The time whanaungatanga and manaakitanga went for a tipi-haere

OMG, i have SOOO much to write about but not enough time! But one thing that is bugging me and which i need to get off my chest right now… [insert intermittent interval for crying baby and thus why I rarely have enough time to blog]… where was I again?  Oh yeah, something that’s been bugging me.  Well, to be more precise, something that is bumming me out.

First off, I arrived in France with the goal of integrating as much as possible into my local community.  I got off to a good start, going to French class asap and joining an association within our first year.  But as I’ve mentioned a fair few times throughout my blog, building relationships with French people has proven rather difficult.  It simply takes time.  Even French people who aren’t from around here say its particularly difficult in these parts. So you see, its not just me.  It’s Albi, apparently.

So anyway, I’ve built a very strong network of good friends who I’ve come to rely on as you would family.  And its no surprise that most of them aren’t French. In fact there are an array of cultures represented in my various groups of friends.  And of course, that does include French people, but its not the grand majority.  But I really don’t care anymore.  Living over here is also about creating a life I can not only survive with, but which makes me feel happy and fulfilled. So I feel really thankful to have found friends who truly do complete me in many different ways.

All that said, since having my Petit-Bubba, I’ve really felt a gap in terms of my Maori culture (I wanted to plant baby’s whenua a couple of weeks ago, but it just didnt happen for reasons that ultimately lie in the fact that the tradition is just not appreciated or valued in the same way).  So I’ve really started feeling the need to spend time with Maori.
Why exactly?  Because like every culture, we share certain ideas or values that don’t need to be explained, and which make ‘being’ so much easier and even joyful. Ya know? For instance I’ve made steamed pudding and custard and served it as dessert to non-Maori/Kiwi friends who of course enjoyed it, but there just wasn’t the same appreciation that a Maori person would have, or the memories to share of how their aunty/cousin/sister/neighbour makes it the best.  It just isn’t the same.

About a month ago I decided to create a youtube playlist of waiata Maori to play to my baby.  There are about 30 odd songs on the playlist, made up mostly of the old classics you would hear at the pa, something my baby is yet to experience.  And because we have no idea when he is likely to do so, I need to be conscious of transmitting these songs to him.  So anyway, I was in the middle of singing one of these waiata when I realised I didn’t know half of the words.  I can sing/hum the tune like no-ones business… but the lyrics? No idea.  And I felt incredibly, incredibly upset.  I actually had to stop myself from crying, especially as I was dancing around with my baby in my arms, trying to create happy, fun memories.   So I sucked it up and sung what i knew and carried on, for his sake.

Why did I get upset? Coz this tiny incident brought home the fact that my baby, while Maori in blood, will only ever be Maori in culture if I – me on my own – make a conscious effort to transmit the culture to him, at least while we’re in France.  And at that moment in time it felt like SUCH a heavy burden to carry.  I am Maori because of the way I grew up, and the culture and its values mean so much to me and the way I function in this world.  But I’ve never stopped to think about how to teach someone to be Maori.  I mean, what does that even mean?  But the simple fact remains that I can’t just take baby to the urupa to visit my koko and pay respects to other whanau and tipuna, I can’t take him to tangi to say goodbye to those who pass away, I can’t take him to family reunions where he’s likely to hear ten guitars on the gat’ with the old a chinga-chik, a chinga-chik Maori strum that I grew up with.  So yeah, I felt sad.

So at the very least, I figured I could make a Facebook group, ‘Maori in le sud ouest‘ (Maori in the south west of France) with the hope that other Maori might be out there.  I figure we could hook up and pool our knowledge with the primary goal of keeping the culture alive for us as well as transmitting it to our whanau and making it relevant for them while in France. For me, this might mean reading books to our kids and teaching basic words, learning waiata and making kai together.  I’d also love to share what i know about the Treaty of Waitangi, if people were interested.  For others it might be something else. Learning te reo; playing touch; Kapa haka; Arts and crafts i.e. making poi; kites; weaving harakeke etc. There’s no limit. Its just about being and sharing together.

I shared my group in a New Zealanders in France page and was pleasantly surprised to see there are a fair few Maori down this way, and even Pakeha who just want to re-connect with our culture.  The possibilities are already making me excited! A couple of peole who expressed interest apologised for not being fluent  in te reo.  But while being fluent in te reo is one of the most precious gifts, thats only one of many things that make us Maori in this contemporary world where we travel in ‘flying wakas’ 😉 So I dont see it as a pre-requisite nor do I expect anyone to apologise for not having had the opportunity to learn it.   So I’ve made sure to explain that my idea isn’t about being tuuturu Maori (staunch/hardcore), its just about ‘being’ Maori and sharing the love.

So anyway, what is it thats got me feeling bummed out?  Well it turns out there are quite a few Maori in the rugby circuit.  I’ve recently made a connection with a Maori involved in that scene, and when they told me of other Maori and of hangi (hangi in France?!?!), of course I got so excited, quickly hinting for an invitation.  Only to feel a bit… knocked back.  Instead of extending an invitation to me, they gave the impression (one which I’d previously gathered from meeting other WAGS) that it was a rather closed and cliquey scene, not open to us mere mortals (coz pro rugby players are like celebrities over here).  In fact instead of accepting my invitation to have a cuppa, I was politely brushed off with a variety of reasons, and far from feeling any sense of whanaungatanga, I was told quite matter of factly to ‘just hang out with kiwis and islanders’, as if Kiwis just fall from trees in France.

Now I dont know if its just this particular person or if the other Maori they know really don’t care about whanaungatanga, but this really really bummed me out. I kinda see this person as a gatekeeper, and they’re not showing any signs that I’m allowed in 😦 Without being tuuturu, knowing that there are a group of Maori not even an hour from my home, regularly getting together, hanging out like whanau, yet feeling excluded from that… it goes in the face of what I believe it is to be Maori, ESPECIALLY when we are so far from home and most importantly, this person knows that this is what I’ve been seeking.   It sucks.

Anyway, its out now. *phew*

Cliquey rugby circuits aside, at least there’s my Facebook group which as of today has 8 members (yay!).  Even if its a small number, it warms my heart to know that sooner or laters, someone else might be able to fill the gaps in those waiata that I can’t fill on my own ❤

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