I am Maori. What does this even mean?


I am Maori.  What that even means, I’m not entirely sure.  And I think it’s only because I was whangai (adopted) why I have never really been certain about what being a Maori is all about.

It is a common Maori practice for children to be brought up by various members of the family besides mum and dad.  The policy was it takes a community to raise a child, and this is evident in a lot of Maori families, even today.  I personally know of quite few people who were brought up with their grandparents. Otherwise aunties, uncles and even sisters bore the responsibility of raising ilk too.  Me.  I was put through the system, and this is how I ended up with my whangai family.  An unfortunate incident saw me placed into welfare after I ended up in hospital.  My whangai mum and dad cycled a fair bit of us out of the system, and living with kids from all walks of life was the norm for me.

I guess this is why I don’t feel as in touch with who I am as I should.  Being adopted does this to anybody, I think.  Each circumstances are different, and all I can confirm is that the way I was brought up didn’t really stand me in good stead for when it came to mixing and mingling with my own people.   Which is odd, because from childhood, right up to when my mother got the boot from her Ringatu faith (I would have been 13 or fourteen at the time) my mother was hardcore into the Maori culture and fully immersed in the traditions of her iwi (tribe).  I was always there with her, and so was immersed in it too.

She was brought up in the true Maori world, 0f the 1930’s – 40’s, where Maori and Pakeha were still learning to co-exist with each other.  During my young days, I remember spending more time at the Marae (a meeting house) being surrounded by kuia (eldery women) in black than I did anywhere else.  My mother spoke the Maori language fluently.  The elders could speak to us in our basic native tongue, and we could understand what they were saying.  During worship, us kids were taught to memorize Maori Karakia (prayers), and then stand up and recite them in front of everybody in the Marae.  Tapu (sacred practices) were something we were always and forever reminded of.  Take your shoes off when you go into someone’s house.  If you’ve got your monthly, no going into the cemetery.   No walking upon the graves of the deceased, and no sitting on the table.  Basic things like that.

I suppose when I look back on it, you could say I was brought up within the true Maori world, too.  To an extent, that is.  Yet, none of this has clarified anything for me in terms of where I stand, in terms of being Maori.  Over the years, I slowly lost what basic language I knew when I was a kid, and I lost sight of all that my mother had taught me when growing up with the Ringatu faith.  Mum and dad divorced.  Then the Ringatu church turned their backs on my mother when she started experimenting with some spiritual path that the Indians in the Himalayan’s practiced.  That was the last faith she religiously practiced, right up to the day she died.

Things are not like how they use to be.  Maybe we’ve been urbanized.  Maybe we’ve crossed over into the white man’s land and have learnt to accept it.  Our culture has one basic core principle that stands today, as it did many, many years ago, when the Maori first set foot in Aotearoa (NZ).  It is all about ‘tangata whenua’ which is basically saying that it’s all about the people of the land.  Now this, I truly believe. And not just in our culture, but for any culture.  People should come first above anything else, yet the reality is, people come last – after money, power and greed, that is.

I know a lot of our people who announce, loudly and with all the staunchness that can somewhat be our trademark, that they are proud to be Maori.  Ta Moko (traditional maori tattoo) are rampant, especially here in Australia, where Maori are more likely to represent their culture in the form of tattoos than they are in their principles and their behaviors.  And that’s all good and well.  But sometimes I believe this pride can be a bit overboard, because half the time, it is pride without any justifiable means to back it up.  I am not pointing at every single person in our culture, but it seems to be becoming more evident and more forthright as time goes by.  Ego and pride are fast becoming dominant traits in our culture.  Scroll any Maori page on Facebook, read any article written by a Maori, and you’ll see that ego flying proudly like the NZ flag in the wind.  Ego and pride.  It’s not the one.  Its not what we are about, is it?  Not only is it a gross misrepresentation of our people, but it also makes us look like a bunch of savages.  Maybe that Maori blood is more feisty than I thought it was, aye?

This is why I find it hard to relate to my people sometimes.  Ego and pride. In general,  I cannot STAND these two ‘traits’.  In anything, and in anybody, even in myself.  They are the shadows that dwell in any culture, and its whats keeping NZ in the state it is in now, what with John Key wanting to change the flag and selling off our assets like nobody’s business.  Which is an entirely different story for somebody else to rant about.

While there are so many out there who represent us and our culture in a beautiful way, the majority that feel the need to do the exact opposite is quite staggering to be honest.  I, for one, have found myself distancing myself from the chaos because, from where I’m standing, our people are getting lost somewhere in the fracas, and they are not even realizing this.   The more I pull back and look at things, the more I realize that times have changed.  Dramatically.  And I’d even go so far as to say not in a great way.

Maybe it’s all in my head, but when I mix with my own people, whanau (family) and friends, I always get the feeling that I’m not as ‘Maori’ as I should be.  I don’t indulge in the slang, I don’t have that ‘staunchness, and the ways of our Maori people as they are TODAY seem lost on me.   I think it’s got more to do with my own disconnection, though.  From my ancestors, and from not knowing where I’m from.

I am Maori.  So what does this mean?  Well, after this rant which I’m not even sure makes sense, I still don’t know.  But I’m on it.  I have alot to learn, and alot to research.  Thirty five years old, and finally a thirst to find out more about my genealogy and blood lines.  Maybe if I go back, and look deep into my heritage – the heritage of my biological parents – I might be able to go forward, head high, and truly be able to state just what it means to be Maori.