Ko wai ahau? Who am I?

I am a māori descendant. I am a māori woman who works in IT. But although I feel a sense of pride watching Māori come together to protest the TPPA. I never felt like I was part of the people. I am a fraud, because I don’t believe I am part of the māori people.

The number of te reo words I know can be counted on one hand. The number of times I have entered a marae can be also. Although I am part of a very large māori family, my grandmother had twenty two children, but we did not visit the marae or attend huis with the family due to disagreements. I was never brought up around our maori heritage. My grandmother who was māori, and actually lived with us for a period of time while I was young, had a stroke. As far back as I can remember she struggled to speak. She would get frustrated getting her words out. I guess as well because we only spoke English, that is what she spoke to us when she tried. I had been told that she understood the māori language perfectly and whenever clips came on TV I would see her nodding and smiling or shaking her head furiously at pieces she heard in te reo.

However, I yearned for the culture I felt I didn’t deserve. I wanted to speak te reo, I wanted to be able to give a karanga. Watching a karanga gives me chills. The power and spirituality I feel when listening to them makes me feel like I can connect with my ancestors.

When I step into a marae I feel the sacredness. How amazing it would feel to step inside a marae that was part of your family. To see your ancestors carved into the wood, it must be so powerful. Yet I removed myself from my culture as I felt I was ‘too pale’ or didn’t necessarily know my full tribe details to think that other māori people would respect me. People who I should consider my own people.

It was a small conversation that literally changed my life. I was at a māori meetup at the annual Nethui conference where I had felt like I suddenly understood who I might be. I had sat down the back of the māori meetup, as I had done every year before that. I felt like I didn’t deserve to sit any further forward. I didn’t introduce myself during morning teas because I was terrified I would be called out as a fraud. It was during an afternoon break that I took a chance. I very nervously introduced myself to a māori gentleman who had been in all the sessions. I ended the sentence like I did most conversations talking about māori “I know I don’t look like it but I am part māori on my mother’s side.” The man just smiled and with a simple response started to tear down the feelings of fraud I had felt. “I knew you were māori, you looked like it. We just come in many colours, but we’re all the same.” I don’t know if he knows but this has stayed with me throughout the past year. It seems silly but it’s like he gave me permission to be someone I have always wanted. I sit here thinking about this encounter and my eyes start to water.

I still long for a sense of understanding for my heritage, my ancestors and who they are. But I have started to take steps to learn the culture I have yearned for. To learn te reo. I am the only one that can change the situation.

I would personally like to thank two people who have helped me through this journey. Chris Cormack who is @ranginui on Twitter and Sarah Lee, both of whom have supported me and created a safe place for me to ask questions and build my confidence around who I am as a māori woman. I research my family name and who we are through Wikipedia and other pieces found on the internet. I have also been doing some work to help others in New Zealand understand what the māori culture is and why they should know about it. Although I lost my grandmother when I was younger, I like to think that she would be proud of what I’m doing. I sit and wonder what she would think about all of this? To be honest she would probably think I’m being too serious, would make a funny face and we would burst into laughter together.

An interesting trend that I’ve noticed now that I am open about feeling like a fraud, I have found quite a few similar aged māori descendant friends who also feel this way. This is terrifying. Terrifying because I just need to google māori ancestors and you’ll get a sense that everything they do is for their mokopuna, their descendants. Every māori meetup I go to, it’s always about making a better world for their mokopuna. We shouldn’t stand by and let our feelings of fraud remove us from a culture that our ancestors fought hard for us to maintain and keep. Fought for us to even speak te reo. I feel like it should be an honour and I’ll look to try to use it where I can. I have set myself a challenge. If someone speaks to me in māori I am going to give them the courtesy of writing a reply back in māori. Even if it will take me a while.

So who are you? Will you join me? Will we take back a culture that we totally deserve. Let me give you permission so you don’t have to wait for a conversation with someone at an event. Let us be who our ancestors fought for us to be and more.

Feature image by Wikimedia Commons

One thought on “Ko wai ahau? Who am I?

  1. Kuru raki e hoa
    I learnt the other day that ‘Kuru raki’ is a transliteration for ‘good luck’ 🙂
    Kia mau, kia ū, kia manawanui!

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