Ko Tatou Tahi

I wrote a piece at about this time last year that spoke on a great trip that our jade carving group had just taken to Bruce Bay, or ‘Mahitahi’. The occasion was a ‘noho marae’ or marae stay intended to broaden the students’ knowledge of ‘tikanga Maori’ – ‘tikanga’ is a combination of ‘tika’ meaning correct and ‘nga’ meaning many, thus tikanga means the correct way of doing things in the Maori realm. One of the aspects that can be a little fraught in this regard is that tikanga can (and often does) change from one ‘iwi’ (tribe) to another or  even one ‘hapu’ (sub-tribe) to another. I say fraught because there is always the possibility of showing certain disrespect by doing something on a marae that might have been ok on another but isn’t ‘tika’ on this one. These subtle changes are often just simply variations on a theme and it isn’t likely to be seen as being hugely insulting and a cause for pistols at 10 paces, but as in any society it is always better to do things ‘correctly’ and so we have this annual ‘noho marae’ at this beautiful place, Te Tauraka Waka A Maui.

One of the first elements our kaumatua (Maori elder or person of authority, our ‘teacher’) talks to us about is the difference between homonyms ‘law’ and ‘lore’. Much of what we learn with regard to tikanga has to do with lore and what is acceptable practice on and around the marae. Therefore to learn we do, and so to do we visit and stay on the marae.

It is not my purpose in this piece to go into the various elements of marae visits such as the powhiri (that’s the welcome ‘ceremony’ as one arrives at the marae) or the mihimihi (that’s the introductions when everyone shares their ‘whakapapa’ or family links and lineage) the poroporoaki (the farewell ceremony) although I will mention that one of the main outcomes of some of these elements is the shifting of the status of the ‘manuhiri’ or the visitors (that’s us) from tapu or sacred, forbidden, apart or separate from to noa or no longer tapu.

What I am going to concentrate on rather more is how little effect the best intentions of lessons, lectures or advice given sometimes have.

We are a pretty diverse little group in the carving course with a range of ages from 20-odd to 68, with singles, in relationships, out of relationships, marrieds, solo parents, women and men (and maybe even ‘can’t make up my minds’?) and a nice little variety of nationalities but for the purpose of the noho marae  each of us is simply but one member of an homogeneous whole, hence the title, ‘Ko Tatau Tahi’, we are one together.

For the ‘uninitiated’ a noho marae is a fairly communal experience from the first meal together (prepared by the hosts), through normal kitchen duties of meal preparation and clean-up, sleeping together in the ‘whare nui’ (the ‘large’ house or more correctly meeting house) to the final tidy up of everything prior to taking one’s leave. It isn’t unusual for large parties to organise groups and a timetabled roster but as weren’t a large group we figured that everyone would simply lend a hand where they saw a need- food preparation, cooking, serving, washing dishes, setting out refreshments, and setting and clearing tables (and any other tasks that might need to be done.)

I was hugely disappointed therefore that there were some of our ‘team’ who barely did anything to help out until the last day when groups were organised for the three main clean-up tasks and they had to help out, that of kitchen/dining room, ablutions facilities and whare nui. Those I am thinking of always seemed to find important conversations to be involved in, riveting books to read or walks to be taken when there were preparation or clean-up duties to be completed. We all know- (no, obviously not all!) that a burden shared is a burden halved and a burden undertaken by a larger number lessened significantly as a burden. It is equally obvious that a burden not shared remains a burden.

There is a standard practice on a marae that at ‘kai’ time (meals) the order for diners to be served is children first, women second and then men. (Of course if there are any other classes then it’s their turn!) I found it interesting that in the absence of such order of serving the same people who prefer not to help with communal duties do prefer to be at the head of the queue for meals! Funny that, eh!

So there we have it, my little grizzle. Be that as it may I am sure that most who read this will be of a similar view to mine because that is what ‘tikanga’ is all about, what ‘lore’ is all about, what acceptable behaviour is all about and that if some people believe they are above such mundane considerations, for whatever reasons then they have ‘missed the bus’. It is so easy to practice ‘tikanga’, whether it is tikanga Maori or tikanga pakeha, and to not do so I believe undervalues all concerned.

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