Freya Hill

Stories

Tūrangawaewae

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I am keenly aware that I am monolingual.  At work, I sit between a Russian and Hungarian, and opposite two French-speaking men. A few desks down, the mother tongues include a range of Asian languages, Afrikaans and Albanian. with the Kiwis thrown in. My siblings each speak another European language, and  proud as I am of my education, it still seems incomplete without another language.  There are no ‘secret’ languages I can speak in public places to hide my meaning, no phrases or terms which I can’t properly translate into English but know how to use in their native language.

When I was with friends in Montreal once, they asked if I spoke Maori. I was embarrassed to admit that I do not. I briefly considered answering yes, and cobbling together a string of place names to pass off as a sentence, as I’ve heard people doing while on their great OEs Instead I admitted defeat. My knowledge of Te Reo is sparse and limited to those words which are now part of modern Kiwi English. Perhaps if I had been 10 years younger, I would be picked up a bit more in my primary and secondary education. The push for more Te Reo was still coming in the mid 1990s.  I remember as a (rather nosey) 11 year old over-hearing two student teachers filling out an assessment of what was being taught in our classroom. One questions was ‘Is Te Reo Maori being actively taught in the class?’. The student teachers decided it was not, ticking ‘no’ in their booklets. I turned away from what I was doing and protested that it was (though God knows why I was in the teacher’s back room anyway). But perhaps they were right. This child of the late 80s, the time of the Maori Renaissance, left high school able to say little more than Kia Ora. I should note I don’t seem to have much of a natural aptitude for languages, as five years struggling through French only to fail my final year oral exam showed.

What I am left with is a confused and sometimes agitated understanding of how I, as a Pakeha raised in a post Maori Renaissance New Zealand, fit in with Maori culture. I am a New Zealander, born in England and raised in New Zealand, to two New Zealanders: one a first generation and one a fifth generation. My great aunt, now 103, remembers her father and others hacking down virgin bush in the King Country to form roads and townships, breaking their backs with two man cross-cut saws. My father was one of the few non-Maori children at his primary school, and would consider himself part of (if not officially) the iwi of that area, Ngati Tuwharetoa.

The Land Of My Forefathers: The wool shed on my great grandfather and his brothers built in the King Country

The Land Of My Forefathers: The woolshed my great grandfather and his brothers built in the King Country

There have been times when I’ve felt the sting of the positive discrimination that has flowed from the push for greater Maori education. When I left school and applied for university scholarships, I was of course not eligible for any designated for Maori descendents (and rightly so) but it still seemed odd that those who looked just like me, with their Celtic skin, freckles and red hair, could claim eligibility funding if they should show 1/64th of their lineage was Maori.  1/64th is going a long way back.  At that level, there’s 63 other souls whose descendents would eventually have descendents who’d eventually become your parents.  However I do not begrudge these scholarships, especially as many are administrated by the iwis. It’s their money after all.

Perhaps the greater cause for sense of unjustness was the assigned places in limited entry university courses (medicine or law). I’m not sure if these Maori places still exist, but they assume and allow for a lower level of academic performance based on race. Positive (?) racism.  I was surprised to read a recent article in the New Zealand Herald’s Canvas which noted there is a ‘preference within (the Victoria University of Wellington School of Maori Studies) that those studying Maori history to be Maori.’ (‘Where Did I Come From?, pp 10 -13, Canvas Weekend Herald January 26, 2013).  This seems a bold statement for the author to make and is not supported by any quotes from the university. And if, for arguments sake, it was true, we are left with that million dollar scholarship question, what counts as ‘Maori?’

I write these things with mixed views. I am proud to be from a country which has (in recent years at least) made such tangible efforts to right the wrongs of the past. I like many aspects of traditional Maori culture. My graduation from Waikato University would have been incomplete without a powhiri and haka (especially as the university is built on iwi-owned land). Hakas move me in the way that bag pipes do – I see both of these as ceremonial icons of some of the many cultures that have shaped my own self and my country’s self- identity.  Yet I still view Maori culture as something that I am not part of, because I do not have any Maori ancestry. Perhaps this will change for my children’s children and their children. New Zealand is very young and it is this youth which allows for such cultural distinctions to be made. In the generations to come, as our country becomes more ‘multi cultural’ than it already is, perhaps this multi culturalism will actually move us closer to a united culture of New Zealandism.

My masters thesis looked at how Scottish immigrants in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia viewed their ancestry. What I found interesting is that these descendents of Scots, now 7th or 8th generation Canadians, referred to themselves as ‘Scottish-Canadian’. The motherland was very much still alive for them. If you go back four generations, you’ll find a Scot in my ancestry but I’d never claim to be ‘Scottish- Kiwi’.  My tūrangawaewae (‘a place to stand’ or places of belonging) are almost all here – where I grew up, where my parents grew up, where I studied. Britain is also one of my tūrangawaewae, the place of my first breaths and many of my ancestors, but I am not a British- New Zealander. I am a New Zealander- a term that encompasses many cultural beginnings.

 

 

freya • February 6, 2013


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