3 February 2020

Tūrangawaewae – a place to stand

Grace Lewis
US Study Abroad student

Grace Lewis shares what she learned studying Māori culture during her semester abroad in New Zealand.

Impossible to cover everything, this post is dedicated to giving a glimpse into Māori culture by highlighting elements seen as crucial components to the backbone of Māori traditions and world views.

In all honesty, prior to arriving in New Zealand, I knew little about the Māori culture. The only thing I really knew was the 10 second elevator speech I had formed in response to the question "what classes will you be taking?". After listing off "An Introduction to the Māori World", I explained that Māori are the indigenous Polynesian settlers of New Zealand, and this course would hopefully give me a glimpse into their culture. Indeed it has.

Between this course, everyday living experiences, coupled with a recent "Noho Marae" stay, I feel as though my time in Aotearoa (the Māori word for New Zealand), has been enriched with a better understanding and appreciation for Māori culture. Like any culture, so many elements, large and small, contribute to make up the greater whole.

From a Māori perspective, everything in the world is interconnected and related through whakapapa, or genealogy. Whakapapa is a cornerstone to Māori people which permeates across all aspects of their culture, connecting everything back to their gods.

Traditionally hunters, gatherers, and farmers, Māori are a people extremely connected to the earth, and the places and tribes which they come from. This is reflected through many things, but most traditionally expressed through your pepeha, or formal introduction.

I had the opportunity to do an overnight stay at a Marae, which is a space in Māori culture dedicated for carrying out ceremonies, celebrations, and cultural practices. Among the tasty traditional food cooked underground (known as "hangi"), song, and games, we also learned how to construct our own pepeha. Mine went like this...

Grace's pepeha, which she created while studying in New Zealand

Constructing my pepeha got me thinking a lot about home. Even further, about what Māori call tūrangawaewae, or standing ground. Similarly, at the beginning of the semester I had to create a presentation about my identity, including pictures of the people, places, and Appalachian mountains I call home.

This perspective has revealed to me just how important the places we come from are in shaping our identity. For Māori, it is typically the mountain, river/lake/sea, canoe (to Polynesians this is very important), founding ancestor, tribe, sub-tribe, marae, and region that is associated - but your standing ground is not limited to this. Whether it be a mountain, cityscape, desert, ocean, or really anything, Māori view you based on the places you come from.

Studying abroad has taught me a LOT of things so far, but one of the biggest things it has given me is a new appreciation of my home, more importantly, my standing ground.

Those ridge and valley Appalachians I call home hold my heart. There's almost nothing better than crossing over the Lehigh river after time away at college, looking up to the slopes it once carved into Blue mountain. I am proud of where I come from, and I feel these landmarks to truly be my tūrangawaewae.

My standing ground

With that said, I must not forget about the people I come from. To me, family is also oh so important to my identity. They have grown me both literally and figuratively, and can be the most mobile "home" I know.

Not only have I learned so much about the rich culture that represents the roots of New Zealand through lessons and experiences, but I have been encouraged to think about and appreciate my own roots from a new and valuable perspective.

If you haven't already, I strongly recommend pondering your own roots in such a way. If you're not sure how, take a trip to your local landmarks – whatever they may be. Far from home? Dig up some old photos or phone a family member. Whatever your roots may be, I encourage you to never forget to dig them up every once in a while - after all, those very roots are what you've grown from.

If you're interested in creating your own pepeha, the link below provides a fantastic service to help you do just that- and even provides a free jpeg image of your final result!

I would like to especially thank my Māori professor, Rangi Matamua for his dedication to so passionately sharing his culture with the world.

Sidewalk stickers on campus that help you prepare your pepeha!

Share this story
About the contributors
Grace Lewis
US Study Abroad student

Grace Lewis is from a small liberal arts school in the hills of central Pennsylvania called Juniata College, where she studies Wildlife Conservation. She is currently on a study abroad semester at the University of Waikato in Hamilton. Grace’s favourite thing about NZ is learning about the incredible ecosystems on the island as well as Māori culture.