Kia Ora Everyone…
It’s late at night and I’m sitting in the wharekai of our humble, beautiful little marae in the backblocks of Rangitukia (not that I’m sure Rangitukia has frontblocks but anyway)… I’ve been going through scholarship applications with my rural students before they embark on their second year of tertiary study, my Uncles are snoozing discreetly next door (my Aunties are the loudest snorers in our whānau and none of them are in the whare tonight), my cuzzies are sitting out back in the kauta swapping dive stories. They’ve all been working away all day putting a new roof up on the wharenui. It’s a warm night, so all the doors are open. Outside, Hina is full and heavy above the horizon, highlighting each angle and plane of our whenua and bathing everything in an iridescent blue light. Above, Ranginui stretches out, resplendent in his diamond-studded korowai, and again, as always, I look to the stars with an instinctive notion to seek guidance, just as all my ancestors have done before me.
So I’m relaxing in the soft interplay of familiar noises when another one barrels over the top – our old fridge rattles and starts whirring into action – with a force that sounds like it’s trying to create it’s own internal iceage. It only goes for a short while and even though the cacophony stands out – it still sort of fits and in any case it makes me smile. Because, like pretty much everything else in our beautiful whare – it’s humble. Our seating is a mix of pews, wooden dining chairs and aluminium framed plastic chairs – and a broken lazyboy. We have a bunch of donated glassware, our cutlery doesn’t match, the bare wooden floor is unpolished but carries the patina of generations of bustling foottraffic.
Here, come sit with me in the broken (but still comfy) lazyboy and listen to the sounds of our whare kai at midnight (best with headphones).
The cheeky laughter of my cousins outside and distant soft snores of my exhausted Uncles next door are all that is required to feel rich in this space. When I hear those, I look around at the humility of everything else and it all comes together. Like the old knitted jersey that your mum makes you. Like nan’s recipes for simple old school cheese scones. These things have our heart. We make do, and there’s an honour in making do. There’s value in something having a history, in being a part of your history, of playing a role in your life. I don’t just love our whare in spite of these things – they strengthen my feelings and make me smile, GENUINELY smile, and feel thankful for what we have (especially each other), and what we can make do with in order to keep what we have (especially each other).
This is, for me, a really important part of this journey. When I consider what it means, as a Māori, to be Non-Plastic, all of these things are related. I consider the fact that it’s simply not necessary to buy the newest, the flashest, the next model up… Just a generation ago people stitched their socks, they fixed their appliances, and they purchased more locally – they consumed less and interacted more. What does our throwaway culture means in terms of how we view and treat relationships?
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the publishing of “No Ordinary Sun” by Hone Tuwhare, and last night I went to a moving performance piece based on 8 of Tuwhare’s poems. It stirred me, and immersed me in a pool of thought about relationships. Relationships with each other, relationships with the whenua, and even relationships with our material belongings. It is just this most recent generation that has become the “throwaway” generation… and I can’t help but also consider the many states of distance this generation experiences. The distance from our ancestors, the distance from our rights, the distance from our land, the distance from our impact upon the land, and, of course… the distance from each other.
Don’t get me wrong – I don’t abhor any and all technological advancement. Some of it is invaluable in helping us to maintain and strengthen our relationships – some of it can be of great use to help bridge these distances. Of course there are times when we NEED to upgrade. But much of our consumption is for consumption’s sake, and much of our upgrading is for upgrading’s sake. Many of our rights are given away when we become complicit in these systems of high consumption… a perfect example is the personal investment each of us pour into petroleum based plastics, and by that I mean plastic bags, cellphones, polyester clothing, plastic packaged food, and well… pretty much most things plastic. This, of course supports the industry that exploits fossil fuels at the expense of many of our rights (human rights, land rights, and indigenous rights). So while some of these purchases may be necessary – let’s face it, most of them aren’t. But we do it anyway, because we distance ourselves from the impact of our actions upon the environment. And in doing so we’ve distanced ourselves from the environment – and particularly for Tangata Whenua that means we have distanced ourselves from ourselves. By that, I mean, the most authentic version of ourselves.
Io – Universal Spirit, by Liam Barr
“The vibrational song of the earth is reserved for those who are prepared to listen. Here the Tiki figure embraces Papatuanuku as an infant gains comfort from its own mother’s heartbeat. Tuatara act as guardian to the infant and offer guidance and wisdom in the ways of being.”
We are people of the land – the very term “Plastic Māori” from which I derive my moniker is a reflection of the relative value of ‘synthetic’ to ‘natural’ in Te Ao Māori. When we call someone a “Plastic Māori”, “Plastic” takes the position of all that is inauthentic and therefore untrustworthy in this world, in direct conflict to the word “Māori” which relates to all things natural. We are, as Māori, at our most peaceful when we are in nature. Many traditional healers consider plastic vessels inappropriate for natural medicine. There is a resonance in all of these facts, that being: We are our most authentic selves when we are in touch with nature. The further from nature we shift, the less in touch with ourselves we become.
The natural symbiosis of the environment – the interconnectedness and interdependence of Rangi and Papa, of Tāne, of Hine Moana, and all their mokopuna across the spectra of genus and species speaks to us, with every breath, and in every way, of the importance of relationships. A healthy community is a symbiotic community where every member has a contributing role. This is as true for a whānau as it is for an ecosystem – and of course it is a truth that exists with us as an equal contributing member of an ecosystem, one that affects, and is affected by it. As Tangata Whenua, our whakapapa extends beyond our Aunts and Uncles, beyond our Nannies and Koroua and Tīpuna Tangata – it extends to tipua, it extends to Atua, and it extends to rākau, to manu, to pēpeke. It expands beyond our islands and across Te Moana Nui a Kiwa to our Pacific ancestors both beneath and above the waves. It expands celestially at the same time as it stretches forth terrestrially. We hold a space in a multi-dimensional genealogical chart that includes all manner of denizens from the realms of ocean, forest, and sky. We simply cannot hold this space effectively, as Tangata Whenua, and continue to turn our backs on the impacts of our actions that cause harm to our Whānau Taiao. In claiming our rights as Tangata Whenua, we need to understand what this truly means in a balanced sense… and that can be a challenging notion for many of us. Is our “Tangata” balanced with our “Whenua”? Or are we living as TANGATA whenua. These are the notions that I’m exploring and engaging with on my journey. The preciousness of our relationships to each other, to ourselves, and the world around us… and how bolstering one, can strengthen the others.