Take a course in another language and you will soon be introduced to simple one to one mappings – kia ora, haere rā, tēnā koutou, ka kite.
But open the Williams dictionary and you’ll soon see that this language looks at the world very differently.
I still know very little, but some individual words carry extraordinary weight and learning them alone is taking a step outside yourself. The words I mulled over at Ihumatao were manaaki, kaupapa and tīpuna.
Tīpuna means ancestor, but ancestor in Maori tipuna resonates inside a more indigenous sense of time. Hape, the club-footed brother who rode to Ihumatao on a magical stingray is tipuna, as is a dead auntie, as is yourself when you think, as you must, seven generations into the future. Tīpuna is both mission and duty.
Manaaki is hospitality and that too reaches far beyond the one for one. Manaaki is the duty of care that speaks to the disappointment that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is yet to come on the atea at Ihumātao. The duty of care, the sense that manuhiri must be honoured and korero must be heard is more. Yes, we have unresolved issues, and so we have prepared a place for you that we may begin by sharing who we are.
The word at Parihaka was whakamā.
Whakamā is shame. The meaning of that word is also more expansive than the Engish counterpart. Whakamā may apply to either side, it is a kind of lessening. Rachel Buchanan, in the recent book Ko Taranaki Te Maunga, suggests that some Taranaki speakers took it even further, finding somehow a place in the word for some redemption.
I’m just starting to learn these things and rather than veer wildly out of my lane I’ll just tell you briefly of some books. Of course, Rachel Buchanan’s is essential reading for someone wanting to start this journey. Any discussion of indigenous experience also leads me back to Steve Coll’s ‘Private Empire’ – a long piece on Exxon Mobil. Read together the two books construct a three-dimensional model with colonisation on one axis and extraction on the other.
When I arrived in Taranaki I visited the excellent Poppys bookstore in New Plymouth where Reni Eddo-Lodge’s ‘Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race‘ was that month’s staff recommendation. This echoed much of the exasperation I’d seen from Maori when trying to address the newcomers to environmental activism. She says:
The perverse thing about our current racial structure is that it has always fallen on the shoulders of those at the bottom to change it. Yet racism is a white problem. It reveals the anxieties and double standards of whiteness. it is a problem in the psyche of whiteness that white people must take the responsibility to solve. You can only do so much from the outside.
Back in Wellington, someone at a cafe started a conversation about the book and we traded – I then read Ta-Nehisi Coates ‘Between the world and me‘ – a long letter to his son. He speaks of ‘people who think that they are white’. And this cuts directly to the problem. This arbitrary difference created a world where some people are brutalised from the foundations of our civilisation all the way up.
Parihaka is both a beacon and a warning. This is what the project of empire does, here is what is lost and, just as Reni Eddo-Lodge said, here is the burden of changing it, carried two days each month for over 150 years.
I spent one day at Parihaka and got talking to Howie Harris. The talk is expansive and personal and it takes many directions. As with many of these talks, the second, third and fourth listens unpacked more and more things to me.