Dining room at Te Wananga o Aotearoa guests eating and group singing in wharekai

Te Hā Hui 2019 – Reflections #3

Before the hui, we asked people what they wanted via a survey and although we only had about 30 responses there was one thing everyone agreed on: whakawhanaungatanga. The main reason people wanted to come to a Māori writers hui was to be able to meet other Māori writers. So when the feedback on the final day came I shouldn’t have been surprised. “Where was the whakawhanaungatanga?”

It was there; it had been there – in small groups and all across the different workshops – it just wasn’t there at the whole group level. The reason for that was due to time. Because people had *also* said that they wanted more workshops that were longer and offered greater depth. It was difficult to do this and *also* make time to sit around in a circle doing lengthy one by one introductions.

Except that, if you skip over certain key parts of tikanga so that it fits with your schedule, can you still call it a Māori hui?

In Darryn Joseph’s workshop we did whakawhanaungatanga in the usual way, “kia Māori te hui,” and because there were only 13 of us it was a much more straightforward exercise than if there were 80. But it did make me think: numbers shouldn’t be barrier to making connections. Otherwise, what’s the point? We may as well go to any other writers retreat on offer. There are literally hundreds of them.

I know there were some who were glad to avoid the awkward, ice-breaker-esque forced interaction that whakawhanaungatanga can sometimes feel like, especially for those who aren’t confident in their Reo or who hate public speaking. But for those who mainly move in te ao Māori spaces the absence of this very normal thing was noted. Their feedback was offered constructively, not negatively.

I know that issues of identity are always going to concern us for as long as it takes for us to decolonise as a country. But the interesting thing about the wānanga for writers in te reo is that the question of “Māori writing” didn’t come up over there. The focus in the rūmaki sessions was entirely on the art and the science of story and storytelling. I don’t necessarily have a goal to write in te Reo but I do have a dream – probably more of a hunger – to *think* in te Reo. I want see what my writing can become when “being Māori” is not a focal point but the norm, and our ways of knowing and relating to each other are taken for granted and not picked and chosen from when it suits and the schedule allows time.

“Kia Māori te noho, Kia Māori hoki te Tuhituhi.”