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What Tuia 250 means to a Pākehā New Zealander

Last Modified: 23-11-2019 8:37

Ko Maukatere tōku maunga
Ko Rakahuri tōku awa
Ko Bolton tōku waka
Ko Kotarani, ko Airihi, ko Ingarihi ōku iwi
Ko Nativity tōku whare karakia
Nō te Waiharakeke ahau
Ko Cookson tōku Whānau
Ko Allen rāua ko Isabel ōku mātua
Ko Christopher tōku ingoa

The words in Māori above are my pepeha, identifying who I am and where I'm from. I am a Pākehā New Zealander from Blenheim, whose first ancestors to arrive in New Zealand arrived in Nelson in 1842 aboard the Bolton. My great-great grandfather came with his parents and siblings as a 17 year old, making me the fourth generation to be New Zealand born, although the sixth generation to call New Zealand home. My ancestors include Scots, Irish, Cornish, English, and I'm proud to identify each of these unique parts of my Pākehā identity, just as Māori aren't just Māori but recognise their iwi and Hapū.

1842 is quite early in the European colonisation of New Zealand, although there were earlier missionaries, sealers, and whalers who settled here. Port Underwood here in Marlborough was one of the earliest European settlements in the country, well before the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi as it became home for sealers and whalers. All were preceded by Polynesian settlers who arrived about 600 years earlier, and just as those of us of European ancestry born here invented a new name for ourselves as New Zealanders, so those first settlers became Māori.

Captain James Cook, like a certain fictional starship captain, James Kirk, boldly went where no Englishman had been before, however it turned out, not actually where no man (and quite a few women) had been before, as the great Polynesian navigator Kupe had long preceded him. Cook wasn't even the first, or the greatest of the European navigators, although undoubtedly one of the greatest English ones. My wife only arrived in New Zealand fifteen years ago, but her European ancestors from the little maritime nation of Portugal were the first Europeans to boldly venture out beyond the Mediterranean, possibly around the time Kupe first landed in Aotearoa/New Zealand, with the Portuguese setting the stage for later European voyages of discovery. Coincidentally, northern Portugal happens to be the antipodes of Marlborough.

It's worth celebrating all the great navigators who have made the world a smaller place. Discovering new places and peoples is something is a deep and almost primeval part of being human, and even when we have everything we need, wanderlust can be a powerful force in many people's lives even today. Whether we travel is not an issue, but how we interact with the people and environments we travel to speaks volumes about what sort of people we are. Tourism is a big part of Marlborough's economy, and people are attracted to our part of the world I dare say for many of the same reasons that Kupe and Cook found the region appealing. I think it's fitting that Marlborough, which was the final frontier for human exploration and settlement on earth, gave the world a renowned rocket scientist, Sir William Pickering, who helped make history directing the lab that achieved the United States' first satellite launch, as humans began to explore beyond the ends of the earth.

Aotearoa/New Zealand became the last land mass on earth to develop a sustainable human population. Certainly, Antarctica was discovered later (by Cook), but it remains a place for a few hardy researchers, not a place where people spend their entire lives and raise their families. For both Cook and Kupe, Marlborough was of great significance, both as the farthest ends of the earth in one sense, but also as the birthplace of the human interactions that shaped this nation.

Human arrival brought changes, not necessarily for the better. Polynesian settlers brought with them kiore, and lit fires which deforested large areas of the landscape, and they succeeded in driving moa to extinction. By the time Europeans arrived however, Māori had adapted and adopted many sustainable practices to help them live in harmony with the land. Unfortunately Europeans generally scorned Māori knowledge, considering their advanced technology to make them superior in all respects, and proceeded to replicate all the mistakes the first human arrivals had made, but on a grander scale, thanks to the capability provided by heavy machinery. Today in the 21st Century, issues of environmental degradation remain a pressing problem, and we urgently need to learn to live in equilibrium with our environment if we want to continue enjoying everything our beautiful country has to offer.

