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Where Whakapapa Engagement Can Take You.

No Ngati Kahungunu ahau. He tauira au i roto i te Kura Para-Whakawai.

When I think about my most vivid memories of water, I instantly think of our whanau trips to the rivers, Ngaruroro and Tukituki. Raised in Hastings, I was lucky enough to have shared experiences with my whanau of our ancestral landscapes and awa (waterways). These experiences and my whanau have played a vital role in where I am today as a wahine Maori, as a researcher and in the development of my Ngati Kahungunu identity.

Our awa played a big part in our summers growing up. A regular day was to head down to the awa, take a chillybin full of kai and just be in and out of the water all day, with an occasional sandwich in between sessions. If that wasn't the case, we would often have whanau dinners at Nan's and then wait till the sun went down and head down to our eeling spot.

For as long as I can remember, I've always felt safe when around any waterways, and I give that credit to Mum. She was a competitive swimmer and surf lifesaver in her younger years, so anything I know about the water, particularly the river and ocean, is all from her and her experiences. Till this day, I always hear her voice telling me, "If it's pulling you, just relax, float and let it take you till it stops"--her wise words for getting out of strong currents or rips.

It's interesting to think now that all of my most memorable experiences of the water have been with my whanau. It's not surprising though, as we've always been close. Our eeling expeditions were always classic events--threatening to push one another in, being so proud and slightly arrogant when you got the first eel of the night, but then being low-key terrified to even touch it to get it off the hook.

Being within an academic realm now, I'm sure there are many who count off their experiences when it comes to finishing or working on a thesis, a masters or a doctorate. There are times when you are in a very deep space; you question yourself, "Why am I here?," "I can't do this, why did I think I can?"--the list goes on and on. I've been there plenty of times. These memories of awa adventures are often the first thing I try and tell myself to remember, they are my "why." Why I am even here in the first place, why I'm in an office writing, why I chose this research topic, why it is important and why I need to finish and get over myself.

I believe that I am in the best position I could be in right now. I get to research and spend my days thinking, talking and reading about my whakapapa. I am currently reading over my interview transcripts with a couple of my aunties about their engagement with our awa, Ngaruroro. The strength given by understanding this knowledge and our connection is so important to our well-being, especially when immersed in modern society. I will share some of our korero in the hope that it can influence and project an understanding of the power of water in life.

Our awa, Ngaruroro, owes its name to the tidal influx of fish. The explorer Mahu Tapoanui was in the area and his dog disturbed a shoal of upokororo (grayling) while crossing the river. The upokororo took fright and fled up the river, creating ngaru (waves). (1) The awa has since been known as Ngaruroro. It is a very historical river as well. It was at the river mouth where Taraia, the man who led the migration of Ngati Kahungunu to the area, dipped his calabash into the water and drank from it. It was at that moment that he took possession of the land.

Back when Nan was growing up, the awa was much bigger, in terms of width and also current. Walking along the riverbank was a daily task for Nan, her siblings and her cousins; it was the route to school. After school, it was mostly just about swimming. All the aunties have mentioned how bountiful the awa was--eels, flounder and inanga. Aunty shares a story about her dad catching between "140 and 160 flounder in one night" for a wananga at the pa for Labour Weekend; something that you probably couldn't even imagine today.

Unfortunately, today our awa is not engaged with as it once was by our people. In the 1960s, due to flooding, the awa was redirected so that it could take on larger volumes of water. The redirected river took the name Ngaruroro, while our awa took the new name of the Clive River in 1975. The awa that sits behind our marae, which used to be strong and also bountiful with kai, now almost has no current. Recently, it made headline news due to hundreds of dead mullet covering the surface of the water due to excess weeds. Our awa is, as Aunty says, "suffering a slow death." This is disturbing, considering the significance it holds for our identity.

My most recent visit to the awa was over the summer; I went biking along the riverbank, trying to imagine the stories my aunties had told me. It was then that I realised we need to recreate these stories, and make some of our own, because we can't afford to have another generation miss out on it. We stand and recite "Ko Ngaruroro te awa"--it's a part of us and our identity as Ngati Kahungunu. My research is about reconnecting whanau to our ancestral landscapes in order to enhance our identity and well-being. We may not be able to swim in our awa, but we can paddle on it for the time being--it's in need of our mauri to revitalise it.

It is this that continues to drive me. Our awa needs us now, we need to engage with it, and I intend to do so the only way I know how, with my whanau.

No Ngati Kahungunu ahau. He tauira au i roto i te Kura Para-Whakawai. Chelsea Cunningham is a PhD student in the School of Physical Education, Sport and Exercise Sciences at the University of Otago.

(1.) P Parsons, "Tane-nui-a-rangi," Kohupatiki Marae Centennial Booklet (Clive: Kohupatiki Marae, 2013).
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Author:Cunningham, Chelsea
Publication:Junctures: The Journal for Thematic Dialogue
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:8NEWZ
Date:Dec 1, 2018
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