Tēnā koutou katoa.
Ko Pirongia te maunga. Ko Waikato te awa. Ko Nicoll te iwi. Nō Kotimana me Airani ōku tūpuna.
I whānau mai ahau i Kirikirioa. Nō reira, kei te Whanganui-a-Tara tōku kainga inaianei.
Ko Philippa ahau. Ngā mihi nui ki a koutou.
When I was about fourteen I was chatting with a classmate. She was Māori and was sharing a story with me. I couldn’t even tell you what the story was about, nor the context in which it was shared. What I do remember though, was that the story included the word ‘moa’ (a large native New Zealand bird, now extinct). But I didn’t understand the word as my classmate was using it. She repeated it several times. I shook my head, my mind completely blank. What was she saying? Finally, she sighed. “Mow-er, Philippa, mow-er, the dead bird, you know, a mow-er?” I hadn’t understood her because she was pronouncing the word correctly, and it wasn’t until she said it incorrectly, the Pākehā way, that I recognised it. She wasn’t cross with me, nor did we ever speak of the moment, but it seared into my mind. This wasn’t going to happen again. I would recognise Māori words when they were spoken to me, and I would make every effort to pronounce them correctly from this time on.
And I have prided myself on doing this, and learning a pepeha (above), two karakia, a few songs, and a few whakataukī. I argue with others about unconscious bias and the way the system privileges Pākehā over Māori. And I rest on my laurels.
I was jolted again at the end of last year. I am lucky enough to work for an organisation (Tātai Aho Rau | CORE Education) which is striving towards being Treaty-based. I attended an internal workshop on Te Tiriti o Waitangi, which really opened my eyes to understanding history from a Māori perspective, and to knowing more about Te Ao Māori pre-colonisation. As an action following this workshop, I purchased a copy of Michael King’s The Penguin History of New Zealand and it was the first book I read in 2018.
I devoured it in a few days. It was readable, entertaining, and enlightening. I was left with three key thoughts after finishing it:
- Māori identity is not just ancestral but is also place-based. The word ‘whenua’ means even more to me now (land / placenta). I can see why it is crucial to understand the kawa and tikanga of the iwi and hapū of the rohe. I can see why (teacher hat on) place-based curriculum is so crucial.
- Māori are amazing adapters. Part of their genius is being able to interact with technologies and to adapt or discard these for use in ways that fit within Te Ao Māori.
- That Aotearoa New Zealand has experienced so much history in such a short amount of time.
I know that these are not new for many people – and certainly not Māori! – but I record them for my own learning.
And I was left with this crushing question: How much of what I take for granted is Pākehā? By way of an explanatory sentence: what would the six o’clock news look like if told nightly from a Māori perspective?