Monday, February 25, 2008

Te Reo Maori - My Right!

A photo of a poster advertising Te Reo classes, Maori language at the recent Waitangi Day celebrations.

To the right of this blog is my mihi, my pepeha - my formal introduction in Maori.

I have tribal connections with Te Rarawa, Maniapoto & Te Atiawa. My father's mountain is Taranaki, my grandfathers river is the mighty Waikato and my grandmothers body of water is Te Oneroa A Tohe (90 Mile Beach).

I have enrolled in Maori language 101. I have asked to be part of the tangata whenua on my campus when we have visitors. I want to learn more waiata (Maori song) and more about my origins. My canoe, my ancestors voyages across the oceans from far away lands. I want to visit my homeland this year. I need to go back to go forward. Life is like that sometimes.

I don't feel that it is 'going back' per se, but I do not think I can move another step without better understanding my whakapapa. I am fortunate my grandmother will help me. I will call her soon and we will korero about this.

It is becoming increasingly hard to move in any direction without confronting the absence of certain aspects of my makeup.

My heart breaks because I know my journey is wrought with pain. My native language was beaten out of my grandmother when she was a child. She in turn, did not want to disadvantage my mother, so my mother was brought up 'white', without her language and culture. In just two generations, the knowledge was lost. To go back is to confront a whole spectrum of personal as well as political issues that still spark off intense debate and crossfire in my country.

I find it difficult myself, because I am an 'inbetweener'. In the pakeha (European) world, I am very Maori. In the Maori world, I am very westernised. I am comfortable with my identity in myself, because God says I am 'wonderfully made' (Psalm 139). I know this to be true of all of us. But it gets me deep in my gut to think that a wide canyon exists between the cultures of this country, and that sometimes, I am not welcome in either camp.

I love my life - my education, the 24 hour supermarkets, the cafes and lattes, the clothes I wear, the many cultures that make up this land and my access to university. I think technology is great otherwise I couldn't do my blog for instance. No, I'm not anti western culture. I also love those who pursue to maintain the culture, the customs, ways and beliefs of their ancestors. Those who are passionate about all things Maori. I owe them a lot. Those who went before to try and secure land for the tangata whenua, to establish kohanga reo (language nests) and kura kaupapa (schools) where te reo is the first language. Those who choose to live at the settlements, who maintain the upkeep of the marae and urupa's. Those who forsake a material lifestyle to retain these taonga (treasures), the fisheries and forests. Those who become demonised for being passionate about retaining their way of life. The 'radicals' who lay their reputation on the line. Got to appreciate people who are willing to lay it down for a real cause. I understand passion. I understand fighting for a cause.

I think I was born a fighter in so many ways. Injustice gets right up my nose. One of my favourite stories is of my grandmother and her brothers doing the haka (war dance) on the road outside her school because they would get sent home from school for not having shoes. She grew up when times were hard. Her father did a runner and left her mother and many many children to fend for themselves. He would turn up on pay day, take the money and disappear. I can see my grandmother as a small girl watching her father ride off on his horse leaving her mother and children to run a dairy farm. I can only imagine her heartbreak and disappointment. So my grandmother and her siblings learned to do the work of men. When I was a child, she was never still. Always putting down posts for a fence, nailing the tin back on the roof, ripping up and sowing new gardens, helping the kaumatua (elders) of our community, sewing, baking, ironing, washing, knitting, walking everywhere. She never complained about her work, she carried it well.

She was a member of the local branch of Mana Motuhake - a Maori political group in those days. She would stand and speak on marae even though women were not strictly allowed the floor and so a woman speaking in the marae was often frowned upon. I guess I am like her in this. No one can shut me up when I have something important to say. I am now the kid on the road who can haka with the big boys.

Still, the challenge is to direct all that strength and energy into places where it can be of the most use. Coupled with wisdom and maturity, I believe that people like myself can influence outcomes. We can take this knowledge and advocate so that our children will not be foreigners in their own land. I am only joining thousands of others who have gone before me.
Indeed globally, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King and Ghandi are great examples of passionate people who believed in something and worked hard to bring it about. At great cost. We have people like that in this country. Bishop Brian Tamaki and Tame Iti are two men from my people that I admire. I don't always understand necessarily where they are coming from, but I do know that when we shut up and listen, we hear something that makes a lot of sense.

