One of my lecturers told us that “the personal is the political”. She meant it in a feminist context—the paper was about women writers throughout the 20th century who questioned or challenged the patriarchy through their writing—but the statement has stuck with me since she said it, particularly as a wahine Māori.
So, that said: ko wai au? Who am I?
The story of how I got here is rather long, but here’s the abridged version: I grew up Māori-South-African, the eldest daughter of a Māori father and a coloured mother. (As a side note: “coloured” is a term we use for a culture and racial group in SA, comprised of people whose heritages include Cape Malay, Dutch, and indigenous Southern African roots). I was born in Aotearoa, lived here until I was nine, then made my way to South Africa and lived there until I was eighteen. I’ve been back in Aotearoa for about five years now, and only recently started my own journey through Te Ao Māori.
My grandfather on my mother’s side was the first to receive a degree in my māmā’s whānau—his Honours degree was funded by the African National Congress, the party that former president Nelson Mandela would eventually become famous for leading, when people of colour were barred from accessing higher education in South Africa because of apartheid. My pāpā was born in Invercargill, and became the first in his whānau to attain not only a tertiary education, but a postgraduate degree; he told me, “I went because I got bored of being on the farm. I knew I could do it, so I did. That’s it.”
These threads of politics, although not always deliberate, have weaved their way through my whānau tapestry to create the blueprint of who I am today. That is, a wahine who is privileged to attend university, with at least two generations of university graduates who awhi me, with an education from various avenues that has allowed me to stand in this place as a Kaiwāwāhī Tōrangapū / Politics Editor for Te Pararē.
In our current climate, I find it’s important to be aware of the way politics shapes Te Ao Māori. There are so many political systems that have been put in place to deter Māori from entering into this sphere, and not everybody is aware of or even wants to engage in those ideas, let alone decolonise those systems. Kei te pai, whānau—you don’t need to feel the pressure to spring into action if you feel unready. My mahi revolves around spreading awareness and educating rangatahi, not forcing action.
Sometimes we Māori are outright, bold, and proud to stand in places where we affect systems of inequity, and sometimes we are whakamā, unsure, and intimidated. To be honest, I’m more of the latter, but as I continue my journey I hope to be more of the former. I joined Te Pararē because I wanted to overcome the “shrinking violet” mindset that I had learned throughout my childhood and teen years. What better way than to use our voices, one of the most powerful gifts granted to us by our atua?
I may not sound Māori, I may not know as much as my peers, and I may not have figured out my tūrangawaewae just yet, but here at Te Pararē we all share the same aroha for our kaupapa, and we all tautoko each other and our readers no matter where they are in their journeys. For the time being, welcome to Te Pararē, and I hope we have the honour of reading your words when you are ready to share them.
Te Pararē Kaiwāwāhī Tōrangapū