Saturday, 10 May 2014

History and the meaning of Tapu

So recently I posted a long and indepth post about who I am and what I do. It's had quite a lot of hits through Twitter which is awesome, just sayin'. The only thing that's bothered me is perhaps the fallout of the Maori aspects to it.

Call this a second half of that post if you will or just a brief opinionated and somewhat biased overview of the Maori history and resurgence of our culture.

Firstly and importantly - while not a retraction it's definitely pertinent that I explain a few things. Doing a haka on an upturned boat as a girl aged five has a few problems.



Even at five I still reckon I wouldn't have been the skimpiest thing. So perhaps thats part of the reason my Grandad got angry at me for jumping on it and doing my waewae takahia hard out on his only boat at that point in time.

I've kind of got - still have - a high pedastal view and belief of him that I have made up a few things in my head and heart about what he meant by telling me off from doing a haka. All I remember was the initial yelling from the house to where I was on the boat quite a far way away from the house. I have fairytale-ised it somewhat by thinking about it poetically and metaphorically.

I think back to this point as the beginning of my stance as staunch Maori. As a person who stands up for Maoridom - despite what some in my whanau say that I have a small amount of Maori blood compared to them.

While yes they are right and yes for some this is still what matters, I have a differing view. An innate feeling in my heart, the pit of my stomach, within the world around me... and ultimately in my head, that I am Maori. Sure to make the fallout not as intense I say I'm part Maori.

In essence, I'm actually more French than I am Maori. My Grandads father, Great Grandad Norman, came over to New Zealand from Guernsey in the Channel Islands when he was three years old - of course accompanied by his mother and lived with his father, Great Great Grandad Francois and Great Great Great Grandad Jean Francois and my tino ataahua (very beautiful) Great Great Very Great Grandmother Marie.

There are quite a few things in Maoridom which are tapu - sacred (among many other synonyms). One of these things is whakapapa (genealogy and how we retrace our connections and make links with others in differing iwi - tribes etc). I will explain more tapu aspects of the Maori culture below.
The reason behind whakapapa being so tapu is because it deals with those passed away and its not only a sign of respect but we are upholding their mana (power, respect for ones self, attitude, leadership etc - hard to enapsulate in one mere word) in our very being and to list off a few names without realising their significance in life and the obstacles dealt with and life they lived before we were even a thought - is highly rude and inappropriate.

Usually Maori use their whakapapa in their mihi (intro speech to who they are and welcome to people passed and those gathered at event) and pepeha (family history - my mum is ... dad was ... etc) to make links and connections with others at the gathering. This could be simply at a Maori language course where you are learning yourself and still don't know why its tapu to just show off who your whanau (family) are/were to random strangers. Or it could be presented at the marae on the paepae (area outside the wharenui - 'meeting house' -- means big house though -- where you traditionally give whaikorero - speeches). These speeches are usually given by men.

This is where the issue with the young girl doing a haka comes in. Traditionally, and yes it is different in different tribal rohe (areas), women do not speak on the paepae. They sit at the back because the men will protect the women and children if an invited group come into the heavily guarded marae and they turn out to be a foe after all.

Growing up in the small town I did, it was strange for a teacher to decide she wanted her ENTIRE new entrants class to join the Kapa Haka roopu (group - which is weird because in essence the word kapa also means group). 

Yet we did. Not all of us stayed in it. What was important was that this.. amazing woman chose to lead her five year olds into battle and give us a truly quintessential New Zealand experience. And for this and more reasons - which I will one day write about because she is another teacher who has inspired me - I was able to get involved in Maoridom at a young age..

Perhaps she believed strongly in the 1980 Reo Maori resurgence which I will talk about soon - EDIT - It's now in the fourth post of this series - you can jump to that one here. Because to this day I don't even know if she was Maori at all.

Anyway... the long and short of it, yes differently tribally, I shouldn't have been doing the haka because it's tapu for a girl. I know brief explanations but to really explain why I'll have to ask a kaumatua (elder). And they would probably tell me off if they knew I was writing all this for people around the world to read. But I'm really writing it for me because its important I get it off my chest and apologise for the brief haka I did on Twitter an hour ago to a good Twitter mate.

So. Back to the story.

As a result... my being Maori may not be enough for some because my Dad's mother's mum, my great grandmother was half Maori. Her Dad was full.. I think. It all gets a bit confusing when you bring maths into it for me. Another teacher I will talk about one day...

Anyway... I should also briefly explain that I'm so interested in who I am because of the way I was brought up and for me my broad whakapa is solid answers to many of my questions about who I am and where I come from. Which is why I love history and why I love learning about family histories... In fact, my Gran (Dad's mum) gave me a copy of her maternal family tree for Christmas. It is my most precious taonga (precious artifact)  I have. And for the reasoning behind whakapapa being tapu I won't post a pic.

From the whakapapa tree I learnt that I'm not just Maori and Irish.. I'm also from Prague... well close to it... a place called Pilsen in the old Czech Republic. Albeit to say I spent the entire rest of my summer holidays researching the names she'd given me (and my Dad, Uncle, Aunty and little brother Cody for xmas) and inundated my poor grandmother excited emails and Facebook messages about things she already knew about her family... things I would have found out and quicker I might add if I'd just asked her myself. But you know.. research sweeps you up and it gets exciting.. not that I was making any new discoveries. She'd done the hard work. She's our family's tohunga whakapapa (whakapapa expert).
Whakapapa is also a taonga because it's used as evidence to trace kaitiakitanga (protectors) of certain blocks of land from the different tribal rohe. It's used to show the historical relevance during proceedings at the Maori Land Courts.

It's also a taonga because it's one of the main ways to make connections and links with others as I've said before... but this poses a problem with what's called 'waka (boat/canoe etc) jumpers'. Those people who decide they'll just be one from that tribe because they want to be. Or sometimes a connection is made between two who have married and the line becomes slightly distorted.
Part of the reason in our tribe/iwi is because of the Kingitanga line and as a result the line the monarchy is descended through and so it can be hard researching your own history because information is scarce as a result.

So thats a brief overview into whakapapa and whaikorero is tapu and why girls shouldn't do a haka on boats.

In the following posts I will try my best to explain a few more things - again from my own opinion and personal experience.


Haere mai ki nga haerenga korero. Come with me on this journey  :)


Whakatauki o tenei ra - Proverb of the day:

He kākano ahau i ruia mai i Rangiātea

I am a seed which was sewn in the heavens of Rangiatea

A famous proverb from the Aotea waka, which shows the importance of your genealogy and your culture.