Tōku Reo Tōku Ohooho — My language, my awakening

It was February this year that I wrote a wee little blog post that outlined how I felt about my Māori heritage. Little did I know the amazing feedback I would get from Pākehā, Māori who felt like this too and other indigenous people who felt exactly the same. I look back on the past 7 months and it’s been a whirlwind of amazing experiences. I wanted to outline some of the highlights.

1-yxfj7awuakl9xzqf9z92dgLearning the language
I signed up for a Te Reo course at Wellington High School. It was amazing and a great environment to learn in. I had an amazing class with a diverse range of classmates. A few were there to find their heritage as well, others who were embarrassed to say New Zealand Te Reo place names. All with good intentions. Over the course of 8 weeks we learnt really basic sayings.
My Te Reo Māori Intro 1 Certificate :DI have also learnt about Māori customs and traditions. As a bit of a superstitious person it’s been interesting to see that things I hold dear have a concept or Māori word that just explains my exact thinking. Concepts such as utu and mana have really resonated with me.
From my classes a group of Te Reo students have built a Te Reo language coffee group that meets up every Friday at 9.30am. We try to speak as much Māori as we can for the first half an hour and then we talk about Māori traditions, culture and legends for the next half an hour. If you’re interested in joining us then flick me a message and I can get in touch with details.

My Whānau
I wanted to learn more about where I came from. Since February I have done some digging on my Nanny’s father side. An uncle was able to draw out a whakapapa for me and to realise that I’m related to Muaūpoko and understand my connection with Wellington and the land has been insightful. I even found out a great, great, great grandfather signed the Treaty of Waitangi. I even found out a great, great, great grandfather signed the Treaty of Waitangi.

The connectedness of Twitter can be amazing in some situations too. Through one tweet I have managed to find parts of my Whānau which I thought may have been lost. I found out my Nanny’s mother was from Ngati Moe hāpu from the Pāpāwai Marae in Greytown. A few tweets from a friend connected me to someone from that marae. We had a quick coffee chat and then worked out I may be a distant relative to her husband’s whānau. With a few questions and answers via Twitter DM’s we worked out that her husband’s grandfather is my great grandmother’s brother. The amazing thing is my family didn’t even know that my great grandmother’s brother existed! Apparently they grew up separately. I happened to attend an event where both the woman I met through Twitter and her husband were attending. WELL. I got to have a chat to him and he wrote out for me on the back of a piece of paper my tīpuna. I almost burst into tears. The relief of knowing where I came from was something I didn’t quite know that I needed and wanted.

1-_ao-s37f3s5slpv7epwuewTraining and visits
I’m doing my pepeha on Hongoeka Marae. Since February I’ve been on a few Te tiriti o Waitangi (Treaty of Waitangi) training through both my own and work related reasons. It has been pretty eye opening for me the learning and understanding of what my culture is. Also the impacts of it and not honouring the treaty has had on multiple generations following the Treaty of Waitangi (and still to come I suspect). Through my family discovery and learning I am a descendant of someone who signed the treaty, I feel like I have a sense to help the voices to call out those not honouring a treaty that our tīpuna signed for a better life for us all.
In one of the training sessions I sat crying as they outlined what the impacts were and how a lot of it was what I was feeling or missing. A sense of longing for something, no connectedness to my whakapapa and a loss of language and traditions.

However I feel like I needed to learn and cry to move on. I have now been on a total of 3 marae in 5 weeks and I’m learning about customs and traditions at each visit. I hope to also be able to visit my whānau marae in the Wairarapa (Pāpāwai & Hurunui-o-Rangi) as well as a whānau marae in Levin (when I work out which one it is).

I now stand taller and stronger understanding who my ancestors are and how that has brought me here today. I will not stop hunting for information and I will make connections with extended whānau I now know exist.

Note this was originally published on Medium in September 2016

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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