The more I learn about indigenous cultures (from AU and NZ) the more I admire and appreciate the nuance and importance a single indigenous word can contain. It’s almost as if the English language is far too serious and uptight to produce words that have such poetic meanings. I often think about this when I spend time in the wilderness with my family. For someone who talks a lot I find myself lost for words when describing the feelings that are evoked when I’m immersed in nature.

You know that feeling when you stand on top of a mountain and look across the land to the horizon, or when you stand on a beach and watch the waves crash onto the shore, over and over again. You see the earth breathing. I love the overwhelming feeling of insignificance that happens here. A feeling that I’m just a dot in a much larger painting. This feeling is also accompanied by a sense of privilege and awe that I happened to be here, at this exact moment in time to experience nature in all its glory. I’m lucky that I have so many moments like this in my life. 

This weekend just passed we took the kids to Steiglitz Historic Park which is an ‘almost ghost town’ that was mined for gold around 1840. It’s in the Brisbane Ranges National Park which is about 90 km from Melbourne. Prior to European settlement the Kurong people from the Wathaurong Aboriginal group had lived in the area for around 40,000 years. 

40,000 years. Isn’t that extraordinary. The walking track takes you alongside the creek that meanders throughout the landscape and the kids, who often have trouble sticking to the path, ended up taking us off the beaten path and we walked along the creek's edge. After half a kilometre we had passed so many bends that it felt like we were completely alone. This is when words fail me. Something far more powerful and meaningful than us was radiating from the rocks and bubbling up from the creek. 

Tūrangawaewae is the sense of identity and independence associated with having a particular home base. ‘Tūranga’ means ‘stand’ or ‘position’ and ‘waewae’ means ‘leg’ or ‘foot’ so it quite literally means, the place where you stand. Your tūrangawaewae is where you feel strongest and most connected to the land and its people. It doesn’t necessarily need to be one place in particular, especially given that so many indigenous people leave their ancestral homelands. 

As a Pākehā, I was born in Canterbury in the South Island of NZ where all my extended Whānau (family) still live. I grew up in Wellington where so many beautiful friends live and raise their families. I moved to Melbourne and partied for a good 10-12 years before ending up in Ballarat on Wadawurrung and Dja Dja Wurrung country where I started my own family. All of these places are significant and meaningful threads that have been woven together and become who I am today. 

Whakapapa is a Māori word for genealogy, its pronounced ‘fa·kuh·pa·puh’. Whakapapa is more than just a family tree, or a blood line that runs back through time, it maps the relationship to people, place, spiritually and knowledge that forms like layers through generations. Whakapapa is about knowing where you’re from, both physically and spiritually. The most beautiful thing about Whakapapa, alongside its respect for what has come before, is to understand that one day, we’ll be the ancestors and ask, are we going to be good ones.

This means that Whakapapa is not just a noun but also a verb. It’s a ‘doing’ word. Whakapapa is a foundation to grow from and keeps you accountable to your children and grandchildren. This single word is so powerful. I’m not a religious person, in fact I’m quite the opposite but I see immense pride and power in a  word like Whakapapa. This video here is awesome if you wanted to learn more about how Whakapapa is evolving in a digital world.

Kia ora is by far my most used and favourite Māori word. It is a greeting that means hello, good morning, good luck and take care. It’s an all encompassing way to wish someone well. However, because it's an indigenous word that has a more poetic meaning, it’s more than a simple hello, it welcomes people on behalf of your family and your community, both past and present. It’s genuine and from the heart like all good welcomes should be.

I worry that my Australian kids aren’t going to get the level of integration into first nations culture that my niece and nephews will be getting in New Zealand. I appreciate things are changing with the kids having first nations class once a week. Since I’m not from here I’ve tasked the kids with teaching me as much as they can about Aboriginal culture. This happens around the dinner table and gives me hope that my kids will feel connected to the indigenous history and culture of their first tūrangawaewae.

Video of the week
100% Pure New Zealand: Kia ora
Podcast of the week
Maintenance Phase: The Conservative Diet Books of Yore
Font of the week
Waverse: Font of the week by Typeji

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