It interesting how synergy can happen in conversations. In March, Rod introduced himself on our website and in doing so provided some reflection on how to be authentic in our Pepeha as Pākehā. While Rod was having this discovery, I had already begun drafting this blog, reflecting on my own learning from an IRA wananga which I attended in February, where I had new insight into the concept of being Pākehā and drawing my understanding of Pepeha to a deeper level. And then our national Covid-19 experiences began and other reflections and blogs took precedence over continuing this Pepeha conversation. Well I’ve now decided it is time to return to consider Pepeha and what this means for myself at Pākehā.

So what did I discover in a new way at the Wananga I attended in February? (Thanks to the lovely Sharlene Maoate-Davis, my kaiako for those two days). In many ways my learning is not ‘rocket science’ (and perhaps I’ll discover that I have now learned what the rest of the world already knew, and that I am just the last one to have this aha moment!). Nonetheless the impact of my learning has and will change how I see Pepeha from here on.

It is so easy to read the question “Ko wai au” as “Who am I?” and to hear the question and the process of Pepeha as an invitation to provide ones’ name. “Kia ora, Ko Karen ahau” (Hi, I’m Karen). And some of us have also learned to recite a Pepeha that links us to landmarks, and rivers, waka, and local iwi (in much the way Rod has invited us to consider and reconsider in his blog, Ko wai au? Reintroducing introductions)

During Wananga, I paused and really noticed the construction of the kupu (words) of the question “Ko Wai Au?”, and a lightbulb went on. “Ko WAI au”. Wai=Water. This actual question is not so much “who am I” but rather more of “what waters do I come from”. Here is another typical and subtle example of the difference between a traditional Pākehā world view of the individual and that of a Tangata whenua view, exhibited in language.

For Tangata Whenua, the idea of what waters they come from takes them collectively and individually all the way back to Papatūānuku and Ranginui, and to what was before, IO. The concept of whakapapa. This is what links their Pepeha back to landmarks, and mountains and river…back to the whenua of Papatūānuku and the birthing waters at the beginning of time.

As Rod has already said, making these links can feel ‘clunky’ for Pakeha if we don’t feel we can whakapapa back to the whenua directly in this way. This is even more complex for those who weren’t born here but are immigrants. For myself, who immigrated here as a child it feels even more complex. Aotearoa is currently my home, and has been for over 40 years, and so I feel very much of Aotearoa, despite my birth place being elsewhere. This has been my story. Born in England, extended whanau in England, but now grown, educated, informed and developed in Aotearoa New Zealand, alongside the influence of Te Ao Maori. How do I place myself in a Pepeha?

Well for the last 20 years, I have felt comfortable with a Pepeha that introduces my parents, my birthplace, and my current home and then acknowledges the whakapapa of the local iwi; Rangitane; and pays homage to their landmarks. All appropriately thought out, consulted on, rote learned in te reo Maori and used when an introduction has been needed. Not tokenistic in any way, truly authentic and based on my understanding at the time.

And there’s the rub! I now realise it has been an introduction until now… not really a pepeha; not something that says Ko WAI au?; What waters do I come from.? This new learning feels like a small discovery and a major discovery. Suddenly I can speak of the people I am from, reflect on the stories and characteristics of those who have come before me, acknowledge birthplace and legacy in a more authentic way; while also claiming my lived experience of also being ‘from‘ Aotearoa now. What has emerged from this small reflection on the kupu ‘Wai’ is a pepeha that can now be bilingual, reflecting our land and tangata whenua, feels more meaningful and connects me more back to my people and to this land. Here goes:

Ko Wai Au? What water was I birthed from?

Ko John Shepherd toku Papa, Ko Kathleen Hatt toku Mama, Ko England i whanau i au

I was birthed from a line of strong woman of faith and hope and love; a line of woman who never complained and put others’ needs before their own; a Nanny who served tea once to the Queen, and then saved her best china just in case the Queen came to visit. A line of women who stood beside their husbands all their married days.

I come from a father who did not know his heritage but who was chosen by parents, to be raised as their own. These grandparents who had little to give, but who gave all they had to give to a small child in need, and who grew a generous and gracious heart in my father; a man of community, who always created community around him. A father who having been chosen by his parents, then chose his path and his place to stand when he chose New Zealand Aotearoa as home for himself and his whanau in his 30’s.

Ko Aotearoa toku turangawaewae inaianei. This is the place I ground my feet now, in the earth of Papatūānuku, under the cloud-filled sky of Ranginui. My horizons are the Tasman and the Pacific.

A child of two lands; My tupuna lie in the ground in England and my future lies in Aotearoa. Born of one land and gifted by the Taonga of another, surrounded by Te Ao Maori, Tangata whenua holding me as manuhiri of this sacred space.

No Rongotea toku kainga inaianei

Ko Ruahine te pae maunga

Ko Manawatu te awa

Ko kurahaupo te waka

Ko Rangitāne te iwi

Ko Karen Shepherd toku ingoa.

Maybe I am a slow learner, in which case you can celebrate with me my new discovery!

Or maybe this learning for me can create further reflection and consideration for you.

Ko WAI koe?

Ngā mihi

Karen