the balance of opposites, part four: being Māori and Pākeha


Being the colonised and the coloniser. The oppressed and the oppressor - I think you get the picture. To set the scene and if you didn’t know already, I have the privilege of descending from various whakapapa (genealogical lines) from around the world. My dad has Māori whakapapa (ancestry) and my mum has Pākeha whakapapa (NZ European, traced back to Scottish, English and some others too).

I’ll be honest, I know more about my Māori tupuna (ancestors) than my Scottish and English ones* - probably due to the fact that before I was even born (thanks to my parents and others from that generation who fought to establish Kohanga Reo and Kura Kaupapa) and ever since then, Māori whakapapa has been recited, reinforced and ingrained into the foundations of our identity and connection to people and place - through song, karakia, pūrākau (stories/legends), art forms (tāmoko, whakairo, performing arts etc.) and more. Not only that, but all of those mediums serve as a blueprint for how to live well, how to live ‘holistically’ for want of a better word… However,

they weren’t without their flaws.

They fought, yes. They warred with each other, yes. There were cases of cannibalism in some areas, apparently.° They killed the moa, yes - because how were they to know this giant bird they’d just come into contact with only reproduced a single egg ONCE EVERY FOUR YEARS, but anyway... I made a video about this topic earlier in the year and have since had some time to reflect on it, as you do, in hindsight. Here’s a few whakaaro (ideas) you may already know but that I’d like to clarify:

Māori weren’t one people, instead multiple tribes who described themselves as native, natural and of the land, i.e. “māori” when asked who they were by Cook and his men. So pre-European arrival, fighting to extend or maintain tribal boundaries for survival, authority, utu (retribution) or otherwise could be expected - I’m not condoning it, just painting a picture for ya. Ok?

The thing is, we acknowledge this. We acknowledge that fighting, war and dysfunction happened amongst out people, not only that - it’s part of our pūrākau and creation story! Double not only that, fighting wasn’t our norm as it has so carelessly been adopted and reinforced by material such as ‘Once Were Warriors’ by Allan Duff and other accounts by people who’d never been to Aotearoa, who reported to their homeland that we were a savage warrior race.

We were fierce in combat - yes, but can you even comprehend how intelligent and advanced our science was

to understand chemical interactions that took place in the body when engaging with the environment, 1000s of years ago? You might know it today as the major discoveries recently made by Western science, which include but are not limited to: grounding, earthing and forest bathing. I mean, can you even wrap your head around the science and lifestyle they must have had to circumnavigate oceans, traverse new lands, retain and recall intricate details about plants, stars, winds, currents, whakapapa and everything else straight from memory, BECAUSE WHAT USE WAS THE WRITTEN LANGUAGE WHEN YOU COULD STORE IT ALL IN YOUR HEAD?!

The last thing I’ll say about pre-European fighting amongst iwi (tribes), was what came after that - the balance of opposites between Tūmātauenga (atua of war) and Rongo (atua of peace, cultivation). After inter-tribal war, there was time to conduct the necessary processes to mourn, to regroup and regather, to whakanoa and lift the tapu (sacredness) of death and war, to heal.

Since my Pākeha tupuna arrived, even though it wasn’t them directly (they came later on, but still) - Pākeha took land, gave disease, took the language, established an oppressive system stacked against Māori (nope, the system isn’t broken. it’s doing exactly what it was designed to do) and continue to benefit from the privilege that system allows for, and have contributed to cultural genocide of my Māori tupuna and whakapapa.

Oh, I mean they civilised us.

The oppression against Māori has been going on got over 200 years^, it’s been constant and it’s everywhere at every level. But when have we or do we have the time to whakanoa? To go through the processes we need to, to regather, cleanse, to heal? Yup you guessed it, we haven't and straight off the bat, it’s pretty difficult to do that when you’ve got people denying that discrimination, oppression or anything of the like even exists -.- when people suggest we should leave that in the past and move on, or even those who bring up any of the arguments I’ve addressed above.

It’s part of our history, as Māori and as New Zealanders. It doesn’t define us, but it’s contributed to who we are today and where we are as individuals, as our iwi (tribes) and as a nation. But it’s happened and we can’t change the past - but we can and we must take responsibility for how we move forward and what behaviours and systems we pass on to the next generation. To change anything, you must first become aware of it, acknowledge it needs changing, analyse and understand how and why it’s happened in the first place and make changes accordingly.

Understanding that whakapapa (process) and the effect its had on us is imperative to growth and to abolishing the current system and creating an entirely new one.

“Until all of us are free, none of us are free”

and as Māori and Pākeha, as the coloniser and colonised in the same person: I, like many others are living proof that a balance of opposites is possible.

Kei aku rahi, tēnā kotou,


*a focus for me in 2019, moving forward is to trace and learn my Pākeha whakapapa and I’m so excited.

°I’d like to note, wasn’t a daily practice but part of a ritual or ceremony and wasn’t the common occurrence as it’s used in defensive dialogues that come with this topic.

^a blink compared to how long other Indigenous People’s around the world have been oppressed.

- last note, as I mentioned in the video, it’s easy to show my pride in being Māori because it’s the minority. I’m proud to be Māori and I’m proud to be Pākeha. Regardless of the history, regardless of the current state of affairs in Aotearoa - because I wouldn’t be here today without either of those whakapapa lines. I acknowledge their separate and shared histories and do my best to affect positive change with the gifts I’ve inherited from all of my tupuna. I’m on a journey to learn more about the Pākeha ancestry that contributes to me being here and look forward to learning about the stories, philosophies, knowledge systems, worldview and culture my Pākeha tupuna had/have.

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