

Te Reo Māori First

For KIWA®, it’s important to tell these Māori stories well in Māori first, and then translate them into English. We wanted to highlight the importance of the Māori language, and to provide its students with an authentic resource that would also be accessible to non-speakers.

That Dire Straits lyric, “we gotta move these colour TVs” is actually pretty jarring for a modern audience.

From a cultural-linguistic perspective, conveying the story of an ethnic group in another language can limit the reader’s mindset to the paradigms and constraints of the target language. For example, in the first of our graphic novellas, we use the terms “pupuketanga” and “kukunetanga”. These words could both simply translate to “swelling”, but in essence each word describes a different phase of development unable to be seen by the naked eye. Words like these used to be part of everyday language, but everyday activities are no longer what they used to be. For most of us, daily pursuits don’t consist of planting kūmara beds, trapping animals for food, or living by the Māori calendar.

Certainly this particular distinction does not exist in English, and so by translating from English to Māori we risk the distinction vanishing from both versions of the story. On the other hand, by telling the story in te reo Māori, with a Māori mindset, we can preserve and transmit a unique cultural way of thinking.

We’re surrounded by examples of lost linguistic distinctions, especially in technology. That Dire Straits lyric, “we gotta move these colour TVs” is actually pretty jarring for a modern audience. I imagine a plucky young musician one day deleting the word “colour”, finding it superfluous, and suddenly the zeitgeist is lost.

Meaningful English Translation

Sometimes, the more we try to expand the audience’s understanding, the more difficult it becomes for them to ‘get it’. That’s when we risk cultural accounts ending up sounding laughable or even ridiculous. So, translating is important too. The storyteller must have an excellent grasp of both the source and target languages in order to do them both justice.

KIWA® always endeavours to include more than just the native speaker. We try to do that by bringing a meaningful experience to the audience while remaining loyal to the sentiments of the cultural story source. Our English books come in multiple languages, and some include sign language. I would love for every New Zealander to be able to speak a little bit of Māori, but I wouldn’t force it on anyone who didn’t express an interest in learning.

I’d like to think that our KIWA BOOKS™ might serve as a stepping stone for New Zealanders who want to learn more about Māori culture, Māori values and Māori language. A bi-lingual Aotearoa wouldn’t be scary, or world-breaking, but I reckon we would be a more attractive and colourful nation of people.

Bring the stories to the people

Members of our target audience are holding tablets right now. They’re reading comics on tablets. They’re talking to their friends on tablets. They don’t want to put their tablets down, so we’re putting these stories in front of them, with beautiful illustrations, animations, and the sound effects and music that they are used to enjoying.

Our first Graphic Novella, Te Orokotīmatanga o te Ao/The Beginning of The Universe is available on Apple’s App Store and on Google Play