The last three weeks have been interesting across the country’s racial landscape and I’ve made some observations about the rhetoric floating through our local rag over this time. We’ve articles about the naming of Blackhead Beach, or Te Pari-o-Mahu, the Sir Peter Leitch saga and a prolonged dialogue played out through the letters to the editor about Maori language and its use across mainstream media.
I actually thought we were getting past this point as a nation, yet these three topics in quick succession over three weeks is astounding. Sir Peter Leitch should know better! And the comment by his adviser, Michelle Boag, Queen of PR comparing skin colour with coffee, was ill-advised in my opinion. I’ve never compared myself to coffee – but as a fairer Maori, if I had to describe myself in this way, I would choose cappuccino. Not only that, one made with beans from Colombia, milk from Takapau, sprinkled with wild cinnamon from Papua New Guinea and an obligatory piece of chocolate made in Australia. Really? Time to grow up New Zealand.
Then there’s the language debate. In all honesty, it still surprises me the volume of letters and texts regarding the use of Maori words, for and against. It’s noticeable that none of these letters were written by Maori but it’s great to see people passionate about this subject.
Then came the insinuation that Maori people aren’t interested in Maori language so we should throw the baby out with the bath water – further insult to injury. The reality is that language underpins any culture, it’s the most precious taonga we’ve inherited from our ancestors. It’s our responsibility to keep this taonga alive, to transmit our beliefs and practices to the next generation. The ever increasing numbers of Pakeha enroling in Maori language classes shows it’s becoming just as important for Pakeha to engage with Maori language and culture – this should be welcomed and encouraged.
Why is this important to me right now? The answer is simple: it’s our role as your regional museum to promote diversity, champion cultural inclusion and bridge cultural gaps through exhibiting our stories, art and objects from epochs and creeds of this region.
To support this view, I’ve been visiting old Pa (village) sites of Ngati Kahungunu. These Pa are taonga in themselves, or more specifically, waahi taonga (treasured places). Being at these sites opens my mind to how we, as Maori, need to take control of our history and tell our stories as we want them to be told. Our stories are particularly important as the tourism industry continues to grow, and the expectation is that we’ll share these stories with our manuhiri (visitors).
The visit by the behemoth Ovation of the Seas provided the opportunity to engage with passengers who were welcomed by a Pipe Band, not only here, but at every port they had visited so far. Now I’m not against pipe bands, I’ve even been in one myself, however there are only so many reinditions of Scotland the Brave that one can endure on a leisurely cruise, but to the point, this is not Scotland. Where are our Kahungunu people and our famed Concert Parties? It’s time to step up Kahungunu! Make some noise and be proud. Next month, with Te Matatini, is a busy one for the tribe and we can only hope that it’ll provide the platform for us to continue being visible, accessible and proud after the throngs have gone home and Kahungunu Park returns to being plain old Hawke’s Bay Sports Park. Whether you’re a long black, a latte or a cappacino, at the museum we recognise that everyone has important stories, taonga and points of view to share.
Charles Ropitini – Maori Engagement Coordinator, MTG Hawke’s Bay
Published in Hawke’s Bay Today Saturday 14 December 2016