Ruakākā community calls for macrons on road signs to stop 'two poos' mistranslation

It's an amusing misinterpretation, but the Northland settlement of Ruakākā is over being the butt of local jokes.

"Growing up as a kid we were always called 'two shits' school," says Ari Carrington, spokesperson for the local iwi Patuharakeke.

"Quite often kākā gets misinterpreted as kaka, the action of doing a number two."

However, Ruakākā Primary School is leading the charge to change this.

"None of our signage at school had Ruakākā with macrons on the kākā until the beginning of last year, and now everyone throughout the school is using it and all our kids know why it's important," says Ramari Pirihi, a teacher in one of the school's bilingual Te Mahuri classes. 

While the area's school kids are clued-up, the correct use of macrons hasn't made it to where most people see it: local road signs.

Most are spelt without the tohutō or macrons on kākā, so Ruakākā Primary pupils have written letters to NZTA and the Whangārei District Council asking for this to change.

"In English language, it's really important to dot the i's and cross the t's, well that's the same for our Te Reo Māori with the use of tohutō," says Pirihi. 

"It's about who we are as a people, it's about respecting who we are and where we've come from, so making sure our signage is correct around our community is a big step." 

There are many stories about the origin of the name Ruakākā. One tells of two kākā parrots that flew in different directions along the beach. But local iwi say it's actually an ancient name from Ngāti Manaia and Ngaitāhuhu tūpuna, who Patuharakeke descend from.

"The name applies to a small sentinel pā that was situated on the banks of the Ruakākā estuary or river," Carrington told Newshub Nation. 

"In ancient times this pā had commanding views of the estuary from which the alarm would be raised to alert the other pā in the district, such as the main pā at Rangiora, Ngātītī and Pākauhokio at Takahiwai."

How the sign should be written.
How the sign should be written. Photo credit: Newshub Nation.

While there were other pā along the banks of the river, Carrington says the Ruakākā pā was the first line of defence and acted as a decoy; in that it raised the alarm and also provided a distraction.

"The term 'rua' refers to the inconspicuous nature of the riverbank pā given that it was a terraced pā with a concealed cave-like frontage," he says.

Carrington says "kākā' alludes to the nature and function of the pā itself.

"The term 'kākā' was not only metaphorical for 'chief', but it was also a much revered native bird.

"Tūpuna would not only value these birds for their feathers and meat but also for their inquisitive and intelligent nature. They would snare these parrots and keep one alive with a 'kākā pōria' or ring attached to its leg. This kākā would be used as a decoy lure to attract other parrots and, as in the case of the small pā, would effectively provide a distraction."

For Patuharakeke, the name Ruakākā also tells a story of how much has been lost to colonisation, with large amounts of land confiscated or swindled from mana whenua in the Bream Bay area during the 1840s.

"We've lost one of our taonga species as in a kākā and also that pā is now all in housing," says Carrington. 

He says putting macrons on signs bearing the name "Ruakākā" is the least authorities can do.

"Although it's a small change, it's very important in order to respect the history of the area."

On state highways, road signs are owned by NZTA and on regional roads, the local council.

"The New Zealand Transport Agency is happy to change the road sign names with regards to macrons," says spokesperson Jacqui Hori Hoult.

She says local iwi just need to apply to the NZTA and their local council. 

"Making sure that when we do sign these off, it's got a remit from the local mana whenua but also from the NZ Geographic Board."

In June, the board approved the spelling of 824 Māori place names, including Ruakākā. But NZTA says it doesn't have the funding to do a proactive national roll-out of macrons on road signs.

Minister for Transport Phil Twyford says it's an operational decision for the NZTA and that he won't be commenting. 

So it's going to take a few more communities like Ruakākā giving 'rua kaka' before we start seeing macrons on our road signs.

Newshub Nation.