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March 23, 2009 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]

Ngai Tauira

Three years ago I was welcomed on to Te Herenga Waka Marae. I was a red headed girl, from the deep south who had heard the karanga of her mountain and decided it was time to pick up the piece of delicate manuka that lay before me. I don’t remember arriving at the gate, nor do I remember that first class. But I do remember a big tall man, old and wise, shouting words I felt I understood. He looked like a piece of pounamu. That’s all I remember.

I don’t remember feeling uncomfortable, or it ever being strange. But surely I was a fish out of water.

It wasn’t long until I learnt how to swim, (with the aid of a tea towel,) and I swam and I swam and I guess in a way I haven’t stopped swimming since.

I have been asked more times than I care to remember why I am here. I have been asked: “why do you learn my language?” In as many words I have been told: “You shouldn’t be here, you have no right.” Now as I reflect on my experiences in Te Ao Maori I still don’t know if I even know why I am here. However I have learnt from the strong women in my family that everything happens for a reason.

In the old days, a Pakeha who lived beside Maori, who practiced the way of Maori, and who marked themselves as Maori, would have been called a Pakeha–Maori.

I will never claim to be Maori, because I am not. I cannot expect to feel what it is like. I have not experienced in my life time men dressed in black from head to toe hurtling into my home to tell me that because of who I am I should be treated like this. I have not had to fight for the right to speak my first language and I am not still fighting for my Tino Rangatiratanga to be recognized from a crown who promised me the world. My family suffered from the brutal and continuing process of colonization. But I am not Maori, and nor will I ever be. This process is captured quite simply in the concept of ta moko. If you are Maori, you wear moko. If you are Pakeha you wear kiri tuhi. If you don’t have whakapapa, it will never be moko.

In this time however I have searched for what it truly means to be Pakeha in Aotearoa. I am not English. No English blood flows through my body. Nor am I European. But I am something else, I am a person, born in Aotearoa and raised amongst Ngai Maori. I, like many others, understood the words kia ora, kai and moana. I knew not to sit on a table. I knew that Maori can say so much in the raise of an eyebrow and I have a connection to the land, to this place, that is like no other. These factors—to me—contain what it means to be Pakeha.

I believe it is a term we must reclaim.

As Michael King suggests, “Pakeha belong inescapably to this country and have no other home. Pakeha New Zealanders who are committed to this land and its people are no less ‘indigenous’ than Maori.”

I am committed to this land and I am committed to its people. I am a Pakeha girl from Dunedin, who lived under the shelter of Taranaki. I have experienced more in these years than I ever knew existed. Three years ago I couldn’t speak any reo. I had never seen kapa haka or been to a tangi. I have had the privilege to be a part of Te Whanau o Te Herenga Waka as they guided and supported me on this journey and within Te Kawa a Maui I learnt the skills to help me face the many piko on my awa. This little fish is swimming still.

I have seen people come and go, and how I have wished for their return. But I have learnt that in time, they will reappear. Distance and time are concepts that I should learn to leave behind.

Once in the whare kai I was asked where I stood. My answer was this: “Below me are two mats. One represents my Pakeha side, the other is Te Ao Maori. Here I stand, two feet on two mats. Lightly holding on, and slowly letting go.”

As I tie my waka to the post I reflect on what I have seen, and heard and felt.

Michael King once said, “the most profound satisfactions are to be found in living a life in accord with the natural world, exercising the human capacity for friendship and altruism, engaging in creative and purposeful activity, and experiencing an allegiance to ones origins.”

I am seeking my origins, I have engaged in creative purposeful activity and my human capacity for friendship have been filled beyond compare. I am living a life in Te Ao Hurihuri and my biggest hope is that one day my children will also tie their waka to the posts of my whare, Te Herenga Waka Marae.

Heoi ano, ko tenei taku mihi maioha ki nga rangatira, ki nga tauira hoki o te wananga nei. Ehara taku toa i te toa takitahi he toa taki tini.


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  1. Your Name says:

    Tena Koe Ashley,

    I am also pakeha, coming from central otago. My nephew is Pakeha Maori which has encouraged me to learn Te Reo Maori. Apparently I have Ngai Tahu links but that they are very tenuous and our history with them the was pushed under the carpet many generations ago. I am very close with my nephew and his whanau. I feel the spirit of what it means to be maori and would like to have a maori tattoo but understand that if I am not maori this would be an insult to maori on many levels. I agree with you, that I am a pakeha new zealander, this is my home and cultural inclusion is more important to me that cultural exclusion….. Haere Atu, Monique

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