Paul Mahar

Whakaaroaro: Learning My Whaikorero

Several months ago a wero was laid for some of our New Zealand leadership team to learn a whaikorero or karanga in preparation for our upcoming noho marae.

Our leaders had the opportunity to practice at Whakatau which were held in Auckland and Wellington before our visit.

These articles are personal reflections of their experience.


Six Weeks Prior:

In six weeks there will be a Whakatau at the Auckland office. I’ve had a bright idea; it would be a great opportunity for me to step up, be brave, and perform the Whaikōrero on behalf of the Manuwhiri.

Committing to the wero is now real… time to put the mahi in to learn the Whaikōrero!

I don’t want to let the team down or look like an idiot. Both of which feel like real potential outcomes!

As much as I’ve embraced the challenge of learning, I’m struggling with getting my mouth around the reo Māori.

There’s—for lack of a better term—a weirdness that happens in my brain as I lay in bed at night or sit on the train. I can recite the Whaikōrero with ease. I can see the words and hear the words rolling off my tongue. Then I practice them and they sound completely different as I stumble and mumble my way through it!

Confidence is low. Frustration is high.

Why was this so hard?

Why was my mental preparation not matching my performance?


Three Weeks Prior:

Along comes King’s Birthday weekend and a family break in Ohakune.

I love walking in the hills and native bush at the foot of Ruapehu. I have a favourite track which is a 12 km round-trip up the Old Coach Track. On my own in this environment, I start reciting the Whaikōrero out loud to the birds, the trees, and any other creature listening.

Focusing on each stanza, I get better and better. Better at pronouncing the reo, and more confident in my ability to deliver the Whaikōrero.


Two Weeks Prior:

Coming back to work and our Group CEO, Dan Tohill, and I have made it a regular activity to run through the Whaikōrero, providing feedback and support to each other.

More practice required.


One Week Prior:

A week out from the Whakatau and I feel confident with 80-90% of the Whaikōrero. One stanza continues to challenge me and it’s undermining my confidence. Self-doubt is percolating away!

More practice required.


The Day Before:

The day before the Whakatau, performance anxiety has ramped up but I’m determined to overcome the pesky, troublesome stanza. On the plane to Auckland I listen to my recordings on repeat.

A sense of calm comes over me when I arrive in the Auckland office. It’s reassuring that our New Zealand CEO, Aidan Stoate, is experiencing similar difficulty with the same stanza. I take time that afternoon to repeatedly run through our Whaikōrero. I feel more and more confident that it’s going to be okay tomorrow.

Tonight I felt excited yet relaxed. Ready to go. It’s a familiar feeling. I’d often feel the same before a sports performance. The preparation and mahi is done – breathe, relax, trust in myself and enjoy the experience!


Two Hours Before:

My nerves kick-in early. Not because of the Whaikōrero but because it’s dawned on me that I also need to sing a waiata. I settled the nerves on the way to the office by running Te Aroha through my head a few times. Knowing that once I start the others will join in was a comfort.

I was good to go. Then our Pouako, Dion, decides Te Aroha isn’t the waiata we’ll sing. My head starts spinning.

Dion calms my anxiety by assuring me that it’s not just on me to sing the new waiata. It’s on those around me to sing to support me… whew!


The WHakatau:

Leanne starts proceedings, calling us into the office. Gemma responds. The karanga sends a chill up my spine! The sound is amazing, powerful and beautiful.

While Aidan stands and delivers his Whaikōrero, I sit, listen and feel nervous for him! No need for the nerves—Aidan does a great job.

My turn…

I stand up, take a couple of deep breaths, and launch into it.

The feeling I have is similar to running onto the sports field at the start of a game, where I’d say to myself “The preparation’s done, clear the head and trust yourself”…

BOOM. The reo rolls out just as I’ve planned. As I get to the final “Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā tatou katoa” I feel a real sense of achievement, pride and relief.


Fear can be both an inhibitor and motivator. The mindset you take into a challenge will determine which it is for you. Initially the fear of failure and embarrassing myself held me back until I decided to ‘Tuwhtia to hopo, mairangatia te angitu!’ (Feel the fear and do it anyway).

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