The colonial mentality that technology corresponded to intelligence and civilisation led to a sense of entitlement and superiority that led to some brutal repression of the Māori population, even as Christian missionaries preached a message of love, reconciliation, and equality before God. My ancestors were among those who attempted to preach to Māori, and as part of those efforts, worked to translate the Bible into Māori, so presumably must have gained some knowledge of te reo. To honour my ancestors, I want to see that message of love, reconciliation and equality a reality, not just a happy fantasy. To do so means recognising and righting injustice, even if it's sometimes uncomfortable to do so.

This week I got up, and somewhat falteringly, I thought at least, I made a presentation in te reo Māori as my final assessment for a year long course, but I was encouraged and supported by everyone around me because I made the effort. Hearing Marlborough's mayor address the crowds in Picton in Māori at the start of his speech to mark the formal welcome of the Tuia 250 fleet, knowing he'd taken the same course as me a year earlier, slept on the same marae, reminded me we Pākehā can play a vital role in revitalising Māori language and culture by recognising it and being active participants.

There is a little word in Māori that explains why I made the effort to learn te reo Māori. Mana. Mana can be translated various ways, such as prestige or status, however whatever way it is translated, it is not something that someone can attain for themselves, but is something that is bestowed on them. I can't speak for Māori, but my observation is that it seems that mana is a reciprocal thing; in order to gain it, you must bestow it on others. A cruel irony is that racist people who say they want to ensure respect for white culture and attack any culture other than their own are doing quite the opposite of what they should be doing if they want respect for their own culture.

In no way does my Pākehā ancestry diminish if I learn te reo Māori, nor does my English language, indeed perhaps quite the opposite. A culture and language that has to suppress others to survive is a timid and fearful one, and hardly something that has mana. A culture that has enough self-confidence to respect and celebrate others without fear of its own demise is one that is likely to command respect.

I made a conscious decision when I met my wife, and continued when our daughter was born, that we would speak Portuguese at home to preserve all aspects of our joint family heritage. For fifteen years it has been a rewarding, but sometimes challenging experience, maintaining a minority language in a sea of English. As part of my own family experience, and in trying to explain to my wife some of the history of New Zealand, I realised how the same challenges we faced were not limited just to recent migrants trying to maintain their language and culture, but to Aotearoa/New Zealand's own indigenous culture.

To me, Tuia 250 is all about reaching a point of national maturity where all of us can be proud of our own heritage while celebrating with others who may have a different heritage.

Making the effort to learn te reo Māori over the last year has been challenging, but also immensely rewarding, and I've made many new friends as a result. Māori with a small 'm' can mean 'normal', 'common' or 'natural', and I think it will be great when te reo Māori becomes māori, alongside English, as equals. As someone who experienced sudden, accute partial hearing loss at a young age, I recognise there is also one other language that also needs to be become māori, which I'm embarrased to say I don't yet have any knowledge in, and that is NZ sign language..

Standing listening to and watching the pōwhiri, and following kōrero on the foreshore at Waitōhi (Picton), for the first time, I could understand a reasonable amount of what was said, and I understood what was happening in terms of the process.

Captain James Cook was a product of his time, bred to believe in English superiority, to the point of justifying killing 'natives' if necessary. Māori at the time of his encounters, also had a culture where violence was frequently used as a way to resolve issues. Judging either 18th Century Māori or Pākehā according to modern sensibilities is hardly just, however if we take issue with any of those early interactions, we all have a responsibility to make a better future together.

There are plenty of pressing issues facing both New Zealand and the world, but by working together and sharing ideas, whatever our cultural backgrounds we can best find solutions that work.

Standing on the Picton foreshore, listening to the speakers, I felt that perhaps the real journey was not of the waka, and tall ships, but in the hearts of New Zealanders, who are demonstrating a new sense of national identity, and mutual respect. That left me feeling immensely proud to be both a Marlburian, and a New Zealander.

Nāku te rourou nāu te rourou ka ora ai te iwi.

(With your basket and my basket the people will live.)

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