The Atlantic

Can a Thrash Metal Band Help Save the Maori Language?

Indigenous tongues around the world are under threat—and modern musicians are trying to keep them alive.
Source: Ngamihi Photography

Niel de Jong raised his sons on the music of bands like Metallica, Pink Floyd, and Rage Against the Machine. In the evenings, in their home in Auckland, New Zealand, they played a game called “Guess the Record,” where they’d look up obscure songs on YouTube and challenge each other to name the artist. De Jong’s enthusiasm for music was matched by his love of Māori culture and history, which he was determined to pass onto his boys. From an early age they were enrolled in immersion schools known as Kura Kaupapa Māori, where lessons were taught entirely in the indigenous language. Soon, they were fluent.

The family eventually moved to a small town in the far north of the country, where Henry and Lewis—now 17 and 15, respectively—formed a metal band called along with their friend and bass player Ethan Trembath, 15. Their father stepped in as band manager. A mixture of fast, aggressive drum beats and defiant lyrics sung in Māori, the band’s songs trace their people’s history, telling stories of colonization, oppression, liberation, and death. One single, “” (The Trembling Earth), describes a violent battle between British soldiers and Māori in 1864 that claimed the life of one of their ancestors.

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