22 August 2018

My Journey in Te Ao Maori

Kei te Haerenga ahau (I am journeying)
Photo Credit: Stephanie Soh

*(kei te haere tonu ahau)*

In 2016 I began working at the Parenting Place, which had been a long-held dream of mine, after writing freelance for the magazine for years.
Unbeknown to me, my new workplace had begun a journey (haerenga) into te ao Māori (the Māori world) and I was swept up in it along with my workmates.
This was no tokenism or surface-level nod, but a wholehearted journey delving into who we are as a nation, our history, where we've come from and what it means to be good Treaty partners.
Along the way, I had the privilege of staying on a number of marae around the country, including Te Tii Marae at Waitangi (where our nation's founding treaty was debated before the signing) and Parihaka (the site of a terrible injustice perpetrated by the British in the 1880's).

The journey began for me as just simply something my work was doing, which I found interesting, but it has become something personal for me now - a personal odyssey and a challenge to discover who I am and where I belong.

In 2018 I had the privilege of beginning to learn te reo Māori with a bunch of my workmates, during work time. I was worried my middle-aged half-speed brain would not cope with the challenge of learning a language, but I did OK, passing all my tests and actually learning stuff. But the main thing I've discovered is that learning te reo isn't just about learning to speak the words - it is about opening myself up to a whole new way of thinking, new ways of looking at the world and finding a deeper sense of belonging and identity in this whenua (land).
I completed a questionnaire sent out to all of us at work to "gauge the bi-cultural journey the Parenting Place has embarked on over the last three years..."

Here are some of my responses...

Parenting Place whanau arrive at Parihaka - me in the stripey skirt

Describe your initial feelings about starting this journey into te ao Māori. At the same time, could you tell me about your existing knowledge of te ao Māori before the Parenting Place's bi-cultural journey began?
My initial feelings were positive; I was ready for this due to a number of experiences that had laid a foundation for me. I have a strong sense of social justice and since I was a teenager I'd had a lingering sense of cultural guilt when I came across stories about New Zealand's history. I learned a little reo in school - just the basics of counting, a couple of phrases, a few songs, a marae visit. I've always had an interest in language and history and would try to figure out the meaning of place names based on the small number of words I knew.
In 2015 I hosted some English relatives and as I drove them around the North Island I told them what I knew about the places' history and Māori names, but after realising how limited that was, I voiced for the first time that I'd love to learn te reo, and more of New Zealand's history. At that point, it was just a vague wish for "one day"...

Journey to Parihaka - Mt Taranaki

Looking back, did you have any preconceived thoughts/apprehensions? Please explain.
One experience stood out for me as negative; a powhiri was conducted when I left my role as the coordinator and founder of CLS (Creative Learning Scheme) alternative education programme. Nobody explained the process to me, just that they wanted me to get up and talk. I stood up at the wrong time and got growled at by an old kuia in front of the whole room to "sit down girl!" That was extremely upsetting and humiliating especially since that was my send-off after pouring blood sweat and tears into the programme to see it established, and to be called "girl" and told to sit down was... extremely painful. When I actually had to speak I couldn't get the words out, but ended up fleeing the podium and crying outside. 

This made me have a very fearful negative reaction towards anything Māori for a number of years, until about 13 years later when I had to face my fear and attend my daughter's school camp at Manurewa Marae. I felt ill with nerves, but the people at that marae were so gracious and welcoming, it completely undid the earlier negative experience and I found myself with a completely transformed attitude after that. The positive experience at Manurewa Marae helped re-lay a positive foundation and re-establish an openness in my heart towards te ao Māori. If I had not had this positive experience prior to working here, I imagine I would have felt initially apprehensive and anxious about the haerenga Parenting Place is on, and my place in it.

Walking up the hill where the cannons once were, overlooking Parihaka

What was a turning point for you or first "ah ha" moment on this journey?
There have been many subtle shifts, but the first big "aha" moment when the whole journey became my own, not just something I was along for the ride on, was at Parihaka, when Te Akau said, "You will truly be my Treaty partner when you can walk as confidently in my world as I have to walk in yours." 
That sums it all up for me. At that moment I found my "why" and it made sense of everything. 

The Treaty began to come alive for me over the last few years, beginning with binge-watching Mike King's documentary one Waitangi Day, a year before I came to work here. 

Then I had the priviliege of proof-reading Jay Ruka's book "Huia Come Home". I had goosebumps all the way through, seeing how God had woven himself into the story of Aotearoa and seeing how the Treaty was a God-breathed idea, with a dream of justice and rightness for this land and two peoples in partnership. Sure it all went pretty horribly wrong, but STILL - it began in hope. 

It was also mindblowing when we stayed at Te Tii Marae, and witnessed the humility and grace with which the people there care for our history and the hope they still hold for true partnership and reconciliation.

I feel like more of a New Zealander for being on this journey. I feel more deeply rooted into this land myself as I have come to know more of our stories. I wish all New Zealanders could go on this journey.

