Māori-Indonesian connections
astound Kiwi teacher

Okaihau College's Brent Strathdee-Pehi was one of 11 teachers who went to Indonesia in October as part of the Foundation's Indonesia Cultural Connections trip. Brent says the trip was a “profound experience” that opened his eyes to Indonesian culture, which he describes as being so similar to Maori culture that they must be “long-lost siblings”.

What was the highlight of the trip for you?

The real highlight for me was the chance to experience and gain knowledge about the people and culture; as the Māori proverb says, “He aha te mea nui o te Ao? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata!".

Watch a video Brent made of the teachers visiting Yogyakarta and the Yogyakarta Vocational Arts School

We met and connected with a diverse range of people on such a variety of levels; from brief encounters in public places, short stops at schools in Yogya and a nearby rural village, catch-ups with online chat friends, to more in-depth education related experiences mainly with Al-Azahr teachers and students in Jakarta.

All of my interactions with the people, language and culture of Indonesia have increased my contacts, interest and knowledge of the place and I must equally mention the value of the interaction with [The Foundation's Educator's Network manager] Sean O’Connor and my Kiwi teacher colleagues! As a music teacher, the visit to the Vocational Arts School in Yogya was definitely a highlight, too!

What would you say the greatest learning that you took away from the trip was?

That Indonesian people (at least in Java where we were) are very much like Māori and Polynesians, both culturally and behaviourally!

Brent jams with a couple of teachers from Yogyakarta Vocational School

From previous travels in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, I already held the view that Southeast Asians must be our long lost cousins, but the similarities are so striking in Indonesia they must be our long lost siblings!

Our cultures and even languages have similarities, such as high emphasis on respect for elders, extended family, music and dance, culture and heritage, humour and of course - the importance of food!

How do you plan to incorporate what you learnt on the trip into the classroom?

I have started an ‘Asia Culture Club’ at our school with a group of keen kids who want to learn and explore Asian cultures, languages and arts.

Their interests come from a variety of areas such as food, anime, martial arts and even K-Pop! We have learnt some basic Bahasa Indonesia and created an introduction video in Bahasa that we’ve shared with people in Indonesia.

Recently, we also started a Google Hangout with a fellow group of similar-aged students in Yogyakarta, organised by myself and a teacher in Indonesia, which is a great opportunity for students to communicate directly and learn from and about each other.

For me, this trip marked the beginning of an ongoing learning process and I plan to take sabbatical leave in term three next year to return there to immerse myself in the language and culture - I have no doubt that this will result in great new skills and experiences that I will bring to my classes in the future.

“I am interested in becoming capable of teaching Bahasa Indonesia in the future, especially to Māori students in Māori medium/bilingual schools.”

Why have you made an effort to learn Bahasa Indonesia?

As someone who speaks English and te reo, I constantly see and experience the benefit of bi/multilingualism and advantages of being able to ‘walk in different worlds’, as they say.

I have travelled in Southeast Asia each year for a few years now (my father lives in Thailand) and these experiences peaked my interest in the region and its cultures.

I can speak some ‘survival Thai’ which is fun and obviously useful there, but learning a tonal language with many sonic subtleties coupled with a completely different written script when you’re not immersed in it requires a huge amount of time, effort and energy. Bahasa Indonesia on the other hand is not tonal and uses the Roman alphabet, which makes it a LOT easier and opens up learning opportunities to include reading, writing, online chat friends and much more.

Another reason is the close connection and history it evidently has with the Māori language – there are many words that are virtually the same. I am fascinated and curious about our historical links. I am also very interested in becoming capable of teaching Bahasa Indonesia in the future, especially to Māori students in Māori medium/bilingual schools.

Why do you think trips like these are a good idea?

Visiting a Catholic primary school

They are great because being from a small, relatively remote country like New Zealand where the dominant language and culture is English and Western, it’s very easy for us to be complacent and quite frankly too lazy to get out of our comfort zone and learn new languages and cultures!

Trips like these offer amazing opportunity to explore new and foreign places, cultures and languages with more depth than a tourist experience and bring these experiences and new found perspectives home to share with students, family, friends, colleagues and our communities.

The trip was a profound experience for me and I’ll forever be grateful to the Asia New Zealand Foundation for the opportunity.