It took a great deal of difficulty and guts to write this, especially when relations aren’t rosy. But this is still part of my story, and I will write this in Remembrance of my mother. For she raised me to be one mighty little Māori.
When greeting one another, or even meeting a foreigner, it is traditional for Māori to give their pepeha. It tells their story of the places and people they are connected to, for we are a people whom are very connected to Mother Earth, and all the nature it has to offer.
Traditional components are your mountain, river, canoe, tribe, and name, with other fancy additions like your sub-tribe, meeting house and ancestor names being added to make an extra long introduction. I would give you all mine, but when you descend from 4 tribes and and 1 sub-tribe, I think I already belong to 10 mountains- it’ll be very repetitive!
My maternal grandfather Christopher, was born in 1956 to Ngatihaua and Agnes Murray, one of the younger sons out of 8 children. He was born in the farming community of Hunterville, in the central region of New Zealand’s North Island. This is many miles away from his mother and father’s traditional Ngapuhi and Te Rarawa tribal lands, located in the Far North of New Zealand, which the government classifies as Northland. It is famous for a large number of Dalmatian immigrants who brought the concept of smoked sausages and Rakija to the local predominantly Maori population.
Whilst his parents adored the isolation and very rural life in the largely cut off from society Northland, they decided to try their luck in the Manawatu-Wanganui region, where the soil was fertile, sheep aplenty and they weren’t so far away from National Capital Wellington
My maternal grandmother Shirley was born in 1958 to Alexander and Ada Tatana, one of 14 children. The final number of children my great-grandparents had has been debated, as a few were adopted out. But 14 is the number I remember my mother giving me.
My grandmother was born in Levin, a North Island town that sits on her mother’s Muaupoko tribal lands. Her father was Ngati Raukawa, a tribe which shares a messy, bloody history with their Muaupoko counterparts. She and her siblings were raised in Waiouru, a military town that hosts one of the country’s largest army bases where it was quite common to close the national highway and allow soldiers to do military exercises on the road. You wouldn’t want to get caught there in live fire!
My grandparents would meet in their high school days, as my grandfather and grandmother’s brothers attended the same high school known as Hato Paora (St Paul’s) College, an all-boys Māori school. Friendships would be struck, and a new relationship was born. They were soon married, my grandfather rocking an Afro that all his brothers at the time seemed to have, and my grandmother having a perm haircut. My mother would be born in 1979, and her sister Onour would follow in 1986
The Māori identity was always established from an early age, even when colonialism impacted their family tree like every other Māori family. Scottish, Irish, English, Spanish, American and Croatian has all been uncovered in my family research, and I think all those other European genetics found their way into the bloodstream of our Māori Toto (blood) in many different ways. Pride in the Māori culture was not as important in the household, compared to many Māori families of the time or even my childhood. My mother and sister would eventually learn their culture in a school (educational) setting.
My mother often remembered her childhood as being a major cog that helped her on the way to becoming the amazing woman she was. For the customs and culture of the Māori would eventually rub off on her husband and then her children. Even when conditions are difficult, I acknowledge the role my mother’s parents had in raising her until she made that decision to find new life in Australia.
Just like the legend of Hineahuone, who was the first woman on Earth to have life literally breathed into her, I will describe my mother’s future with the phrase Tihei Mauri Ora- The Sneeze of Life, to describe the new life she had once she left Kiwi shores