Fear is a killer. People fear what they don't understand. I know I do. I also know my curious nature and intensity makes me look for more understanding. To tip something upside down and shake it, see how it's made, really look at it until I gain more information.
So, the question remains ... I am 36, I have always felt this stirring in my spirit to do something great, and this is what's on top.
When I was in college, I was an awful student. I asked hard questions, I didn't like teachers superiority, I challenged everything and everyone, and drove some of my teachers to tears. My geography teacher Mr Tucker was a bit limp in my eyes. So I used to be a pain in the ass in his class. Had a smart mouth and stirred up the others in my group. We gave him a hard time. One day he pulled me out of class and shoved me up against a wall. He took a tight grip on my collar and looked me straight in the eye and said something to the effect of ...
"Right now you are nothing and even if what you say is true, no one will listen because you are nothing. Why don't you make something of yourself and then people will have to listen!"
Ashamedly, I don't think I stopped giving him a hard time but I have definitely remembered what he said. It is one of those sparkling moments, when truth comes in and a seed was sown.
Contact with Native Americans last week helped pull certain things into perspective too. I needn't cringe about my children not knowing their culture. This is a global issue for all minorities and indigenous peoples.

My teacher who obviously wasn't as lame as I thought, threw down a giant challenge back in the days . "What are you going to do about it Rachelle?" And in my spirit, that is what I hear these days. It is getting harder to sit on the fence about things. All my reasons are starting to sound like excuses.

And honestly, I don't know. I strive to have a positive effect on this world, to be self aware and contribute positively to my environments. I have learned to relax and enjoy my life, and not run around looking for new dramas. When I make a mistake, I am quick to apologise these days and can laugh easily at my own silliness. In short, I have it pretty cruisy. Life is pretty good and I am loathe to upset the balance. And although I know the general direction that my heart is pulling me in, I still can't say I have a clear vision, goals or direction per se.

So what do I do? I don't have any easy answers but I saw something last week at my institute, an attitude I didn't like, it didn't leave me feeling safe and I am now dealing with it. It is scary and it forces me to deal with things that potentially could get unpleasant. I am taking my time, have taken some advice and now need to put together a proposal. It probably isn't a big deal for most people and it needn't be a drama if it is handled correctly, and both parties are amenable (which I believe they will be). However I am operating in areas that I don't feel I have the answers to myself. It is a cultural issue and it does leave me feeling a little raw for now. I am scared to be labelled 'radical', 'angry Maori woman', and 'shit stirrer'. That's what happens when we stand up and say we don't like something in our country. When we offer solutions. It's not unusual to be villainised by the majority when you try to change things.

Attitudes of "Why do have to learn that Maori stuff anyway, why can't I want learn about my own culture instead?" or "Why do I have to learn this shit, it has nothing to do with me?" or "Maori's are sooo lucky" or even having my colleagues tell me "I don't have a problem with Maori, I like Maori people." Just sometimes, these attitudes and the underlying current is a little too big to swallow.

Sweeping generalisations, not really. Comments like this have come from people I respect and care about. But sometimes things bother me a little too much and to do nothing is a worse crime. It means the next hundred people after me will have to deal with something I could influence and change.

Well, I signed up for my language this week. That's my start. And I pray that God will reveal the rest as I need to know.


india flint said...

you are so lucky to be living in the land where your roots are...growing up as the brown child of displaced people driven far from their homelands by war i think i have a bit of an understanding...there's no one place to go back to if you're made up of several cultures and the sixties in Australia were full of people who liked to make life unpleasant for those of us who are honey-coloured!
i think that's why i felt so at home when i first came to Aotearoa a coupe of years was a place where my colour was normal. so even though i live acfross the ditch i feel a kind of much so that i too am trying to learn the language, albeit slowly, from a book.

Ahipara Girl said...

Hat's off to you sis for recognising all this. I can't even begin to understand what your experience must be like. I couldn't see my own situation for what it was all these years. No ability to discern what the issues were let alone how to address them. Bit like the frog being slow-boiled to death. I still am flying blind, but idealistically believe that perhaps a good heart and mind, and a platform just might be able to help make a difference. The unfolding will happen in life's journey I am thinking. Whatever I need will come. There is definitely momentum is our lives these days and it is interesting to see what good can come of it. How I can give back significantly. No doubt it is a ways off yet but we are starting aren't we? We started the day we first breathed. We are a new breed born of an old breed. Our children and grandchildren will share similar stories no doubt. But I am enjoying a clear mind while it lasts and boy, do I pray it lasts.