Wednesday, May 27, 2009

How to get a crash course in Maori

A Maori called Ruth – my first Couch Surfing Host

Ruth’s iwi (people) are from two areas – New Plymouth and some other area I daren’t try to spell. She is descended from a Maori Warlord who she tells me would be like the English equivalent of Henry the 8th. She is a health researcher that is doing a thesis on female empowerment in her culture (she will no doubt correct me on the specifics of that). Like a lot of people in their 30s and 40s Ruth seems to be part of a crossover generation and speaks both ‘spiritual’ and ‘academia/intellectual’ in equal, fluent measure.

She is a mercurial orator and most of her stories have me laughing out loud or riveted. She tells me of her time in Australia and talks of ‘budgie smuggling’ (men in speedos) and freak waves on the beaches (about 6m high) that separated her from her tiny bikini giving her a lifelong aversion to 2 pieces and regret she didn’t stay in the arms of her rescuing bronzed lifeguard longer.

She then teaches me the pronunciation and meaning of the Maori language (which she pronounces like Mar-ree) and I am struck by the similarities to Irish and Gaelic sounds. Maori I am told means ‘ordinary’ and is the name that white people gave to them. When the ‘Maori’ where asked what they call themselves they said simply ‘we are just us, just ordinary people’ inadvertently naming themselves by their humbleness. She tells me also that the place that I first stayed in when I came to Auckland (Te Atatu) translates to sunrise and thus a place of starting something. Apt I thought.

Ruth had to learn the Maori language because the generations before her were beaten and punished at school for speaking Maori, all but killing it off. In the eighties the language began a revival that was modelled on the resurgence of the Welsh Language in the UK. I can’t remember the last time I was in someone’s home when they were surrounded by so much of their heritage and history. Pictures of her relatives and ancestors rest above every window and her art reflects her abundant spirituality. She has a lady doing the ‘pukana’ above her couch. This is a facial grimace, but the meaning of the syllables are more telling. Pu means to explode/shoot and kana means energy. Pukana therefore is about drawing the energy up from within – the fire from inside. Ruth tells me that it is easy to do this in a crowd when you can draw on others, but for a woman to be able do it alone is rare and special, hence the reason she rests above Ruth’s couch. Ruth is all about the empowerment of Maori women – and NZ’s children too for that matter.

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