From whenua to whenua: Displacement of Māori in urban environments.

By Hayley White

Reading time: 16 minutes

It is pretty well known that Māori identity is tied to their whenua (land). Their whakapapa (lineage) is a direct link to both their tīpuna (ancestors, grandparents) and their whenua. To Māori, they do not just own their land. Their land is papatūānuku, the Earth Mother that sustains all life and gives birth to all things. Their land is important because it is the centre of their culture and spirituality, and integral to their mana whenua (their authority over a region). What does it mean for the Māori culture to have such a massive shift from rural life on their whenua to our current, urban environment?

Colonisation was largely responsible for the Māori shift from rural to urban lifestyles. As Māori assimilated into society and white settlers grew their settlements, it was only a matter of time before Māori also felt the need to shift into these growing cities. The move from their whenua into urban environments was a massive and yet gradual shift that started in the 1920s.

By Hayley White

Reading time: 16 minutes

It is pretty well known that Māori identity is tied to their whenua (land). Their whakapapa (lineage) is a direct link to both their tīpuna (ancestors, grandparents) and their whenua. To Māori, they do not just own their land. Their land is papatūānuku, the Earth Mother that sustains all life and gives birth to all things. Their land is important because it is the centre of their culture and spirituality, and integral to their mana whenua (their authority over a region). What does it mean for the Māori culture to have such a massive shift from rural life on their whenua to our current, urban environment?

Colonisation was largely responsible for the Māori shift from rural to urban lifestyles. As Māori assimilated into society and white settlers grew their settlements, it was only a matter of time before Māori also felt the need to shift into these growing cities. The move from their whenua into urban environments was a massive and yet gradual shift that started in the 1920s.

Māori increasingly moved off their whenua, with over half living in cities by the mid 1960s. They had almost completely left by the 1990s, with a reported 80 percent of Māori living in urban areas. This meant that the traditional Māori societies – tight-knit communities that once used to be based around whanau (family), hapū(tribe), and papakainga (homes on ancestral land) – were dislocated and displaced. Māori migrated into urban areas to find what Walker (1990, as cited in Te Kehukehu Mato, 2011) described as “the big three – money, work, and pleasure” (p. 198).

Although locked away from their families who still lived on the whenua, city life offered adventure and financial stability to the Māori who made the move (Meredith, 2006, as cited in Te Kehukehu Mato, 2011).

We now have entire generations of Māori people who struggle with their culture as a result of this mass move to urbanised communities.

Sonia

Ko Parekohe te māunga,
Parekohe is my mountain,

Ko Ōhinemataroa te awa,
Ōhinemataroa is my river,

Ko Mātaatua te waka,
Mātaatua is my waka,

Ko Waikerikeri te marae,
Waikerikeri is my marae,

Ko Tūhoe te iwi,
Tūhoe is my tribe,

Ko Sonia Brodrick ahau.
I am Sonia Brodrick.


Sonia Brodrick has lived in Auckland her entire life. Born and raised in Papakura, she did not have a lot to do with her culture until around year 10, when her pop died and her parents both started researching their family lines.

“I’m Māori on both sides,” she tells me. “On my dad’s side, I go back to Whakatane, so I am Tūhoe. For my mum’s side, I go back to Ngāpuhi, that’s on my mum’s, nan’s side.”

For Sonia, her immediate surroundings and sense of place is in Auckland. Even though she knows the basics of her culture, she says that the displacement from her whenua and her marae, and losing that immersion in the culture, is the biggest reason why she considers herself to be an ‘urban Māori’.

“Because my immediate surroundings and my sense of place is in Auckland, and it’s not attached to any of my two tūpuna or any of my family, I know the basics about myself, but I’m not immersed in my culture,” she says.

“It could vary with different people and I’m aware of some things, but I’m not around people who speak my language. I’m not around people who do a lot of the old traditional stuff – kapa haka – none of that.” She says it’s a point of frustration because the hardest part of trying to rediscover her culture, is doing it in a place that she feels doesn’t allow her to really immerse herself in it.

“I feel like it’s an iffy term to say I’m ‘urban Māori’, ‘cause what the hell does it actually mean to be urban Māori? I guess I’m still trying to figure out where I am in these things,” says Sonia. “I know my culture, but do I think I invest enough time into learning who I am? Definitely not. Do I know people who can teach me how to be more into my culture? Yeah, I could probably find them but how do I incorporate that into my place here?”

And that’s probably the biggest question anyone going through the same journey would ask: How do you even go about rediscovering your culture and who you really are, in a place that does not help you do so? It differs with every person, of course.

For Sonia, that quest looks like re-learning the language. “I wanna be fluent but I understand that I have a long way to go, and I need to understand more of the basics before I try and jump into learning a whole new language which, at my age, is quite difficult,” she says to me.

“So it’s just small things – like trying to incorporate little words into my korero. I’ll be talking to my cousin, and I’ll slip in words here and there. That’s my goal. I wanna start learning so I can strengthen my sense of place, I wanna know who I am.”

