I love how butterflies introduce me to very special people …
For some years I’ve been trying to find out the name in Te Reo of our beautiful forest ringlet butterfly. Several websites had mentioned ‘pepe pouri’ but when I contacted the authors of those websites they told me they did not recall the source of that information.
So last year ago I published an article in Issue 37 (Winter, 2021, page 10) of BUTTERFLIES, hoping that this might stimulate some interest.
I consulted with the Māori Language Commission. While they were helpful, the issue was not resolved.
I emailed all of the kura in New Zealand, hoping that perhaps one of the kaiako would set their tamariki some homework (and ask their kuia and kaumātua…) All to no avail.
And then I thought of Dr Richard Benton, who I knew from my earlier life in Russell (Kororāreka) – he has had a lifelong passion for NZ’s flora and fauna and has studied linguistics. In the 1970s he and his team interviewed almost 7,000 Māori families about the use of Te Reo, finding that its use was in rapid decline and in danger of disappearing.
While he did not know, he introduced me to Dr Tom Roa (Ngāti Maniapoto, Waikato).
Dr Roa is a Tainui leader and Ahorangi / Professor of Te Reo at the Faculty of Māori and Indigenous Studies at the University of Waikato. He is a familiar figure on marae throughout Tainui and the country. His PhD examined questions about the theory and practices of Māori to English language translation and interpretation. He has also been a leading figure in bringing the Māori language into the mainstream, and had picked up on Richard Benton’s work at the start of Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori (Māori Language Week) movement in the 1970s.
Tom asked around his whānau and advised: 'Apparently my cousin knew of a "pēpepe pōuri" butterfly that flew around a hill near our marae. We call the hill Mātaiata and it is our hapū burial ground. The urupa is full so no burials have taken place there since I was a child.'
'A little older than me, she says that the pēpepe pōuri was called that because it would often attend tangi on Mātaiata (and elsewhere). Pōuri you will know also means "sad".'
So there we have it. Now we know the reason behind the name in Te Reo for the beautiful forest ringlet. Te Pēpepe Pōuri it is!