Being Maori, hugging trees and loving animals…

I did not choose my ethnicity, nor did I choose the cultures that were handed to me, nor the land I grew up in. All these choices were made for me as a child, while I was protected in theory by laws and adults. I did choose however, to ignore the negative lessons that life tried to force on me. Lessons given to me by those spurned by greed, a lack of empathy and little self-discipline. It is a battle of mastery I am still fighting to this day.

Maori culture is a culture born of the land, and the Pacific. It is a culture that embraces the very fabric of our earth as a living entity, a being. The air we breath, the grass we play upon, the water we drink, all ancestrally derived, all sacred. And lets be honest, there are not many among us who would defile our grandmother, nor any elder for that matter. Yet we often see no harm in destroying something sacred, something ancestral- grandmotherly even, something wiser in its form and cycles than ourselves. Not a case of learning from something so long lived, watching and observing, seeking to absorb the power and responsibility that comes with the knowledge of ages. No striving to be a warrior, even if it is only in her eyes; but, more often, a mere case of ignorance in the face of vast knowledge, lack of thirst, misplaced values, and no hunger for the joys of the living world, which impede the ability of many to connect meaningfully with anything not made from concrete and synthetic, clean straight lines.

As a person of a culture that is Maori, I in fact belong to the land, or a piece of it anyway, not the other way around. As a bird belongs to his nest and will always return to it, so I will always return to my land. At least I would like to. Unfortunately no one on the land settlement team has yet realised that in order to scale their man-made mountains and obstacle course efficiently, one would require super-man like powers, training or experience in parkour, and some kind of ever-ready apology to the local constable for trespassing. I wonder how my grandparents would feel about scaling a super-city with their travel things to visit up north or to access the meetings held with eastern most tribes? Not sure the piupiu or suit pants would hold up to that many fences to climb, and I hate to think what the pipi would taste like after a normal day and nights journey by foot turns to a dangerous ten day hike through the crazy maze of lop-sided disconnected streets and alleys … My grandparents loved the wildlife and native plants. They hated the idea of anything going hungry because the land was being farmed, or a road blocked the migration path. Displacement, isolation and fragmentation was a thing even in their time, and I learnt the value of a hedge or a garden in place of a fence, before I could even walk, in the stories they told me, wooed me to sleep with, and the lullaby they sung me. Tales of the blackbirds, the naughty tui, the timid stray cat, the kiwi looking for earthworms, and the snuffling hedgehogs that all made their way to their doorstep for medicine or food. The foreigners were always fed for fear they would eat the wetas in the flax or heaven forbid, eye up a native bird. The cat never caught any birds, and he always abandoned his bowl for the kiwi when it arrived hungry. The thrushes ate the snails, I think the cat did as well, and the native birds were welcome to the fruit we couldn’t reach in the orchard. The earwigs were not welcome in the dahlias. The garden was packed with ferns and flaxes alongside flowers and edibles. There were jars and jars of home preserved goods always available. Milk came to the gate. The streams ran clean, cress and eels were aplenty, so much so, that eating them was considered a poor-mans or childs game, as there was no art to dipping a bucket into a stream and pulling up dinner. Progress, or some other excuse to remove the bush and farm land arrived, the kiwi disappeared, fences went up, people who did not belong to the land built dense housing too quickly, streams filled with washing powder and weeds, eels died, the cat got the blame for everything. It was not even twenty years ago, yet the story in the telling most often evokes a reaction akin to something ment for a history lesson on colonial occupation and bitter conquests. The last of my four grandparents passed away two days before lockdown. I worked stupid hours, 19 hour days, for the tourist season before-hand, and didn’t see my grandmother. I still don’t know why she was transferred to hospital, nor if the rest home she was in which caused the death and injury of several other older people were at fault. The operational staff at the hospital asked me for her birthdate, and were surprised when I asked ‘which one’. I explained that she had two, she was over a hundred years old. Obviously not common knowledge that births weren’t registered on the day, and often not even in the same year back then. If Maori even chose to register at all, it was not a legal obligation for them. My grandmother was of mixed ethnicity, and the daughter of a military man. She attended higher education. Her first marriage was also commonly used as a reference point for her age. Upon attending the funeral home viewing, the attendant was shocked to find out during conversation that she was in fact a Mrs., not single or a spinster, which left me again wondering after witnessing the freezer burn, or frostbite if it suits you better, that covered her finger tips. She was a little young to die in comparison to our other family- most routinely live past 120 years without modern medicine. I hate that she had been taken away from the natural medicine and food she ate, was raised on. I hate that polio and modern development forced her to spend less and less time walking and traveling. The local bus would wait for her twenty years ago, now it’s left the stop before you can even meet the driver to ask. I don’t feel too differently about the earth and its current pattern of demise. Massive ancient forests thousands of years old, wiped out by progress and foreign disease overnight. Almost like an old blanket that just doesn’t matter anymore in an overworked parents eyes, turfed in a bin whilst innocent cries and howls of dismay rise from dark corners. Strange that I was also raised in a culture that keeps their linen from generation to generation, adding to it, fixing holes and tears, learning the best way to keep it clean, knowing its value, and encouraging quality over quantity and mass production. Stranger that I am also punished by our educated sustainable modern society for doing so.

I hate that in fact, this disenchantment with the old, breaking with tradition, and the obsession with popular culture and the masses, has led to our raft of community health issues and early demise …

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