Last year I gave up a job in order to study, not really sure what that would mean and what the year would hold. Now I can see a thread of learning about Te Ao Māori that I didn’t expect. I am incredible grateful to the people who have patiently taken me by the hand this year.
Joan Wink (2011) gives voice to my journey: “Learning and relearning prepare us for unlearning, which is the most challenging. Unlearning involves a shift in philosophy, beliefs and assumptions. Unlearning is unpacking some old baggage” (p. 39). She adds: “Unlearning is more difficult than relearning because it requires that we part with the previous knowledge, schema, and theory that are known and comfortable” (p. 40). This blog post is my reflection, as Pākehā, on some people and moments through which I have learned and unlearned.
I have been privileged to edit for a friend who writes from a Māori perspective. In a Pākehā context I know how to edit, but I am new to Māori paradigms. My normally dictatorial editorial comments are now more like suggestions accompanied by apologies for the cultural mistakes I make that may be inappropriate or on a tangent from Te Ao Māori. I’m sure that I have learned more than the authors have gained from me. As I edit, I learn about kaupapa Māori in academia, about the content, and about aspects of Te Ao Māori. More than I have ever experienced before, this knowledge will not leave me alone: while I edit I email the author connecting the material to the place of my upbringing; when I am on holiday I take photos to find out how they relate to the work; I even make connections while on a date night and share what I have learned with my husband that he might begin a journey of learning too. Somehow my friend’s writing has become all about my learning and my life.
I have begun to unlearn my relationship to knowledge. From my Anglo-Western perspective, my ability to know is foundational to my personhood (cf I think therefore I am). As I unlearn this, I find there are things I don’t know and I can’t know. There is a difference between learning something from a book and really knowing with your all your being – this sets Anglo-Westernness and Indigeneity apart. Unlearning requires humility, softness, reticence and deference, and is painful as it challenges my Pākehā Anglo-Western individualistic neo-liberal capitalist worldview.
I need to unlearn what I thought I knew about the history of Aotearoa. The history I was familiar with is not made up of objective truths, but rather seeped in Anglo-Western worldview, hegemony and oppression. While I’m unlearning this history, I also need to unlearn objectivity and subjectivity, which themselves are an Anglo-Western individualistic narcissistic, way of viewing the world. “When we look at what objectivism and subjectivism share. They are alternative ways of picturing oneself at the centre of a world” (Connell, 2007, p. 45). It’s challenging writing this – I’ve more unlearning to do.
As I wrote a critical family history I unlearned knowledge about my ancestors. I exchanged capitalist interpretations of facts for people-centred interpretations. My ancestors, who came from England in 1841 by assisted passage, were said to have come to make a better life for themselves, and successfully achieved upward economic mobility. As I investigated, it became clear the land which I hold dear and upon which my family’s economic success was built, is inextricably connected to Māori dispossession from whenua. My family’s positive economic outcomes came at high cost to tangata whenua of Te Aro and Kaiwharawhara. This is a deep sadness to me that I am learning to hold concurrently with the memories of those ancestors. Anglo-Australian Raewyn Connell says something similar: “My connection with the land, therefore, is based on dispossession – which is true of the whole of settler society. We cannot wave this history away” (2007, p. 203). While I can feel sadness for Māori and for myself, I cannot know the depth of the cost to Māori.
A patient friend has talked with me about land as whenua, and Māori attachment to land. I have begun to read a PhD thesis (Dell, 2017) that speaks of the impacts of land alienation. I am unlearning what I know about the meaning of land. I wonder how much it is possible for me to learn regarding attachment to land. I hope next year will lead me to learn more.
I ate boil up for the first time this year. As I ate I felt a range of emotions – gratitude and honour for the gift of food, but also heaviness and sadness at having lived my whole life in Aotearoa and but eating a staple food of Māori for the first time. This first meal is a metaphor for all that I am beginning to learn about Te Ao Māori.
I am grateful to Mānuka Hēnare and Amber Nicholson as they have patiently shared their time, knowledge and work with me.
Dell, K. (2017). Te Hokinga ke to Ūkaipō: Distrupted Māori management theory: Harmonising whanau conflict in the Māori land trust (Unpublished PhD thesis). The University of Auckland, New Zealand.
Connell, R. (2007). Southern theory. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Wink, J. (2011). Critical pedagogy: Notes from the real world (4th ed.). Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson.
Boil up photo source: http://www.kaiwhenua-ancestralfoods.com/2012/10/maori-kai-pork-bones-and-watercress.html