Three years before this journey began, a friend of mine in Australia gave me a CD. He said, ”You will like this, cause you are Māori!”. What does that even mean, to be Maori? I have no reference for the culture or understand the customs because I grew up with a pākeha family in Australia. I have no grid for being Maori, I am just me. There must be something in my DNA, nature rather than nurture, if I have any Māori sensibilities.
The album, ‘Karakia’ by Cindy Ruakere, is a beautiful compilation of instrumental sounds, prophetic worship and Māori phrases. It moved me on such a deep level, I played it over and over in my studio while I was painting, for at least a year non-stop. There was something in the sound that resonated with me so deeply. There was something in the sound of the language that awoken something within me. I wanted to meet this amazing woman, so I asked Alison if she knew Cindy, she lived in Christchurch. But no, to my surprise, she didn’t, then I asked Treena, and yes, she knew Cindy. I am starting to see an incredible connection that surpasses logic.
Treena and I met with Cindy and had an amazing conversation about family, heritage and the purpose of God. I just had to tell her that the sound of her album called me home, I had to let her know how deep the impact this album has been on my life and I shared with her the journey I was on discovering my true identity. Of course, now that we were friends, I followed Cindy’s Facebook posts and saw something about a Hui. What the heck is a hui? So I messaged Cindy, ‘I don’t want to sound stupid, but please help out an uneducated sister, what the heck is a hui?’ Remember, I have absolutely no grid for Māori culture. Cindy was very gracious and explained to me that a hui is a meeting, and this one was a Christian gathering on the Owae Marae, Waitara. This one was important and would be great for my cultural enquiry, so she invited us to attend.
Dean, Treena and I, filled up the car and headed to the Taranaki region. None of us had stayed on a marae before, apparently everyone sleeps on mattresses in the one big room. There are strict protocols for the first visit to a marae, although once you go through the ceremonial greeting and have been welcomed, you can return anytime as family. We arrived at the designated meeting place, way too early, we were all rather nervous and we wanted to make sure we wouldn’t be late. Everyone gathered in the car park, as we must enter the marae as one group. We are invited and someone must answer the call with a response.
The Karanga (call out, summon) is an element of Maori cultural protocol. It is an exchange of calls that forms part of the powhiri, a Māori welcoming ceremony. It takes place as a visiting group moves onto the marae or into the formal meeting area. What a beautiful and moving experience. We were welcomed onto the marae through this passionate sound of welcome by these beautiful Māori women and then experienced the hongi (a traditional Māori greeting done by pressing one's nose and forehead (at the same time) to another person at an encounter (Wikipedia). The official greetings were in Te Reo Māori and then loosely translated and after all the official proceedings were done, there was time to connect with people and get out the mattresses!
The hui went from Friday night to Sunday afternoon and it deeply impacted me. I was so moved by the sound of the language and the sense of belonging. I have never experienced such a feeling of community. The speakers discussed the history and story of New Zealand, their passion for the reconciliation of Pākehā and Māori and the hope they have for God’s mission in Aotearoa. Friendships were forged and lives were transformed. I will be forever changed by this experience and it has left me with a deep longing to know and understand my culture. This where I met Helen…