To be a guest in someone’s culture is a fine thing. We do it often when we travel – dip our toes in at a superficial level, with a confidence afforded to us by the fact that, as a visitor, we can pull them out at any time.
Tourists do it here too – they make their way down to Rotorua for a “cultural experience”, bathe in the Polynesian Spa hot pools, and when the temperature becomes too much to bear, they can jump under a shower to cool off.
But as Pākeha New Zealanders, we are not tourists in our own country. We cannot dip in and dip out just when it suits us.
While we embrace many Pacific cultures, we are proud to proclaim Aotearoa on the world stage as a bicultural society. However, it’s only really bicultural to those who are required to navigate both cultures – those who permanently have a foot in the pool of each. Of those I have spoken to who identify as Māori, it is a universal experience to navigate between these two worlds with a fluidity presupposed and expected by Pākeha.
Last year, I put my name forward to join one of Network’s clients to participate in the National Certificate in Māori Management; a Skills Active programme covering a range of skills and knowledge that helps the participants to become more conversant in Te Ao Māori.
So, a chance for me to firmly put my foot in the other world, not just dip my toes in. Still a manuhiri (guest), but in a deeper, more intimate way. With reciprocity, understanding and empathy, people move forward together: they have a foot in our world, we place a foot in theirs, and understand where they are coming from. It is about finding common ground – a point where you can work with someone and see where they are coming from.
Me whakawai, ka waia ai – practise breeds familiarity.
The climax of this course was a noho marae (marae stay) at the Takapūwāhia marae of Te Iwi o Ngāti Toa Rangatira. Literally an opportunity to see where someone is coming from – their tūrangawaewae – their place to stand.
Te Whānau-ā-Apanui iwi elder Eruera Stirling once said that “Māoritanga [Māori culture] is not action songs or hakas, it is holding fast to the treasures of your ancestors – lands, marae, pā, the mountains – and returning in spirit to the minds of your forebearers. It is not a light and easy thing, but a difficult treasure, and heavy to carry.”
All of us have a responsibility to engage with te reo me ngā tikanga Māori. But it is a matter of progress not perfection. None of us should feel whakamā (embarrassed) about our comprehension of mātauranga Māori, we just need to express a willingness to learn.