Te Aniwaniwa Paterson unpacks what it means to decolonise her emotions and love deeply - just like Ranginui and Papatūānuku.
The painful separation of Ranginui and Papatūānuku brought light into the world. Papatūānuku looked into Ranginui’s eyes and saw her beauty reflected back and, likewise, Ranginui saw his beauty reflected in hers. They cried the tears that birthed Rehua – the god of unconditional love.1 Heartbreak is a bit like that, nē? And, thus, it’s fitting to begin with the pain and depth of loving.
In this generation of hook-up culture, when the hype is around nonchalance and hyper-independence, it feels cringe to talk about relationships. Despite this, most people get into romantic relationships, and relationships reflect our inner worlds: our trauma, boundaries, and beliefs about love, which are largely shaped by society. Our environment sculpts relationships through dominant narratives, seen in TV series, films and social media, modelled in adult behaviour, parental expectations and in socialisation. Political decolonisation cannot be separated from personal decolonisation as the values of society pervade the private sphere. I want to discuss how leaning on my Māoritanga helps me navigate relationships. This isn’t to homogenise Māoritanga – being a collective of many diverse voices and experiences – this is just one perspective that isn’t fixed or linear, but ever evolving. Decolonisation is different for everyone and is an ongoing journey – one that started before us and will continue after us.
Political decolonisation cannot be separated from personal decolonisation as the values of society pervade the private sphere.
In contemporary society we are encouraged to suppress our emotions. Emotional men are seen as weak and pathetic. Emotional women are seen as needy and undesirable. Dominant views are still stuck in a gender binary, yet we all experience some kind of shame around emotions. Falling in love, I felt this shame, and I suppressed my feelings because I was led to believe this would help prevent me from losing someone. It’s perceived as embarrassing to catch feelings in hook-up culture, because you don’t owe each other anything. We don’t share how much we like someone in case it doesn’t work out. In heartbreak I felt childish, stupid, foolish and over-dramatic. Rationality doesn’t help but is the only consolation offered, with unhelpful commentary like “You can do so much better”, “They’re trash”, “Let’s get on the piss”, “Get over them by getting under someone else.” There’s no space for mourning and grief for the dream of what could have been. Falling in love made me see the beauty that Papa saw in Rangi. It was like our muscle fibres had intertwined, becoming one, but I hid that love in shame. Heartbreak was a ripping bloody mess that thrust me deep into Te Pō and in private, for three months, I wailed like a wahine at a tangihanga. Hoki mai, e ipo. Beloved, come back to me. There is nothing rational about losing the one person with whom you could share and celebrate your inner beauty. There is nothing rational about being forgotten and replaced within weeks. My unseen anguish continued until I read Māori Poetry: The Singing Word and Ngā Moteatea, and through tūpuna learned to surrender to my emotions and realise that the only way around feeling is through allowing yourself to feel.
Heartbreak was a ripping bloody mess that thrust me deep into Te Pō and in private, for three months, I wailed like a wahine at a tangihanga. Hoki mai, e ipo. Beloved, come back to me.
Here are two pieces I selected by wāhine Māori of Ngāti Tūwharetoa, as they resonated most with me. Back in the day, it was common for women to lacerate their chests with obsidian and to express their grief in heartbreak. There were also waiata whakamomori, which are songs of suicide, like the one below written by Rangiaho, who committed suicide after Te Heuheu slept with another woman. (Note: there are disputes about the identity of the composer but it is thought to be Rangiaho.)2
Tangihia mai ra te tangi ki te makau,
E! Kei whea i ara te toka whaiapu, Te homai nei kia ripiripia
Ki te kiri moko e mau atu nei?
He hanga mania roa i te taringa; E i, ka noho au kau haehae,
Ke te tauaki i te rangai tapu;
A, e rua i ara aku ringaringa
Ki te whakakopa mai i taku manawa, E kakapa ana mehe rau kahakaha! Kia mana ra ta taua awhiawhi, Takitaki ura te weherua,
I a ia maunga e tum ai ra,
Ko te Tara kei raro o Tauhara i runga, Ko aku taumata e noho ai.
Kia takohutia i taku rangi
Ki te kawakawa hauauru,
E pupuhi mai i nga roro uru, Whakahinga noa ra i te huanui.
Nau mai ra, e Hoki, hei kawa korero; Ka rere au ki te au o Reinga!
Kei maru a tata au te whakamau
Ki te pae tauarai ki te makau;
Ki te tau a tirengi ka te wero i ara
Ki te rehe taiaha. Ko au i ware noa, He tau e hoki mai, i.
I weep for my loved one,
Give me a sharp stone Let the salt blood run From these barren breasts
This once-sweet flesh.
Turn away, hard-hearted ones, lest You see these two hands pressed Against my heart, see it quiver Like a leaf, like the breath
Of his last caress.