Aquitania

Ko Kauwheheihei te māunga,
Kauwheheihei is my mountain,

Ko Tukituki te awa me ko Te Roto a Tara te wai,
Tukituki and Te Roto a Tara are my rivers,

Ko nga uri o te Kurahaupo te waka,
I am a descendant of the Kurahaupo waka,

Ko Ngai Tapuhara te hapu,
Ngai Tapuhara are my people,

Ko Ngati Te Whatuiapiti te iwi,
Te Whatuiapiti is my tribe,

Ko David Tukoara KauKau toku koroua,
My Grandfather is David Tukoara KauKau,

Ko Louise nee Popata toku Nana, No Ngati Kahu te iwi,
Louise nee Popata originally of the far north tribe,

Ko Kauri-Lee toku Mama,
My Mum is Kauri-Lee,

Ko Aquitania KauKau ahau.
I am Aquitania KauKau.

Aquitania Kaukau has moved between Auckland, Napier, and Dannevirke in her 21 years. Born in Dannevirke, she currently lives in Manurewa, Auckland. When she reached year 5, she moved to Napier to a town called Clive. She tells me that she spent the rest of her childhood shifting between Palmerston North, Hawkes Bay, and Auckland, adding that she spent so much time with her cousin’s family in Hawkes Bay that she can claim her whakapapa back to Ngāti Kahungunu although she does also whakapapa back to Ahipara, near Kaitaia up North, on her mum’s side.

For the first eight years of her schooling, Aquitania tells me that she spent those years strictly immersed in Māori. She first went to a Kōhanga on Alfriston Road, and then to Te Akura Akonga in Manurewa. Then, when she went down to live in the Hawkes Bay, and was put into her first public school, she struggled.

“I only knew how to speak in Māori,” she says. “I didn’t know any English so when I went to a public school, especially an English-speaking school, I found it really hard to learn, write, and read, so I was pushed back.” She remembers she would get into an argument with her teacher whenever she was ‘taught’ Māori.

“Coming from a Māori school she’s trying to tell me how to speak and write Māori and I’m looking at her, like you’re teaching it wrong, this is not right, this is not how, this is not Māori,” Aquitania laughs.

“It was all Pākehā-fied. No offence, but it was made simple so white people could understand and actually learn it.” Once Aquitania started to attend public schools, she also started slipping through the cracks. There were a handful of teachers who were kind to her, but more often than not she was put in the dumb classes and struggled to learn.

“Then we went to Saint Joseph’s,” Aquitania says. “St Joseph’s was where my learning got a lot better ‘cause it was a boarding school and they focused on every student, not just the ones who they knew could succeed, and they made sure that Māori was compulsory.”

When I asked her if she ever reconnected with her culture after leaving her kōhanga and being put in public schools, she gives a roundabout answer. She tells me that she spent a lot of time with her cousin’s parents, especially her daddy Whare, who raised her with the culture – but it was limited.

“When you think about it, my mum’s parents and their generation had [Te Reo and Māori culture] beaten out of them. They weren’t allowed to speak it, they weren’t allowed to embrace their culture, so it got lost through their generation,” she says. This is not an uncommon history. Every Māori family has a story of horrific violence at the hands of English settlers. It resulted in the loss of so much culture that many iwi and hapū have never rediscovered.

Through family efforts, Aquitania’s family has retrieved some of their culture, but she says that it is not as present in her life as she would like it to be. “As I’ve gotten older, it’s kind of just faded out, but I still know where I come from and what it was like for my people and stuff like that, but it’s not as big anymore these days.”

As for whether or not she considers herself an ‘urban Māori’, she says yes – but also no. “Being from a family like mine, I can’t say that I am urban because staying true to our culture is something my family has always put into us – to know our culture and to always stay connected to it,” she expresses.

“But then I can say I am urban because I don’t go home very often. It’s very rare that I return to the place I’m from and it actually really upsets me that I can’t get down there. That one’s a bit tricky for me just ‘cause of where I live now but also my background.”

As for whether they think the Māori culture can survive in urban environments and big cities, both Sonia and Aquitania have their doubts. There are countless resources that Māori have access to in the city, especially Te Reo classes, but both women express that there is either no space for Māori to even attempt to re-learn their culture, or they feel as though no one wants them to learn.

Sonia says that urbanisation creates an amazing space for various cultures and ethnic groups to co-exist, but it leaves little to no space for Māori. “I feel like if I was growing up in a place that spoke Te Reo constantly; encouraged learning; that you needed to know this in order to be a part of the community, then I feel I would understand it. But because we live in a place with so many different cultures and it’s not like you need to learn this, I definitely would say it does discourage,” she ardently tells me.

On the other hand, Aquitania believes that it is not so much that there is no room for the culture, but rather that it is suppressed and not given the space. She says that no amount of classes will make up for what can be passed down from whanau.

“I feel that they’ve just kicked it out and don’t want it to be a part of New Zealand’s culture anymore. It’s not gonna survive if you only do it through courses; it needs to be taught through your families as well,” she says to me, impassioned. “You need more people to be able to pass it down through generations. If you can’t do that then it’s not gonna survive as an urban Māori culture.”


A word from Aquitania and her family:

He mihi tenei ki a BiograView, mo te kaupapa o tenei mahi,
he mahi tahi tenei kia tatou katoa,
ka mihi tenei ki toku hoa a Hayley White me o tou mahi hoki,
Ka mihi nui kia tatou katoa

I would like to acknowledge BiograView and my dear friend Hayley White for their work.
May we work together as one to bring the importance of this kaupapa forward.
Many thanks to all of you.

 

Sources: 1. The challenge of urban Maori: Reconciling conceptions of indigeneity and social change. Asia Pacific Viewpoint 2. Inter-iwi sport can strengthen cultural identity for urban Māori, Master’s thesis, Auckland University of Technology

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