Hōhepa Tuahine and Kristin Ross are the founders of Pipi Mā. Both learnt the language when they were at university, but their children are growing up speaking it as their first language.
While teaching their daughters the language, they realised that there was a lack of toys and products available that promote te reo Māori to children.
This proved to be the catalyst for the duo, who were inspired by the reaction a Disney princess toy can spark in children.
“We saw how our eldest daughter reacted to an Elsa (from Disney's Frozen), speaking doll and thought, ‘Ha! We need a Māori speaking doll that does the same thing’,” Ross says.
The couple has spent three years creating the company and funding the project entirely by themselves.
They’ve since created a range of characters that resemble the cute animated characters children are familiar with, like Dora the Explorer, but with a distinctive Māori twist.
Each has a traditional name - Pipi, Hura, Tītoki and Pītau Pōtiki – and a unique characteristic, such as Hura’s feathers in his hair and pounamu around his neck, as well as Pipi’s pois and moko on her chin.
“Pipi Mā takes the best of pop culture and Māori culture to create a product that imbeds the idea and behaviour into our children that the Māori language is cool,” Tuahine says.
Maori language advocate and researcher Kahurangi Maxwell says the toys are bound to help encourage normalisation of the language into every day life.
"Parents raising children in te reo Māori are crying out for such toys and resources to support their efforts in the home and kura but in a way that is fun and much like many of the other toys out in the market. Pipi Mā will change the way kids learn, speak and understand te reo and will help families to feel more confident in their everyday use of the language.”
Demand has been unprecedented for the toys, to the point where the couple had to post a video to Facebook last week emphasising the dolls weren’t available yet.
The dolls are available for pre-sale on the Pipi Mā website from today.
Tauhine says at the moment Pipi Mā doesn’t have plans to sell the dolls to retail stores this side of Christmas, but it is definitely in the pipeline for 2017.