With Christmas just around the corner, it got me thinking about the traditional holidays/ceremonies of pre-european days. Most obviously Matariki comes to mind, and of course there wouldn’t have been the christmas celebrations of today. Nor would there have been St Patties, Valentine’s day, Queen’s Birthday, or Labour weekend. This made me wonder how we got from those pre-european, self sufficient days, through to the modern age of today, and how our rituals of commemoration have changed over time.
Beginning with Matariki, as I’ve mentioned before, it is partly about remembering those that have passed on, and these days you have a hura kohatu (unveiling of a headstone) and family/friends may do something small (or big) on the actual anniversary of a loved one’s passing, but in pre-european days, when bodies were hung/stored until properly decomposed, and then the bones scraped and collected. What type of remembrance ceremonies were there?
In theory, I’m thinking that possibly commemorations would more likely be held for high profile events as opposed to specific people, unless of course a particular person was someone of note or particular significance. To me this would mean that these types of celebrations would almost always involve extended whanau and hapu as a whole, as opposed to the singular whanau unit doing something on their own.
Traditionally, Japanese would celebrate the turn of every season. Similarly, Maori had their own way of welcoming the new seasons and commemorating particular times of the year. The Pukaea doubled as a war trumpet, and was also used during kumera harvesting. The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that commemorations were more about larger events as opposed to singular affairs and therefore as I said, celebrated by the hapu as a whole.
Thinking about this has given made me wonder on a larger scale, how many traditions, and how much knowledge has been lost since the arrival of the pakeha onto our shores? Some would argue that the oral traditions of handing down knowledge can be unreliable, can be skewed. Which in all honesty is definitely possible, however what some people don’t realise, is that oral history and the arts were the only way maori had to pass on their knowledge, so they had to get it right. There was no written word or literacy as such, and so it could be argued that only since the introduction of the written word from pakeha, have these mistakes became more prevalent. The written word has made the mind lazy in a way. Why remember generations of whakapapa when you can write it down? To me, learning to read and write is both one of the best and worst things Maori could have learnt. Ironic isn’t it? Considering I’m writing this right now for you to read.
The role of the whanau/hapu/iwi unit as a whole is also something that has been lost over the years I think. In pre-european days, everyone had a role, each person had a job to do, and each whanau had their area of expertise in order to contribute to the hapu/iwi as a whole. Living on the papa kainga, it was a community in the truest sense of the word.
As the pakeha arrived, and our maori men were led astray by alcohol, drugs, and the notion that wahine were no longer their equals, but instead property. Our maori women lost their place and their only job was to have children and look after the home. No longer were they the fountains of knowledge, responsible for passing that knowledge on. No longer were select wahine toa allowed to participate in the male domains eg carving, tu taua etc. Suddenly maori needed this piece of paper called money to say they ‘owned’ their land, another notion that was relatively new to them. How could you own something that was a fundamental part of you?
The pakeha ideologies of one God, also helped separate and disenfranchise maoridom. Seperately, nga atua maori can represent all the different ideals and goals a person can aspire to. When they were replaced with one seeing all, hearing all, and knowing all God the rituals and aspirations related to the separate atua maori became unnecessary. By placing all their faith in the one true god, it basically gave Maori a license to run wild in a sense. Not that there weren’t consequences for a person’s actions, but by removing the need for someone to explore the deeper meanings of their religion/culture, it also removes their ability to connect with it.
Then came the law reforms, laws that made the land which pakeha deemed unproductive able to be confiscated by the government. Laws that enabled Maori to take out home loans and purchase their first homes – with interest rates and rules that changed daily. Essentially, what this really meant was that when maori inevitably couldn’t keep up with the payments, they lost their homes they worked so hard for. Homes they moved to the cities to buy, with the money they earned at their new city jobs. Jobs that kept them away from their marae, away from their extended whanau, and therefore assisted in the loss of connection, which is part of the essence of maoritanga I think, a person’s connection. Connection to the whenua, connection to each other, connection to your past, and your whanau. Building and maintaining that connection is what makes the maori world-view so different from that of the pakeha.
Is it too late though? Are maori too damaged to pick themselves up? With so many of our maori men in jail, and our maori women on the streets. Our kids getting drunk at the local park or robbing shops. Thanks to things like the kohanga movement, the establishment of Maori Language Commission, and much more, a lot of maori are working hard to return to their roots and reclaim what has been lost. But I ask again, is it too late? Have we already lost too much? Is the hatred too deep? The ever-optimist in me hopes that it isn’t. The realist in me says that’s why im studying, trying to learn as much as I can. So I can do my best to reverse the damage. I was once told it was my responsibility to my tupuna, my parents, and myself to ensure I learnt as much as I could about my maoritanga and pass it on to the right people. Because without them I wouldn’t be here it’s a challenge I think our people need to be reminded of regularly.
As the year comes to an end, and I make plans for the year ahead, im trying to get back on track with where I was previously. I think I mentioned ive enrolled to do a te reo course next year. Ill also be able to work on my new merchandise coming out so I have a big year planned! (Heres hoping it all works).
This blog will be my last entry for the year, and I’m going to take a bit of a break until after I have returned to my studies, so I won’t be writing anymore until March. However I will continue to keep my facebook page updated as often as I can. Speaking of which, please feel free to contact me via the facebook page and thank you for reading. I welcome all constructive feedback.
Meri kirihimete and have a happy and safe holidays #missmaorigal
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For today’s modern Maori, the choice to learn and embrace their maoritanga isn’t a process that happens overnight. More often than not, there is a catalyst, a starter, someone or something that leads you to ask questions. Something that makes you ask yourself what it is to be Maori.
I can think of many people asking these questions, but where to go for answers? For an Australian-born maori (or mozzie) such as myself, the massiveness of these questions, and Te Ao Maori in general (The Maori World) can seem like a dark hole of unknown mystery. How to begin? Who to speak to? What will be expected of me?
While I would never dictate how a person should live their life, what I can share is how I am personally approaching it. From a self-proclaimed “mozzie” point of view. Detailing the highs and lows, the places I visit, and the people along the way. From someone that generally had a pakeha upbringing, it’s a complete shift in how you view the world.
Who am I to be writing this you may ask. Why keep reading? What is it about my opinions that merit your consideration? well, I’m a little political, and a little crazy. I have a lot to learn and my opinions are just that – opinions. They are not gospel, they are not law. I don’t aim to discredit anyone, but more to share my experiences with those who are interested. If one person reads this and decides to look into maoritanga for themselves, ill be happy. Check out my facebook page missmaorigal for more updates and information.
I should state from the start that at present I am semi-fluent in te reo so apologies in advance for any and all types of errors I may write. Obviously I will make all efforts to avoid any possible mistakes in the first place though. Not only with the language, but everything I write overall. My mother is Ngati Hari from Taumarunui, and my father is Ngapuhi from Nukutawhiti. This is my journey of discovery to find out what that means to me, Missmaorigal.