In a year when Jennifer Ward-Lealand turned 50, one of our leading ladies has embarked on an important journey that has brought fulfillment to her life – by learning Maori.
“I’ve always loved the sound of the language – and knew that one day I would learn how to speak it,” says the actress. “We are in a unique position in that the Maori culture is all around us and we have the opportunity to embrace it.”
Jennifer started her journey in 2008 with night classes. This year, she showed her commitment and passion by enrolling full time at Te Wãnanga o Aotearoa.
She travels from her home in Auckland’s Grey Lynn to Mangere four days a week, juggling her classes with family commitments and a busy acting career.
“Yes, it is a struggle sometimes, but having two children and working in the theatre, I’m used to burning the candle at both ends.
“It is the right time for me to do this,’’ she says.
Jennifer ensures the language is alive in her everyday life by speaking it at home every chance she gets. And her husband and fellow actor Michael Hurst and two teenage sons, Jack (17) and Cameron (14), have offered full support.
“I speak to Cameron in Maori the most, and he’s starting to pick it up. Also, Michael knows that this is really important to me, so he’s been very supportive.”
This year, Jennifer is graduating. It will be a bittersweet moment, as she wants to ensure the learning continues. She studied French at school, but is now more confident speaking Maori than French.
“When my course finishes, the aim is to not lose the language. I live in a Pakeha world. I don’t have the language in my home all the time, I’m not surrounded by it, so I need to speak it whenever I can.”
Jennifer’s dream is to eventually show her range as an actress in a play or a film in the language she adores.
“I don’t know how or when I’ll be able to utilise te reo Maori in my work, but I’m sure that opportunity will arise one day.”