Sometimes the racists who make it to the media are obliging enough to answer each other’s questions.
“Why are we listening to this monkey language?” said the racists in the Kāpiti council chamber standing next to our tamariki.
“Can we move Scotty Morrison to the back of the America’s Cup report . . . because there’s far too much Māori,” someone else asked.
“Why can’t I make fun of the Māori culture and show my mate how to pūkana?” thought the party-goers on the yacht after their TikTok video went viral and they were held to account.
FYI, you’re listening to the language the Government tried to systematically remove from Aotearoa as it “smoothed the pillow of a dying race” and colonisation’s boots itched, impatient to march on. Those boots had important work to do, claiming land for the benefit of the empire, trampling any identity and language that stood in the way. By then, assimilation and annihilation were well rehearsed moves in the empire’s colonisation playbook.
You’re listening because in spite of those attempts to eliminate our language and people, our rangatira stood and fought. Some gave their lives fighting for the right of Māori to exist. Some continue giving their lives today fighting for the same rights for our language.
You can’t move Scotty to the back because that’s what he’s doing, fighting for our reo. Nurturing it back from under the boots the Crown stomped on it, trying to squash our language on the land it grew from. The downstream effects are many, your willingness to ask that question is one.
You’re listening because Aotearoa can’t have it both ways. We can’t use te reo Māori to promote the unique, commercially attractive history of Aotearoa to the world while at the same time complaining about hearing the language in the media, or removing its right to exist independently, claiming “we’re all indigenous New Zealanders now”. (Tēnā koe, Trevor Mallard).
You can’t make fun of it because those efforts at fighting back are still under way and every attempt to belittle them is a step back in the direction the empire’s boots dragged us. It was where our grandparents weren’t allowed to speak their own language, where they didn’t teach their children because they didn’t want them beaten by the system like they were. That’s the track that led to today, where so many of us are still sacrificing and paying to re-learn our own language and identity.
That’s why you can’t “just have a laugh” now and throw our culture around to show your friend how to perform a pūkana. Because we remember the last time others’ hands were on our language; their palms on the supplejack Sir James Henare and our grandparents were beaten with, their fingers wrapped around the pens that wrote the suppression and confiscation policies of annihilation, legalising the taking of our homes to fund eradication of the speakers of that very same language. Those hands wrote the history that forced me to study 27+ hours a week to re-learn my language and all that comes with it as I work and raise a young whānau. Mine is a small price compared to what others have paid. But if the history of our country has cost you nothing, be aware of your privilege, my friend.
We can’t help but be aware of what it cost us. We still carry that mamae, that hurt.
So we’re careful now about how the mana of our language and culture – our identity – are handled. You would be, too.
Maybe you can’t empathise with that hurt and history. Maybe you don’t want to. It’s an inconvenient truth and comes with baggage for non-Māori, too. But after spending more time researching than you have, the Government does recognise this truth and has at least made a start addressing some of their wrongs.
So we speak it because we need to. Because that fight is far from finished.
That’s why you have the opportunity to listen to the indigenous language of the land you choose to live on.
But you don’t have to listen. Kei a koe te tikanga – it’s up to you. You can always leave instead.
Pera is a rap singer, story writer, and founder of Shoebox Christmas. He received the Local Hero award at the New Zealander of the Year awards in 2019.