Te Hā Hui 2019 – Reflections #1

Lois.

I haven’t touched a drink in more than three years but today I feel hungover. The weekend was huge. We’ve been planning the Te Hā Kaituhi Māori hui for so long I don’t really remember what I used to do before. At the open mic on Saturday I read one of Lois’ stories, you know the one where she dives into the ocean to retrieve a plastic bag after dithering on the beach for about half an hour? It was so cool to read something to an audience who already gets it; who already knows Lois and who already knows Anahera, so that when the punch lines came they landed in bellies already primed for laughter. Afterwards, soaking up the the lyrics and beautiful energy of Ladyfruit, I felt as though I could just melt into the floor with spiritual intoxication. Even so, we sat up in the kīhini til 1am with the rangatahi and even got ourselves nicknamed “Te Hānties.” I crawled into bed thinking yep, the future is in good hands, the new net is here.

But nothing is ever quite that simple, is it?

During one of our whakawhiti kōrero, Joe Harawira came up and perched on the edge of the stage to respond to some of the things that had been said in relation to the issue of authenticity and what it means to be a Māori writer. He lifted his hand to the roof and said “where did this whare come from?”

He said it in Māori but Lois, with her Pākehā dominant brain, filtered the question through the word “resources” and thought he was referring to Te Whare Wānanga o Aotearoa and the financial investment that allowed for its existence.

‘Te Kāwanatanga,’ she said sagely.

Thank God no-one heard because Joe was not referring to any made-up system of economic governance, he was referring to Papatūānuku, Mother Earth. He pointed to the carved pou behind him and said “Three or four hundred years ago, a single seed fell to the soil. There it was fed and nurtured into life through the passage of seasons. It grew up tall and strong until eventually it fell. The act of carving stories into the rākau is one of spiritual transformation. It is not discarded. New life is breathed into an old one.”

He looked up to check if we were all still following. “What is authenticity?”

We were quiet, waiting for the answer.

“It begins with the seed.” He pointed to the ground. “Return to the seed. This is the pū of pūrākau.” Here, he picked up the seed and tapped his chest. “Authenticity begins with a seed in the soil of Papatūānuku.”

With that, Joe finished speaking and made to get up.

Lois, not wanting him to stop, thrust her hand into the air and asked him about the anger and frustration people had been discussing earlier in the day in relation to the politics of being a Māori writer in a country that will happily use, skew or deny Māori perspectives when it suits. She asked whether he recognised the anger writers were talking about, whether he understood it?

Joe nodded. “Yes, I understand it. I recognise it.”

“But do you feel it?” Lois said, emphasising the word *feel.*

Joe was silent for a moment. “No,” he said.

And his voice was so quiet it almost felt like an apology.