This red blood from the heart
Is for the mountains, torn apart, Te Tara below and Tauhara above Each cold, remote
As the man I loved.
Let the mist come
Blot them out, swallow the sun. Let the bitter wind blow
From the west, bringing snow From the mountains of Maniapoto Come Hoki of evil omen
He cannot hide; there is no horizon. I shall leap the cliff to death,
This blood, my breath –
One thrust, and I am there.
Too many nights I have yearned For the one who would not return.
The second piece is a mōteatea written by my tupuna whaea Te Taruna of Ngāti Manunui. This s about her husband, who left her for someone else.3
Tērā te marama! Whakakau ana mai,
Tū kau ana au ko taku tahanga kau, Mōkai te whitikore whakaupa nei te haere
Kei tawhiti rā te rongo o te wetewete, Nāku i papare iho e ai raurangi, Hōmai te wai kamo kia raki ake au, Kia kakea atu te tapu o te wahine, Nāna i tiritiri, i mahi ai kia nui.
He kore kupu māna kia hoki mai a Te Piki’. Nā Te Kakati rā nāna koe i hōmai,
Tino kite nei au i a Tukaiora,
I te horepō, e nāu anō e ‘Kaihinu,
Ai rawa hei kawe te puke ki Takinikini, Ki a Rangiheuea; nāu anō, e Kaipaka, Kia ripa tahurangi te remu o te huia, ī.
Behold the moon! It comes afloating, As I stand here lonely and naked. Slavelike and irresolute, I did think to go And now from afar comes this parting,
I put aside misgivings in days gone by,
Comes it now, alas, copious tears leave me dried up, The whilst he surmounts a woman’s sanctity,
Of which he boasts as a victory.
There is, alas, no power in words to bring Te Piki’ back. ‘Twas Te Kakati who gave you to me,
And I did then see Tukaiora,
As he lay unclad with you, O’Kaihinu
No one to take me now to the top of Takinikini
To Rangiheua, begotten of you, O Kaikapa,
Each night I but see visions of a huia plume.
Invalidating grief and other feelings doesn’t make them go away. It denies a part of human experience. Emotional intelligence helps with the ability to face conflict and emotional distress. But not only that. Shutting down can block out the negative feelings but it also blocks out the positive feelings. To allow yourself to love you first have to surrender to it. And then there’s self-sabotage; you are unable to cope with fears and thus destroy something good. You push beautiful things away in fear of having to lose them. Ironic, nē?
Gratitude is Māori, it’s in our culture to mihi and acknowledge everyone’s contribution.
Gratitude is Māori, it’s in our culture to mihi and acknowledge everyone’s contribution. Gratitude in karakia; giving back to Tangaroa to acknowledge the perpetual abundance without expecting or feeling entitled. It’s in my upbringing and culture to appreciate people and the small and large ways they contribute to my growth and I’ve always expressed that gratitude to lovers. However, I had a pattern that turned into a fear of being taken for granted by people who don’t appreciate what they have until it’s gone. It’s depressing constantly being the One Who Got Away. I never felt truly appreciated by a lover until I met my partner, Nate. He made me feel so respected and beautiful on his knees holding my hand, “I’m worshipping you.” When I talked about my past he couldn’t believe how people had treated me and would give me pep talks, “You know you’re the shit right?” A hundred kisses and a hundred “kia ora”s when I buy him tools for Christmas. Believing my experience, holding me with compassion, and mourning for the burden of womanhood with me. Tender appreciation for all the little things I do for him that in my past were expected or went unnoticed. He always shows up for me; picking me up and dropping me off to work. Hospital visits, doctors appointments, and caring for me while I’m sick in bed. Moving across the country with me for my career. Believing in me the way I’ve always believed in myself and not feeling threatened by my confidence, ambitions, and strength. Never tallying up costs or acts of love. Not giving for expectation, but giving to give. Embracing joy. Sharing the silly stories we tell ourselves that build fear and insecurities. Saying “I’m scared to lose you”, instead of pushing away or shutting down. Healing from emotional abandonment and laughing at the absurdity of it all. Emotional intelligence means working through conflict and facing issues instead of them seeping out in bickering, resentment, emotional manipulation, acting out or passive aggression. Decolonising my emotions opened me up to feel, to understand my own needs, and set the bar for my standards in a partner and friends.
Saying “I’m scared to lose you”, instead of pushing away or shutting down.
