Thursday, March 19, 2009

Banks Peninsula and Christchurch, South Island New Zealand - My Turangawaewae

Double click on this photograph - the enlarged image will give you a much better view.
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In the Maori language the word Turangawaewae means, domicile, home, home turf. If you are a Maori your Turangawaewae will be the place where your Marai is.
A Marai is the focal point or central area of a village or settlement and in contemporary times is usually a large meeting house full of beautiful Maori carvings depicting the tribes Whakapapa [genealogy, cultural identity ]. When a person is welcomed onto a Maori Marai it is done in the form of a traditional welcome containing much protocol and ceremony.

The welcoming ceremony contains amongst its prayers and speeches and songs a place where each individual stands and introduces themselves. This is called a Mihi. In your Mihi you talk about your own family genealogy and what part of Aoteoroa (Land of the long white cloud) New Zealand you come from. When talking about where you come from the word Turangawaewae is elevated from its meaning of "Home turf" to "The place where I stand" and when speaking of your Turangawaewae you name the significant Mountain of your area (this is your mountain) and a significant river (this is your river).

As a teacher I have taken classes to Marai on several occasions. They are very moving and significant spiritual experiences. To hear a tribes whakapaka recited from memory in the traditional oral way from the Maori creation myth to the present day is a moving experience indeed.

My own Turangawaewae is in the photograph. I am a fifth generation New Zealander. My ancestors were in Canterbury well before the main planned settlement by the 'Canterbury Company' and its first four ships. An ancestor of mine was the first white (pakeha) child born on the Canterbury plains. Both my parents have their pasts deeply entrenched in Canterbury genealogies. My river is the Avon river which flows from its head waters into a large estuary where I sailed with such joy as a child and young man and exits out to the Pacific Ocean besides the little seaside settlement of Sumner. My mountain is a very large one. In fact it is a collection of large hills really and its called Banks Peninsula. I have such wonderful memories of biking, tramping, rambling and sailing all around this unique and incredibly interesting ancient volcano.

I always think that as human beings we have very big hearts that are like jigsaw puzzles. Parts of this jigsaw are often all over the country we live in. Sometimes pieces of the jigsaw of our heart are in different places all over the globe - with a grown child and their partner and children in a foreign country, with friend(s) in another.

But our hearts belong not just to people, they belong to places as well. In the Maori context the family (whanau) and tribe (iwi) and the Marai were traditionally all together in the one place. In a modern mobile society, where our hearts are in terms of PEOPLE can often be different from where our hearts are in terms of PLACE.

There are Kiwis who have lived overseas for a long long time. They establish themselves and build a life within their new country. Often there are times when they ask themselves where they really belong. Their children are born and raised in the new country and yet their own birth and formative years were in New Zealand. This sometimes means that there is a pull on the heart strings in two different directions. It is a pull that doesn't necessarily require an answer in terms of immediate action. For many all that is required is an assent of the heart - a recognition - an honouring to oneself of PEOPLE and PLACE in the heart and on an intellectual level. It is this recognition and honouring and understanding that may calm a rough sea of nostalgia and longing.

I am no different than other people and my heart is certainly distributed around this old planet of ours in terms of PEOPLE. But despite all of that there is a place where my heart has its centre in terms of PLACE. Despite the fact that I have loved living in Northland (it feels sometimes that it might as well be Mars!) and have been living here many more years than I have lived in Canterbury, the answer to the question - "Where is your Turangawaewae" - is instant and unequivocal. It is here in this photograph - amongst the streets and buildings and environs of Christchurch - at New Brighton beach, sailing on the estuary from my old yacht club, rambling and biking the wind blown tussocky hills, sailing around the bays of Banks Peninsula - all surrounded in the distance by breathtaking braided rivers and the shining snow capped Southern Alps - Although I don't live there anymore - This is the central PLACE of my heart - This is the PLACE where I stand - This is my Turangawaewae.
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6 comments:

Kathryn said...

I understand what you mean about being pulled in several directions. I was not quite 9 years old when we left Yorkshire and went to Christchurch, New Zealand. But when I go to Yorkshire it feels like 'home' and I am very upset when I leave all those aunties, uncles and cousins, those familiar little houses and that very distinctive dialect.
In 1986 I moved to Perth, Western Australia and so now I also have that 'pull' to New Zealand. When I visit NZ I just love everything - I am amazed that I could ever have left it! I visit relatives and friends, and we talk and laugh about old times. I visit places where I lived and worked, and places where I had holidays and I love every moment.
The I come 'home' to Australia. And it is home, where my children are (one in Sydney though), the other two in Perth and my 3 grand-daughters. How could I ever live anywhere else!
I am a citizen of the world. I think I cannot have this ONE place where I belong. And who knows, there might be other places yet that I will love as much as this one.

Alden said...

Yours is an interesting situation Kathryn isn't it having lived for significant times in three different countries. I suspect that like all of us whose children are living relatively close the place of your heart will always be where your children and grandchildren are. The place where you stand (Turangawaewae) is for you to decide or not decide as the case may be - or as you suggest - just be a citizen of the world.

And have a great trip to Germany later on this year! I really wish I could take a trip over that way this year - its a part of the world that I just love.

Katherine said...

Yes - I know what you mean too Alden. But strangely, although I was born and raised in Hawkes Bay, when I left at 17, I made Christchurch my home, and even though I was only there for the four years at university, I probably call it my Turanawaewae... my Place.

Alden said...

Well Katherine that is a huge transference of PLACE on your part - Christchurch must have made a huge impression on you - it does have that effect on many people - but at the end of the day (as they say) you can choose wherever you want as your Turangawaewae.

VenDr said...

The meaning of Turangawaewae is "the place where I may set my feet". It is the place where your placenta is buried; at birth Maori parents perform the ceremony of burying the placenta to give the child an eternal an unalienable right to a place on that particular piece of land. There is thus a spiritual bond to Papa Tuanuku the Earth Mother who has used the womb of your mother as a place where you may be formed. Your turangawaewae is the point where you are joined, not just to your tupuna but to the greater spiritual realities which make up the universe.

My placenta went, presumably, down some hospital waste disposal unit and into the sea. It's symbolic. In my whole life I never lived anywhere more than 6 years until we came to Dunedin.For me, although I am indisputably a New Zealander I feel no great bond to any particular place. I think this is true of many Pakeha. I will probably live out my days in Dunedin because I happen to like it, but given the chance it could just as well be Hamilton or London or San Francisco. But I do envy Maori their sense of place.

Alden said...

You are quite right about the burying of the placenta (mine, like yours probably ended up in the sea - maybe that's why I feel so at home sailing on it).

As a Pakeha going onto a Maori Marai (and in preparation of my Mihi) I have always been encouraged by Maori (usually by a Maori Education Advisor) to think of my Turangawaewae as the place that I MOST identify with.