Te Akau teaches us to make rope from harakeke (flax)

What thinking or mindset have you had to adjust, thus far, into the haerenga?
The guilt. I have felt a lingering sense of white guilt since my teenage years living in Taranaki. But since listening to the stories from our Māori hosts at marae, and experiencing the graciousness, the welcome, the warmth in those places from those people, I have been blown away by the manaakitanga and have had to let my guilt go and embrace this journey as a learner. I no longer feel the need to justify myself or feel bad about my heritage, I just need to have an open heart and learn.

Whaea Maata teaches us to make "poi karakia o Parihaka" (white prayer poi, specially made and blessed at Parihaka)

What, if anything, has surprised you along the way?
The manaakitanga of Māoridom, which I realise has been there all along. the graciousness and warmth that awaits all manuhiri (visitors) on marae all over New Zealand. The richness of honour and value for whānau and tamariki at the heart of te ao Māori which is at odds with the horrifying negative statistics. So much was lost through the colonising of New Zealand, not just the land and the language. When Māori lost touch with their land, marae, iwi, roots and culture, they lost so much, and it's still a deep wound. It's heartbreaking, but this journey makes me hopeful for New Zealand.


How has learning about te ao Māori impacted your faith?
I love that te ao Māori is a spiritually connected/integrated world. Everything is spiritual and has spiritual meaning, and spirituality is a given. I vastly prefer this natural spirituality, where everyday things are made sacred, to the compartmentalised materialistic western version of Christianity. I'm at a crossroads in my faith journey at the same time, and this haerenga has been very heartening, helping me see God's bigger plan for New Zealand as a weaving together over our entire history.

Te Akau tells as the story of Parihaka, as we stand on the spot where cannons once stood

How have you navigated this journey with your whānau and friends outside of Parenting Place?
I have had a number of really interesting conversations with friends and family members about our haerenga here at Parenting Place. 
I bought the book, Huia Come Home for my dad and have recommended it to a number of friends. I've talked at length with my dad about our own family history, our tipuna/ancestor (my great great great grandfather Peter Grace - same name as my dad) who came to New Zealand in 1841.

Peter Grace was an Irish Catholic runaway who worked his passage to New Zealand on board the ship Sophia Pate. It's a fascinating story; Peter's son John married Charlotte Speedy, a daughter of Major and Sarah Speedy. They had strong ties to Waikato iwi, living near Whaingaroa (Raglan) and Mt Pirongia. Years later their son Raymond, my dad's grandfather took my father on a trip to Kawhia and surprised him by speaking fluent Reo to local people asking them to show him where "his" waka had landed. Raymond identified strongly with the Tainui waka and considered himself a member of the iwi. Ray's mother Charlotte had reportedly been "adopted" into the tribe after she nursed the Māori princess (among others) back to health after an epidemic. I'm still trying to substantiate the stories but these have been handed down through the family for years, and are our family legends.

It has been exciting and inspiring to hear these stories about my ancestors who came here and how they spoke te reo Māori fluently and closely engaged with the local iwi where they lived. Even though I may not have any Māori ancestry myself, I know my Irish ancestors were endeavouring to be good neighbours to Māori, which is a heritage I can feel proud of.

My amazing work whanau - Te Whare O Parenting Place

What are some positives that have come out of engaging with te ao Māori?
I feel more rooted in this land, more deeply connected to this place, as a result of learning my whakapapa and about my own ancestors. I have come to see myself not as an isolated person standing on my own, but as part of a line of tīpuna, standing on their shoulders. This has been very healing for me as I navigate single parenthood and separation, to find a new connectedness in my heritage. This is a result of insight into the mindset in te ao Māori, that we are not valuable for what we do but for who we are - that there are more ways of having value than monetary ones, an idea which is incredibly rich and appealing to me.
I have value because of my inherent mana as a person and I stand here with my tīpuna behind me and the land under me. I belong. I am connected. This is a powerful thought.


Photo credits - All photos taken by my amazing workmate Steph Soh during our Parihaka haerenga last month.

Parihaka Settlement as it once was
ABOUT PARIHAKA: On November 5th 1881 soldiers hauled cannons up to the top of the hill overlooking the peaceful Settlement of Parihaka and aimed them down at the village. Those cannons were never fired. The people of Parihaka sat all day without eating or drinking, in front of the cannons, singing and chanting. When the soldiers came they were greeted by wahine (women) and tamariki (children) who fed them with bread. The soldiers responded by destroying the settlement, burning the crops, killing the livestock, raping the women and tearing down the whares (houses). 153 Parihaka men were arrested and taken prisoner, without trial, to perform hard labour in the South Island, building prisons and roads all the way down to Dunedin. 
All but 26 acres of land was confiscated, the residents of Parihaka, (many of whom had come to take refuge there after other similar land losses in their home settlements), were evicted, leaving only a handful of women and children to care for the land and try to rebuild. Wahine Toa!
19 years later the last of the Parihaka men finally returned to the papakainga. But Parihaka, which had been a thriving community and home to over 2000 people founded on the principles of non-violence and peace, was never able to rebuild back to what it once was. The losses were too great. 
The government, on behalf of the Crown, apologised formally last year for the many wrongs done. to Parihaka. So far it's only words and the grief and loss still lingers (how could it not?).
Yet the spirit that lingers in Parihaka is one of grace and hope for reconciliation. It is an inspiring and humbling space. #parihaka#nzhistory #taranaki #didyouknow?


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