Kotahitanga and unity melt my heart in love. In the past, dating meant two individuals with separate lives, neither considering the other part of their life, part of their decisions, or whānau. When I first met Nate, I was overwhelmed by the way he would say “we” as if we were a unit, in it together, and I was prioritised and viewed as a life partner. He felt responsible for my needs and always showed up. I learned to be less selfish and more considerate, and learned that you can be independent and rely on someone else at the same time. Ma te kotahitanga e whai kaha ai taatau. In unity we have strength, combining strengths and supporting weaknesses. Collectivism means a responsibility to the collective, where love is an active commitment, not just a word. The belief that everyone is out for themselves is just one philosophy of humanity. Like many Māori, I’m whānau oriented; I feel that partnership is the joining of whakapapa, and thus it’s important for me to make efforts with their whānau and they with mine. It’s cool dating Nate because he understands the commitment to whānau and we both extend ourselves to nurture all of those relationships; even helping each other to be better.
Ma te kotahitanga e whai kaha ai taatau. In unity we have strength, combining strengths and supporting weaknesses.
I love the communality of Māori. I love the whakataukī “he mana tō tēnā, tō tēnā – ahakoa ko wai”, which means everyone has their own mana no matter who they are. And manaakitanga is to uplift the mana of yourself and another – that everyone is deserving of their needs – and I love that Nate also embodies that whakaaro in his whole-hearted generosity. He always gives without expectation or bragging rights. It’s just natural to him. He doesn’t like transactional relationships where two individuals mutually use each other for self-gain then leave the moment it isn’t beneficial. I’d always thought there’s no such thing as a free drink, but Nate has always been the type of person to shout everyone without any grotty intentions or entitlement to a transaction. He is hospitable, which is so attractive to me. He waka eke noa, we’re all in this together, but everyone is paddling, everyone is pulling their weight. Collectivism requires people to use their strengths to contribute in individual ways. Collectivism also means you have a large support network, with various relationships. In All About Love, bell hooks discusses the issues of placing all responsibility of needs on a partner and devaluing other relationships4 – when I say Nate and I are a strong dependable unit, we’re also independent, with our own self-regulating skills, hobbies and support people outside of the relationship. There are healthy expectations on each other’s capacity and, again, the understanding of balance.
The decolonising of relationships is the refusal to have domestic inequity or domestic abuse, and dating someone who holds the same values.
Balance and equity should be expected in relationships, but this isn’t the norm. Last year I was in a course for Women and Rage run by Inner City Women’s Group. The counsellor running the group told me that the main issue experienced by the other women was domestic inequity – they were expected to maintain the domestic sphere: be primary caregivers of children, cleaners and cooks. Even women who worked full time still felt pressured to fulfil those roles or else nothing would get done. This cultural expectation comes from the ancient Roman social structure of pater familias, in which a male head of the household had full control over wife, children and slaves. Wives had few rights, were legally dependent on their husbands and were confined to the domestic sphere6, a realm where abuse of women and children was accepted.7 Prior to the British colonial invasion in Aotearoa, women weren’t treated like domestic slaves and everyone contributed to the collective. Wāhine had no less mana, autonomy or authority than tāne, and as life-bearers, they were highly respected. Any violence towards them was an injustice that had to be corrected by the entire hapū8 with an act of utu, the act of reciprocity and restoration of balance.9 Colonisation for wāhine Māori meant their rangatiratanga was taken away and they were reduced to being possessions of men and objects of sexual gratification.10 For me, the decolonising of relationships is the refusal to have domestic inequity or domestic abuse, and dating someone who holds the same values. This doesn’t mean it will always be harmonious, but it means saying nōku/nāku te hē, the fault is mine, and feeling responsible for making it right. Justice is both political and personal. Humans are flawed, we all make mistakes, but I expect myself and my loved ones to be accountable for our actions, and to be responsible for righting our wrongs.
The decolonising of relationships is the refusal to have domestic inequity or domestic abuse, and dating someone who holds the same values.
Decolonisation is a series of adventures – laborious but rewarding. bell hooks discusses how dismantling the beliefs that manifest through relationships is revolutionary, as beliefs are used to oppress.11 She also describes a need for a love ethic, which to me is manaakitanga. If we can all become loving, and reject the individualism that isolates us, we can work together in community or grassroots spaces. Decolonisation is opening your mind up to what relationships could be and knowing that the Western, heteronormative, monogamous model for relationships isn’t superior, or inherent to human nature. In Te Ao Māori there has always been takatāpuitanga and non-monogamy. The idea of eternal monogamy or ‘the one’ can make people stay together for the wrong reasons, or hold unrealistic standards of what love should be. Even seeing the end of a relationship as a failure is flawed; the goal of a relationship doesn’t have to be to last forever. A better goal would be to have a loving relationship that could end if either person’s needs weren’t being met. It’s cringe talking about love, but deep down a lot of us want to feel the unconditional love shared between Rangi and Papa, and to enjoy the pleasures and endure the struggles of life with another person.
Decolonising my emotions opened me up to feel, to understand my own needs, and set the bar for my standards in a partner and friends.
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