Not Māori Enough
Originally published by Massive Magazine - Student magazine for Massey University
I am the product of a Māori mother and a Pākehā father. On my mum’s side of the family, me and my younger brothers are the only cousins that don’t have two Māori parents. We took on the majority of our father’s looks, including the white skin and blue eyes. We also grew up in Southland, arguably the ‘whitest’ part of New Zealand, away from the rest of our Māori family and hugely disconnected from our culture.
Whenever we take family photos, there’s jokes about how me and my brothers ‘don’t even look related’ to the rest of them. And for the most part, it’s true! We stick out like sore thumbs, not just because of our looks but also because of the culture we lacked during our upbringing.
Now to clarify, this is not me looking to complain about my ‘whiteness’. I acknowledge how privileged I am in our racist New Zealand society to be and look Pākehā. My aim is just to debunk the stereotypes around what it means to be considered ‘Māori enough’ (whatever that means).
To be ‘Māori enough’, there are no requirements other than you have the whakapapa Māori. You could be raised completely immersed among all the reo and tikanga you could dream of, or you could grow up knowing a significantly small amount. Both experiences are valid, and both make you Māori enough.
However, while this sounds plausible in theory, the reality is that there are so many stereotypes surrounding the idea of what it means to be considered adequately Māori.
One common stereotype about being Māori enough is that you should have a brown complexion and Māori-looking features, showing that you have a ‘high percentage’ of Māori blood running through your veins. Too often, percentage is used as a measure of Māori-ness. But to quote Jess Thompson Carr a.k.a Māori Mermaid (@maori_mermaid on Instagram): "I’m not a box of RTDs. You have no right to measure me. Stop asking what percentage Māori I am."
Using percentage as a measuring tool when it comes to whakapapa invalidates half-caste Māori and damages self-value one may feel as a Māori. I’ve been asked the percentage question countless times due to my appearance, making me feel like I have to explain myself and my whakapapa in extreme detail just to be considered part of the Māori community. People don’t need to know these quantities. You’re Māori enough just by having Māori whakapapa within you, no matter the proportion.
Another widespread assumption about what it means to be Māori enough is that you should speak the reo. If you know how to speak te reo Māori, this often qualifies you as being ‘Māori enough’ in the eyes of others. But, people usually forget the factors that lie behind learning our reo. My koro got beaten in primary school for speaking his native tongue, traumatizing him and prompting him to not pass on the language to his four daughters, including my mother. That meant my mother never learnt how to speak te reo Māori, discouraged from acquiring it throughout her earlier years, and in turn it wasn’t passed down to me and my brothers either.
Colonisation and assimilation stole the language from the tongues of many Māori, and this generational trauma still impacts young Māori of the 21st century. I know there are an abundance of resources out there, and I have actively tried over the years to try and learn more of my reo. But honestly, I feel so behind some of my other peers who speak the language with much more fluency than me. At times, it makes me upset at not having been taught the language at an earlier stage of my life, although I understand why I wasn’t. Fluency in te reo Māori or not, I’m still Māori enough. I’m just as Māori as my peers, even if it doesn’t feel like it sometimes.
For too long, society has been trying to place Māori people into these boxes of being ‘Māori enough’ or not. This mindset completely disregards the complexities behind Māori identities, especially in the 21st century. We shouldn’t have to measure up to set societal standards about what it means to be Māori, and we shouldn’t be called ‘plastic’ if we don’t reach said standards. Being Māori means different things for all of us who whakapapa Māori, there’s no right or wrong way about it.
Truthfully, I haven’t stepped anywhere near Manawatahi on the Manawatū campus, in fear of not being considered ‘Māori enough’ compared to the rest of my peers. My looks and lack of knowledge about my culture makes me feel inadequate on a daily basis. I’m still unlearning the stigma around what it means to be Māori enough for myself, because of the constant questioning and doubt people have had around my whakapapa my entire life. But, I know I just need to remember that the fact I have Māori whakapapa is more than enough. I’m proud of my culture and heritage on both sides of my family, and I’m so excited for my journey towards learning more about my reo, my tikanga, and my culture.
I want to end this piece on a poem I wrote last year about my disconnection with my Māori culture:
Lost For Words
How I desire to kōrero in the language of my tīpuna.
To express my mahamaha through their reo.
Reo that has been neglected through history.
Reo that Aotearoa almost lost forever.
Reo that my koro was punished for during his days in kura.
Reo that my koro could not bring himself to teach to his tamariki.
Reo that my māmā never learnt.
Reo that I never learnt.
Lack of native tongue builds the highest barrier, between who I am and who I want to be.
White girl in a brown world.
Separated by looks, further separated by absence of knowledge.
Striving to learn my reo.
As my language skills slowly strengthen, my barrier is slowly destroyed.
One day, I will be free.
But, not until the walls are gone.
Until I feel accepted.
Written by Cameron Taylor
Illustration by Tallulah Farrar
Originally published by Massive Magazine